Lloyd Barrett: Mise en Scene

Greg Davis & Jeph Jerman: Ku

Mise en Scene and Ku offer ultra-detailed electroacoustic explorations of widely contrasting character. Inspired by writers like Michel Chion, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Alan Dorin, Australian sound designer Lloyd Barrett's Mise en Scene draws on concepts of filmic sound for its intense sound sculptures (hence the serpentine film-strips adorning the cover). Though split into eight sections, the work flows without pause from one to the next, enhancing its immersive quality. Certainly a cinematic ambiance haunts the material, often to unsettling and foreboding effect (file the nightmarish “Swarm” under ‘stalker music') with even a peacefully ruminative piano setting like “Exhale” darkened by writhing electronic sounds. The subtle industrial undercurrent and rippling atmospheres of “A Silhouette for Balance” and “The Machine Belly” render them distant cousins to Ingram Marshall's similarly evocative “Fog Tropes.” Almost as compelling are the credits: Andrew Thomson contributes ‘water torture' to “Scenery” and ‘crash initiator' to “The Machine Belly” while Joel Stern adds ‘bee guitar' to “Canopy” (Barrett himself credited with ‘decomposition, concrete, and conception').

Eliciting sounds from a broad spectrum of basic found objects (sticks, stones, prepared instruments, gongs, lo-fi electronics, percussion), American musicians Greg Davis and Jeph Jerman collaborate on three playful musique concréte explorations. The duo edited improvised sessions recorded at Jerman's ranch in Cottonwood, Arizona into the material's final form, shaping it into Ku's heavily textured “strata” settings. Imagine breakfast table sounds created by guests too tired for conversation and you'll have some impression of the drips and scrapes that dominate the first piece. The two relocate to the workshop for the louder second piece, an oft-violent melee where elephantine blasts and whorls compete with rumbling clatter for the listener's attention while barking dogs fend off intruders in the background. Things quieten down to almost microsound levels during the placid closer where bells and percussion dominate, with Davis and Jerman deftly simulating an Art Ensemble of Chicago interlude in the piece's final minutes. To their credit, Davis and Jerman prove themselves to be fearless sonic explorers though I must confess my preferred Davis listening remains Arbor and Curling Pond Woods. Compared to Ku and collaborative releases like Yearlong and Paquet Surprise, the two may be more conventional but they're no less distinctive and accomplished for being so. At the same time, there's little doubt that those comparatively experimental projects nourish Davis's more accessible music-making in significant ways.

October 2006