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CD Feature/ Steve Peters: "Three Rooms"

img  Tobias

Nomen est omen: These three pieces really correspond with three rooms – the Shack Obscure in Santa Fe, a space at the School of Arts Institute Chicago and a triangular location at the base of the faux bell tower (again in Santa Fe). As such, they fit in perfectly with Steve Peters’ oeuvre, which is characterised by a plethora of different approaches, but the common denominator of being “site-specific”.

That term naturally represents a kind of paradox in this regard with three questions coming to mind: Don’t we need the visual aspect as well? Should one see this less as a regular album and rather as a sort of aural exhibition catalogue?  And: If the music was tailor-made for a particular space, how can it make sense when pressed to a CD and listened to somewhere else?

Three questions deserve three answers. For one, “Three Rooms” is very much a work in its own right and wants to be appreciated in full and not as an appendix. Peters has partly edited and remixed the material especially for this release, keeping the different format in mind. In addition, two of the compositions were actually written before they turned up in exhibition spaces – “Center of Gravity” and “Mountains hidden in Mountains” both originally date back to 2002.

The visual aspect is a more serious concern. But just as much as the photography in the booklet adds a mood and an emotional resonance to the sounds, the inclusion of imagery always also turns the listening experience into something else. In fact, the way three soundings of the densho at a Zen Buddha temple in Albuquerque are disassembled into its individual frequencies and slowly reconnected, until the undulating drone gradually takes on the characteristics of the bell’s full timbre, is best observed with an inward gaze or even both eyes closed to perceive the analytic and synthetic processes most clearly.

The same can be said about “Center of Gravity”, which was added to an installation of a wooden pier leading into a room “in which the walls and floor are coated with a neutral paint base infused with powdered graphite, buffed to a silver-grey sheen”, creating a surreal and very still black and white sensation, as if all colour had been sucked down the drain. Processed breathings are seperated by stretches of silence and the rhythm of their coming and going, as well as the subtle or even unequivocal differences between them come to the fore with or without a picture at hand.

Which leaves us with the most interesting of the three questions, namely how a music which was designed for a specific context can exist outside of it. The reason why this presents no contradiction in practise, is because Peters’ music is just as much generally room-associated as it is site-specific.

The light-filled noises dripping from the musical ceiling on “Delicate Abrasions”, the crackles, crisp squeakings and scratchings created from “tactile interaction” with the building’s textures have an openness to them which permeates your living room just as pervasively and stimulatingly as the small Shack Obscura, with its brick walls and metal benches. It is a work which trickles into the room through the cracks in the air and slows down time to a new and undeniable pulse. You don’t listen to this music – you live in it.

Needless to say that this approach takes time to make an impact and subsequently, the three tracks range between seventeen and thirty minutes. All of this leads us to three conclusions: While the visitor to one of Peters’ sites is immediately caught by its unique mood, the listener needs to acclimate in order to realise that our direct environment changes as well under the influence of this music. Secondly, you don’t need any theoretical concepts for the music, just as much as you don’t neccessarily need any for the installations. And finally, Sirr label head Paulo Raposo was right in claiming that this was a very special album when he mailed it to me.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Peters
Homepage: Steve Peters at MySpace
Homepage: Sirr Ecords

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