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Will Montgomery / Robert Curgenven - Heygate / Looking for Narratives on Small Islands

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Artist: Will Montgomery / Robert Curgenven

Album: Heygate / Looking for Narratives on Small Islands

Label: Winds Measure

Review date: May. 8, 2012

What the arbitrary categorizations of “unconventional,” “fringe,” “outsider,” “non-music,” and “abstract” seem to suggest about “experimental music” (what we’ll call it for sake of ease), is that it’s too difficult for your average listener to understand, let alone enjoy. Quite the contrary is true, as first of all, every highfalutin music critic started out with pop music, and more importantly, most experimental music is devoid of the high-brow conceptualism that would simply weigh it down. It is, after all, still considered music.

You’ll notice that the words “sound art” were left out of the opening sentence. This identifier is problematic, as it is often used to label music but seems to suggest experimentation in sound that is outside of music. I’m guilty of calling musicians sound artist’s myself, but am slowly coming around to the idea that “sound art” should be left for the gallery context, or to help identify sound work of an artistic nature that isn’t deemed music by the artist.

I realize that I’ve just presented an argument that’s full of holes, and I wouldn’t blame you if my indulgence into the semantics of music versus sound art popped the word pretentious into your mind. I’ve merely laid this all out as a way to adjust your mind to thinking about Heygate / Looking for Narratives on Small Islands, and because it is precisely this type of healthy discourse that enlivens the musical pieces that grace it.

Will Montgomery’ Heygate is loaded with concept. Montgomery began by setting out to record sounds in and around the Heygate estate, a once high profile symbol of the Southwark Council’s housing construction program in South London in the 1960s and ‘70s, using the rather arcane set-up of contact microphones, a VLF (Very Low Frequency) receiver and a telephone pick-up coil.

The Heygate is likely all but demolished now, as it was sold to a private developer, but it is in this rebirthing that Montgomery yearned to preserve the old through the unlikely medium of sound. With many of his field recordings of the area being processed before used in the composition, Montgomery claims his piece acts as an encryption to the acoustic environment of the estate, as if the sounds of Heygate — as augmented as some of them are — can still be traced back to the place from which they originated.

There is far more involved in the conceptual side of Montgomery’s piece than I’ve outlined, but if there is one thing you should take with you, it’s that Heygate is too good a musical piece to fall into my sloppy definition of sound art. The work meanders over a 20 minute duration, but its gently arcing movements don’t feel aimless. A comfortable predictability that starts to form by the eight-minute mark is then disrupted by the start and stop of electrified noise, not unlike the kind Joe Colley has unleashed in his work. The piece eventually eases back into sweeping drones whose luminescence reveal just enough restraint in the processing department.

To Montgomery’s piece, Curgenven’s Looking for Narratives on Small Islands follows so nicely in suit, it’s a wonder this entire record isn’t from a single mind. Curgenven is an Australian-born sound composer whose performance of late has been centered around something known as the Transparence dubplate. Transparence is actually a legitimate 10” vinyl release of Curgenven, whose pieces are composed from feedback recorded while in residence at O’Artoteca in Milan, Italy,. What’s special about Transparence is that it was cut at an extremely low volume, making for audible playback that requires extremely high volumes. Thus, Curgenven utilizes the dubplate of Transparence as an instrument as opposed to an album, where repeated high amplitude playbacks cause subtle shifts in vinyl crackling sounds and a noticeable change in the music after repeated use.

The Transparence sessions that make up Looking for Narratives… are pocked with the sounds of field recordings, guitar feedback and industrial fans. Like in Heygate, the individual sound or instrument disappears in the grandness of history, meaning, encryption and origin. Fortunately, a balance is struck in these works between a complexity in their concepts and a purity in their form, that meet in the middle to make music that has genuine perspective.

By Adrian Dziewanski

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