The Eccentric Press by Iain Chambers

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Iain Chambers | The Eccentric Press
Persistence of Sound (DL)

The Eccentric Press occupies that middle ground between classical composition and Musique Concrete – a deftly arranged series of non-musical sounds that nonetheless are treated, from a structural perspective, with a resoundingly musical sense of timing and pace.  It is not exactly novel, nor does it pretend to be, rather invoking an almost antiquated approach to arranged-sound-as-music that dates back to the 30’s. This is not so much a criticism as a contextualisation – Iain Chambers is a proficient composer within this tradition, and his work should be seen as stemming, with an academic fervour, from that very particular cultural location.

I will readily admit to not always finding this sort of thing particularly interesting – just because all sounds can be made available for musical purposes does not mean they should be – yet Chambers manages for the most part to present a cogent and intriguing sound-world. It’s often extremely sterile, occasionally a bit boring, and yet there is an underlying sense of narrative development that results in a far more emotive listen than one might expect. The use of dense, organic drones helps to offset the creaky, clicky palette so integral to the form, and there is a pleasant sense of the mechanistic throughout. The final moments of the title track introduce something approaching music proper, long synthesised tones that retroactively frame the preceding twenty minutes with a subtle but sinister glare.

There is a playful approach to rhythm at work, particular in the second track, Maudslay Engine. It’s a strange tactic, offering both a relief from the austere chin-stroking that some Concrete works wear like a badge of honour, and simultaneously coming across as a little crass. Given the overall symphonic nature of the piece, some of the more straight-forward percussive elements feel ham-fisted, and its hard to imagine what they bring to the composition as a whole, or why they were included. Thankfully, Chambers style is such that he soon abandons his ideas, for better or worse, and the later focus on processing, and the introduction of a merrily incongruous organ, allows us to escape such questionable percussives.

The Eccentric Press is a fitting, if not ground-breaking, addition to the pantheon of Music Concrete. Like anything that fits so neatly into an existing genre, it’s hard to love, but as a study of its form it had numerous merits. The weaving of field-recordings and more directly music sounds skilfully avoids reducing the former element to the role of mere timbre, as is so often the case in other comparable works, and it is in these moments that Chambers compositional prowess shines. As a piece defined by a distracted, disjointed structure, The Eccentric Press is a masterclass in proficiency, brushing against the borders of Musique Concrete without ever truly threatening to break free of them.

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