This month sees two releases featuring British sound artist Monty Adkins, both finding their origins and inspiration in the visual arts.
Empire, released on Richard Chartier’s LINE imprint, attempts to create a soundtrack to Andy Warhol’s famous black and white silent film of the same name. Warhol’s film is an epic, slow-motion, eight-hour vision of the Empire State Building. This new work was commissioned by the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, and I can only imagine what it was like to hear this while the original was projected.
Adkins has conjured up a beautifully still, contemplative piece that perfectly complements Warhol’s unchanging frames of the famous tower. Bell tones ring in a mathematical process, cycling through nine iterations of swaying bliss, full of similarity but never completely the same. The original film is known for its glacial pace, shown with less frames as it was recorded, and Adkins is respectful of this, his work taking time to unfold and progress. There is a more than a hint of melancholy throughout, like the last moments of sunlight decaying into dusk over the Manhattan skyline.
For the LINE label, which usually documents the audio components of sound art and audio/visual exhibitions, this piece by Adkins feels more musical than the label’s normal output. Less gallery-bound and existing as a deep listening experience in its own right, Empire will please fans of subtly shifting long form ambience.
Warhol is not the only artist whose work serves as inspiration to new music by Adkins. The process behind Still Juniper Snow is influenced by Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs, which Adkins regards as “musical palimpsests”, in that original sounds can be sampled, processed and reformed into new works in which traces of the original sounds still exist. This album is a collaborative effort, with Sarah-Jane Summers and the Bozzini Quartet offering the starting acoustic pieces for Adkins to work on.
The collection begins with “Hollow”, as strings from the quartet are stretched into ever-expanding lengths and tentatively spread through the stereo field. Those echoes of the original recordings are fairly prominent on this piece, and serve as a perfect introduction to Adkins’ process of wringing new shapes from existing material.
“Distant Waters” buries the original sounds deeper, with Adkins using his studio treatments in a much more overt fashion. Again, like the first track, strings rise up to the fore and create solemn towers of sound, the ghosts of the quartet shimmering up towards the end of the track. These strings are bright in tone, and contrast to the somewhat darker tones of Empire.
Final track, “Spiral Paths”, is another elegant exploration into processed strings, only this time there is more melody and moving parts within their structures. As this piece progresses, the details in the melodic parts really begin to vibrate and it comes alive with movement. The three pieces that comprise Still Juniper Snow are short, and their collective duration is a mere 20 minutes, but there is much to admire here.
These releases showcase Adkins’ astuteness at creating haunting music that works both in short and long duration, both dark and light.