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National Review of Live Art Catalogue 2001

Introducing a glass of water to the sea
placing the work of Glyn Perrin

by Andrew Poppy


"One of the hardest things to do in the studio, if you're working on your own, is to lose control. One of the pleasures of the studio is control. In the piece I want to make I want all the pleasures of control whilst I'm making it and all the pleasures of losing the whole shebang when it's finished Glyn Perrin

Four works scribe a trajectory to this point for Glyn Perrin. The Circus of Democracy for orchestra and tape, and Like He Never Was for 4 clarinets and samples are notable for their use of electronic and recorded sound. These sounds placed against the instrumentalists' physical presence, and traditional skill, signify the disembodied voice; the uncanny. They enter in the form of a subtle questioning of the assumed wholeness of the instrumental performance.

However in Romance with footnotes for 4 cellos, bass clarinet and tape made for the choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh the sequenced drum patterns relentlessly dominate the space, pulverising the physical. The percussion sounds bite and consume the sustain of the live instruments in a way that would not read if the percussion had been realised by live players. In a fourth work Cri/Me (1992) there is only recorded and deployed sound experienced through playback. The piece, constructed from vocal samples, echoes stylistically Steve Reichs tape pieces and Luciano Berios electronically inspired extended vocal techniques.

Currently, Perrin's professed project is to escape language, theatre and the rhetorical. He is uncomfortable with music's co-opted role as the hidden persuader in hybrid art forms. He would like to make a work free of direct address, something on the cusp of audibility, drowning in the every day, not staged but discovered in some insignificant corner of the real world. Something that works with the thresholds of perception and intention.

Playback music of any kind privileges the listener/consumer in a particular way. The owners/performers/authors are absent allowing the listener to believe they are being directly addressed and their responsibility only to listen or not. To buy or not to buy. Even though the space from which the playback speaks can never be accessed the desiring listener is enclosed in a projection that realises the work.

This privilege becomes ironic in Perrin's project. Finding a neglected corner, he wants to dispense with the mechanisms that informs us that a work' exists at all. He steps away from the lectern, believing that his role is to provide an imaginative possibility rather than persuade us of his craft and culture.

"Music (imaginary separation of hearing from other senses) does not exist John Cage.

Are there different and necessarily appropriate modes of listening: in the concert hall, cinema, gallery, dance floor, car, shopping mall, neglected corner? Until John Cage began his questioning, it was supposed that authentic musical listening could only be done in a limited number of ritual contexts of which the concert hall was the most refined. Cage placed the nature of music within the act of listening, on the plane of belief, in a multi-dimensional body and in the particularity of a space. He revised the notion of pure music by propagandising the experience of sound in itself. The sound signifier is freed of the signified; no longer an index but a sensuous experience (hopefully).

Yet in a sense Cage only rationalised what recording technology had already realised. Recording makes the location of musical experience non-specific. It makes possible the re-contextualisation of any sound by any other sound in any other space. The biggest promoter of this state of affairs has been the movie sound track, where the sound of language, indexical noise and music jostle in a designed and publicly acceptable aesthetic co-existence. From the beginning the soundtrack has been one great big sampler.

Recording detaches the sonic material from its origin, its performance. Music created from samples - from the promenade-field recordings of Luc Ferrari through the experimentally tinged chillout dance music of DJ Crush to the assemblages of John Oswald made from thousands of fragments of pop music - is an extension of the music consumed through playback which dominates western culture. Be it Mozart or musak.

Since the 1950s the performance and aesthetic conventions of western music have been radically reconfigured in the light of this fact. Four works scribe a trajectory. John Cage's 4' 33 (1952); the silent piece needs no introduction. Stockhausen's Mikrophonie I (1964) for one tam-tam and six performers is a kind of Chinese whispers played between the musician, the microphone and the mixing desk. Its methodology presents an image of the process undergone in any recorded or electronically mediated musical experience. Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain (1965) uses two identical speech loops on two tape recorders. Naturally occurring phase shifting gradually produces a sonic experience of rhythmic and textural richness. Also using two tape recorders, Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in a Room (1970) articulates the acoustic properties of a particular architectural space by continually re-recording in the same acoustic environment a simple spoken text. In both these works language gradually moves away from the symbolic to the sonic real of musical experience, moves our listening in to music.

Locating creativity in thought and play rather than a specific skill is a liberating political act in itself. So Yves Klein makes symphonies, John Cage makes poetry, Tadeusz Kantor paints. In his new work Glyn Perrin plays a circling and cancelling game. He is reinventing himself as a painter who makes audio art by introducing a glass of water to the sea.

934 words

© August 2000 by Andrew Poppy

Glyn Perrin is published by University of York Music Press. A complete works list and further details are available from them.


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Created by Keesjan van Bunningen. Last modified on October 21, 2001