Monty Adkins: fragile.flicker.fragment
Though it might not be readily apparent from the package design for Monty Adkins' fragile.flicker.fragment, the recording's nine settings were developed alongside the visual artwork of Pip Dickens and the Brass Art collective. It's not an insignificant detail as Adkins material is extremely vivid and visually suggestive, one of those electro-acoustic cases wherein imagery forms almost instantly in response to the sounds presented. More precisely, Adkins doesn't take his inspiration from visual artists but has approached the music's production in such a way that he's taken the techniques used by artists working within the digital glitch art field and applied them to experimental electronic music production methodology with the aid of software expressly created for that purpose. Noting glitch theorist Iman Moradi's identification of four characteristics associated with the visual field in question (fragmentation, repetition, linearity, and complexity), Adkins adopts such techniques in the creation of his own electronic music pieces. Be that as it may, fragile.flicker.fragment doesn't always sound radically unlike glitch-laden electronic music as it's come to be known; familiar textural sounds of ripples, static, and smears occasionally pepper the tracks, a fact that helps position Adkins' album comfortably within the genre itself. During “Remnant,” for example, tones push through rippling masses of distressed electronic noises in a way that won't be unfamiliar to electronic music devotees.
Not that there's anything objectionable about that, mind you. Adkins' patiently unfolding pieces are appealing no matter how much they may or may not align themselves with others in the genre. Generally speaking, they could be described as ambient electronic soundscapes that Adkins (along with two well-chosen guests, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay on music box and Lisa Colton on viol) enhances with the natural sounds of clarinet, electric guitar, accordion, and organ. The material is hardly thrown together, either, as Adkins brings a formidable background to the project: he studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge; formally studied acousmatic music; and his 2009 Five Panels album (featuring Adkins on e-guitar and organ and Tremblay on bass) was nominated for a 2010 Qwartz Award.
Electro-acoustic meditations emphasizing the integration of music box playing and electronics, the opening and closing pieces, “Memory Box” and “Memory Etching,” serve as framing pieces for the album. After the music box interlude “First Snow,” Adkins breaks out of the album's largely restrained mode during “Ode,” which begins as a mournful setting featuring accordion smears that, in its more conventional melodic moments, calls to mind Astor Piazzolla's bandoneon playing, before swelling dramatically. “Forensic Embers” crests with a Ligeti-esque flourish at its tail end, after which Colton's viol occupies the forefront of “Torn Mosaic,” though her string playing is but one sound of many, as shuddering electronics and textural noise are prominent too. The association with early music that the viol brings with it makes for an ear-catching juxtaposition with electronic elements that obviously sound modern next to it. As should be obvious by now, Adkins wisely shifts the focus from one piece to the next on this commendable outing, which helps keep the listener engaged throughout.