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Johannes Welsch - Sound Creation

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Artist: Johannes Welsch

Album: Sound Creation

Label: Deep Listening

Review date: Jun. 1, 2012

Any use of the words “deep listening” is always bound to evoke the great minimalist and avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros, who coined the term as a way to explain a philosophy of experiencing sound, recorded an album by the same name, and then founded an institute and label called just that, on which appears this album by Ottawa-based composer Johannes Welsch. A comparison with Oliveros, even one inferred merely by words, is something to be proud of, and I’m sure that’s the case for Welsch on Sound Creation, an album of intricate exploration, but one that basks rather willingly and, I think, joyfully, in the considerable shadow of Oliveros’s concepts and ideas.

Sound Creation was composed and recorded using one of the most ancient instruments known to humankind — the gong. Usually used, at least in the West, to punctuate scores rather than dominate them, the gong here is given sole centre stage (the only exception is “Air,” where Welsch also uses singing bowls), and the results are thrilling. The important factor on Sound Creation is Welsch’s use of different-sized gongs depending on the piece, allowing him to create minimal but dense compositions that utilize every aspect of his instrument’s range, one that may seem limited at first, but quickly, in the hands of Welsch, expands in surprising and enthralling ways.

Part of the force of a gong’s sound is the way each interaction with it — be it a reverberant crash or a gentle caress — extends beyond the first contact, as echo, vibration and amplitude extend the frequency of each sound. As such, opener “Fire” is immediate and loud, each crash filling the spectrum before being quickly absorbed by the next. In contrast, on “Storm,” Welsch uses two symphonic gongs that seem to echo one another, slowly building a cloud of insistent drones that bounce off each other like water hitting a mirror, or rain pounding on a window.

If, however, one allows the time for the different tracks on Sound Creation to unfold and evolve around oneself, it quickly becomes apparent that this is an album as restrained and persistent as anything produced by the key figures of minimalist, transcendental tone music. Of course, the crashes of the gongs that permeate and pepper each track are thrilling and startling, but it’s the gaps between each collision that really absorb the listener: those near-silences where the tones of each gong elongate and vibrate, their intricate drones kissing at the ears even as they dissipate into the ether.

With track titles like “Air,” “Water,” “Fire,” and so forth, Sound Creation is obviously intended by its creator to tie into primordial notions of reality and self (after all, Greek philosophers long believed each human was made up of those basic elements), and it succeeds insofar as every track, when played loud, seems to fill and expand the body, the subtle vibrations of each and every gong resonating with something deeply human.

By Joseph Burnett

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