Spectropol Records: Possible Worlds and Duopoly
Bruce Hamilton’s Spectropol Records is ‘a friendly netlabel devoted to excellent music unbound by venue and commerce; it’s a destination for adventurous music beyond journalistic and commercial style/genre classifications’.
If, like me, you have a soft spot for microtonal music, then you’ll enjoy browsing through the catalogue of free downloads. Bruce sent me the details of his label some time ago and I’ve been listening off and on to the range of work offered on two albums, Duopoly and Possible Worlds.
And it is indeed a wide range: work based on the use and modification of conventional instruments, vocal pieces, new instruments, electronic instruments, and, yes, even, retuned synthesisers. I still have difficulty with the last of these, but even with that personal caveat, I’d say that the synth based works are well crafted in spite of the instrumentation. The main problem for me in listening to new work in this idiom is simple. Some of it is truly musical – the music rises above the technical means of production, that is, it succeeds in spite of the cleverness or complexity of scale structures or the hardware/software used to realise the work. Some, on the other hand, comes over as a demonstration of a particular scale or set of scale structures. The worst just sounds like out of tune music played with cheesy timbres. I’ll leave it to the listener to find out more.
Possible Worlds is described as a ‘snapshot’ of work, a series of ‘recent xenharmonic explorations’. We are informed that xenharmonic is ‘a term coined by Ivor Darreg used to describe tuning systems, or music using those systems, which does not conform to or closely approximate the common 12-tone equal temperament’. Ivor Darreg is worth checking out – a real original and an inspiration to countless musicians who have gone on to make significant impacts in the field of new microtonal music.
The online sleeve notes are comprehensive and informative. I recognised many of the names, indeed I’ve met several of the musicians over the years: Paul Rudy from the world of acousmatic music (who once let me stroke his cactus…); John Eaton, whose Agnus Dei is a very fine choral work, even though I can’t tell from listening how ‘microtonal’ the piece is (is the singer following a scale or simply inflecting more or less in microtones?); Stephen Altoft, who has championed microtonal trumpet for many years; Christopher Bailey, a truly original voice in new music; Manfred Stahnke, and of course Bruce Hamilton himself.
I’d recommend this compilation because it’s quite unique and over time certain works will grow on you. I can’t even begin to guess what you’ll like or dislike, but I can say that the music is different from a lot of new music out there and I know from experience that the musicians themselves are deeply committed to their work, so there certainly depth in there.
For the same reasons I’d recommend having a taste of Duopoly, another mixed bag, but this time a series of collaborations involving Bruce Hamilton and others, describe by Hamilton as ‘the result of collaborations between late 2009 and late 2010 via the ImprovFriday and the Society for Shorty New Music online musical communities. Most of these tracks are in some sense remixes I made of pre-existing tracks, ranging from enhanced versions to entirely new compositions using the tracks as source material. Often improvisation was involved for one or both artists; some pieces employ alternate tuning systems’.
So here we have a window into a community of musicians sharing common interests across specific notions of improvisation, tuning and sharing. Again the range is very wide: from unpredictable and formless synth based pieces, to free, skimpy and meandering jazzy two piece works, to filmic ambient keyboard based pieces, to more introspective pieces such as the very fine propinquitwo for (as far as I can tell) microtonal zither.
I notice that there have been four new releases since the two albums I’ve mentioned above, each by well established musicians in their respective fields. If you don’t know of their work, then hopefully these will be new artists whose work you can explore and enjoy on this fine netlabel over the festive break.