Various artists (curated by Marc Behrens - Replace [Edition Degem/Aufabwegen - 2012]Germany's open-minded attitude to sound art has seen (or heard, rather) non-musical matter of all tones and textures regularly broadcast on national public radio for decades, and boasts many organisations and support networks, often voluntary, state-funded or both, with a focus on electro-acoustic composition. Frankfurt's Deutsche Gesellschaft für Electroakustische Musik e.V. (DEGEM for short, or the German Society for Electro-Acoustic Music Association) is one such body, run as a voluntary organisation affiliated to the Deutscher Musikrat (the national 'music council').
'Replace' was released in DEGEM's twentieth year, where the renowned German concrètist Marc Behrens selected 14 short recordings from the Association's 170+ members, to trap a considered sound art exhibition on disc. This often fascinating selection is seemingly the debut release for the majority of the artists featured over its 78 minutes, all sounding off under Behrens slightly elusive thematic umbrella of "positive and negative utopias". In the perhaps loosely translated sleevenotes Behrens asserts that utopias are not what they used to be, where the idealised regard for the technological advances that first enabled the birth of electro-acoustic music have changed with the science: "diverse technologies... Are at our disposal. Telepresence, virtualization and the availability of materials in social or artistic networks brought new possibilities of implementation, but also of failure."
Each of the works presented here has a statement from its artist to indicate the concept, strategy or process behind the scenes, rather like an art gallery features small signs to aid its viewers understanding of the works exhibited.
For example, the collection opens with 'Da Capo' by Denise Ritter, one of DEGEM's directors, where she uses her "failed attempt" at learning the classical guitar in her youth as an example of a reversed utopia (presumably because it lead her to enjoy the freedom of sounds without musical rules). The corresponding sound work focuses on the reverberant twangs of said guitar, but swiftly suspends the after-tones into an ululating drone that gently underscores rustling movements. Casual flourishes continue to skip across the six strings, threatening to become musical but drifting off before any firm pattern can be established. It's brimming with memories - albeit someone else's.
Ritter's piece is in the minority in this exhibition in that it dwells primarily on musical acoustic qualities, whereas the majority combine field recordings with methods of electronic sound reproduction, many bearing the silvery digital smears and clicks 'n' cuts of granular synthesis. For example, Matthias Ockert's 'frutas transversales' possesses the sound of mathematics, a pointillist parade of sparse space station bleeps and bursts that would be at home on the Raster Noton label.
Whether the work presented (far too many and varied to do justice here) amounts to a statement on utopian attitudes escapes me in the main, where an excess of conceptualising and rationalising obstructs immersion in the unusual array of works on display. But the convenience of being able to repeatedly wander through a gallery of such fresh and diverse experiments in sound, yet in the comfort of ones own home, is welcome - an ideal way to present and experience new sound art.Russell Cuzner