There’s a memorial aspect to acousmatic sounds that can lead towards a conceptual end-point usually avoided by Schaefferian humanism: the severing of the sound from its source is a kind of death. Echos + is an in-depth exploration of their afterlife, the composer turned into a caretaker (without the apocalyptic overtones of the famous project of the same name) dedicated to the consideration of sounds’ new state. Like a written document, the recording marks an aural element’s transition from life into its other, a technological aid that turns preservation into an art of re-signification. To care for these sounds in death is not to simply reproduce them, nor is it to circumscribe them in a narrative about mourning for the loss of a certain world, but to help reconfiguretheir meaning in a context that is no longer their own.
Echos +is made up of three pieces that work precisely within this Gothic limit, except they do not fixate upon the ghastly deconstruction of modern thought; Ferreyra’s approach is consequent with the humanism at the heart of this strain of electroacoustic music, giving it the tools to deal with the underside of its more widespread celebrations of life. It is admirable that she does not recoil away from the extremes implied by the Gothic, and the selection of works here presented hones in on the more challenging qualities of her practice. To begin with, “Echos”, composed in 1978, was made “In memoriam Mercedes Cornu”, Ferreyra’s niece, who was killed in a car accident. The piece de-composes four Latin American popular songs sung a capella by Cornu, breaking them down into syllables, breathing, coughs, and other embodied vocal sounds. Not only do they constitute ready-made memorials, they are arranged so as to emphasize the perception of something that refuses to be captured, that is but a reflection of an act of listening taking place at various degrees of separation. Cutting and mixing tapes thus takes the form of a ritual preparation, the technique itself a thanatological process to which we, as listeners, are able to bear witness to, again and again. Anyone can sing these songs that are intimately tied to everyday life, but only Cornu coughs and sneezes like she does, only she, at that precise moment in time when she was recorded, produced the sounds she did. The piece ends with her laughter: we become involved in the loving procedures of the ritual, and we perform the reverences due by momentarily perceiving the echo of someone now long gone.
The second piece, “L’autre… ou le chant des marécages” (“The “Double”… or the swamp’s song”), composed in 1987, is based upon a forever incomplete work by French writer Blaise Cendrars titled Moravagine (1926). The novel is meant to mirror the writer as an Other, the “Double” that functions like a negative of his own self, portraying the title character as a Gothic sign within which all the potential for violence and cruelty of his maker is poured and made “real”. Just like the not me comes to define the me of the author, the jagged edges of noise and disturbing cut-up howls of the piece linger at the edges of the humanism of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) to which Ferreyra once belonged. The not me of acousmatics is the composer not as collectively select, mechanical caregiver but as individualist, passionate killer of aural matter, unchaining sounds from the life that gave them shape, freeing them into the eternal realm of ambiguity. The “double” is a sadist that revels in disconnection, that sees vitality in terms of suffering inflicted, that, like the piece’s multiple voices crying out simultaneously, arranged into haunting, almost mesmerizing wails, happily dwells within the violent fragmentation of its supposed wholeness. The ritual of preservation is born here from a love whose expression is brutality, the kind of memory aroused by rotten dungeons and obsessive, malign regard for protection against the passing of time.
The reference to the swamp in the title becomes highly relevant when considering that the third and last piece, “L’autre rive” (“The other riverbank”, but also possibly translated as “The other side”), composed much more recently (2007), was inspired by the Bardo Thödol, the famous Tibetan book of death. In it, the stakes of transcending the suffering of materiality and attaining enlightenment are quite high, describing the failure to do so after dying (thus reincarnating) as becoming stranded in “the swamp of cyclic existence”. The book’s actual title, as more recent translations have affirmed, is The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States: as a guidebook, it is meant to be read aloud, and thus heard by those who seek to learn how to proceed after death. The objective, it’s worth remembering, is to avoid reincarnation, which is to say, to avoid the kind of life we know. As “sung” by the previous track, this life is a swamp, it is a song of suffering and cruelty. Ferreyra pairs electroacoustics with percussions, which give the piece a forceful, dynamic sense of forward movement that distinguishes it from the others, the lines of power that will guide us to the opposite shore, where we can be free of life at last. The killer intent of “L’autre…” transforms, in “L’autre rive”, into the preoccupation of aiding others to avoid coming back to the swamp, to liberate the particularity of their sounds from the matter that ties them to pain and sickness. As the music delves into ever harsher, noisier territory, the implications of this version of the ritual come into clear view: the reconfiguration of sounds’ meanings, now unattached, must be oriented by the freedom granted only in their passing. A memorial, in other words, is meant for letting go.
It is also worth remembering that Pierre Henry composed a piece based upon the same book in 1962, a few years after breaking with Schaeffer and the GRM. But Henry’s work, called “Le voyage”, affirms the outside otherness of the intermediate state, integrating industrial and mechanical sounds to create a hellish horizon of unintelligibility. Whatever humanity remains in “Le voyage” is born from the expressionist dread of its noises and grinding drones, which is to say in its suffering. Ferreyra provides a counterpoint to this abandonment of sounds to the void without giving up its sublime terror, grounding the piece upon the tensions arising from the clarity of percussions and the vast uncertainty of the electroacoustics. The suffering, her version suggests, belongs not to the presence of stillness, of the eternal light of outside otherness, but to the very trappings of human life, to everything that is familiar.
Like a funeral vase dimly out of focus, as in the album’s cover, the new meanings of a lost loved one’s laughter and the dual role of the electroacoustic composer as killer and guide to liberty coalesce into the paradox of memory as something built, as something made from the me of remembrance and the not me of forgetfulness. Echos + is a greatly powerful statement in this regard, suggesting that there is something more to be explored without the warm tradition of concrète memorials. As is usual with Ferreyra, her work critically engages with the very premises upon which it is rooted. In this case, it provokes and develops the question of what it means to be an electroacoustic composer, and how the meanings that result from caring for the sounds in their afterlife are always in full view of their initial disconnection from the source. It is a privilege, in this sense, that we can be witnesses to all these rituals and procedures at work. (David Murrieta Flores)