ERNIE ALTHOFF: HELIOSONICS
(NMA CD 9904 from NMA Publications, PO Box 5034, Burnley, Vic. 3121 Australia)
In 1998 and 99, Ernie Althoff, composer and sound sculptor extraordinaire, made a series of 26 solar powered sound sculptures. Each one was small (less than 60 cm. tall, made of lightweight portable materials (aluminium, wood, bamboo, and a small solar cell and electric motor), and was designed to be able to be assembled and installed quickly. The idea was to be able to do small scale installations in public spaces quickly and efficiently. The composition of the entire set of 26 was done on orchestral lines. That is, sounds were divided into families - metal/wood/other, high/medium/low, continuous/ sporadic. Additionally, the compositional logic (how it played music, with what pitches, in what kinds of rhythms) of each machine was carefully considered. The result is a family of sound making resources (and beautiful visual objects) that can be assembled in a large number of ways and contexts. The CD also features a 12 page full-colour booklet, with beautiful photos and extensive notes on the sculptures and the music. The booklet is a work of art in itself. All of the tracks on the CD are compositions featuring some subset of the orchestra, with the exception of the last track, Sun Music 26", which uses all of the machines. These compositions are recorded in a variety of outdoor locations. Some are sparse, and others are thick. Those who have heard one or two of Ernie's installations before, and think they have a total understanding of his sonic world will be amazed at the variety of sonic textures and rhythms here. On hearing Sun Music 26, a local composer of orchestral music was heard to say, "That's the piece I've been wanting to write for years." While many of us struggle along with our computer simulations of chaos and physical systems, Ernie is out there with the real thing, the unpredictability of physical systems and the real world, making a music that is both intricate and complex, and yet open and calming as well.
(this review was first published in Chroma)