Bronhijalna elektroničko-klasičarska akustička upala.
Based in Brooklyn, Anne Guthrie is a professional acoustician, composer and sound artist whose work combines a highly technical knowledge of natural reverb, field recording, and extended microphone techniques with live and processed instrumentation, including French horn, violoncello and contrabass. Guthrie’s is a music concerned with the play of dichotomies - cacophony/beauty, accidental/intentional, unhinged/refined, traditional/outsider. “Codiaeum variegatum” is her debut full-length proper, following out-of-print short run releases on labels such as Engraved Glass and Copy For Your Records, as well as the recently released and critically lauded “Sinter,” a collaboration with Richard Kamerman issued by way of Erstwhile Records sublabel ErstAEU. The album’s six compositions showcase Guthrie’s acumen as a composer of rich and diverse sonic phenomena. From the keeling strings which open “Branching Low and Spreading,” she guides the listener through dense yet highly structured thickets of sound, juxtaposing astute room/field recordings with classical instrumentation, both dry and processed. On “Unlike More Slender and Graceful,” filtered French horn plumes are wed to cavernous, watery field recordings to forge beautiful yet bleak vistas, motifs to be revisited in a more hopeful light later on. Ultimately, Guthrie’s work occupies a heady middle ground somewhere between the enchantment of the everyday manifested by artists such as Graham Lambkin and Vanessa Rossetto and the high-minded electroacoustic investigations of her fellow Erstwhile alumni. Strictly limited to 250 copies. - studentsofdecay.com/
On the face of it, Codiaeum Variegatum is the musicalization of a species of toxic plant and its chlorophyll life. Striped with earthy drones, vegetal fluctuations, and frigid climates, its interleaving of bio-acoustics with subtle electronic manipulation and field recordings charts the growth, survival, and eventual decay of a plant that thanks gardeners for their hard work via the medium of eczema. With titles that read as descriptions of the different properties and phases that constitute the plant, the six instrumental pieces on Anne Guthrie’s latest would appear to form one of the unlikeliest concept albums ever conceived. And yet, despite how anal and esoteric this all sounds, the album creates a unique and consuming soundworld, one whose organic/inorganic layers evolve through nature’s tranquility, desolation, restlessness, and eventual hostility.
That is, on the face of it, because no one — not even an artist as ingenious as Guthrie — can make music from the perspective of a shrub. Shrubs don’t have “perspectives,” because shrubs don’t possess any of the five senses that inform the development of a viewpoint, a consciousness. Even so, an installation like “Branching Low and Spreading” evokes the nearest human equivalent of some slowly germinating, herbal existence, its photosynthetic breaths of cello amassing a lowlying density as they pulse over continuous samples of benign wildlife and breezy weather. Every cut on Codiaeum Variegatum exploits this marriage of naturalized instrumentation and instrumentalized nature, in the process inviting a very pacifying, or at least dependable, sense of extra-musical harmony, a sense that music can and does situate us in the quotidian world we inhabit, rather than uproot us with alienating dreams of an idealized utopia.
In fact, this calibration of Guthrie’s palette — French horn, cello, viola, electronics — with her found sound assumes nigh-on masterful dimensions for much of the record. On “Strongly Leaning with Irregular Crown,” her gusts of horn symphonize with the peeved harping of a farmhouse chicken, and toward the culmination of “Long Pendulous” thinned streaks of wind indulge in a duet with similarly rarefied elongations of brass. These merged stratifications of texture and tone, where the grain of flexing cello all-but crumbles into the subsoil of chattering birds, trickling water, and rustling foliage, generate an enveloping impression of depth and balance. More conceptually, they also represent the truth that the codiaeum variegatum, like all plants, is very much embedded in its environment, is indeed simply a point at which that environment condenses into a refracted manifestation of itself.
Which brings us to what the album is “really” about. Glancing at her back catalog, in particular 2011’s Perhaps a Favorable Organic Moment, it becomes apparent that Anne Guthrie has harbored a fascination with how pieces of music can be reconfigured and reconstituted with a migration of context. Organic Moment disfigured Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 2, Prelude 1” and the Scottish folksong “Anne Laurie,” and “Strongly Leaning with Irregular Crown” does a stellar job of naively contorting what could have once been “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or maybe “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” In all three cases, the target is the “autonomy of the artwork,” the idea that a song, novel, or film is a self-defining, unchangeable entity that encloses both its meaning and form within itself for eternity. Even though there is only the above example of butchery on Codiaeum Variegatum, the record nonetheless chips at this once sacred notion through other means. At most of its various junctures, the more traditionally musical parts of the album passively mirror their non-musical backdrop, and at bottom this insinuates that, just as the variegated croton is a function of its habitat, so too is music.
And if the album’s figuration of plant-life is in turn a reflexive figuration of itself, then its often turbid incubations can be stretched into a some kind of inside commentary on music and its criticism in the 21st century. A shifting ambience like “Persists into Winter,” with throaty exhalations of horn that can do nothing but attune themselves to the mood of their surrounding wasteland, is a perfect complement to a cultural space where the formal properties of a composition are becoming increasingly irrelevant to its interpretation and appraisal1. This is no exaggeration, because in our virulently capitalistic age, we’re incrementally abandoning a pre-war, pre-commercialized focus on strictly musical parameters such as harmony, melody, rhythm, timbre, and phrasing, which are peripheral to the construction of a consumerist identity. Instead, the significance of a song is projected onto it by virtue of its increasingly non-musical signifiers and connotations, just as the gelid resonance of “Persists into Winter” is to a large extent the artifact of an unrelenting gale and of remote footsteps, just as the uncanny meditations of “Rough Above with Uneven Base” are dampened by underlying showers of rain.
In other words, the musical score has been eclipsed in the production of “meaning” by its tokenistic reflection of encompassing socio-political domains, and as a consequence of the mass production-consumption of pop by a musically untrained audience, critics such as Yours Truly don’t describe or address music directly anymore, but rather talk around it, about the social landscape it vacuously symbolizes.
All of which makes the coagulated atmospherics of Codiaeum Variegatum highly relevant to its era. As it progresses toward the close of 39 bucolic minutes, the initially clear dichotomy between biological instrument and mineral bedrock is folded in on itself, with the final third of its running time dominated by a morphing, cloudy sump of notes and soundbites that are as restive and disturbed as they are serene and immovable. This fusion ultimately depicts (post-)industrial music as being in a vegetative state, as being a scarcely animate receptacle for whatever truths its “soil,” “water,” and “air” pump into it, and once again it reduces music to another inextricable species of everyday object, as something thread into the fabric of our social, economical and political lives, rather than being located along an isolated and illusory plane. And if it’s possible to neglect or even forget this timely reminder when immersed in the living dioramas Anne Guthrie has sculpted here, it’s only because Codiaeum Variegatum is perhaps the most absorbing album about the life and times of a shrub you’re ever likely to hear.
1. You need only glance at the titles of latter-day musicological tracts — The Sociology of Rock (Frith, 1978), Music as Social Text (Shepherd, 1991), Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality (McClary, 1991), Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Rose, 1994) — to understand that most musical appreciation and criticism is less concerned with music’s structure, mechanics, and aesthetics, and more with how it can be sucked into a discourse on social conventions and creeds.- Simon Chandler
Anne Guthrie/Richard Kamerman, Sinter
Erstwhile Records has just rolled out a new sub-label, ErstAEU. In the tradition of AMM, the AEU is not explained. Despite the paucity of officially sanctioned information — you won’t find any explanatory text on the label’s website — there’s a definite aesthetic angle at work here. The label’s first three CDs are all the product of American-born duos, and all of the participants are in their 20s or 30s. Conventional instruments aren’t completely absent, but they often take a back seat to captured or processed sounds, as well as disorienting manipulations of time and space. One thing the albums do not share is a particular methodology. Graham Stephenson and Aaron Zarzutski’s Touching is a straight-up improv encounter; Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart’s Dystonia Duos combines played and processed sounds into hard-shelled containers of noisy electrical activity; and Anne Guthrie and Richard Kamerman’s Sinter, an assembly of “field recordings, domestic recordings, composition, improvisation, and processing,” which inhabits some zone that doesn’t really have a name yet.
For clues about how to understand it, one can look to the album’s name. Sintering bonds powdered clay into a pot without melting it; even after it’s fired, the ceramic’s texture will make you think of clay. The disparate elements of “Civil Twilight: 5:23” — dancing electrical buzzes, slow-changing mechanical hums, under-the-breath counting, close-up paper shuffling, and distant outdoor sounds — likewise retain their essential individual characters even though they have been configured into a hefty yet spacious block of musique concrète. But the way the sounds hang together doesn’t tell you why they were made to sit in that configuration, or how you should respond to them. They just are what they are.
So you might either be thinking about now, “I gotta hear this record,” or “Why the hell would I ever want to hear this stuff?” You know who you are, and either way I’d tell you to listen to your inner voice. Having spent a lot of time with it, I’m on both sides of the fence. On the one hand, there’s “Re(Z)=Piper, Im(Z)=Andrej,” an amalgam of cleanly recorded exchanges in Italian (I think), fuzzy room sounds that might come from a mall or train station, and mightily distorted monk chants that sound like they’re being played Alvin Lucier-style from a busted speaker into a resonant room. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who likes their noise non-macho and genuinely unpredictable. On the other, listening to “Porcellino”’s layers of distant banging and close metallic clanking is an exhausting Cage-ian exercise in using applied attention to pry interest from boredom.
The most rewarding piece is the longest, the last, and the one that feels most musical. Taking a cue once more from nomenclature, “Several Or Many Fibers” feels to me like a tapestry. I’m not sure that its journey — from footsteps and a hovering synth note through sounds of water striking different surfaces to a late burst of weather reporting — is intended to say anything at all. But the way these sounds succeed each other implies a narrative whose inscrutability makes there passage compelling. - Bill Meyer
Describing the music is another matter, though. The interior drawing behind the disc seems a decent descriptor, both loose-limbed and gangly but, in its particulars, very structurally sound. The location recordings tumble through, knock into one another, get subsumed by electronics, reappear in another atmosphere--all very dream-logicky, seeming to be sensible but resistant to easy back-formation. In performance, I've often enjoyed the way Kamerman wouldn't distinguish between the "music" and incidental noises he'd make in the course of sound generation (placing a disused object on a table, not minding the resultant, very noticeable click, moving a chair with its frictional moan, etc.) and one gets the sense of that here as well, of a pair of people moving about in the course of creating other stuff. I can imagine someone thinking of Unami now and then, but this work is fuller, always with subtle things taking place in the background or right alongside. When Kamerman (I assume), softly counts off sequences of numbers during "Civil Twilight 5:23", there's almost an eavesdropping feeling, as if he's privately enumerating something, not realizing he's speaking aloud. Quite magical.
"Origami 1/5" is oddly fascinating--steady-state in a manner of speaking, the rustling (of paper? cassette tape?) remaining fairly constant and crisp throughout, a thin sine-like tone sputtering behind, a faint speaker hum always there. Intriguing balance between activity (even hyper-activity) and a pervasive sense of calm, beautifully sustained for over 13 minutes. The last cut, "Several or Many Fibers", almost seems epic, of great volume but transparent, like a Turner; hollow, distant echoes, passing voices, obfuscated urban sounds, clangs and taps as from a restaurant kitchen, an underlying, whirling tone as though someone's playing an early, undiscovered Terry Riley tape a few doors down. Cinematic to the extreme. It proceeds so naturally, so unhurriedly but with items of interest every step of the way, in every direction, like some marvelous stroll. An extraordinary piece capping one of the finest recordings I've heard in quite a while. Excellent work."-Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
standing, sitting (2012)