Decentering. RICHARD GARET
(Sourdine 2011)

Review by Caity Kerr

Although it’s hard to find anything much about the work online apart from a few snippets (like this) I can tell you that Richard Garet is a well known US based artist, actually Uruguayan by birth, whose website has very small text in lower case and is low on redundant information. All this presents an interesting aesthetic contrast with (and is possibly at odds with) the work ‘Decentering’, which is very textured, full, maximal as opposed to minimal, noisy, loud and shouty.

Garet has recently been selected to appear at The Museum of Modern Art’s first major exhibition of sound art, Soundings: A Contemporary Score showing from August – November 2013. The Field Reporter would like to congratulate him on his selection and to wish him every success.

Moving on to the work and to the review, personally I find textured music to be more interesting than simply constructed linear gestural music. This is because of the opportunities afforded by textural music to investigate complexity which I believe to be an important and exciting aspect of contemporary music. So I enjoyed the opening – a slow modulating accumulating texture, largely electronic sounding, with a prominent almost-pitched peak, gathering up higher sines and iterative textures in the high frequency range – little spikes that come and go. The music began to give the impression of defying linearity, another important attribute in my view, and of creating a complex evolving mass that might sit between the loudspeakers (or in your head) as opposed to marking clock time. There are very few artists who have the inclination, nerve (or is it skill?) to keep this kind of tension and intensity alive for more than a relatively short period. The spell is often broken, to the detriment of the music. I’m not talking about relieving boredom, unless the artist him/herself becomes bored which is another thing entirely.

So instead of keeping the promising opening few minutes alive in an organic sense as it were, slowly and morphogenetically, we have, to my ears at least, a much simpler routine of taking away from the mass and then adding something else. This seems to be the way in a lot of composition, possibly a result of the architecture of digital composition tools and a lingering post-dance aesthetic. The sounds then become more predictable – (rhythmic) iterative noisy bumps and waveforms which seem to gatecrash the party.

Finally, somewhat predictably though nonetheless welcome with all this high frequency activity, the machine-like arrival of the low-end crescendo. I’d point also to the fact that there’s just enough interest in the linearity of various small compositional intrusions but less interest in some of the obviously lo-fi electronic sounds. It’s when you don’t feel ‘the hand of the composer’ that things work best, when the music seems effortlessly to create its own internal dynamics and give birth to new forms.

At fifty minutes, ‘Decentering’ is a long piece, perhaps too long, and given the range of sounds it might even benefit from being split into several works. The trick with these lengthy pieces lies in sustaining interest at this length without presenting a succession of new but seemingly unrelated sounds. If these new sounds come out of nowhere, then an element of sci-fi narrative enters in, for example at around the 20’ mark. However, if the music evolves and/or mutates slowly according to some kind of inner drive, force or even bio-logic we’re in business. Xenakis had some good ideas in this respect.

To summarise, Garet gets a good head of steam going with respect to texture and sets out some exciting material along the borderline between electronic and environmental sound. After that one could argue that he does too much – some hackneyed and incongruous sounds poke their noses in later, as if he’s fed up. I also wondered about a couple of odd cuts/dropouts, for example at 33:07, which broke up the flow, suggesting a possible dodgy edit. To be fair he does tackle the thorny problem of taking a musical rest more or less successfully, drawing breath from time to time, for example between 37 and 40 minutes.

The work then is a noise investigation pinned down by iterative layers within various frequency bands which (just) hold the piece together, finishing with much the same texture as it started.

Not many people have succeeded entirely in doing what I think Richard Garet is setting out to do, so by any standards this is a very fine effort and at best I’d like to think of this kind of project as always in-progress. My criticisms are based on a feeling that the best in this kind of music a) shouldn’t expect to be ‘perfect’ in the sense of a finely honed piece from the classical era or in the sense of a big production pop song and b) will always be experimental in the sense of never being sure of its success. This kind of work, again only my opinion, represents the cutting edge in contemporary composition and has to be worked out, as with good free improvisation. At worst (and certainly not the case here) it collapses into evasiveness and hackneyed gestural activity. At its very best we feel the music evolve, multi-sensorially, above and beyond the listening.


[Richard Garet]

Richard Garet website
Sourdine website