eRikm: Steme

Brandon Labelle & James Webb: Radio Flirt

With Stéme, Marseilles-based experimental artist eRikm delivers a collection of abstract sound material quite unlike any I've heard before. The work originates from a selection of ten one-minute sound pieces burned onto a CD that was deliberately damaged. That material was then further manipulated—construction and destruction, as it were—using his “electronic real-time live music systems (3k-pad system & MD or CD-dj and electronics).” Not that much of that will be obvious to anyone listening to the album's seven short pieces and single twenty-two minute opus though there's no denying the unusual results. “411” sets the mood by alternating moments of silence and simmer with violent ruptures of prickly starbursts that splatter like hyperactive micro-organisms. The pieces that follow are playful vignettes populated by tiny blips and microtextural flow. However interesting they are, they all ultimately seem like lead-ins to “White Out,” a slowly intensifying electrical swarm that appears permanently on the brink of detonation. It's perfectly fitting that eRikm's biography cites collaborations with Christian Marclay and Luc Ferrari, given the innovative contributions they too have made to the sound art fields. Like their works, eRikm's Stéme certainly challenges the definition of what constitutes music. Note as well that if you order your copy direct from ROOM40, you'll receive a special twelve-page fold-out score purportedly designed to help clarify eRikm's oblique strategies.

Radio Flirt by Brandon Labelle (author of the 2006 text Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art) and James Webb is slightly more accessible than Stéme though no less engrossing, especially when it's purposefully designed to be immersive and even hallucinatory. What started out as an installation at the Netherlands Media Art Institute, where radio transmitters were located throughout the building, is now an auditory environment where spoken messages and mutating granular noise draws the listener into a “radiophonic” realm that may originate outside but only comes to life within the listener's psyche. The five-part piece is also a travelogue, with “Foyer” orienting the visitor while simultaneously offering reflections on the psychology of greeting conventions; the guest next seemingly joins a gathering of sorts, judging by the conversations overheard during “Staircase,” and then finds him/herself in a hallway filled with buzzing flies and assorted clatter. In truth, though the text itself sounds rather cryptic when delivered in a stalker-like whisper, the content—directions, descriptions, and mental transcriptions—is relatively benign, and the particular approach to sound design isn't wholly unfamiliar; even so, the manner by which the Labelle and Webb structure and organize the material lends it distinctive character.

June 2008