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Natasha BARRETT (b. 1972)
Leap Seconds
Involuntary Expression (2017) [17:21]
Dusk’s Gait (2018) [12:00]
The Weathered Piano (2019) [20:38]
He Slowly Fell and Transformed into the Terrain (2016) [17:16]
rec. acousmatic works, 2016-2019
SARGASSO SCD28083 [67:41]

Natasha Barrett has a substantial list of recording and international performance credits and, based in Norway, is active in performance, education and research. She co-founded and now co-directs EAU, the Norwegian spatial-music performance ensemble Electric Audio Unit, and 3DA, the Norwegian society for 3D sound-art. The pieces on this recording were originally designed to be performed over multiple speakers with 3D spatial encoding, and have been remastered for stereo listening. It’s a shame they couldn’t have been released on multichannel SACD but the results here are good enough, if perhaps not quite being able to reproduce “images in space that are sufficiently tangible to entice touch.” It’s worth knowing that if you buy this CD direct from the Sargasso label you will receive a unique link for downloading a special binaural version of Leap Seconds.

Involuntary Expression is something of an experiment. Just as the conductor of an orchestra directs the sound but makes none themselves, so the sounds in this piece were created by movement: “a cellist performing musical sketches… a drummer rehearsing a simple exercise, and crowds attempting to collectively stand still.” Micro-movements and gestures therefore create a fascinating multi-layered abstraction of textures, but it is of course the composer who filters this information into sounds. Most of the sonorities are subtle, with sustained atmospheres, chimes and electronic waves and fluttering. It is hard to describe, but the effect is one of a logical progression that moves towards quite surrealist effects towards the end of the piece, in which voice-like sounds emerge from previously suggestive whispering. The physical movement is what interested Barrett the most, but its transformation into an sonic narrative results in something intriguing and subtly stimulating.

Dusk’s Gait is another exploration of movement, but this time looking more towards the natural world. “As dusk falls a transformation occurs: a habitat busy with unknown creatures comes to life… In this work I was especially interested in creating images in space and projecting a sense of their gait as they moved in relation to the listening position and in relation to each other.” Again, difficult to describe, this is a translucent hubbub of clicking and tapping which evolves into what sounds like gently struck guitar or piano strings, to include more massive moving shapes and other evocative sounds that have your imagination working overtime. If this was the soundtrack to a movie it would be one you might in fact not want to see.

The Weathered Piano is a ‘four seasons’ piece, with “freezes and thaws, storms and heatwaves. The ‘Weathered Piano (quattuor tempora anni)’ adventures along an acousmatic line through this landscape [of disrupted seasons], the sounds… becoming one with the land, a memory of the present before the future climate takes hold…” Barrett’s soundworld takes us through four continuous sections, starting with autumn storms, the arctic winds of winter, the cracks and bursting forth of spring, and summer, in which “the sun smashes into the piano’s varnish, glares off the brass, rebounds off the springs.” Barrett avoids cliché here. The winds, rains and other natural effects are always an invitation to the imagination rather than an explicit statement. Context is all, with recorded sounds inhabiting the same expressive space as manipulated samples or electronically sourced sounds. The piano referred to in the title, apparently a real instrument that could for many years be found outside the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, is both alive and passive: a constant in the piece, but by no means dominant - a witness to the procession of time.

He Slowly Fell and Transformed into the Terrain looks onto Oslo from a distance, the composer having moved away from the city centre to a location near a forest nature reserve. “The composition lives alongside a character exploring the harmony between human constructions and nature. When constructions begin to dominate, the balance swings. Slowly falling away from the childlike enjoyment of a fairground carousel the allure of the natural terrain overwhelms his being. He finds a new harmony that embodies a landscape of dry leaves and lost children, worn stones, melting snow, and a final release into abstraction.” This ‘short, poetic fiction’ by the composer sums up this piece perfectly. You hear the carousel, the distant voices, the texture of landscape in micro and macro perspectives and a lot more besides. Natasha Barrett’s skill is in planting these images and sensations into your mind through sound, a rare talent.

Dominy Clements

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