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The Palpability of Sound

An Evening with Sound and Radio Artist Christian Calon

Oscar Peterson Hall (Montréal)
3 October 2002

As part of the EuCuE October concert series, French sound and radio artist Christian Calon presented a carte-blache concert on Thursday, October the 3rd, 2002, at 8pm. The concert featured medium-length, fixed-medium works, in which the possibilities of sound diffusion were exploited to excellent effect. Turning, whirling clusters of sound were created throughout, in which one could feel, as Calon himself expressed it in his pre-concert lecture, the «palpability of sound». Textures emerged, filling the space from all corners, both poppy and palpable -- a veritable treat for the ears.

The Oscar Peterson Hall, in which the concert took place, is a high- ceilinged, rectangular space with steeply racked seating. A good sound balance was created by the coral shell on the stage, and sound panels flanking the walls and ceiling. The auditorium was relatively dry and the sound very well-balanced throughout the 20 speakers (which were arranged in a wide circle, with the sub-woofers kept separate from the main speakers).

Calon chose to present his work in reverse chronological order. He ensured formal unity throughout the evening by limiting himself to acousmatic, rather than radiophonic, pieces. The pieces were themselves further united in their creation of abstract and evocative textures using both highly processed sounds, and sounds retaining the highly organic associations of their origins.

The first piece of the evening, «Time well» (2002), 21:51, is a dynamic piece, progressing in painterly layers which build and subside. The piece is characterized by speed alterations, rising and descending pitches, thunder rumbles, insect-like humming, city sounds, bells and tinkles, high ringing tones, and a pan flute. These sounds were often spun, to create a swirling texture of ripping, tinkling, creaking, banging, and ringing.

The second piece presented, «Sémaphore-Nord» (1998), 15:40, is a darker, colder, sparser piece which proceeds in sections. There is, again, a prominence of speed alterations, as well as reverberation, and a wonderful gesture in which the sonic texture becomes increasingly clearer by bursts. Elements used to create the alternately frenetic and soothing soundscape include voices, breath, laughter, singing, wind, demonic rumbling, crowds, a pan flute, and assorted zips and tones.

After the intermission, Calon presented «Les corps Éblouis» (1994), 22:45, a piece which builds gradually from tranquil to passionate. Buzzing (in frequent sound cluster gestures), knocking, bells, sustained tones, little whizzes (appearing from all corners), glassy knocking, hints of voice, singing, and chimes rose in intensity and tempo -- creating a textured soundscape diffused so as to circle, rush by, and finally, through, the audience.

In the last piece presented, «La Disparition» (1988), 20:38, fragments of classical orchestral pieces are processed, accelerated, repeated, and set in counterpoint to a sometimes dissonant acousmatic texture. The intertwining sounds include those of various instruments, hums, squeaks, flutter flaps, singing, ocean waves, bells, birds, rattles, tinkles and tiny zwips.

Although the audience was sadly sparse (approximately 40 out of a possible 539), the pieces were very well received -- everyone I spoke with seemed to feel they had witnessed something remarkable. I for one, felt that I had been taken on a skillful joyride, through pieces which soar, twist, and awaken the imagination.

Stephanie Loveless

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