Richard Chartier - Transparency (Performance) [Line - 2011]I must admit, that I’ve often looked at my dad’s records and felt envious; he lived through a time where albums often came with a lot of words on the back cover. I like this idea. I used to get the bus home from record fairs and pore over every detail I could glean from the artwork and packaging. So my dad’s old records - with wordy texts operating as introductions, guides and summaries - represented some lost golden age for me. (In fairness, there are any amount of very good reasons why there really shouldn’t be such texts…) I mention this, because the simple packaging for “Transparency (Performance)” - a printed card wallet - devotes its back cover to a mini-essay; serving as a concise introduction, and a more open guide/summary.
The work that I’ve heard previously by Richard Chartier, was often characterised by very formal electro-acoustic tones and textures; with great passages of “silence”, as well as frequencies which tested ear and speaker. “Transparency (Performance)” follows quite happily in that tradition. Its created, primarily, using recordings Chartier made of the Grand Tonometer: a set of six hundred and ninety-two tuning forks that comprehensively cover a four octave range. It was constructed in the late nineteenth century by Rudolph Koening as a purely scientific set of tools. With recordings of these, and other apparatus (wooden and metal resonators, organ pipes, etc), Chartier gathered the material for the live performance on this cd.
The piece is one long track, lasting over an hour; and the pace is rather glacial. In fact, listening to it, it curiously feels a lot longer than it actually is. That might be due to the hypnotic sense of careful listening it encourages. There are no flashy gestures to catch the ear, no sudden accelerations; just slow, enveloping drifts and developments. In the most simplistic terms, it might be considered electro-acoustic drone. Certainly the overwhelming majority of sounds to be heard are long tones, with the remainder being percussive - either acoustic sounds, or the same processed into clicks and noises. The tones truly range across the whole frequency spectrum, echoing the Grand Tonometer: I always worry that my stereo can never do justice to this kind of speaker workout. The most startling and visceral of Chartier’s tools, is his use of piercing, high frequencies; often on the edge of perception. These clinical threads of electricity are not so much heard as felt, tickling and tingling the ear and brain; they contrast starkly with some of the incredibly warm, singing drones that occupy the middle (and clearly audible) ground of “Transparency (Performance)”. Underneath these unashamedly beautiful sounds, lurk the lower frequencies; again, some of these teeter on the precipice of audibility, with deep bass throbs and the shifting of tectonic plates. It’s albums like this, that make me want to invest in bigger speakers…
I confess that when I first played this, I flagged it as “difficult”; but subsequent listens showed an inviting sound-world that rewarded concentrated listening. It’s very rare that I sit for over an hour, listening intently to something. Chartier does create a rather austere, rigorous world, certainly; but the colour is still there if you listen carefully. Indeed, for all my talk of “clinical” sounds, there are a few “noisy”, rougher elements (the very start of the track, no less, has sounds akin to small trumpet blasts) and the overall sound is really quite warming. But the predominant tone remains very subtle, with sounds drifting slowly, and developing slowly - if at all. Whilst writing this, and listening to “Transparency (Performance)”, I had that most hackneyed of “drone-reviewer’s” experiences - an alarm going off outside. For a good ten minutes, the car or house alarm interacted and danced with the recording, in near perfect harmony: a reminder of how someone like Chartier can colour a space or environment, and our perception in it. From the most cold, precise and mathematical of tools, he has created a world of ghostly, ethereal mystery.Martin P