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CD Feature/ Steve Peters: "Filtered Light (Chamber Music 4)"

img  Tobias

As a schoolboy, I found it hard to believe that an absolute vacuum was nothing but a theoretical construct, which could never be attained in practise (except maybe, in the equally hard to imagine state of complete timelessness the potential universe might have rested in before exploding into life and a singularity through the big bang): What was the problem in sucking out a couple of atoms from underneath a glass dome? As Steve Peters shows on „Filtered Light“, this phenomenon is however by no means exclusive to the world of chemistry or astrophysics. Sound, too, hides in the tiniest of corners and chinks of the acoustic world.

You can therefore see this album as the result of musical research and of a child-like question: What sounds remain inside an empty room? The various volumes of Peters ongoing series of „Chamber Music“ works are site-specific answers to that issue, concretised through the unique characteristics of different spatial surroundings. Sensitive microphones are left behind as silent pairs of impartial ears, picking up discreet frequencies and the remainders of whatever microscopic noises may have trickled in through the backdoor. Augmented to the audible part of the spectrum, these ambient tones are not source material for further processing or composing – they represent the actual music.

Peters is therefore not so much extending an invitation to listen more closely to what surrounds us. Rather, his pieces bring out the harmony and dissonance, the melodies and motives as well as the continous tones subtely permeating the air at all times. The terminology of his  „Chamber Music“ was not chosen to stress the proximity of his intimate electronic soundscapes to a classical tradition of concertising within a circle of friends, but to mark a pronounced difference to the ambient concept of Brian Eno: This is not music intended for subliminal consumption in specific rooms, it is subcutaneously active music played by the room itself.

„Filtered Light“ is the most recent volume of this approach and sees Peters applying his technique to the University of New Mexico Art Museum. On this occasion, he filtered out fourteen frequencies between 70 Hz and 3 kHz from a one-hour long recording. This track was then chopped up into thirty-two scenes, which were in turn rearranged randomly during the installation. The album therefore constitutes one possible cycle of all thirty-two segments and by no means a definite interpretation.

It was by no means clear that Peters methods would result in a drone work. Calmly and majestically, structures of harmonics and deep resonance ripple and breathe, billow and ebb, contracting the space around the listener, while simultaneously revealing the majesty and splendour of the rooms they were culled from. Little themes form in the friction area between two frequencies, running ever so slightly out of sync and at different speeds, sparking tender melodies from the void. It is a music of great, unmeditated harmony, of structures forming constantly like icicles on a window pane. Every instant is closely connected to the preceeding one, but completely different all the same.

Fascinatingly, there are also moments of concrete tonality, of reverbed marimba-like instruments playing silently. Isolated, they have the appearance of interludes in between the stretched-out dronescapes, but sometimes, the two overlap, creating the impression as though a speck of dust were sailing slowly and quietly through the room in hypnotic slowmotion.

„Filtered Light“ is a work both capable of being appreciated as absolute music and of projecting mental images – without doubt a quality intended by the composer, as spatial and acoustic characteristics are closely connected on this effort: There is a neverending cosmos of sound surrounding us.

It also raises questions, which I, for one, would find interesting to be followed up upon: Could this cosmos of sound possibly be influencing our perception like pheromones? Can rearranging a room, for example through Feng Shui, influence its subliminal sound? Most importantly, however, it challenges our view of the world like school experiments did my view of of the vacuum: There is no such thing as complete silence, no matter how hard you may try.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Peters
Homepage: Dragon's Eye Recordings

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