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Listen to the artificial environments of Joanna Bailie

March 2016

Stream examples of the Berlin based composer's mix of field recordings and oblique compositional strategies

Joanna Bailie is a Berlin based composer who works primarily with field recordings and acoustic instruments. Together with Matthew Shlomowitz, Bailie is the founder and artistic director of Ensemble Plus-Minus.

The notes below were written by the composer.

“Artificial Environment No 3” from Artificial Environments Nos 1–5 (performed by L'instant Donné)

Artificial Environments Nos 1–5 is actually the second completed set of pieces in a series of works that seeks to contextualise music and its processes through explanation. The explanation itself is fiction (even science fiction) and serves as an unreliable auditory programme note that is integrated into the sound world of the piece. Scratch the surface of this explanation a little, and it becomes clear that the text is simply a metaphor for the compositional techniques that have been employed in making the music. On a broader level, but in a very small and modest way, the work is an attempt to introduce the outside world into the contemporary music concert hall. The recorded sounds in Artificial Environments Nos 1–5 were captured in locations around Europe — the hills of Umbria, Copenhagen, Malmö, London and various places in central Brussels.

“Babel” from Artificial Environment No 8 (2012–13) (performed by Mark Knoop)

In “Babel”, the piano is paired with excerpts from a long recording that was made while walking up and down the queue of tourists waiting to enter Notre Dame de Paris. The title refers to the density of languages encountered at this particular tourist spot and it is speech itself which is the focal point of the composition. Central to the piece is the idea that a musical proposition exists within the accidental narrative of the field recording, to be outlined by the piano part and accessed by a listener willing to play his or her part in this framing of the sound of real life.

“Souvenir” from symphony-street-souvenir (2010) (performed by The Ives Ensemble)

Symphony-street-souvenir was written at the request of The Ives Ensemble as part of a program paying homage to the Italian composer Aldo Clementi. I decided to take one typically Clementiesque musical procedure and combine it with some of his favourite sound objects in order to make a work that is all about him but evidently not by him. The procedure in question is the gradual slowing down of the music, present in many of Clementi's works including my all-time favourite, Madrigales. In symphony-street-souvenir however, this slowing down is firstly realised in the electronic domain and as such, is accompanied by a gradual lowering of pitch. This fairly simple formal shape is repeated three times with three very different sound objects and it is these processed recordings that are heard alongside the ensemble, who are playing the same material, transcribed. The second theme of the piece revolves around another problem/dilemma – why transcribe something for instruments when you will never achieve an accurate copy of the electronic original? Perhaps because this in between stage, this failure to achieve a satisfying transcription, this rough analysis of the extremely complex is potentially a place where musical interest lies.

The Plus-Minus Ensemble perform Joanna Bailie's Artificial Environments as part of Berlin's MaerzMusik festival at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Kassenhalle on 14 March.

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