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Radical enough?

img  Tobias

We don't find it pretentious, when artists contact us claiming their music is entirely different from anything or anyone else - we're just not quite sure what they mean by that (and whether it's a positive statement in the first place). Quite often, their point of view confuses the personal with the singular: Of course, every artistic statement is unique in the sense that it is the representation of its creators will (or of an accident caused by him or her). On the other hand, similarities between pieces are not always just journalistic inventions (or a sign of their laziness), but quite often matters of fact. So what's to make of Graham Bowers, whose homepage greets visitors with the slogan: "A radical alternative in musical composition"?

Let's find out (and I promise you that this will the last pair of brackets to be used in this article). For one thing, Bowers' vision incorporates more than just sound. Apart from the fact, that his music has a strong visual aspect to it, it almost always reaches out into optical territory as well - there are paintings accompanying the sound bits available for download from his site and on this year's "International Contemporary Arts Festival" in Wales, he presented different video pieces, which went hand in hand with accompanying compositions. These sensory splits are typical for his entire career, which actually started with the scores to theatre productions and modern dance. Parting from these commissioned works and beginning to stand on his own two feet did not imply a radical break  - it merely meant keeping control of every single aspect. Consequently, he likes to call his style "sound theatre".

"Sound theatre" involves a wide range of ingredients: There are floating sequences of eery drones, voices and murmurings from far off, abstract and concrete noises and field recordings, hints at avantgarde symphonics, otherworldly sound layers and musique concrete collages. This puts him in a position between two worlds: Modern "serious" music on the one hand and contemporary experimental music on the other. Despite all their common ground, those camps hardly ever intermingle and have instead chosen to ignore or even hate each other. Bowers however, has, albeit on a still small scale, been applauded and praised. German underground radio channel "Black Channel Karlsruhe" has played his pieces alongside Dark Ambient and even Synthie Pop, while the BBC's "Mixing it" was helpful in presenting him to a larger audience. Attention was spured by the fact that his first three albums were connected and formed a tryptich: "Of Mary's Blood", "Transgressions" and "Eternal Ghosts" were released between 1996 and 1998 and all featured one continous track, split into different parts, of around 50 minutes' length.

Which brings us to "Sound theatre's" possibly even more important feature: Not only does it include  visual elements, it also strikes listeners with theatre's typical grandeur and especially it's capacity of making spectators loose themselves entirely. Whether you like these all-encompassing, heavy and at times complex compositions, is up to you - but for their entire lenght, you will be sucked up by them and only be spit out again at the very end.

So what about the claim that sparked this article, that this is a radical alternative? Well, really, it depends on your point of view. On the surface, this music is "mereley" taking things one step further, allowing even more genres to merge and flow into each other - without turning the world upside down alltogether. Looking deeper, however, it is the hidden secrets and especially the implicit theatrical component that propels Bower's work into a leage of its own. In the end, this is maybe not the right thing to ask anyway. Radical or not, the real question is whether this music could take you somewhere you haven't been before. Just listening to the short extracts on his homepage makes you believe it could. And that's a positive statement for sure.

Homepage: Graham Bowers / Red Wharf Records

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