Saturday, June 6, 2020
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Artist: Gaëtan Gromer (@)
Title: Noise Level
Format: CD
Label: VoxxoV (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
The term "Noise Level", as it appears here, has to do with reclaiming originality. Habit, arising over time out of ritual, dialogue, study, is a point of orientation for thought, and in particular in this case, creativity. The more habituated, the less open-minded and penetrating; the less original. From basic thematic associations to outright prejudices, the cultural linkages of habit interfere with creativity; they streamline it, stifle it, render it less radical and interesting. So, conducive to better creativity and ideas could be processes of association that have nothing to do with troublesome paradigms, in which the novel potential of juxtaposing unrelated concepts is explored.

So much for Noise Level the concept, as it was pondered over by Raymond F. Jones in his eponymous 1952 short story. As for Noise Level the album, Strasbourg sound artist Gaëtan Gromer is here found attempting to apply theory in practice, unleashing creativity by embracing the sheer heterogeny of his work's various contents. As a starting point, all the sound material present originates from field recordings made inside libraries. This is a nod to the short story, but it also serves the wry function of making the institution of the library, typically associated with quietness, Gromer's first object of examination; his goal is perhaps to reduce the 'noise level' that makes the library quiet in the first place.

For, of course, a library is really as rich with sound as anywhere else. Silence, wrote Salome Voegelin, is the start of listening. Gromer interprets the idea of silence in the library in this way, listening, capturing source material and eventually finding ways to manipulate it. He keeps things sparse, most of the time declining to mix more than a handful of channels together at a time. The first piece, 'The Shadow Out Of Time', couples harmonious drones with treated passages of hushed speech - the sotto voce of the library-goer - and ticking clockwork; perhaps a grandfather pendulum, judging from the woody grain. 'Mémoires du Futur' is centred around what sounds like a field recording contorted by an arpeggiator sequence; it has that slightly misshapen, mis-pitched texture to it exhibited by complex frequencies put through heavy processing. 'La Tour d'Aer', with subtle kicks and re-pitched, unidentified source material, is a little like some of the darker moments of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas works. What sounds like the low hum of a vending machine in 'La Bibliotheque De Babel' bellows in the foreground; louder than life and out of context, it gains a sinister presence among other creeping textures.

This premise of this album hints that if its concept has been successfully applied, we are in for something of unusual originality. Exactly where this originality finds itself, whether it applies to this genre, compositional approach, to Gromer's individual creative development as an artist or to some other dimension of the work, isn't specified. But in terms of overall style, Noise Level doesn't substantially overpower the tropes of today's dark ambient/drone and electro-acoustic music. Nor do structures greatly vary throughout. What we generally encounter with all six tracks are several layers of drones, some light and some intense, which roll beneath various textural structures. Sometimes it's very compelling, sometimes a bit mundane.

My view is that Gromer is comfortable in this style of music and not trying to develop it radically. Instead, I think his application of the noise level theory is twofold. First, by restricting available source material, he forces himself to re-examine the way in which he uses creative music technology, as well as the ways in which he is accustomed to hearing and thinking about the sounds captured on the recordings. Second, by telling us where these sounds came from, he has us listeners perform similar re-examinations. These are doctored combinations of sounds with which we're all quite familiar, but to which, in libraries if not in most other spaces, we are accustomed not to paying special attention. So hearing them with their contexts combined and rewritten unrealistically makes the material on these tracks disorientating and disjointed. And that's exactly our chance to think differently about habitually overlooked phenomena. Noise Level may have something to do with the creativity of technological sound manipulation, but most of all it deals with the creativity of listening itself.

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