AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Iain Chambers – The Eccentric Press (2019; Persistence of Sound)

Iain Chambers does not compose with what’s commonly regarded as traditional music making devices.  This seems to be a cross-cultural truism in as much as nothing that he utilizes is specifically created to make ONLY music in ANY specific society.  So that means there are no guitars, no drums, and no violins…it also means there are no contrabass balalaikas, no totem harps, and no hydraulophones either.  Instead, his compositional tool of choice is the environment.  In an earlier write-up I mentioned that it seemed like Annette Vande Gorne was “playing the world”. In the case of The Eccentric Press, Chambers uses a subset of the same pallet.

The music making device(s) in this case is machinery.  More specifically, machinery that is rapidly approaching…or has exceeded its “use by” date.  Using a sound source library from The Sounds of Changes,  a collaboration between six European museums and a project dedicated to “capturing obsolete and endangered industrial and domestic sounds” …Chambers has composed a wonderfully Acousmatic journey through nostalgic bygone days. 

Throughout the album, he interweaves melodies and rhythms by manipulating the pitches of some of these sounds.  This blending of the strictly Acousmatic sound events with the more traditional Western elements of what is commonly referred to as “music” (harmony, melody, rhythm) provides a gripping and compelling listen.  The fact that the raw source material is used as the “notes” is a nice bonus, one that Chambers makes full use of. 

True to The Sounds of Changes stated mandate, (which is to document the sonic landscape of the present thus creating a baseline to map changes as the acoustic world rapidly progresses), Chambers does a beautiful job of extracting these industrial noise events and then transforming them into a coherent musical journey.  By doing so, he has created what I consider a permanent auditory “art piece”.

An “art piece” that delivers to the listener the potential of a different tour through a real, or for that matter…imagined industrial space.  Perceptually, the experiences are boundless, the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. The first work, “The Eccentric Press / Die Exzenterpresse” hit on many personal narrative variations within its 23 minutes for this listener.  Untransformed sounds (old typewriters, bells, the hissing/clanging/crashing/banging, and the whirring/tapping/clicking/snapping of seemingly antiquated machinery) interact in the same playground as their artificially “changed” (via the studio) counterparts.  At one point there is a very cool psychoacoustic moment utilizing one of those rarely heard (anymore) air raid sirens (?) It sounds like Chambers layered two or more of these sirens over each other in a non-synchronized fashion creating a third overtone that is…well, head exploding but in a good, non-painful way.

The occasional rhythm of piston-driven metallics materialize, providing a floor for melodies forged from machine sounds…hummable melodies.  Melodies that tapped into some backwater region of my brain because…I can swear they sounded familiar.

On the 20-minute “Maudslay Engine” these well-scattered melodies sometimes take on a minimalist Krautrock vibe.  As an aside, I found it interesting that typically non-musical sounds can be molded into “faux” instrumental motifs that may be recognizable in Western music…thus the Krautrock analogy.  Are our minds hardwired to key into certain melodies and equate them with certain music types regardless of what sounding body is producing them?  The answer I’m sure is yes but instead of falling down that rabbit hole…let’s just say that on this release we have the literal demonstration of the word…motorik (motor skill).

“Maudslay Engine” follows the same set of rules as “The Eccentric Press / Die Exzenterpresse” but with different, (both locationally and origin) sound events.  A heavy industrial cadence compliments what sounds like metal-on-metal filing.  Hard surface hammering gradually morphs into a driving 4/4 with a slow, almost Dungeon Synth strain layered on top.  Old tech of all sorts resonates and permeates the listening field, and one can’t help sensing the sepia-laden twilight of the machines.

Chambers collects it all and focuses it down into a sharply rendered, vivid picture providing the listener infinite pathways of discovery.  In and of itself, the concept behind The Eccentric Press is very interesting, in a noble sense of somehow preserving a quickly changing acoustic environment.  Organizing the disparate raw materials into a piece of sound art is where the artistry happens.  A deep connection needs to exist between the composer and their working materials…from that starting point, the act of creating and composing guided by the artist’s personal muse can begin.  On The Eccentric Press, Chambers delivers an acoustic picture in high-rez detail of a disappearing age…one that the listener can exist within and mold into their own.  I highly recommend visiting.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

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