Felipe Otondo - Tutuguri [Sargasso - 2013]It's surprising to discover that 'Tutuguri' is Felipe Otondo's first collection of sound art. He has been exploring the acoustic world for well over a decade, from his experimental theatre work of the nineties in his homeland of Chile, to today's post in the UK as lecturer at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts. Along the way he has received several awards for his compositions that, heretofore, could only be heard in performance settings.
Tutuguri, named after one of Antonin Artaud's later works that recalled his experiences with a peyote ritual while travelling Mexico in the thirties, grants us access to four of Otondo's works. True to the title's implications, the broad concept here seems to be explorations of the exotic: both external ones represented here through sonic matter from Indonesia, Mexico and India, and contrasting internal states suggested by the timbral morphologies Otondo imposes on his source material.
He begins with sounds gathered from a Javanese gamelan orchestra on a piece called 'irama', a word that refers to the temporal interval between two sonic events. Here Otondo combines layers of crisp, sonorous gamelan patterns to build a fascinating world of contrasting activities. Long, meditative bell sounds exchange places with various rapid, suspenseful pattering to create contrasting contrapuntal rhythms that flit between frenetic and still environments. It somehow reminds of both buddhist temples and the urban percussion of early Neubauten releases.
Mexico provides the context for Tutuguri's middle two pieces. 'teocalli', named after the sacrificial temple used by Aztec Indians, is based on a short story by Julio Cortázar about a man that dreams he is being hunted for such ritualistic ends while recovering from a motorcycle accident in hospital. The piece is deliriously woven from voices and course drumming recorded on the streets of Mexico to form a profound cinematic short whose mysterious tones portend an ominous end. 'ciguri', on the other hand, reimagines the ritual that Artaud voluntarily experienced with the Tarahumara Indians' peyote dance. It focusses on the sound of bells, starting with a subtle, rippling effect (perhaps to evoke the miniature bells apparently worn by the ritual's dancer), then growing into a trance-like polyrhythmic cascade as Otondo's bright, gleaming sonorities place bold and long suspended tones in the paths of the quieter rapid-fire rhythms to suggest changing states of consciousness in a foreign land.
The final piece, 'sarnath', takes us to India using sounds gathered at various Buddhist sites by writer and composer Francis Booth. Once again, the sonic events Otondo picks out of Booth's raw recordings are largely percussive in nature. Starting with a solemn tolling of a bell whose reverberating trails extend and repeat unnaturally until they form an intensifying meditative environment. These loud and forceful tones threaten to overcome the ambient birdcall before halting suddenly to reveal the finer points of the natural soundfield once more.
While this parade of vivid, exotic sounds, with their contrasting textures, is delightful enough, the most striking aspect of Otondo's first album is his focus on rhythm - a dimension of music that often seems overlooked in the academic world of electroacoustic study. While Otondo's contemporaries can seem to eschew deliberate rhythmic aspects in favour of studied processes of timbre and texture, Tutuguri is a clear indication that the thrill of percussion, be it regular or irregular (or coursing between the two as deftly demonstrated here), can sit at the heart of experimental music to dramatic and seductive effect, recalling the primitive through modern composition.Russell Cuzner