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Pauline Oliveros, Francisco López, Doug Van Nort, Jonas Braasch: Quartet for the End of Space

img  Tobias Fischer

Quartet for the End of Space is an all-star electroacoustic jam session between composers and sound artists Pauline Oliveros, Francisco López, Doug Van Nort, and Jonas Braasch. The quartet used raw material from two improvisational sessions between February and May 2010 to construct eight compositions—two by each composer—that blur the lines between improvisation and composition. Together, the pieces of Quartet for the End of Space—a play off of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time—offer an intense psychological experience straight out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The album’s opener, “Outer,” begins with low-end engine-like rumblings that swell to an ambient, spacious composition. In the last quarter of the piece, extraterrestrial insect-like sounds swarm between the speakers as the sonic texture is gradually engulfed in a tide of white noise.

“Web Doppelganger” is a tour through a spaceship, with manipulated saxophones mumbling like androids before a backdrop of ever-evolving celestial drones. “Mercury Retrograde” features free-jazz horn squealing over reversed tape, struck strings and mallet percussion. In “Snow Drifts,” alien howling sounds are layered into a microtonal field of pulsing sonic interferences.  “Cyber Talk” is the sound of a malfunctioning robot: digital beeps, metallic scrapes, and inhuman slurping sounds spiral around one another in schizophrenic spurts.

Perhaps most intriguing about Quartet for the End of Space is its cohesive narrative arc. While each piece clearly has it’s own sonic character, there’s a conceptual and textural continuity between the works that constructs a compelling and psychologically charged whole. The pieces are arranged so as to lead a virtual tour through a futuristic environment. The journey begins outside of a spaceship, and then proceeds through its inner chambers, some of which are chillingly sedate (“Untitled #273”), while others offer disorienting and dystopian visions of the future (“Cyber Talk”).

By the time the album’s last bits of static fade out, Quartet for the End of Space has guided you on a chilling Sci-Fi journey. The album closes with its most ambient composition, “Untitled #273.” Floating weightlessly over sustained synth-like chords, breathing sounds, and quiet bass rumblings, the piece seems to offer an exterior shot of a ship disappearing into the abyss of space.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Pauline Oliveros
Homepage: Francisco López
Homepage: Doug Van Nort
Homepage: Jonas Braasch
Homepage: Pogus Recordings

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