Marcus Schmickler - Palace Of Marvels (queered pitch) [Mego - 2011]Iíve been listening to this album every day for a week now both in the house and also outdoors on an I-pod and I still donít know if I like it or not. Itís a fascinating album and one I keep revisiting but itís not because itís catchy or because I like the way the sounds are put together or I like the production itís more that Iím intrigued by the processes and intentions behind it.
The first thing that struck me when I listened to it was that here was an album that owes a lot to both Stockhausen and Terry Riley. There are the arpeggios you would associate with Terry Riley and also the pure sine waves youíd associate with early Stockhausen pieces such as Electronic study No 1.
ďPalace Of MarvelsĒ seems to have taken his previous album ďAltars of ScienceĒ as a starting point and dramatically moved the goal posts. After a bit of digging Iíve discovered that Marcus has used something referred to as the Shepard tone for this album. This was discovered by Roger Shepard, and gives the ears an aural illusion of a tone that constantly rises or falls in pitch but overall seems to get no higher or lower. The first time the Shepard tone was used (or as least the first noted occasion) was by James Tenney in a piece called ďFor Ann Rising,Ē (you can find this on You Tube). Schmicklerís arpeggios are a perfect example of the Shepard tone.
The pieces as such are all fairly similar in construction. You have a basic tone (sine wave to my ears) that rises and falls in arpeggios in quite unfamiliar sorts of intervals from the usual major or minor chords arpeggios are associated with. So the differences in the pieces are generally the speed of the piece (some are incredibly slowed down, some speeded up), the pitch of them, some have a bit of portmento on them and some move slightly away from the sine wave tone though not too far away.
As Iíve already said itís a fascinating album all the more so once I find out that it was based around the Shepard tone and whilst Iím still unsure about whether or not I actually like it as a piece of music or sound art, from a purely ďexperiment with soundĒ angle itís a pretty spectacular achievement.David Bourgoin