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Recombinant Art 01: Artists Using Kyma
Album: 01 Mar 2005
By: EdmundEagan

In Recombinant Art 01: Artists Using Kyma (RA01), producer Edmund Eagan has created a true 5-channel DVD-audio disk that you can listen to in stereo on your computer or play on a 6-channel DVD-player for the full surround audio experience. Beautiful both visually and sonically, RA01 was created entirely by artists using Kyma and is now available at CDeMUSIC.

Discussion (Descriptions, reviews, discussion):

RA01 represents a wide range of aesthetic approaches, linked together by the following challenge posed by Eagan to each of the sound artists:

Take these 5 sound files [one of which is the chirping of a live capybara, ed.], add 17 vocalized syllables of your choice, and a sound bite from the longer work; then recombine the ingredients in Kyma to create a 30 second sound piece. This piece will act as an introductory "trailer" to the full length work.

The resulting interludes between the longer tracks provide a unifying thread, with many of the artists using their own voices as part of these self-referential mini-introductions to the main events.

RA01 is a multi-sensory experience for your eyes, your hands, and especially for your ears. Pop open the stamped aluminum case, and you discover a deck of smooth black matte cards. The penultimate card gives graphical instructions on interesting things you can do with this mysterious deck (Hint: One configuration is an animated flip book!) Designer Andrew Young explores the idea of "codes": binary codes dripping Matrix-like into UPC codes, iconic codes, and genetic codes (I had never noticed this before, but a 2-d projection of the double-helix resembles nothing so much as two out-of-phase sine waves).

Sonically, RA01 constitutes its own immersive hyper-reality. The listener travels through vast virtual spaces filled with evocative sound sources placed at various angles and distances, proceeding at different time scales, and ranging from quasi-cinematic sound effects to highly abstract signals that are the emergent properties of mathematical algorithms.

The journey begins in Matteo Milani's ominously cinematic Signal Flow where the listener is surrounded by distant rumbling machines, hissing steam leaks, electrical discharges, and spacecraft whipping by with metal wings that actually flap.

Next, the listener goes through the looking glass into "insolent noisemaker" Agostino Di Scipio's Nattura allo Specchio where delicate unicellular impulses evolve into complex tones, brushed percussion, and close-miked human utterances.

Tawm Perkowski's Corrosis Permancante environment is a bit more hostile, with gun shots flying across the spatial field, lightning strikes, windstorms, horses, radio scanning, and vocoded speech describing "the badlands" and "the grand finale of a mighty symphony of the elements".

In Bill Meadows' Folded, the listener's attention is directed upward, to the stratospheric regions of the spectrum where you feel yourself ricocheting off the tinkly upper partials of a string quartet. The timbre of a single note becomes a rich orchestral arrangement in which the harmonics themselves act as both harmony and melody. A single half-step played on the violin becomes a world of sound and then evaporates.

In keeping with the RA01 artwork, Edmund Eagan's In presents a multi-layered environment of codes. The same group of sounds is presented symbolically (as a lo-fi verbal description of the sounds), realistically (actual samples of the sounds), and abstractly (synthesized sounds that share rhythmic, melodic, or timbral characteristics with the straight, sampled sounds). By pointing at the same sound object in three different ways, Eagan induces a strong sense of place and memory in the listener. You feel yourself transported to a chill drippy night, you smell the pine trees, hear the sound of rain on the tent, the distant rhythm of transport trucks on the wet highway, the cry of a loon, footsteps, and a background of crickets. You realize that the sounds are not "real" yet somehow these stylized, musical sounds evoke strong associative memories. At one point the trucks crescendo into a strange space that feels both large and small at the same time. It ends with an abrupt cutoff like an unwelcome awakening from a vivid dream.

Impeccable compositional chops and a wildly uninhibited imagination combine to make Zlatko Tanody's Animus-Anima both riveting and disturbing: seamless transitions from phonorealistic thunderstorms to harmonized mezzo soprano, interrupted by granulated male intonations of "femina sola" and proceeding into an orchestral climax culminating in a higher-than-humanly possible sustained soprano voice and a distressed baby's crying. The baby's crying is mixed with a contrastingly peaceful woman's singing voice. The baby morphs disturbingly into a sputtering wheezing demon as the woman morphs into an ethereal synthetic organ-like timbre and then disperses. The track concludes with a loud crunching sound and hysterical baby laughter from the rear speakers. The dark side of motherhood?

Tanodi's skill as a composer is equally apparent in Mo-re, a piece for string quartet with live Kyma interaction. Glass plinks morph into bell trees, distorted whispers and string tremolos that are captured and subtly echoed and layered in the rear channels. There is even a Debussy moment in the string quartet which is spatially arranged across the front channels (with the vocalish live DSP-processing and doublings sneaking into the rear channels). Tanodi should be writing Hollywood film scores!

Jose Luis Gonzalez Castro's Petits Objets Musicaux create a Zen-like quantum world of layered objects viewed at different time scales. In POM 19, for example, uniform random plucked string-like flurries are layered with stochastic impulses and chirps, oscillators at random pitches, and an ambient background. Castro's is a physicist's-eye view of the universe at the quantum scale (objects trés petits?) where time does not fly like an arrow and there are neither endings nor beginnings.

Robert Scott Thompson is a master of texture-building and seamless textural modulation. His Eclipse evokes the slow, steady transformation of a lunar eclipse on a cold clear night, while his Fire Gazing track drops the listener into the middle of an abstract neolithic rainforest to witness an ancient ritual by firelight.

RA01 is a true DVD-A with no video component save the static video menus. And once you start listening, you realize that no external images are required. Your ears are more than sufficient to guide you through these universes of space, time, and memory; and the cinema of your own mind generates a physical sense of presence and associative memories stronger than anything you have experienced through your eyes.

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