(Echomusic 2012)

Roel Meelkop is a sound artist based in the Netherlands. His experience in sound design is extensive, having composed pieces for gallery installations, live events, and dance performances. In his new work, “17 M”, Meelkop plunges into his archives to rework some old sounds he has previously worked with, alongside others unreleased until now. “17 M” is concerned with the dualities that exist within sound, especially relating to tone, volume, and melody. The result is a composition which is unified, paradoxically, through its exploration of sound’s oppositional qualities.

“17 M” begins with a sharp, staccato “clap”, perhaps a shoe stomping on a floor in a large open room. Meelkop plays with this sample for the first few minutes, using a variety of effects to extract its different tonalities. Wearing headphones it is satisfying to hear Meelkop’s work moving from left to right in a way which utilises stereophonics to full effect. It is a dramatic opening to the work, with enough space left between the layers of sound to enhance their crisp detail. This “clap” appears later in the piece, its familiarity strategically creating a sense of unity to the work.

The following section briefly continues Meelkop’s presentation of crisp tones with field recordings of twigs being broken while walking in sand dunes. This subdued mood is soon compromised, or broken, with the interjection of electrical static, its sharp glitch-like quality piercing its way through the listener’s ear canal. This placement of a “disruption” in an otherwise smooth composition has often been used by other composers to challenge the listener, highlighting the artifice of the world created by manipulated sound. While this is a valid approach it does risk spoiling the overall enjoyment of a piece. When a jackhammer is then introduced this problematic technique is further called into question. These recordings may be unwelcome, however in Meelkop’s “17 M” there is a connection between each sound. The footsteps, the dry grass, the static and the jackhammer each find commonality in their staccato-like qualities. Meelkop has found disparate objects which each produce similar levels of attack and decay. In this respect “17 M’s” use of “disruptions” is genuinely part of an exploration of sound, rather than simply a compositional device.

“17 M” ends with a pipe organ being tested in Helsinki, a recording left unprocessed and distinctly recognisable to the listener. Its hushed notes are in contrast with the louder discordant events which come before it, continuing Meelkop’s  investigation into the oppositions that exist within our perceptions of the sonic world.

When listening to compositions it is almost unavoidable to create a narrative to the sounds that envelope us. Compositions dealing with a certain theme or geographic space can be easy to interpret however Meelkop’s work is more abstract than this. “17 M” includes sounds which are raw,  (therefore recognisable), and processed (unrecognisable). Aside from their inherent characteristics the sounds presented in “17 M” bear little relationship with one another, making it difficult to find a narrative which brings coherency to the work. Nonetheless, when listened to as a study into the sonic similarities that exist between unrelated objects 17 M is a rewarding experience.

[Roel Meelkop photo courtesy of Fluid Radio. Author: Nathan Thomas]

-Jay-Dea Lopez

Roel Meelkop website
Echomusic website 

Jay-Dea Lopez

Sound artist and journalist at Sounds Like Noise.