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Reviewed by:
  • Jonty Harrison, Adrian Moore, Denis Smalley: The British Connection
  • John Dack
Jonty Harrison, Adrian Moore, Denis Smalley: The British Connection Compact discs (3), empreintes DIGITALes IMED 0052, 0053, 0054, 2000; available from DIFFUSION i MéDIA, 4580, avenue de Lorimier, Montreal, Quebec H2H 2B5, Canada; telephone (+514) 526-4096; fax (+514) 526-4487; electronic mail; World Wide Web

There can be little doubt that the electroacoustic medium makes a major contribution to the range of styles and genres of British contemporary music. British-based electroacoustic composers enjoy considerable success in international competitions and regularly receive both commissions as well as invitations to work in foreign studios. Unlike our European neighbors, there are no major centers comparable to the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), the Institute of Sonology, or the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM). However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage, as several excellent universities provide both the musical and intellectual environments in which electroacoustic music can be studied at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It is particularly encouraging to note the many young composers who choose to travel to Britain specifically for this purpose. Britain, therefore, has a rich tradition (insofar as a new medium can have a "tradition") of electroacoustic music. Pioneers such as Tristram Cary, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, or Maddalena Fagandini have often been overshadowed by their more illustrious counterparts in France and Germany; their activities are only now being given the serious attention they truly deserve.

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Despite this level of activity there is little evidence of a "school" of British electroacoustic music, and most composers can be situated without undue difficulty within the various strands of European music. Consequently, while it would be simplistic to claim that Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison, and Adrian Moore constitute a British "school," they do, nevertheless, accurately represent many of the preoccupations of electroacoustic composers in this country. For example, all three are committed to the public presentation of electroacoustic music—the composition of acousmatic music is central to each composer's output. Mr. Smalley has championed the practice of diffusion as a vital aspect of electroacoustic music performance since 1976, thereby re-introducing aspects of performance practice to acousmatic concerts. Similarly, as director of BEAST (the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), Mr. Harrison has been involved in the development of a flexible system for sound diffusion unrivalled in Britain. [End Page 91] Mr. Moore is also actively involved in many areas of performance with technology. Lastly, each is an academic which, although not a prerequisite for electroacoustic composers, does emphasize the role played by higher education in disseminating acousmatic music in Britain.

The compositions on Denis Smalley's Sources/scènes span 26 years (a remarkable feat in itself). His work and aesthetic falls within a broadly Schaefferian tradition and his own extensive writings deal with the materials, techniques, and aesthetics of electroacoustic music. The Schaefferian framework has been extensively elaborated and Mr. Smalley's own concepts such as "surrogacy" and "indicative fields and networks" now provide composers, analysts, and musicologists with terminology inherently derived from the medium. This has facilitated both an understanding not only of electroacoustic music but also of its relationship to music in general. In other words: a true electroacoustic musicology. Pierre Schaeffer wrote: "It is the object which has something to say to us, if we know how to make it speak and to assemble it according to the kinship of its families and the similarity of its characteristics" (Chion/ Reibel 1976, 57). I believe there are connections between French symbolism and many of Schaeffer's theories; in Mr. Smalley's works the sounds (whether recognizable or not) suggest correspondences as "things begin to talk amongst themselves" (Ibid., 47).

The first track, Base Metals (2000), exhibits the hallmarks of Mr. Smalley's language. His affection for attack-resonance sounds is evident (all the source sounds derive from recordings of metal sculptures by Derek Shiels) as is his ability to intervene in their resonances, to extend and develop them into objects of dynamic and spectral interest. Individual nodal components are isolated and...


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