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Annea Lockwood - Early Works: 1967-1982

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Artist: Annea Lockwood

Album: Early Works: 1967-1982

Label: EM

Review date: Aug. 22, 2007

I had started exploring glass sounds as a way of sensitising my ears to very fine sonic detail. But the glass gave me a greater gift: it completely changed my way of composing and of thinking about music itself.

- Annea Lockwood, 2007

Based on a live performance called "The Glass Concert" given periodically between 1968 and 1973 (76 times, to be exact), Annea Lockwood's 1973 LP The Glass World is the composer's most recognized work. The original performances took place in the dark, with most of the sounds being produced offstage and amplified into the concert space. On-stage antics included "curtains of fine glass tubing; trees of bottles inverted in a spiral pattern; a mobile of large panes of wired glass, surrounded by mirrors." Sound production would occasionally abate as Harvey Matusow's light pieces took the spotlight, and on the occasion that a stage "instrument" was used, light and sound would work together.

The magical experience attracted the attention of Michael Steyn of Tangent Records, who worked with Lockwood to put this singular experience to wax. After two years of painstaking, late-night recording sessions - attempting to eliminate all ambient noise - The Glass World was brought into circulation and quickly became an avant-garde touchstone. Reissued again on EM Records' 2007 collection Early Works: 1967-1982, this new remastering is accompanied by the piece "Tiger Balm," originally released on an LP accompanying SOURCE Magazine in 1970.

It's easy to see why Lockwood insisted on a darkened room for her glass acoustics (in her own words, she wanted to "focus people totally on the sound - NOW!"). In her persistent attempt to listen as deeply as possible to the world around her, Lockwood chose to dissociate the sounds she produced through glass objects from their normative, associative, everyday characteristics. Who would guess that the strange oscillating tones on this album could be made from an ordinary wine glass? Or that the gurgling, steel drum-like rhythms emanate from a rod run along a window pane? Or, perhaps most remarkable, the otherworldly whooshing noises made by an assisted breathing apparatus – sounding more like the melancholy calls of humpback whales than anything in the medical profession. If Lockwood wasn't courteous enough to name these tracks so matter-of-factly – “Micro Glass Shaken,” Two Ribbed Discs,” “Glass Bulb” – one wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of their origins.

The Glass World's great achievement is its extraction of an entirely new syntax from the most banal of elements. The composer accomplishes this by privileging the individual unit over the harmonic series, sustaining and supporting each rather than pushing it aside to make room for the next note. The concept isn't unlike Fluxus chairman George Maciunas' concept of the monomorphic structure: "having a single, simple form; exhibiting essentially one structural pattern.” At times ambient and lyrical, at others abrasive and percussive, Lockwood's piece engages the listener with the most distilled of elements.

"Tiger Balm" was inspired by Lockwood's work with trance and ritual music drawn from the BBC archives. "I was concerned with how our bodies respond to sound," she writes, "and with the concept of sound as a primal energy and nutrient, so the role of music in inducing trance states was of great interest." It begins with a recorded tape loop of a tiger's purr, before merging into caressing gamelan tones and the gentle rhythm of what I imagine to be a human heartbeat. A caesura opens midway to allow the entrance of odd, frog-like emanations and the sounds of deep breathing. But these breaths turn into hyperventilated gasps and the ribbit becomes a processed roar, all distorted growl and tape hiss, transforming the relaxing purr of the piece's opening into a medium of terror. Trance music, particularly that of Africa, is often associated with states of bodily removal and ego suspension. In the same vein, “Tiger Balm" takes the listener through various emotional-psychological states throughout its 21-minute duration in the hope of reaching a higher level of consciousness.

Fabulously packaged as usual, EM's collection also includes the visual work "Piano Transplants," a series of performance pieces based around the relocation – and sometimes destruction – of pianos. The photographic documentation of works like "Piano Burning," "Piano Drowning" and "Piano Garden" is accompanied by Lockwood's brief scores, instructing the reader as to the staging of these events. The instrument is abducted from its normal setting and placed in an environment where its unrealized musical, visual, and tactile qualities can be better appreciated. Much like her work with glass acoustics, "Piano Transplants" betrays a do-it-yourself, Fluxus-inspired credo: that one should transform everyday life in any way possible.

By Seth Watter

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