Nicholas Bullen: Notes on Component Fixations

“The pieces on this recording (composed over the period from 2008 to 2012, with these particular realisations fixed in 2012) are concerned with the use of sound as material and the transformation of that material (and – as such – can be viewed as extensions of concerns which are explored in my work across a range of media including text, film and installations).

The title of the recording (Component Fixations) highlights the process of fixing the component elements of recordings in time and space through a reference to architecture (specifically, architectural montage). Each piece has an underlying conceptual idea which is developed for a period before realisation: however, the direction and structure of a piece may also be influenced by the material itself.

The material for the pieces is exclusively sourced from environmental recordings of the immediate environs of my home and garden. This decision allows for a limiting influence on the flow of potential source material in order to facilitate an in-depth study of particular sounds which seeks to explore the full range of their dimensions. The choice of environmental sounds allows for a focus on the immediate and personal (related – in part – to an interest in notions of the  pastoral) and on history and memory, and – on the level of material – the exploration of the ‘imperfections’ that are available within environmental sound recordings (that is, the unexpected elements which may not be present in material derived from purely electronic sources).

The pieces attempt to actively avoid traditional compositional structures (in particular narrative) by working within a different timeframe and structural framework which views the individual works as elements of a constantly shifting continuum. While sharing the same common source material (a finite cluster of sound cells sourced from environmental recordings), the pieces use electronic processing (both analogue and digital) and compositional structure to re-work and re-configure the material into new dialogues and to explore the relationships between elements (for example, activity/stasis, singularity/plurality, short/long, interior/exterior, the prosaic/the eternal).

The approach to the processing and production techniques applied to the source material leans towards the textural quality of sounds evident in the Musique Concrete and Tape Music compositions of the 1950’s and 1960’s, often focusing on individual sounds or the interaction of small clusters of sound. This approach seeks to distance the material from any associations with its source, to create new sound material for use, and to allow for the combination of this material into new sound fields. On occasion, a piece of sound material may reveal its source for conceptual (in order to draw attention to the artifice of the construction) or structural (to create a disjunct within a piece) reasons, or simply for the pleasure of its qualities. This approach could be broadly characterised as acousmatic (after Peignot, Bayle and Dufours).  However, the aim is not to slavishly replicate either the sound palette or the compositional strategies of the aforementioned recordings: rather, it is an influence of spirit.The outcome of this approach also seeks to intimate a personal interpretation of certain qualities within that milieu which form associations with notions of the organic and of memory (distance).

The two sections of Element Configuration III form a durational and thematic whole. Of Three Elements contains intimations of the process of memory (where elements are re-presented in new contexts), foregrounding the three constituent elements (Air, Earth and Water) in an active sound spectrum characterised by agitation, the shifting of focus through the use of attack, velocity and stereo placement, and the facilitation of the combination of constituent elements into new formulations. Sounds appear and recede within this space, transmuting repetition through variation, with passages of silence acting as framing elements. Commixture forms a dialogue with Of Three Elements through the re-presentation of the source material in a different formal manner which is focused more acutely on combination, distance and stasis. The sound elements move at a more sedate pace, intermingling with each other as they move through each other and creating a more laminar approach to the source material.

Signal Filament Extensions extends the development of the preceding pieces into the laminar. Small cells of sound material have been electronically processed in order to mimic the sonic properties of sinewaves and have been overlaid in order to create a sound field which is simultaneously characteristic of stasis and movement (with development of the overlapping tones (partials) occurring on the vertical axis). This approach is intended to address the transitory aspect of sound by situating it within the realm of the eternal. The addition of the agitated cells of sound towards the end of the piece refers backwards to elements within the earlier compositions, returning in the direction of the initial starting point.”

Nicholas Bullen (May 2013)

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