pure sound

december 08, 2004.

Now playing: Raudio #02, (un)themed "mucilage schubert angst" ... with a brand-new selection of pure sound (un)contributed to Park's one audio thing mainstream ... Crossing over from the first edition are our recent selection of Preconceived Notions, and - with a twist - another choice made from the wealth of Michael Peters' My2k and Cut-up Radio works. (I'll sneak in other 'cross-overs' later on...)

Frédéric le Junter allowed the use of the recordings I made some weeks ago of the sounds made by his wondrous Machines Sonores installation at the Instants Chavirés; down from Utrecht, the Netherlands, I got this CDr crammed with curious, funny and - of course! - intriguing found and plundered tracks by Ate M Hes; and up from just a bit to the south of Paris the subtle & poetic, 'Pistes Orphélines', recorded by Erebus ...

As if spilling over, from the recent 'Water, Wind, Sails' netCD, you'll hear a touching 'Camille's Aquarium' by De Zwervende Keien, and Lanark's 'Aguas in Espiral' ...


Apart from a number of other Lanark tracks that are somewhat in the spirit of 'Aguas in Espiral', there also is a series of 'songs' taken from his My Russian Bride album. 'Anna', 'Lila', 'Valentina' and 'Viktoria' all are - as the remaining tracks of the collection - keyboard instrumentals based on music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. 'Lila' and 'Valentina' will confront you with Lanark's view on - I got almost tempted into writing deconstruction of, but that's surely because I've been reading Marcel Cobussen's 2002 thesis recently :-) - the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy', 'Anna' and 'Viktoria' take on the 'Dance of the Reed-Flutes', both from T.'s popular classic 'The Nutcracker Suite' (op. 71). Does this make you frown, as it did me the first time I played 'My Russian Bride'?

Ha! Schubert Angst, indeed!

Most mysterious, finally, among the files now streaming, are the two longish instrumental tracks that come to us from Seth Gordon, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Both are called Grace, Often. The first is subtitled '1921, 78 rpm recording'; the second '1967, electronic realization' ... Both last approximately ten minutes. The '1921'-version is 'played' on a piano - or looped/otherwise 'constructed' from (a) piano recording(s) -, amidst the scratches of a record playing ... slowly, darkish, tense ... strange ... but is the piano recording on the record? Is doesn't sound like a 1921 piano recording ... Are we being seduced into believing that this is a 1921 piano recording? ... After having heard 'Grace, Often (1921)' often I tend to conclude that in fact it is me that is trying to seduce myself that the piece is based on an original nineteen-twenties recording ... but of course it is not! ... or is it? ...
The second version then continues to add to the 'mystery'. Yes, 'Grace, Often (1967)' is the same piece. Schematically, at least. Now sounding as if realized in a mid-sixties analog electronic studio ... But was it realized in such an institute? ... Are we now in turn seduced into believing that? ... Or is it again me that's doing it? ...

You tell me that it is the naming of the pieces that seduces me into these particular 'readings' of the tracks ? That without these titles, I maybe still would have liked these pieces, but that I would have listened to them in a very different way ? As nice, but simple and sheer MIDI wonders ?

Yes I think it was the naming that these past couple of weeks put me up to the making up of a thousand stories, a thousand contexts, to explain me 'Grace, Often', beyond the obivous ... And I loved it ...! (Making up these stories, I mean ... I suggest you make up your own ...) Oh, yes. Of course I tried to ask Seth. But he did not reply. Not to that particular question, he did not.

And do not the lines above show how right he was ?

// There is no such thing as pure sound ... // [ follows my reply to an email from Michael Peters, in which he, among other things, and as several of the other Raudio-contributors did, wondered about the sense of the pure in the 'Raudio is an eclectic mix of pure sound'-slogan, that figures so prominently on the Park web site and in our 'calls for contributions' ... ]


'Pure image, pure sound' is the translation of what, for many years now, is a/the 'slogan' of PARK4DTV, which, in Dutch reads: 'Park is puur beeld, puur geluid' ... In English that became 'Park is pure image, pure sound' ...

This translation comes with a subtle change/shift in meaning.
In the Dutch phrase, 'puur' can be either an adverb or an adjective. That's an interesting grammatical ambiguity. Read as an adverb, the semantics is unequivocal: 'Park is -nothing but- image, -nothing but- sound'; reading 'puur' as an adjective, 'puur beeld, puur geluid' can still have this meaning, but now this is rather a secondary interpretation - and the reading of 'puur' as 'basic, unspoiled, clean' would prevail, be primary. However, due to the grammatical ambiguity a Dutch reader - as do I - will tend to read the sentence at first view in the 'nothing but' way; then realize and maybe appreciate the possible second reading; ideally (afterwards) even 'sense' the - untranslatable - 'doubleness'.

In English 'pure' is (only) an adjective; and I therefore think (correct me if I'm wrong) that for an English reader the 'first view reading' will be as: 'basic, unspoiled, clean'; with as a second possible interpretation (still) the 'nothing but' ('sheer, unmitigated') one ... The English translation 'gets' only half of the original Dutch phrase. It misses the - in Dutch so obvious - adverbial reading ..., the 'Park is -purely- image, -purely- sound' one. In Dutch the two readings are 'parallel', one next to the other; in English they are 'sequential', one before the other.

The Dutch phrase is a great slogan. It first of all hits you with a tautological void: for of course Raudio, like any other web stream, CD, radio program etc. is -nothing but- 'sound'; and of course the contributors contribute -nothing but- 'sound'. And so the phrase is precisely what it preaches: it's 'nothing but (a) sound', 'nothing but (an) image' ...
In English first of all, but in Dutch only 'on second thought', what springs to the fore, is a second, 'deeper'(is it?), reading. Which will get many one wonder about possible 'programs', 'ideologies', 'philosophies' ...

But what is 'pure sound' (if, for the moment, we discard sine-tones and the like 'building blocks of sound waves')? Like you, I'd might start by opting for a tentative 'sound-before-meaning'. But then, will not 'pure sound' be somewhat like the infamous 'sound of a tree falling in the wood when nobody listens'?
Doesn't human listening (active) - yes, even mere hearing (passive) - by its very nature impose meaning? Michael wrote as much himself: even when our 'brain doesn't know what to say', it'll still be working overtime while trying - willy-nilly - to assign some sort of meaning. It even would - and maybe very much so - if we'd be listening to three full hours of seconds long bursts of the same 'pure sine tone'. You'd start listening, hence trying to assign some sort of meaning, until sooner or later either discarding what you are hearing as 'meaningless', or appreciating - intellectually - something like a 'concept' (hence 'forcing' a meaning). In both cases you then probably will stop 'listening' ...
So, no, there is no such thing as 'pure sound' ... or rather: indeed any sound is essentially pure; it's just that our brains can not refrain from 'polluting' it with 'sense' :-) ...

There is of course a somewhat looser interpretation of 'pure sound'. Which will be closer to what I would like the stream - very unpretentiously I hope - to accomplish ... All of it quite 'unintentional', really, for in the end I just try to mix things together that I like, intuitively, beyond and pretty much unconcerned with anything that is 'theoretical', 'programmatic', or 'thought out' ... it is that I now more or less force myself to say something about it, that there might seem to be sort of an 'intention' behind it, some 'master plan' ... It definitely is better to listen. For I might very well say something different tomorrow ...:-) ... But now I say that large parts of the stream consist in 'sound' which is 'pre-musical' - 'musical' read in a 'traditional' sense, of course -, or rather 'pre-form', 'unformatted'; which is 'open', 'ambiguous'; which may be heard as a building-block for many 'musics' because it does not come with a strictly composed (song or whatever)form = a beforehand im/composed 'meaning'; in much of it, the 'meaning' remains up to you; it is largely up to the listener to assign 'meaning', to 'string it all together', into a 'music'. Which is, actually, for me, a preferred way of listening, as well as what I appear to do when I 'compose' with 'sounds': I 'listen' them into 'a music' ...

("Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves," the Duchess said to Alice, somewhere in Wonderland. Which was the moral of something meaning much the same thing as something else ...)

This 'overall ambiguity' is also the reason why I do like to add a couple of 'traditional songs' here and there; to break the on-going 'multiple-ness' for a while. For me personally, these tracks are like 'rest places' in the stream. (Though I am aware that they are a lot like a 'doubly edged' sword, and probably are equally likely to add to the 'multiple meaning'-ness ...)

As to the 'Iraq War Field Recordings': I do hope that no one listening to the stream that stumbles on one of those, will (be able to) listen to them as 'pure sound'. I intend and expect that their sounding will disrupt, and - be it only for a moment - turn this whole listening-thing inside out.

Any sound whatever can be (part of a) 'music', but there is no such thing as a sound 'without values'. Nor a music 'without values'. Even though the 'evidence' for this usually will be far less brutal, blunt and obvious as in these 'rude sounds of war', but more likely pretty obscure, hidden, cultural, and/or simply personal & mood-dependant.
As soon as someone's listening, no sound can be 'pure'.

... well ... those were a lot of words for a little stream ;-)
Maybe I'll copy them into a blog-entry.


[ Earlier related SB-entry: other, and good news! ; next related SB-entry: raudio #3
(Text modified : september 26th, 2006) ]

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