ATARAXIA (WORKS WITH SOUND)
Original Issue: 1998 Edition S Press / Plate Lunch (ISBN 3-922689-91-3 / PL 06)
Margot-meter: 4,5 moons / 5
1 Suono Interno (2:50)
2 Rallentando (2:50)
3 Lunar Rambles (9:24)
4 Culvert (9:24)
5 Berlin Attic Wire, Beating (24:44)
6 Berlin Attic Wire, Bowing (15:07)
from The Wire:
The American ex-pat Terry Fox (resident in Europe for several decades) is probably unfamiliar to even ardent searchers after Minimalist obscurity. He's far better known in the art world, thanks to his involvement in cathartic performance art alongside Joseph Beuys, and a longterm interest in site-specific installations. Much of his work deals with the specificity of space, drawing extensively on the geometry of the labyrinth in Chartres cathedral. A "sculpture" in Paris saw him open fire hydrants, letting water run through the streets to augment the cobblestone textures. His very occasional recordings document a marked preference for sound art (the organisation of sound in space) over music (sound in time).
The excellent but out of print LP "Berlino/Rallentando" includes the very site-specific sounds of an army helicopter patrolling the Berlin Wall (near Fox's Berlin studio in 1980) and the bowing of a single steel piano wire stretched ten metres across his studio. To Fox, the wire is a sculpture rather than an instrument, and the sound it makes is that of the room (acting as a giant resonator) and not just the wire. He's far from alone in his enthusiasm for long strings, although other enthusiasts, Paul Panhuysen, Alvin Lucier and Ellen Fullman, are all better known in the music world. Hopefully, "Ataraxia" will gain recognition for Fox's sound outside the gallery circuit.
Four of the six recordings on this collection employ the piano wires. On "Suono Interno" two wires stretch 150 feet across an abandoned church (with a reverberation period that turns the building into a giant, pulsing heart) while "Rallentando" allows three cellists to improvise overtones and harmonics over the taut, single note drone. It often sounds electronic, but the only electrical device present is the microphone. "Berlin Attic Wire, Beating" has the same sort of bouncy, rumbling tonality as the music of Arnold Dreyblatt, while "Berlin Attic Wire, Bowing" could be the shimmering surface of a lake of mercury. The other two pieces feature bowed metal bowls, and an aluminium rowing boat moored inside a metal culvert, with "instruments" including a metal cheese cover and singing saw. "Culvert" is one of the most alien sounding recordings here, its high pitched warbling coming on like an extra-terrestrial choir. As with many similar acoustic explorations, the sheer strangeness of Fox's sounds transfigures their source enviroment completely, and the recordings make clear the rich, beautiful texture of his work.
Apparently (reading between the lines of the cover notes) Terry Fox is of that breed of sound artist that refuses to get into technology, and instead seeks out other ways of making sound that feels electronic or unreal. As such, it is hard to believe that 'Ataraxia' is all totally acoustic, with no electronic manipulation. It sounds as though tape loops, echo and reverb devices are used on most numbers, but what he uses instead are long wires, pieces of metal, cans and the like, amounting to vividly amplified acoustic sound that often defies description.
Each of the six tracks explores a different sound environment. The opening 'Suono Interno' explores the sonic possibilities of two 150 foot long piano wires stretched the length of a church, and 'Rallentando' has a piano wire across a stage and three cellists. These are interesting at under 5 minutes each. Hereafter the duration increases: 'Lunar Rambles' using bowed metallic objects is nice in a dark ambient way, and 'Culvert' (an extract from a day-long sound experiment) extrapolated from objects placed in a flowing river sounds electroacustic... The two "Berlin Attic Wire" tracks that follow, however, exhaust (this listener at least) to the point of tedium, proving that just plucking or bowing a wire isn't enough, some sort of developed or structural approach is needed to make it interesting.
As 'a seminal figure in performance and installation art' Terry Fox's sonic creations don't really transfer to the album format that well. He's a performer not a composer, so this should really be judged as an archival example of his work, and not a proper album. Well, that's how I see it.
from Blow Up:
In the field of the now quite famous "Wire Music", the name of Terry Fox is probably less celebrated that the ones of Ellen Fullman or Paul Panhuysen and his rare incisions on vinyl are really hard to find, and a cult object for collectors. But this Seattle artist is a veteran of the genre, and a seminal figure for the performance and sound installation world. For these reasons, this first edition on CD is almost an event!
As a true nomad, Fox has lived in various parts of the world, also in Italy (Rome, Bologna, Napoli, Firenze), realizing his installations in various strange places. "suono interno", the first excerpt of this cd, only 2'50'', is taken from three six-hours performances that the artist gave in the former Santa Lucia Church in Bologna, 1979. In the completely empty and abandoned church, two piano wires of the church's lenght were stretched from a point of the big wooden door. The audience was looking at the performance from a single hole in the door. The same door was also working as resonance projecting the sound outside. Also in the other tracks site-specificity is a key element. The almost 25 minutes of "Berlin attic Wire" are a great example of pure sound art, this time the piano wires exploring the resonances of the attic of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin.
What seems incredible is the fantastic electronic character of the pieces, also if no electronic al all was used, except the microphone for recording! The exceptional side in the Terry Fox sculptures is all in the ability to transfigure sound sources and space, creating an art for the moment and the sound space, minimal, but with very strong emotions.