Akira Rabelais

Akira Rabelais – Spellewauerynsherde
(Samadhi Sound)

Spellewauerynsherde: Spell. Wavering. Shard. Spell as in speaking, incantation, a digitally constructed matrix of words and voices, summoning up a strange, distant past. Wavering: the shivering of those voices as they dissolve and recombine in Rabelais’ rich filtering systems, turning into pulsating, frequency rich drones. Shard: fragments, of voices, of ideas, of memories, of the past, brought back to life again.

As with his earlier release, Eisotrophobia (Ritornell, 2001), in which LA based electronic composer Akira Rabelais transformed recordings of Erik Satie and others, Spellewauerynsherde is built up from found sounds, in this case, a series of field recordings of traditional Icelandic accapella songs recorded in the late 1960s or early 1970s on Ampex tapes and then forgotten about. After discovering the neglected tapes, cleaning them up and digitizing them for a library, Rabelais became fascinated with the heartbreaking sadness of the voices and began to think of them as source material for a series of compositions.

In working with the tapes, Rabelais was very careful to preserve much of the sound and shape of the originals – giving some of the tracks, such as the lovely track 5 an almost Duchamp-like “found” quality — they sound barely touched, hardly “compositions” at all by most people’s standards. “I didn’t want to abstract it so much that it lost its essential quality. The truth is I have no idea who the people on this recording are, and I don’t speak Icelandic, so I didn’t want to damage the fabric, but I wanted to set it, make a really nice frame for it. Cast it in a certain light.”

The frame that Rabelais uses was constructed using a piece of computer software called Argeiphontes Lyre, which Rabelais developed in the early 1990s — a flexible tool for filtering and mutating sound sources, turning them into the remarkable pulsating, shifting sound fields and strange choral effects to be heard on Spellewauerynsherde’s track three for example. In contrast to much of the contemporary electronic music scene, which remains heavily dependent on commercially available software, and which mostly consists of running through every possible combination of the potentialities within such software, resulting in a glut of music that is basically indistinguishable from each other, Rabelais has worked continuously on developing software that can achieve his various sonic goals. “I think that anyone who’s making electronic music today is selling themselves short if they don’t attempt to write software, get their hands in. You can do fine without it, but you’d be better off giving it a shot. It’s like trying to write without learning to read.”

Even though Rabelais’ use of the software has an iterative, mathematical aspect, in that it can be used to crank out numerous mutant variations on a particular block of sound, he claims that he sees writing software as similar to writing poetry. “I have this Magical Realist kind of bent, where I write in random, aleatory processes. I can tell myself it’s in order to do a specific task, but there’s always a chance that it won’t exactly do what I tell it. Things can blow up and sometimes when they do, it’s more interesting. The software is just an extension of myself. I’m not a gear whore or an engineer. I try to write what I need to write, that’s all.”

Rabelais then decided to throw his own unconscious as a tool into the mix: “When I was working on it, I would do an iteration of filtering and editing and then I’d burn it on a disk and play it, put it on repeat in my bedroom and sleep to it. Have all these strange dreams and let it creep into my subconscious. Sometimes a little unsettling. And then I’d work on it some more.”

If the tracks on Spellewauerynsherde are ultimately built around the complexities of digital programming, the framework of title and text that Rabelais gives the music is equally important and transformative. In fact, Rabelais says that he worked simultaneously on the editing and processing of the sounds, and the extraordinary texts that accompany the music, as well as the seven long, mysterious track titles, drawn mostly from the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of the words that make up the title of the piece.

“The thing I love about the OED,” says Rabelais, “is that they don’t give you a straight definition of a word, the way Merriam-Websters does — “this is what this word means”, which I hate. I also hate the idea that you can only spell a word one way! There should be at least four of five ways. If you read the OED, you can see how words and ideas change, it can be used one way for a hundred years, and for the next hundred years it takes on an ironic meaning, a twist. It shows how things change over time. Which is something I embrace with music: things should change over time.”

What Rabelais has come up with in Spellewauerynsherde, is a haunting spiritual disk that sounds at once medieval, especially framed by Rabelais’ beautiful texts, while at the same time, on the cutting edge of electronic music. Digital technologies, with their use of permutation and combination of seemingly unrelated elements, bring us back to the world of magic, which also sought to transform matter in ways that give it spiritual significance. Spellewauerynsherde brings back voices from the edges of history, tapes gathering dust in archives, and transforms them into ghosts that thrive in the digital era, albeit in sometimes monstrous forms. “I’m a transmitter,” says Rabelais. ““Below as it is above”. I try to connect to something ineffable and then transmit it in some way.”

Marcus Boon

originally published as a press-release for Samadhi Sound, 2004

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