An Extended Meaning For Something Meaningless
(Auditory Field Theory 2013)

Review by Caity Kerr

On Auditory Field Theory we read:

From the decaying fringe of the auditory spectrum we find ornate beauty in the subtle demise of electronic systems and explore the arcane apprehension of existential degeneration.

The recording looks at how to create something out of almost nothing—basic field recordings, static electronics and failed tape experiments. A 16-channel multi-track piece where reel-to-reel tapes juxtaposition with modular synths, laced in a world of field recordings from late night Osaka to hydrophonic sewers.

The work consists of three untitled tracks with a total runtime of just over forty-four minutes and comes packaged in a letter-pressed sleeve printed by Ben Owen of middle press.

 At the risk of sounding harsh and irrelevant I’ll begin by asking what the first paragraph actually means. Answers on a postcard please. If an artist is going to preface or interpret their work by means of text, then surely the text is to be taken seriously. So the subtle demise of electronic systems and the arcane apprehension of existential degeneration either means something very profound which lies beyond my understanding, or the intention is poetic, or the words have been thrown together because they look good.

The second and third paragraphs make sense, though Meirino could have done himself a favour by placing himself firmly within a strong tradition and pointing out that making something out of meagre resources has been a staple of experimental music production for several decades now.

Track 1 [11:40]

For the first few minutes, apparently, there is a  lot going on, a busy and complex sound world seems to be emerging, but on closer listen we discover a mix of the same sounds throughout with some modulation in the looped-sounding passages and contrasting gristle in the concrète sounds. So for the most part we have the illusion or semblance of complexity arising from two or three fairly simple and distinct layers. Then things break down and recommence with more layers. There is an intriguing feeling of agency about the music, in the sense that someone is playing instruments. This contrasts well with what I assume are the field recordings, which have a different semiotic content and which therefore send out a different message. I couldn’t hear any evident relationship between most of the layers so I assume the composer is using the material in contrasting ways, which is reasonably successful on the whole. The piece is enhanced by the contrasting use of various sudden cuts and passages of relative calm which create pace and flow. Overall the use of similar sounds which don’t develop or evolve run the risk of becoming monotonous.

Track 2 [15:35].

Here we have a consistent sound world made up of some reasonably interesting sounds but also of some rather hackneyed sounds, very few of which show any depth of sonic investigation. The primary layers consist of various multi-part polyphonies with added modulating material, which gather interest by means of some very good passages of contrapuntal craftsmanship. I sensed a lack of concrete sounds earlier on which would have created a more ‘material’ base from which to develop the music. When these do appear they are confused by the appearance of other less effective sounds which clutter the frame. Some passages of hiss and flutter and interference with the more indeterminate low midrange timbres could maybe have offered a platform for deeper investigation. Nonetheless these are, to my ears, the strongest passages of the album.

Track 3 [16:44]

With this track you get lots of music for your money. Industrial processes are carried out industriously, there are some intriguing instrumental timbres near the beginning but never fully developed as the piece goes the way of the previous two pieces, favouring timbrally simpler crackly and hissy sounds. However this track does offer at times an excellent full- spectrum field without overloading the ears. The piece is punctuated by quite sudden though finely crafted dropouts, perhaps a deft use of dj skills. As it goes along the music becomes more evidently linear despite the impression of complex polyphony. Again Meirino manages to convey a wonderful sense of agency at times, the sense that someone, not a machine, is playing this music. That would be the strength of the album as a whole.

[Francisco Meirino photo courtesy of Antifrost]

Francisco Meirino website
Auditory Field Theory website