We’ve had Reductionism. We’ve had Extraction Music. Now it’s time for Redactionism. The first sweeps away extraneous elements – harmony, melody, rhythm – to approach a core of organized sound, often arising from space or silence surrounding it. The second repurposes the background throb of everyday life – roadworks growl, white-goods throb – into meditative dronescapes. Redactionism offers a similar sleight of hand, pointing a scalpel at existing audiovisual art works and filleting them of their key elements to create something wholly new. This sonic deboning plops those good old Cageian debates about sound, music and silence on a plate and prompts us to reconsider them afresh. Crucially it also adds in a big dollop of Duchampian wit, skewering art-musicological pomposity without sacrificing the seriousness of its enterprise.
As I understand it, there is currently only a single practitioner in the canon of Redactionism: the restless polymath Henry Collins, a culture-worker for whom the redactionist aesthetic is only a small part of an activity schedule that encompasses large-scale sonic collage , portraits drawn with his eyes closed, and rummage-based noise improvisations. (Head over to Collins’ website for the full panoply of stuff he gets up to.) Whether Collins attracts more fellow travellers to his redactionism practice or whether he continues his lonely toil matters not at this current moment. What’s important is the beguiling spell that these beautifully disfigured creations cast over us.
Collins says: “Through redaction i unearth hidden compositions. Compositions that tell a story different to the story they were made to tell. I only lay claim to discovering this music not making it.” Maybe. But while Collins’ disavowal of ownership is creditable, it also undermines the nous and craft he brings to his endeavour. His previous release for Every Contact Leaves A Trace, Music Of Sound, removed all the speech and songs from everyone’s favourite singing-nun-faces-the-Nazis-flick The Sound Of Music, resulting in an uncanny mosaic of echoey footsteps, church bell peals, alpine birdsong and plenty of mysterious foley scrunch, condensed into an unnerving 30-or so minutes. Originally created in 2001, it was released a decade or so later, but retains its claustrophobic power. Listening to Music Of Sound it’s entirely possible to reimagine the von Trapp family’s euphoric alpine race to Switzerland as something closer to Walter Benjamin’s doomed flight from occupied France in 1940 (spoilers: it didn’t end well). Rodgers and Hammerstein in the Berberian Sound Studio. Julie Andrews tips headlong into the abyss.
For The Masters, his sophomore release on Every Contact Leaves A Trace, Collins has revisited redactionism, this time removing all the speech from the BBC’s broadcasts of the 78th Masters Golf tournament in 2014. The four tracks correspond to the four days of the competition, and each contains crystal-clear reproductions (thanks BBC!) of the thwack of club against ball, with a bucolic backdrop of ambient rustle and avian chirrup. And, while the technique is the same as Music of Sound, the mood couldn’t be more different. In place of queasy musique concrète melodrama, we get a pastoral field recording simulacra, its immersive, unceasing sunniness only relieved by Collins’ audible edits. Anyone who’s ever listened to Test Match Special – or any other of the summer spectator sports – on the wireless will recognize the near-druggy stupor that results from bending your ear towards broadcasts of these type, the percussive thunks of club, racquet or bat only adding to the breathy ambient lull of recording in the open air. Occasional car horns and the monoxide grunts of traffic ruffle the calmness, but it’s really only during the last half of track 4 that the overarching serenity is disturbed, the increasing frequency of the golf wangs raining down like some rural S&M tea dance.
That The Masters works almost perfectly as a field recording must have tickled both its creator and label boss Seth Cooke, who has shown a marked fondness with releases that fuck with the standard genre template (see his own Christ of the Abyss, Four No-Input Field Recordings and Sightseer, which all upend the platitudes of standard field recording practice in various disruptive and unexpected ways). The Masters isn’t a field recording, of course, but it could be, such is its fidelity and clarity. Rather it’s a kind of meta-field recording, a clever, knowing fiction, with everything you could want from such a piece of audio, the various tee-offs and shots either providing a mysterious punctuation or an exciting sonic narrative (depending upon how much you know about the circumstances of creation). Maybe this is how virtual reality technology and field recording could hook up, appealing to audio geeks who don’t dig striding around mediaeval villages in chainmail. An Oculus Rift for London Sound Survey nerds, perhaps. Just type in your desired location and receive a tailored, exciting field recording direct to your brainstem! Who wouldn’t want that?
Go to http://omit.neocities.org/ for more Redactionism.