Ned Bouhalassa / electroacoustic compositions
Bouhalassa is something of a bright young thing in Canada’s electroacoustic scene. And, as befits such a position, he shies away from the academic pigeonhole in favour of something more eclectic and more modern-sounding. The biog says he’s influenced by Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Public Enemy. I can hear you cringing already; these obvious names conjure an image of an ivory-tower academic trying to get with-it, like your teachers dancing at the school disco. In fact, such influences are very much submerrged in a well-developed musical imagination.
The first track, “Jets”, will serve as an example of his approach. It’s very much object-oriented; self-contained events move around, develop, overlap and re-appear in an open field. Very effective it is too, and completely abstract, although there are moments which have a more conventional musical texture. The composer astutely identifies these as “nostalgic”, perhaps giving some insight into his relationship with those influences from popular music – and, in a coup of meta-meta-humour, one can even catch a sample of rhythmic, 70s-style robotic speech halfway through “Attraction” which strongly echoes the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic”, itself a tribute to the age of Space Invaders and Old Skool Hip Hop. Whether this specific reference is intentional or not, this complex, textured, unromantic use of recognisable elements from other musics is typical of the rest of the disk.
Bouhalassa says something revealing in his comments on another track, “Move 1”, when he refers to the “exchange or contrast between the recognizable (stable) and the unknown (unstable)”. Thinking of movent in tterms of a series of exchanges between stability and instability, a balancing act of a dynamic equilibrium, is helpful when applied to all kinds of music, but most explicitly to music like this. Objects develop their own momentum, shifting from stable points to points of transition, with constant, mostly quite natural ease. Nothing stays still for long – and of course, this being music, nothing is ever absolutely static otherwise the piece would be finished – but different degrees of stability can be found.
To think of these sounds as objects is also helpful; they are objects which can explode, collapse, propagate, dissipate, emerge anywhere, combine with one another and produce weird hybrids. Bouhalassa seems most fascinated by the idea of sonic movement, the concept that a sound can become an object which moves in a conceptual space (we are not talking here about the stereo field, of course). It’s an interest which produces difficult music, certainly, and not stuff which follows the conventional musical lines of development. Without conceding that this is “ideal chill-out music” – it’s too surprising, it buffets you and comes at you from strange angles, shouting “boo” – it’s certainly absorbing. Richard Cochrane