VARIOUS | Birmingham Sound Matter
 Cat: AB023
 Time: July 09
 Media: CD & Digital Download

 Info: Typically, recorded sound is considered as a 
 representation of reality. Birmingham Sound Matter 
 demonstrates that a sound recording can also be 
 considered as an entity by itself. 

 Artist site:

 PDF Press Release: Download

 01. Helena Gough  
02. Martin Clarke
03. Bobby Bird
04. Cormac Faulkner
05. Annie Mahtani
06. Mark Harris
07. Nicholas Bullen
08. Francisco Lopez
- Grau [MP3 Preview]
- Sleep Birmingham Sleep
- Combustion
- Vortgeist
- Shadows [MP3 Preview]
- Last Days [MP3 Preview]
- Proximity
- Untitled #225
Mark Harris - Birmingham Sound Matter download shop  
ARTISTS | Birmingham Sound Matter
Helena Gough
Martin Clarke
Bobby Bird

Cormac Faulkner

Annie Mahtani
Mark Harris
Nicholas Bullen
Francisco Lopez
REVIEWS | Birmingham Sound Matter

 Over fifty years ago, French composer Pierre Schaeffer, the father of musique concrète, described sound 
 recording as ‘objet sonore’, suggesting that, while documenting a sonic event, it is also one. This is very much the
 philosophy behind the Sound Matter series of projects orchestrated by Spanish sound artist Francisco López. 
 After Brussels in 2004, Montreal in 2006 and Victoriaville in 2007, López was invited to come to Birmingham and
 gather a handful of regional sound artists.

 The concept behind the Sound Matter projects is pretty simple. Get a few sound artists together, send them 
 to collect sounds from a particular city, let them process them as they see fit. These two sound pools are then a
 common platform for each of the artists involved to create their own work. Contributing to Birmingham Sound 
 Matter are Helena Gough, Martin Clarke, Bobby Bird, Cormac Faulkner, Annie Mahtani, Mark Harris, Nicholas 
 Bullen and Francisco López. The project started with a workshop held in early 2009, and the complete process, 
 from the harvesting of sounds to the processing, composition and recording, took place during the following three
 months, with a concert, in Birmingham on 8 July bringing it to a close. This album, released on Audiobulb, 
 documents the resulting work.

 One artist who has worked on a similar project is Bobby Bird. In 2000, Bird, working as Higher Intelligence 
 Agency, teamed up with Norwegian ambient artist Geir Jenssen, AKA Biosphere for Birmingham Frequencies, 
 an album made using sounds collected around Birmingham. This followed a similar project three years before 
 in Tromsø, Jenssen’s home town, during the Polar Music Festival, where the pair created music made
 exclusively from sounds sourced around the performing area. Here, he contributes Combustion, a piece which 
 starts as a slow moving drone-like form, punctuated by regular pulses, but as Bird progressively brings grainy
 sounds and, eventually, almost industrial noises, his composition becomes denser and more organic.

 Later, Annie Mahtani creates, with Shadows, a piece articulated around two very distinct sections. In the first 
 one, she weaves light textures into much more robust and dense forms. Following a few seconds of silence, 
 the more bucolic second part opens with bird songs, but the urban soundscape becomes increasingly vibrant 
 and predominant, evoking the expansion of the city over the countryside, but Mahtani eventually returns to
 nature sounds to conclude. Opening electro acoustic composition Grau, by Helena Gough, is one of the most 
 complex pieces presented here, as she arranges a series of segments into a narrative sequence which goes
 from peaceful and delicate to cold and mechanical, while Nicholas Bullen’s Proximity also goes through a
 number of phases, but, apart for a few white noise discharges, his are more tempered.

 Others chose a more typically musical approach. This is the case of Mark Harris, whose Last Days focuses on
 long progressive drones which are given a soft orchestral feel, while crackles and statics are dusted over the
 latter part of the track. Drones are also fundamental to Martin Clarke’s piece. Using bell sounds, treated and 
 stretched so they lose their percussive aspect but none of their rich tonal warmth, he offers here a surprisingly
 ethereal and exquisite moment with Sleep Birmingham Sleep. Concluding this album is Francisco López’s Untitled
 #225, which, along its ten minutes or so, builds from slow moving forms into much grander and more ambitious 
 sound clouds as noises gather along the way.

 Francisco López and his contributors don’t aim at building a sonic map of the city here, but use the noises and
 sounds it generates and turn them into particles that contribute to the overall work. This is, perhaps, more a 
 representation of what cities are like, sprawling and ever changing. The result is particularly atmospheric and
 fascinating, as all artists share the same pool of sounds, yet each track is an utterly personal interpretation of it. 
 In the hands of these, sound is, indeed a wonderful object.

 The lead artist in this project is that great master of abstract electronic music, Francisco Lopez, whose studies 
 of noise, silence and the fabric of recorded sound have been a major presence in the realm of electroacoustic 
 music over the past ten years or so. In this instance Lopez collaborated with a host of regional sound artists, 
 collecting field recordings from around the city, shaping them into streams of decontextualised noise that are 
 typical of Lopez's more challenging brand of microsound. Several of the participants come from an academic 
 background, while others are self-taught, but in all cases the compositional approach eschews the more casual 
 and pastoral tendencies of the genre. There's some great (if confrontational) material on offer: Annie Mahtani's 
 cinematic 'Shadows', Mark Harris' droning 'Last Days' and Lopez's own deep and heavy 'Untitled 225' all prove to 
 be especially rewarding. Recommended. 

 "Right now heres a project for you Mr Lopez; grab some electronic artists, give them a few mic's and send them 
 off into a city." That would be the voices in Spanish musical pioneer Francisco Lopez's head talking to him again. 
 Oh no wait, it has happened, its been done. And here it is - "Birmingham Sound Matter" and it's collaboration of
 the weirdest, wonder-fullest, strangest, cl-ickiest, randomist sounds in one record, from Birmingham (of all 

 This concept is simple enough, but the content is a totally different kettle of fish cakes. You have to really 
 understand what is going on before you can reach a conclusion to this latest release from Audiobulb. The 
 Sheffield based independent label releases some of the most unique electronica to hit our playlists. 
 "Birmingham Sound Matter" creates a compilation of sounds you wouldn't really pay any attention to in a normal 
 setting. There are children playing, birds singing, bee's buzzing and cars wooshing past. 

 Francisco Lopez seems to be a very complex individual; by talking about "reality" and all sorts of different mind
 sets (this is all on the CD sleeve, not in the music). This is definitely Exploratory music. The headline to the 
 album is mental enough for me "Typically, recorded sound is considered as a representation of reality. 
 Birmingham Sound Matter demonstrates that a sound recording can also be considered as an entity by itself." 
 An entity itself? Sounds like David Icke has had his footing in the door for this one. 

 Each track has had a different artist dip their musical wick into it. Layer by layer they must have had to tediously 
 place each sound in a certain way, with a certain effect. 'Last Days" by Mark Harris sounds like the soundtrack 
 to the film "Crash" with a warm ambient layer of synths and wobbly chords. Helana Gough's - 'Grau' has a glitch
 approach, with random bursts of scratchy energy and uncomfortable samples. I'm not quite sure what the hell 
 she was sampling there!

 This is music for the uber intellectual electronic music producer. It's just something that is so hard to understand, 
 yet its magical in many ways. This is more like a soundtrack to a film really.

 Directed by the esteemed sound artist Francisco López, Birmingham Sound Matter is a compilation of recordings 
 by a collection of artists from the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country areas of the Midlands in England. 
 Some were born there, some gravitated there from various locations around the UK and further afield.

 The project is coordinated by Scylla Magda of Modulate, an experimental sound and visual arts project 
 specializing in multi-speaker sound and visual arts events, who first met Lopez in 2007 when he visited the city 
 for the first time to perform one of his legendary Total Darkness concerts at one of Modulate’s Sonic Culture Salon 
 events. After that meeting Magda invited Lopez to direct a compilation project themed around the city. He accepted 
 and Birmingham Sound Matter was born.
 Lopez’s concept for the recording of this album is an interesting one. First, each of the artists compiled a pool of 
 sounds they had recorded in and around the Birmingham area. Then, each of them took these recordings and 
 treated, manipulated and processed them to create a second pool of mutated sounds. The respective artists were 
 then free to use sounds from each pool to compose a new musical piece for the compilation. As Lopez quite rightly
 points out in the sleeve notes, this method of working means that each contribution is as much about the individual 
 artist, if not more so, than it is about the city itself. 

 Consisting mostly of droning soundscapes juxtaposed with field recordings of gentle environmental sounds such 
 as birdsong or passing traffic, BSM is an intensely personal exploration of sound from all taking part. Helena 
 Gough’s opener "Grau" starts with a low electrical hum interrupted with sudden sharp bursts of noise while Martin
 Clarke’s "Sleep Birmingham Sleep" builds from the calm simplicity of birdsong melting into traffic noise whilst all the
 time slowly building a radiant hypnotic drone. Higher Intelligence Agency’s Bobby Bird presents "Combustion," a 
 carefully conceived track full of the haunting detail of a fire burning from the gentle beauty of its flames to its 
 merciless destructive nature.

 Changing tone somewhat is "Vortgeist" by Coventry’s Cormac Faulkner that opens with a deep aggressive drone
 that quickly dissolves into an agitated mix of intimate sounds, minute detail and tiny digital clicks. Annie Mahtani 
 initially follows a similar theme with "Shadows" but soon develops it into a tale of a journey through the city 
 complete with passing traffic, children playing and insects buzzing paired with sinister fuzzy layered drones. 
 Her track could reflect the difference between night and day from the relative safety of the daylight hours to the 
 potential danger any major city can bring after dark before the welcome dawn returns to start another day. 

 Mark Harris opts for gentle orchestral tones over a steady undulating drone, providing a delightfully serene track
 that takes on a dark, sinister edge as the drone builds and becomes more prominent and distorted. Nicholas Bullen
 jars the senses abruptly at the start "Last Days" but offers a track that places tiny fragments of digital sound 
 alongside processed field recordings that dissolve into an otherworldly mix of dark cavernous drones that echo 
 and reverberate in deep underground chambers. Closing the album is project director Lopez’s own composition 
 "Untitled #225," a track that features skillfully detailed sound, a harrowing tonal backing, the subtle rumble of 
 subterranean drones and processed field recordings that twist, turn and evolve over the course of just under
 10 minutes. 

 Inevitably with something that uses a limited source material there is going to be some similarity between tracks
 but it is the way in which all the contributors use the material that is intriguing, all of them doing subtly different 
 things and creating different moods, building different aural images and experimenting with different ways of 
 presenting the material that is uniquely their own and distinctly personal to them.

 BSM is a project focused on the artists involved and the concept more than just Britain’s second city itself. All 
 of the artists are in some way connected to the region and this essentially brings the concept full circle in that 
 it is reflected through the contributions each artist makes and the source material they use. Collectively, it is an 
 intricately composed collection of related works, all intense, detailed, intimate and personal to those creating 
 them. Essentially, this is a gallery of sound art from a group of like-minded artists collated with a clear vision of 
 the finished product from Lopez. 

 In a project overseen by experimental provocateur Francisco López, Birmingham Sound Matter presents evocative
 sound portraits of the locale filtered through the sensibilities of eight experimental artists. López, who regards the 
 world as an infinitely rich sonic resource, takes his material from the natural and urban environments and then 
 digitally assembles the treated results into provocative set-pieces. Last February, López and the seven 
 collaborators made outdoor and indoor recordings around Birmingham in order to capture in sound the identity of 
 the city, and then uploaded the materials to a shared internet space for the project participants to draw upon. As 
 a result, despite obvious differences between the resultant pieces, a commonality is shared by them, which 
 helps make the album feel like a unified statement rather than disjointed pieces. Some verge on hermetic and 
 micro-sound in character, while others are more expansive and field recordings-oriented. Some exude a ghostly 
 quality that suggests more of a deserted city than booming metropolis.

 Intermittently derailed by interference, Helena Gough's “Grau” embeds faintly audible natural and bird-like sounds 
 within ghostly and whirring masses, while, in Martin Clarke's “Sleep Birmingham Sleep,” prominent field sounds of
 seagulls and bird chirps give way to traffic sounds of racing cars, thunder, and even sirens amidst a droning 
 field of string tones. Bobby Bird's “Combustion” begins as a quieter, contemplative treatment but grows darker as 
 watery sounds seep in, and then darker still as a menacing ambiance spreads like a virus. A nostalgic mood 
 pervades the peaceful orchestral treatment Mark Harris brings to his beautifully modulated “Last Days,” with 
 synthetic string tones augmented by static pops and a swelling bass undertow. A more brittle creature by 
 comparison, Nicholas Bullen's “Proximity” shatters the calm induced by “Last Days” with a prickly stream of 
 insectoid noises, ruptures, crow caws, and a crying baby. The natural ease with which the sound patterns flow
 into one another during Francisco López's “Untitled #225” evidences the producer's masterful handling of the
 elements, especially when a rather sub-lunar beginning eventually expands to become a rich swarm of simmering
 noise and dark tonal ambiance. Ultimately, as López himself accurately notes, “the results of this project are as
 much about Birmingham as about the participants themselves.” That is, the individual pieces occupy a middle
 ground between the imposition of a given individual creator's style and the deference shown by the artist in the
 desire to create a sonic portrait that would do justice to the locale. 

 If the standard practice of sound recording is regarded as a "capture," then in this abstract conceptual electronic
 music project, the representation of auditory reality happens through far more complex perceptual mechanisms. 
 The work considers frequencies and drones, intended as isolated particles, as entities that create other specific 
 relations, whether of a generic nature or site-specific. The formula is as accurate as it is elementary: a select 
 group of audio manipulators are sent samples from a particular city. Francisco López collects and coordinates 
 the authors, who this time are all from Birmingham-UK. The record looks to explore the audio psychogeography 
 of cities such as Brussels, Montreal and Victoriaville. The end result is fascinating, full of subtle textures, at first 
 light, then denser - organic - as with Annie Mahtani's piece, or marked by harmonious reverberations, as in the 
 case of Mark Harris' elaborations, which are unraveled in elegant and hypnotic envelopes. Sounds of nature and
 dilated loops - fluctuating - are the basis of the formal application of Martin Clarke's offering, and, in a different 
 but equally inspired way, the electro-acoustic music of Helena Gough peeps through the grooves. Bobby Bird, 
 Cormac Faulkner and Nicholas Bullen, too, are actively involved in the project, along with Francisco López 
 himself, who performs last, an intense and intangible piece which leaves us with the image of a very dark and 
 multifaceted metropolis. 

 Compilation which recently has started on label Audiobulb Records is the new project of Francisco López, guru
 of such phenomenon as Musique Concrète. López's arrival to Birmingham in 2007 can be considered the start of 
 it, there he was giving one of his 'Total Darkness' concerts. Later the musician decided to return, he gathered a 
 group of British musicians and proposed them all to record sounds inside Birmingham. After a definite number of 
 records was gathered, all members of the project together with project's director made of them 8 long-lasting 
 compositions which absorbed the spirit of the idea that sound is not projection of some reality, it's self-sufficient, 
 and can be considered as an entity by itself. All that was received in the result can be called by fans of 
 classifications as "non-music". In general, rather amusing notion. What is music and what not? Birds' singing and 
 cars' noise in the track of Martin Clarke or the sound of water in the work by Bobby Bird as for me belong to 
 music more than that what is poured out on us by the surface of musical industry.

 All material recorded in Birmingham was scrupulously arranged by the musicians. They add their own elements 
 to the composition to their taste, most often it's dense, low-frequency drone or canvas of vast ambient sounds. 
 Here one can notice not banal mixture of tracks with field records but the work with this material. Like an artist 
 works with oil paints, and sculptor with pieces of clay. You think at once that it's something like "abstraction"...
 If you play the disc like a background, well, it will be so, but listening attentively you notice the complicated 
 structure and rich images. You notice that what can't be found in pop music, and people are free-tongued to 
 call pop music "music"...

 BIRMINGHAM SOUND MATTER (CD by Audiobulb) Recently an interesting book was published by Thomas Bey 
 William Bailey called 'Microbionic' about 'radical electronic music and sound art in the 21st century'. If you want to 
 know why people do what they do, the likes of Ryoji Ikeda, Peter Rehberg, Merzbow then this is a highly 
 recommended read. Also featured is a piece on Francisco Lopez. His music doesn't have a story - Absolute Music
 he calls it - no message, politically, but he wants the listener to listen to sound. Lopez is probably a fine teacher, 
 as in Birmingham he did another project in his Sound Matter series. First Montreal (see Vital Weekly 537) and now 
 Birmingham. Lopez, along with participants went out to record sounds in the city and then throw them into a 
 soundpool and each was to process them, together and alone, and from that even more extended soundpool, 
 composers picked the sounds to work with. Unlike Montreal, I have not been to Birmingham, but I imagine a city 
 with some high buildings and some nice parks. From whatever sound we hear in place here, we hear birds and 
 cars, all immersed in heavily electronic processing. The participants are self-taught or academic, and we 
 recognize the names of Helena Gough and Nicholas Bullen among them, but all of them seemed to have the
 lessons from the master himself in transforming sounds and composing with the results. None of them seem to 
 be inspired that much by the Lopezian silence treatments of yesteryear, but they are all present and correct. 
 Mark Harris is the only one who plays a piece that is closely to 'real' music, with an underlying melodic form. Also
 included are Martin Clarke, Bobby Bird, Cormac Faulkner, Annie Mahtani and solo piece by Lopez, who isn't that
 'silent' either these days. A fine work. 
 Audiobulb Is an exploratory music label designed to support the work of innovative artists. 

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