Ellen Band

90% Post Consumer Sound
XI Records: XI124

Ellen Band / tapes etc.

Tracklist: 1. Railroad Gamelan (9:39) 2. Swinging Sings (12:01) 3. Radiatore (19:38) 4. Closet Bird (8:05) 5. Minimally Tough (11:26)

Ellen Band works mostly with tapes, although a couple of tracks here include live musicians. Her music isn’t musique concrete, and it isn’t quite minimalism, although it has much in common with both. Her recordings are heavily edited and composed, but there is a real sense of the accidental and aleatoric in her work, too. Something of an enigma at first, then, these five pieces.

One thing which is immediately striking is the very limited sound palette in each piece, but the composition of those palettes is done according to the logic of the piece and is consequently quite variable. “Railroad Gamelan”, for example, uses sounds from, you guessed it, trains and various other train-related phenomena such as a jangling bell and a clanking hammer. “Swinging Sings”, on the other hand, restricts itself to two sources, but cnceptually they’re unrelated: a child’s creaking swing and Band’s own violin, played somewhat imitatively. These kinds of choices make each composition very different in texture from the last; Band may take the chaotic noise of the real world as her source but her music is evidently thought out rather carefully, and although they’re described as “field recordings” these are anything but.

ellenbandcover.jpgThe pieces are not all of uniform accessibility, either. The first two tracks referred to above are pretty easy to get hold of; they deal in sounds which have pictorial indices even if those pictures get a bit skewed in the process. “Railroad Gamelan” is like on of those futurist paintings of trains, a slow-motion, cubist rendering of the thing thundering through a crossing; an event which would take a few seconds stretched and analysed into nigh on ten minutes, and wonderful to listen to. The swings piece is more like a Jasper Johns, gestural and not quite abstract, coy and faintly ironic but enjoying the nostalgic simplicity of itself in spite of itself. “Closet Bird” is slighter, an electronic bird which warbles with a disturbing evenness.

Things do get tougher than this, though. The twenty-minute “Radiatore” is very hard to place, a lowercase composition of hissing air accompanied by drips and metallic clanks. Amazingly, the sounds do form into a very minimal kind of music, and although it sounds like a noisy radiator it’s been cut together to form dynamic peaks and troughs, termporal rushes and lulls. Or maybe it hasn’t; that uncertainty is part of the fun, of course.

The final track, “Minimally Tough” is a binaural recording ostensibly of a performance by five people. They’re all standing around an enormous piece of bubble-wrap, or that’s what it sounds like anyway. Sometimes the rustling, crinkling sounds take on the quality of heavy rain; at other times they sound like, well, like bubble wrap. This is the hardest piece of the lot to get anything out of, but it’s obviously been crafted and thought about with some care.

Band’s music is characterised, at least on this evidence, by an attentive pleasure in sounds as they are. She assembles them and, of course, transforms them, but she enver seems to do so with the intention of improving them. In many cases these are detailed studies of very specific, real-world sounds. Their relationship with traditional music is tenuous, but Band has a tendency towards simple arch-like schemes which ensure that the listener never gets lost. There’s huge amounts to enjoy here for the adventurous headphonaut. Richard Cochrane

Ellen Band’s work . . . lies in the path it takes, leading one from listening to recordings of natural sounds to, before one knows it, being immersed in a dense and complex field of sound which, though built completely from natural elements, is something quite transcendent and otherworldly. Band’s music seduces us into perceiving the sensuous properties of familiar sounds by building dense and complex sound environments out of these elements. By sheer sensory density we are brought face-to-face with the physical, vibrational reality of sounds, bringing us to a state of attention to what we perhaps have lazily ignored through over-familiarity. The ever-active yet somehow static nature of some of these pieces, as they reach very rich sonic densities, start opening like rich noise sources, providing a field for auditory illusion and hallucination. It’s as if our perceptual apparatus, brought to a high state of awareness by the odd combination of familiarity and extreme density, begins providing its own guesses about the meaning of it all –aural hallucinations. Excerpts from the liner notes by Tim Perkis.

At the end of each of Ellen Band’s pieces, we return to the “real world” as it was heard in the beginning. The sounds are now full of memories with the residue of where they have been. It’s hard to hear a simple, familiar sound again without imagining what it’s “other life” is like. Excerpts from the liner notes by Brenda Hutchinson.