Squiggly noises by the lake
March 18, 2012
A few weeks ago I wrote a little about my old friend Jan Thomas. She was a fellow student back in 1989/90 on the Music Technology masters course at York University. It was one of the first specialist degree programmes for electronic music and it brought together people with a composition background like Jan and people with a more technological background. I was sort of in the middle: I was accepted on the course purely on the basis of my spare-time composing activities while I was supposedly a philosophy student in Manchester, but the terms of my grant committed me to a tech-based project, which ultimately led into my career in (non-musical) technology.
It was a pretty intense year, with a lot of madness, hard work, smoking, drinking, late night study, heartache, politics, friendship … and of course making music. For me I guess it was one of my big years of change and expansion and growing up.
I thought it would be interesting to fish out my old pieces from that extraordinary year and see how they sound after twenty years.
For some reason the standard format for storing work on the course was betamax, which was already totally obsolete by 1989. Apart from those useless tapes, all I have now are a few cassette copies languishing at the back of a cupboard gradually turning to dust, so I decided this week to invest in a USB cassette converter so I can preserve them (along with any other rarities I might find before finally disposing of all my old cassettes).
I’ve shared three short pieces here that seem to me the least bad! I won’t say a lot about them; just a few comments that are no doubt a mixture of memory and invention.
After Webern is entirely made of manipulated snippets of Webern, mostly the string trio. I think I’d probably been listening to Brian Eno when I did this. It’s totally derivative, but it’s the one piece from that time that I still really quite like.
Added Bran came out of a project I was working on using granular synthesis, a rather intricate technique that works by moulding clouds of tiny particles of sound like putty, rather than composing with individual notes. Xenakis was the inspiration.
The third piece is a chunk of a much longer studio improvisation with Peter Adamson on spooky synths and Taxiarchis Diamantopoulos on guitar. I’ve included pictures of my collaborators to give something of the characteristic mood of those times. The picture above of me in my grim breeze-block room reveals some of my motley collection of heroes in those days.
I can’t help wondering what has happened in the world of electronic music in the two decades since my time in York. I’m very much out of touch with the contemporary classical scene, but I get the impression that the pioneering electronic work of figures from Stockhausen and Xenakis to Reich and Subotnick has had much more impact on dance and pop than concert music, which has largely retreated from radical forms of expression. The most significant innovator in electonic music since 1990 could arguably be Aphex Twin.