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A Sense Of Place – AVDL003
“…a diverse and highly sensitive album.” — Guillermo Escudero, Loop
“A Sense of Place seems to be an apt metaphor for making sense of this unpredictable world itself and finding our own ‘place’ within it.” — John Dante Prevedini, Classical Music Daily
Erik Deerly’s second studio album, A Sense of Place, features eight new works of sound art for fixed media.
A SENSE OF PLACE
The synesthetic perspective is one which naturally encourages the human mind to find the unity beneath seemingly irreconcilable sensory phenomena. Loud and soft, dark and bright, rough and smooth, bitter and sweet — all of these pairs demarcate separate phenomenological fields which nonetheless share a similar power to convey fundamental shapes of experience through time and memory. For American composer and interdisciplinary artist Erik Deerly, the quest for pure “experience” has formed the cornerstone of a lifetime of creativity and research. Born with a condition of chromesthesia (the experience of sounds as colors) that lasted until the age of twelve, Deerly’s unified artistic approach has been profoundly shaped by the search for common threads among different formats of sensory experience.
Though Deerly is perhaps best known for his installations combining auditory and visual media, for this album he draws upon his synesthetic perspective to offer an experience of pure sound. A Sense of Place features eight of his electronic compositions, each one framed by a brief title that encourages guided listening without any “programmatic” intent per se. Using combinations of synthesizer improvisation, field recordings, and subsequent audio processing, Deerly aims to create sonic compositions whose presentation can remain free from connotations of musical genre or explicit mimetic reference. Nor do allusions to musical form feature prominently; rather, each piece exists more or less as a single sustained soundscape to be savored at length. Despite this deliberate avoidance of audibly referential elements, his work nonetheless consistently retains a natural atmospheric quality that many listeners will likely find inviting, including those who might not otherwise be readily drawn to the world of contemporary experimental sound art.
We begin with “Buoyant”, which envelops the listener with a layered sea of metallic sound masses peppered with delicate granular textures in the higher frequency registers and underscored by an undulating bass tone. The materials here are largely pitch-based and seem to suggest a consonance and warmth underneath the gentle noise-based content heard on the surface. Following this is “Entropy”, a seemingly colder and darker composition in which the individual tones are more continuously sustained and closer together in frequency. The timbres here appear more glassy and bell-like, suggesting a chilly uneasiness that nonetheless remains latently energetic. The piece concludes with one of the sustained tones apparently filtered to produce a quasi-motivic undulation up and down the third octave of its natural overtone series.
Next is “In the Void”, a brighter and more percussive piece which sees Deerly introducing clearer elements of rhythm and pulse into the sonic palette. Here, the sustained tones interact through various combinations of harmonic filters with a result that simultaneously references the overtone series and diatonic scales. The first half of the album closes with “Via Shortwave”, a seemingly softer and more mysterious composition in which we first hear closely spaced pitch-based materials that suggest pentatonic scales with muffled, metallic timbres. Noise-based materials are then gradually incorporated that evoke waves on a beach, after which the previous metallic pentatonic sounds return and seem to double down in response.
The second half of the album opens with the eponymous composition A Sense of Place. The material here appears timbrally and harmonically darker and colder, pitting rhythmically pulsating voice-like sustained pitches against what seem to be stretched bell tones. Granular noise-based material appears here as well — not as a separate entity contrasting with pitch-based content (as we saw in the previous piece “Buoyant”, for example), but instead fused with them to create a new entity altogether. The following piece, “Tomorrowland”, takes the fusion of pitch with noise to the next level, turning a combination of warm metallic tones and cicada-like buzzing into a single sound mass that effectively forms the main theme of a short and vaguely arch-form composition.
Next is “Slipstream”, in which the focus seems to shift to diatonic relationships among strongly pitch-based materials. Specifically, we hear various timbres outlining what appear to be several octaves of a suspended triadic harmony. Some of the tones coloristically evoke the quality of being underwater or indicate the application of reversed reverb. The texture remains lyrical and non-percussive throughout. Closing the album is “Earth Dance”, a longer and more texturally dense composition that seems to summarize and unify the various ideas explored in the other seven preceding pieces. Here, pentatonic and suspended triadic harmonies, pulsating sustained tones, reversed reverb, references to the harmonic series, and noise-based material all combine to suggest a glacially changing sonic landscape over the course of ten minutes.
While all of these are — of course — subjective impressions, they hopefully provide a potential starting place for listeners to discover their own ways of hearing and interpreting the eight pieces on this album. Erik Deerly’s broader interdisciplinary oeuvre is meant to be revisited and re-examined in different associative contexts to unlock new meanings, and this album of sound art is no exception. Lastly, A Sense of Place seems to be an apt metaphor for making sense of this unpredictable world itself and finding our own “place” within it. After all, if Deerly’s synesthetic perspective can teach us anything about experiencing phenomena, it is that our perceptions often depend on the frames of reference we bring to them.
– John Dante Prevedini
Erik Deerly is an award-winning visual and sound artist, exhibiting across the Americas, Asia, and Europe. His work focuses on exploring synesthetic experiences and is driven by interests in perception, cognition, time, and movement. Erik’s work includes audio, film, installation, and expanded photography. Awards include a New Frontiers of Creativity Grant, multiple film festival honors, a South by Southwest Interactive prize, a Lumen Prize selection, and an Aesthetica Art Prize. Erik is a professor of new media at Indiana University Kokomo.
Interview with Erik Deerly
Q. The title A Sense of Place suggests a story behind the music. Can you tell us a little about how this album came to be?
A. A Sense of Place was begun immediately following the (2021) release of Apophenia, an immersive audiovisual project. Apophenia is an artistic exploitation of the human propensity to seek patterns in random information. An intentional juxtaposition of seemingly organized yet perfectly ambiguous sound and visual content leads viewers to draw meaningful and personal interpretations of the work based on a combination of their personal experiences, cultural influences, fears, and desires. One of my goals with A Sense of Place is to similarly tap into the unconscious mind.
Q. Creating visual art is a significant part of your overall work. Do your music and visual art intersect?
A. As a second-generation artist and a third-generation musician/composer, I’ve always had trouble reconciling the relationship between my music and my visual art. I think part of the issue was that I assumed they were vastly different and therefore not compatible—that they were contained in separate silos. This was mental baggage I chose to replace with what I hoped would become my unified creative voice. I am interested in exploring paths of creative research that cross formal boundaries and blur traditional genres. At this point in my career, the distinction between disciplines is less important than the work I hope to create.
Q. What does a perfect day look like to you?
A. A perfect day is one that ends without regret. Beyond that, I prefer a nice balance of studio time, lectures and critiques, meditation and contemplation, learning, and enjoying my family, friends, and colleagues.
Guillermo Escudero, Loop – Santiago, Chile
(translated from Spanish)
Erik Deerly is an American visual and sound artist and composer. His work includes sound art, installations, video, and photography. His discography consists of twenty releases. A Sense Of Place is his second studio album.
Deerly’s work focuses on the relationship between perception, cognition, time, and movement in his music. In this sense, each listener will find their own meaning on this album.
On the track, Inhabit, the ambient synthetic lines, and soft pulsations drive us to a distant place where time no longer exists. Here, sound waves envelop the listener with their warmth and dreamlike evocation. Via Shortwave gives us a sense of spaciousness, while the eponymous composition A Sense Of Place, composed of layers and minimalist synth lines, evokes a lonely and cold atmosphere. Rounding off this album with Earth Dance, where gentle forms of ambient sound return, thus closing a diverse and highly sensitive album.
Executive Producer: Peter Vukmirovic Stevens
Recorded and produced by Erik Deerly
Album Art and design by Sean Waple
Mastering by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering
Photo by Isaac Beachy ©️2021
A Sense of Place (track) is for Emiliana, 1928-2017
Special thanks to Anita, my studio partner