"This 2CD is essentially a retrospective of Eastley's installation work. As such, it updates and adds many new examples to the 1975 release "New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments", which was released as a split LP with David Toop on Brian Eno's Obscure Records.
This is Eastley's first solo CD. Of the 35 tracks, only the last 2 have any guests or 'playing' (the most virtuosic moment being George Lewis playing a grass blade). All the other pieces are either powered by the natural forces of wind and water, or else are motor driven gallery installations.
The ethereal sounds of the aoelian harp, the haunting aeolian flutes, and the violent tension of his aerophone installations are hallmark Eastley sounds. These sounds, and many others, sit amidst a wide range of acoustic settings, from windy hill tops to quiet brooks, residential street scenes to coastal shores. The indoor recordings are no less varied, ranging across a rich variety of acoustics and gallery spaces from tiny micro sounds to large scale amplification. Wood, metal and stone are brought to life with electricity. Although there are many photos in the 20 page booklet, much is left to the imagination to work out how the sounds are made. With this limited access to the visual, the focus is pulled towards the musicality of the sounds themselves. This musicality is reinforced by the slow crossfades of most of the pieces from indoors to outdoors to form a series of suites.
The recordings mostly date from the mid 70s, but there are pieces from later decades. Nearly everything was recorded either to Revox or Uher and occasionally cassette, using what microphones were available at the time. Recent recordings are digital. The varying quality of the recording set-ups across this 2CD adds yet another dimension to the shifting sound fabric of this anthology.
A Spiral Cage
For those inclined to come to terms with the music of John Cage, it almost always comes in stages. The prepared piano is often the gateway, or perhaps the early percussion work. For some it might be the more wild electronics of the sixties, or perhaps they came to it via dance and Merce Cunningham. As one develops ones appreciation one accepts his various ideas: rhythmic structure, silence, the validity of all sounds and finally chance and the reduction of the will of the composer. The notions of chance composition, indeterminacy and attempting to remove from music the composer or performers taste's and predilections are the most difficult hurdle for most to get past and many people, even those highly interested in contemporary composition, experimental music and the like never do. It is not at all uncommon to meet those who only really enjoy Cage's early music, losing the thread when chance operations became his primary working method (also you meet those who only appreciate the number pieces, which while chance composed utilize a very carefully chosen set of constraints that reduce certain features that turn many people off of chance composed music. But that is another topic). But chance is the key to Cage's work, one must accept it, get past that to really appreciate his music. It often is misunderstood as an expediency of composition (and perhaps it was in the European Avant-Garde's aleatoric music) but for Cage it was the tool he found to help reduce forcing his personal tastes and predilections upon the music. Following this idea to at least one sort of endpoint, what could remove the composer more effectively than creating sculptures that generate sound on their own, often in response to natural events?
I lay my harp on the curved table,
Sitting there idly, filled only with emotions.
Why should I trouble to play?
A breeze will come and sweep the strings.
-Attributed to Po Chü-i (772-846)(1)
Max Eastley has been making sound producing sculptures since the early 1970s and this cd documents 36 years of them beginning in the year that I was born. His scupltures often rely on wind (aeolian harps and flutes) or collections of electric and mechanical parts assembled to maximize unpredictability, the use of field recordings and combinations of these with electronics, performers and other instruments. These sculptures naturally exhibit indeterminacy through use of wind or wave action or chaotic electrical parts but furthermore also in their very construction:
I chose not to use any system of tuning: the metals for example were chose visually and I put random pitches of Aeolian Flutes together, but I tuned strings to specific tone rows. This two cd set contains short little recordings from these scupltures, as well as performances from some of the more instrument like sculptures. As this set is a document of these installations it doesn't contain any of the improvised music that Eastley has done with various other musicians. The discs are very well put together, the short excerpts are crafted into extended pieces that all crossfade into each other. The liner notes mark these into sections containing from one to seven tracks and these work quite well as pieces of music. The level of consideration in this assemblage is quite high, sometimes a particular sculpture is returned to several times in one of these "pieces", which really gives it a flow and makes what could be mere documentation into an captivating piece of music. Of course not everything works, but nothing lasts so long as to dominate, to force the album into one particular shape. It is the sounds of the sculpture that dominate, often metal on metal, odd rotating sounds, clunking wood and the like. It reminds me of the best field recordings in a way, those that aren't mere documentation but a piece of music. In many ways I think capturing the essence of the natural world, the way that sounds come in and overlap of their own according, those moments of near stasis and the wide range of dynamics, has been a goal of those working with chance based music.
While of course it is hard to tell, I'd wager that the least successful tracks here had the most intervention from humans. Whether as scupltures being played, or by transformation from electronics, there are several tracks that are smoothed out into rather new age soundscapes that are tolerable simply due to their brevity and transformation into another piece. The best pieces are all a-flutter with the breeze, starting and stopping unpredictably, with big crashes sometimes, or a softly muttering unpitched tone. Rhythms driven by natural processes that fail capture by our senses but fully capture our imagination. There are sounds, rhythms, harmonies on this set that have captivated me more then anything else this year and even the bits that aren't as interesting to me work in the flow of the album. The carefully constructed structure keeps it from feeling like a catalog of work; there are musical pieces here. I've never had a chance to experience one of Eastley's sculptures in person but I dearly hope to get the chance. Seattle's outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park would greatly benefit from one of these in my opinion."-Hatta
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1. Installation No.3 Pt.1 2:58
2. Wooden Blocks And Brass Sheet 3:09
3. Aerophones 1 3:35
4. Monochord 3:48
5. Aerophones 2 2:40
6. Motors And Metal Rods 1 2:25
7. Aerophones 3 1:01
8. Serpentine Gallery Installation 5:23
9. Installation For The Film "Clocks Of The Midnight Hours" 2:01
10. Stone Circle 1 1:57
11. Motors And Metal Rods 2 3:43
12. Centriphone - Amplified And Filtered 6:30
13. Hydrophone String Installation 3:10
14. Half Speed Metal Installation 3:59
15. Stone Circle 2 1:40
16. Two Aeolian Arcs 4:55
17. Strings - Interior And Exterior 7:02
1. 2 Aeolian Harps Pt. 1 5:03
2. Wooden Blocks 2:11
3. 2 Aeolian Harps Pt. 2 3:30
4. Aerophones 4 4:05
5. Motor And Strings 3:01
6. Aerophones 5 0:44
7. Installation No.3 Pt. 2 4:30
8. Aerophones 6 0:54
9. Aeolian Arc And Strings 4:48
10. Aerophones 7 1:56
11. Fricton Tubes 3:59
12. Aeolian Flutes 5:24
13. Wire On Paper 3:39
14. Aeolian Flutes And Aeolian Harp 0:56
15. Instalation 4:13
16. Aeolian Flutes 2 5:17
17. Whirled Music 1:10
18. Swung Aeolian Flutes And Grass Blade 2:18