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S-O-U-N-D Festival 2008
Sound & Place
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
The Herald. Article by Alan Cooper

Wednesday night’s concert of electro acoustic music by Pete Stollery was for me the best yet. The friendly intimate atmosphere of the little Left Bank Gallery in Tarland facilitated a lively and stimulating interaction between Pete Stollery and his audience that taught me more about the music and the composer’s ways of working than anything so far. The reactions of other audience members and Professor Stollery’s responses to them were particularly insightful. I also enjoyed hearing the marvellous scenes, rendez-vous for the third time and discovering so many more of its multiple facets.

The title and theme of Wednesday’s concert was Sound & Place and the four items which Professor Stollery had chosen as examples dealt with several of his concerns as a composer. Some of those who work in the electro acoustic medium prefer to keep the sources of their sound world under wraps in order to produce music that is entirely abstract but for Pete Stollery, the sources of his field recordings can be an essential part of the work. The first piece we heard in particular was a good example of this. ABZ/A was one of a group of pieces produced for BBC radio by several composers representing the various parts of Scotland from which they hailed. Thus ABZ is the code which for air traffic controllers stands for Aberdeen while A is its marine equivalent. Within the piece we heard sounds from Aberdeen Airport, the harbour area and even an accordionist and spoons player in Union Street. The work is more than just a series of unconnected sounds however. They are woven together in a definite order, linked by less easily identifiable sound textures that have been imaginatively shaped and sculpted by the composer. Every listener will respond differently to the music and those unfamiliar with Aberdeen will obviously have a different response from natives of the City who will be able to locate many of the sounds. As Pete Stollery explained however, that does not matter. Everybody’s reaction is equally valid. As I listened to this piece, I remembered the days when as a boy, before we had television in Aberdeen, I used to listen to the sound effects in radio plays which then ran a kind of self made film inside my own head. As Pete Stollery said, this is something that the present generation constantly bombarded with visual stimuli is in danger of losing. As I listened to the Edinburgh Quartet play Webern’s Six Bagatelles last week, I felt that my experiences of listening to electro acoustic music had taught me to be far more aware of the minute details of Webern’s music, so this is something that can aid appreciation of all kinds of music. Real listening is not something that comes without effort, it is a skill that has to be learned, tutored and encouraged.

The next two pieces in the concert were composed as part of the Gordon Soundscape project (see Fields of Silence was originally performed in Thainstone Mart and some of its field recordings were made there too. Still Voices contains sounds recorded in a distillery (thence the title – Whisky still –Still Voices). Pete Stollery had also made recordings in woodlands near his home, woodlands which have since been cut down and he stressed the importance of preserving worlds of sound that are in danger of vanishing for ever.

The three pieces mentioned above were all related to different facets of Aberdeen and its surrounding countryside. The last piece in the programme was inspired by a cult film produced by the French cineaste Claude Lelouche. His film, which we enjoyed before hearing Pete’s music inspired by it, shows a breakneck journey through the streets of Paris from the outer ring road to the Sacré Coeur. Some thirty years after the film was made Pete Stollery took his recording equipment and retraced the route of the film on foot, stopping to make field recordings at certain spots of interest along the way. The resultant piece, a kind of air and variations, certainly captured the impression of speed produced visually in the film though this time entirely in sound. The piece was beautifully shaped with an explosive beginning, a well placed climax and in between, more peaceful episodes. One of the most fascinating of these was a kind of quiet cadenza built up from the composers clever sculpting of sounds made by tyres going over a drainage grille in the road. Later the siren of an ambulance was given a magical sonic makeover. There are almost as many fascinating sound pictures in Pete Stollery’s piece as there are frames in Lelouche’s film. I look forward to discovering more of them when I hear the piece for a fourth time.


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