On his website, composer Simon Cummings describes his ‘Studies’ as being structured “from an initially visual perspective”, a musical form he names ‘Op music’. Listening to them initially without doing any background reading, as I usually do, didn’t trigger any associations with any sort of visual stimuli. Once I’d read the artist’s explanation of his approach, I suppose I could make tentative connections between rising and falling pitches and various lines and circles, now that I knew what I was supposed to be listening for. But certainly anyone simply listening without prior instruction could be forgiven for failing to detect any optical associations.
What I did hear in that initial, innocent, uninformed state were 24 pieces demonstrating a range of techniques for working with synthesised acousmatic sounds: there are huge stomach-churning pitch drops, climbing discordant steps, shifting house-alarm wobble, powerful solar winds and icy gusts, sawing cuts, fractious noise, ambiguous gleaming, glossy and grating rushs, and rhythmic oscillations. Most of the pieces are quite short, structurally simple, and restricted to a small handful of patterns and timbres, turning them into a sort of showcase for various acousmatic techniques. Ascending and descending pitches are a recurring touchstone, but one approached from a number of different angles.
The pieces lose none of their interest for the lack of visual associations, although I did find the over-reliance on sweeping pitches a little tiresome after a while (a reliance that becomes more understandable, if not less tiresome, once the ‘Op music’ context is explained). For anyone new to acousmatic music, the “Studies” are well worth a listen, as they demonstrate with precise clarity some of the staple techniques of the genre. Historically-speaking, studies or etudes are a well-established musical form that serve to demonstrate and educate in particular techniques, and this is something that Cummings’ “Studies” does very well.