AGF ~ commissioned work

While compiling her newest collection, AGF (aka poemproducer aka Antye Greie) began to ruminate about the components of a release: everything from timbre and key to sequencing and sculpting.  These tracks began as commissioned works, but the artist wanted them to flow as an album, which meant she would have to knead them until they made sense together.  With only one exception, her experiment works.  Thankfully, the exception comes early.

Before we start the discussion, we want to underline the fact that we admire the implied invitation to begin such a dialogue.  Even in the digital age, we’re fans of albums more than tracks.  And as people who make mix tapes, burn CDs and compile playlists, we can relate to the artist’s conundrum.  Sometimes we want to include a track so badly that we find a spot for it even when it jars.  The stone thrown in the placid water is the abrupt beginning of the second track following the restive ending of the first.  We can understand why “anderSPACE” comes first, as it’s the album’s only ambient-minded piece; the only other space for it would be last.  But “nanoSILENCE” would have made more sense as the opener, as 1) it begins with an exhalation of Antye’s voice, which is not dominant on the overall release; and 2) the video for the track serves as an overture to the release.  Many of the album’s themes flash on the screen: sound, silence, sculpting, politics, change, love.  One of the first words to appear is position (also appearing on the cover), the reason for this paragraph.  After this, every track fits snugly into the spot it is assigned.

 

Overall, this turns out to be one of the best albums of AGF’s career.  The surprise to this reviewer is that lyrics have been so important in her art, and that they are virtually absent here.  (AGF is one of the few composers who have appeared on our site with lyrics.)  Instead, this is an album of full-fledged texture experiments ~ and what a list she has compiled!  Samples include “an East German grass cutter, a 3D food printing machine, syringes, bells, human chatter, the endangered tree-dwelling mammal species Indri, sonified mushrooms, police dogs smelling data, ice hockey recordings and my body amplified with a contact microphone.”  It’s fun to play match-up, to try to identify which sound goes with which which description.  In “cadavreEXQUIZ,” one asks, “Isn’t that thunder?  Gunfire?  A fire hose?”  Given the artist’s political leanings, one would not be surprised.  The effect is not to desensitize violence (i.e. the gunshot percussion in M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”) but to make the listener uncomfortable in a way that leads to action.  (As I write, the United States has suffered another school shooting.)

One of the most endearing tracks (and easiest to identify) is “INDRI indri.”  The indri sound like a cross between a whale and an leaking balloon.  Listening without reading, one’s thoughts might drift to the largest mammal, but a simple Google search leads to this:

Okay, not a great video, but don’t you want to save these creatures?

The decontextualization of sound has always been key to Greie’s work.  The excision of specific film credits separates image from sound, inviting the listener to make their own associations.  Many of the commissioned works were linked to causes, but the overall album is linked to activity.  The variety of sounds guarantees its allure.  Don’t you want to hear what fungi sound like?  You do, don’t you?  Now imagine them in an electro-acoustic context.  “smell of DATA(score)” conjures an easier tonal fit, two technologies mixed in the same bowl.  The gentle abrasion is a simultaneous metaphor for data loss and data mining; it’s all in the ear of the beholder.

“Listening,” writes Greie, “is a political activity and is the ground work for justice.”  Even if one skips the reading, one enters a sonic world in which decisions are essential: what species to save, how to act, the (supposed) difference between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom, the uses and abuses of technology, even the allure of religion (conveyed by the church bells of (“rural-ITY”).  AGF writes, “This album is quite gentle I hope.”  It is indeed gentle ~ but it’s not neutral.  If anything it’s a gentle push, a reminder that the world needs more positive engagement.  (Richard Allen)

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