A pair of extraordinary 60-plus-minute works dropped last week. Like a lot of lengthy pieces, both are immersive listening experiences that are memorable for more than just their running time. The similarities end there however. It’s difficult to imagine two recordings, released on the same day, less alike than this pair.
Florian Hecker’s Inspection II opens with a densely technical spoken word passage: “A series of projections is presented, accompanied by clinical observations …” We are listening in on an academic presentation by The University of Edinburgh’s Christophe Veaux. Less than half a minute in, he is interrupted by a piercing electronic tone.
In the past, I’ve written about the use of silence in composition and its potential for genuinely radical results. Inspection II suggests that it is even more daring to repeatedly shift between spoken word, harsh electronics and white noise.
The closest comparison would be to a toddler standing in front of an old cathode ray tube television, switching between a public-broadcasting station, a test of the emergency broadcasting system and channel U. For 75 minutes. The result is close to masochistic, as Amy Ireland’s album notes proudly state.
“Masochism is cruel because, in subverting the model, it imposes it with exaggerated severity,” she writes. “As the source is iteratively extracted from featureless noise, a complex ongoing dialogue commences between formal model and empirical experience of sound. Like Charon, the boatman who ferries souls of the dead across the styx, Inspection II crosses perpetually from one bank to the other: from the formal anticipations of analysis to the unexpected artefacts of synthesis.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Pip’s new Possible Worlds is described as a “single hour-long piece of subtle and slowly moving music.” Featuring Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet, sampler and synthesizer, and Fredrik Rasten on guitars and electronics, this marriage of electronic and acoustic sounds is a comfortably happy one.
Recorded in a single improvised take, the work is an example of what musicians call just or pure intonation. It has to do with musical intervals tuned as whole-number frequency ratios.
“The piece features four guitars tuned in open and slightly differing just intonation chords,” according to the notes. “The fretless necks of the guitars also allow for gradual transitions between notes, and for tonalities unbound by the equal tempered tuning of normal guitar frets. The intonation aspect is also present in the trumpet playing and most of the electronic and synthesized sounds.”
Possible Worlds is as calming as Inspection II is disquieting.