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Outward Sound Ensemble Cloudburst Review


BBC Review

There is much detail and a sense of conscious, sensitive interaction in an alien...

Colin Buttimer 2004

Cloudburst consists of one long piece, an hour and thirty one seconds in length. According to the liner notes it was recorded in a single take and subjected to no further treatments such as overdubs, mixing, etc. The Outward Sound Ensemble comprise Herb Bayley on trombone and cornet and Chris Meloche on prepared table-top guitar and treatments. Although their method is not entirely clear from the liner notes, it seems the two musicians played alongside a specially recorded piece submitted by Martin Archer who is credited with violectronics.

Cloudburst begins with disparate scrabblings, scurryings and scratchings. The initial impression of these first few minutes leaves something to be desired because the sonic details appear uninvolving and overly ascetic. However, persistence is rewarded as the piece progresses and assessment of this initial passage is inevitably moderated by what follows. After five minutes the soundworld becomes more active as micro-events echo and sustain themselves into atmospheres. After ten minutes or so there's a sudden disruptive noise followed by what might be interpreted as the agitated echo of wildlife, the chirruping spirits of cicadas. The disturbance increases with occasionally harsh sounds intruding suddenly on the field of hearing.

Somewhere around the fifteen minute mark and thereafter the atmosphere changes and it's as though the listener has looked up from the ground and become aware of the night sky soaring above. From this point onwards there is an overarching spatial sensation, a sense of a vast emptiness. This becomes a yardstick by which all the other activity on Cloudburst is measured. How this change is effected remains a little mysterious, but it may have something to do with the particular sounds created by Bayley's breath blown gently through his trombone or cornet and the way they're extended by Meloche's treatments. However it's achieved, the transformation brings with it an acute sense of aloneness. It's an eerie experience, akin to the emptiness, sense of personal insignificance, but also wonder that may be experienced when listening to Gyorgy Lygeti's orchestral music or the final disc of Pan Sonic's Kesto. Below this sonic firmament the smaller-scale activities that heralded the piece continues and experiences phases of diligence and relative passivity. There is much detail here and a sense of conscious, sensitive interaction in an alien language. This is perhaps all the more fascinating because the source of these sounds are such traditional musical instruments. The feeling grows that whatever is taking place has little to do with civilisation and is occurring at a great distance from human habitation or knowledge.

Cloudburst is a remarkable piece of... well, what? Perhaps the most recognisable description would be soundscaping, but this seems to imply something too earthbound, too rooted for a work that is so penumbral and frequently so alien. When recalled, it holds a haunting place in the memory. Whatever term may be applied to Cloudburst, it is a very impressive sonic performance.

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