A pair of lengthy recordings land this month that illustrate two extremes of long-form composition. Listening to them side by side (or mixed together if you’re feeling adventurous) reminds us that beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is expressed. And everyone gets to decide what theirs looks and sounds like.
Monty Adkins’ 51-minute Music For Empire was written to accompany Andy Warhol’s infamous eight-plus-hour film by the same name. Designed to capture the passing of time, Warhol’s film features a single shot of the Empire State Building, in slow motion, no less. Given the structure’s propensity to, you know, stand still, it can fairly be described as a minimalist statement. (Particularly so after sunset.)
This new Adkins recording is well suited to Warhol’s vision. It features a nine-bell recording captured at NY Littleport Caters. The bell sequence demonstrates what’s called a change-ringing technique. The bells chime continuously, providing Adkins a delicately beautiful nine-chord harmonic sequence.
“Nine permutations occur every 48 minutes – the length of one of 10 reels of film for Empire,” according to the album’s notes. “The bell-pattern cycles through nine iterations, the combination of layers being unique in each occurrence.”
At the other end of the spectrum, there is nothing remotely delicate about Merzbow’s MONOAkuma. Also clocking in at 51 minutes, Masami Akita has delivered another of his difficult masterworks.
Recorded live in 2012 at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, the piece is a relentless combination of noise, noise that hurts your ears and noise that will make small children cry.
“This was the second time I had the pleasure to present him live in Australia,” writes composer and Room40 curator Lawrence English. “To me, this performance epitomizes the physiology of Merzbow’s sound work. He creates in absolutes; sonically he generates a tidal wave of frequency that sweeps across the spectra with tireless frenzy. Merzbow’s capacity to conjure a massive swirling mesh of analog and digital sources is without comparison.
“What I recall most about this performance is the sense of utter euphoria that was shared by everyone present. It is captured in the recording too. Not many people tend to dwell on this affective capacity of Merzbow’s work, but there is no question – this is about the body and the ears being overwhelmed.”
It would seem the only thing these two works share in common is their length. In fact, they’re quite like-minded. Both use non-traditional instruments to build sound environments for their listeners to immerse themselves in. Despite their very different sounds, they’re likely to appeal to similar audiences.