Posts Tagged ‘Steve Roden’

Room40 – 14th January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

One of the many wonderful things about music is that it has no limits, and no constraints. There is music to be found in anything and everything, and music can be made my anyone, anywhere, anytime, with anything, or even nothing. Steve Roden’s choice of instrumentation on Oionos is noteworthy for being quite unconventional, as he explains: ‘The audio was built from field recordings and small “poor” objects such as tin whistles, toy harmonicas, and the like. These “instruments” suggested by the museum of musical instruments in Athens, where the proper instruments take up most of the museum, but there is a wonderful display case in the basement with musical toys, religious objects, and other sounding devices not considered musical instruments.’ These instruments and objects combine to conjure a magical, mystical soundscape with overtly musical sounds contrasting with less overtly musical sounds and woven together to create something that occupies a unique sonic space.

In popular western culture, we’ve come to understand only the narrowest of definitions of music, which for many is represented by an album consisting of a number of ‘songs’, bite-size pierces which are tightly structured and subject to conforming to certain parameters, including rhythm, and suchlike. Even many ambient works, which delineate many of those mainstream conventions, are created within limitations; these are compositional factors, imposed by the creators, rather than being significant of true musical limits.

With Oionos, Steve Roden frees the music, presenting a single, continuous piece with a running time of one hour, one minute, and fifty-five seconds. Time was when the CD format placed a time constraint of seventy-two minutes on a release, but technology has evolved, and the duration of this piece feels entirely natural, as if the music has run its course to a satisfying conclusion by the close.

The composition is, in many respects less concerned with time, than with place. As Roden writes on the album ‘Oionos was created for the exhibition The Grand Promenade, in Athens, Greece. The exhibition took place in various archaeological and historical sites in central Athens, creating a situation for contemporary site specific works to be in dialogue with their historical surroundings.’

Although the location was integral to the album’s inspiration, it’s less integral to the listening experience when taken out of the context, and the music featured is, if not necessarily ambient in the most conventional sense, it is very much abstract, and also very much background sounds rather than music one actively listens to. But zoning in and out is a pleasurable experience, which perhaps serves to highlight the multifaceted nature of the sounds. Metallophone-like notes chime and ring, seemingly with an almost random notations and the loosest of rhythms, against a backdrop of scrapes and drones, while sounds like wind gusts and lapping water fill the space in the background. While the different elements conglomerate throughout, by half-listening, one finds oneself becoming aware of them individually at different times, and you find yourself experiencing the recording differently at different times as you tune into and become aware of the different sounds, textures, and tones.

As a whole, Oionos feels like something living and breathing, as if the sounds in combination have taken on a life of their own – and in many senses, they have, and they merge together to form a shifting, pulsating whole. It’s unfamiliar, but not eerie despite its otherness; there is a certain calm that radiates throughout the duration.

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