In my recent review of d’incise’s “im/permeability”, I noted that I would have preferred the structure of the work to have been more influenced by its material. Predictably, the Swiss musician had already produced a release that illustrates precisely the point I was trying to make. The score for “Ilhas” consists of 38 sine tone chords, which are played through a single speaker in such a manner as to make a prepared snare drum vibrate, with a four-second pause between each chord. In the two performances included in the release (one by the composer and another by Hannes Lingens and Jamie Drouin), the duration of chords is ostensibly left to the performer(s). However, what this means in practice is that the performers judge how long to hold each chord by listening to the sounds produced — the overtones, the resonances, the beating of harmonics, the accumulation of feedback, etc.. These qualities aren’t entirely predictable beforehand, leading to the sense that the piece’s material partly determines its own structure, within the boundaries set by the score.
In other words, this is music at its most reflexive, arising from acts of productive listening rather than emotional expression or conceptual exposition. The four-second gap is enough to isolate each chord from all the others, throwing it back onto its own internal aesthetic resources. On a superficial level the work resembles others that iterate through single chords or cadences in isolation, such as recent pieces by Kenneth Kirschner; however, while Kirschner’s figures gleam with the austerity necessary for their function as fragments of traditional tonality, the chords of “Ilhas” manage to maintain an object-like individuality quite distinct from any overarching schema. The critique they offer has to do with the way in which physics operates in order to produce sounds at one remove from human intention or determination; that is to say, they are not (merely) traces. If this makes them resemble the incidentality of, say, wind causing the metal frame of a park swing to resonate, then they are all the more beautiful for it.
And yet, a sense of performance remains: what happens is not simply a happy accident. The two performances included in the release are quite different, with the duo of Lingens and Drouin allowing grittier and more biting timbres to emerge than d’incise, though how much of this is to do with stylistic approach and how much is the result of how the drums were prepared is anyone’s guess. The CD-R from Suppedaneum includes both the sine chords and a list of their frequencies, in theory facilitating further realisations of the score; future performances would be very interesting to hear, but the two captured on disc are already wonderfully compelling.