This review first appeared in Hollow Ear magazine
DARREN COPELAND-- Rendu Visible (Diffusion i Media: IMED9841)
Darren Copeland (tape compositions)
Copeland exclusively uses environmental sounds to the exclusion of "musical" sound-sources, even referring to conventional musicality as a "paradigmatic and parental authority". Dreaming of a day when cognitive science (or something) will enable the creation of a "phonography", which would presumably be analogous to representational painting rather than photography, Copeland is not naive enough to imagine that day has dawned. Understanding that a composer may write a love song which the listener finds firghtening rather than romantic, he has composed, under duress, some music for us.
Copeland has a lot of interesting conceptual stuff to say about the phenomenology of sound, but is the music any good? Well, it's certainly uncompromising, but it isn't as clumsy as the notion of an aural depiction of events in the world might lead one to believe. Rather than trying to paint a picture, Copeland presents the listener with Rorsach blots which are intended to fire the imagination, to stimulate the mind's eye rather than pass it information. As a result, and very acutely aware of his position vis-a-vis his declared project, what comes out has many points of contact with more conventional musics. Indeed, because of his intention to stimulate, not represent, Copeland tends to shy away from recognisable sounds and create weird fusions, sounds which are a combination of, say, rain falling, hissing steam and radio static (as at the opening of "Night Camera", first movement).
The resulting ambiguity is delicious, when it works well; it's impossible not to conjure up mental images, because the music is so reminiscent of other sounds, but just because of that it can suddenly change direction, leaving you standing, not in a rainstorm, but in a large industrial space (say). All of which makes listening to Rendu Visible an interesting experience indeed. This writer's only complaint -- being a fan of music and not sharing Mr Copeland's characterisation of either it or phonography, its white-hatted counterpart -- is that these pieces do go on a bit. More variation would have been more stimulating; or is the New Science of Phonography to make mouldy figges of us all?