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Richard Chartier

Of Surfaces
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Of Surfaces
  • LINE label head Richard Chartier explores the innermost recesses of silence across three long tracks of hard-drive hum and hiss. While you’ll need a good soundsystem to properly hear the nothingness, Chartier’s vision of dusted absence is well worth a closer listen.
    (Philip Sherburne,

  • John Cage showed that in framing ‘nothing’ everything is revealed; the world is sucked into the work and signed off as ones own. As Lucier said of Cage, he was willing to pursue such indeterminate contributions to the act of composition well beyond the point of boredom. Beyond however boring Cage’s infamous framing of noise and ‘non-sound’ may now appear, this is primarily an aesthetic complaint, and Cage largely fought his battles elsewhere. Nevertheless, the sense of stalled catharsis, the aura of banality, stagnation and boredom that clings to performances of 4’33”—beyond kitschy repetitions that have so successfully withered any power this piece may once have had for listeners—comes not from the extent to which it presents ‘nothing’ to the listener. In attempting to frame everything and anything, in opening the door and letting it all in, 4’33” presents too much, it is overcrowded, saturated, a “botched attempt”. The work is flooded, lacking the intrigue and allure that draws one into even the most restrained of minimalist gestures. What is required is just a little more resistance: not nothing, but almost.

    On a train up to Edinburgh I checked to see why the music hadn’t started playing. I had recently purchased copy of Richard Chartier’s Of Surfaces, an album that, if you’re not paying close attention, sounds like almost nothing. The low rumbles, faint crackles and gentle yet piercing high pitch buzzes easily blur with the background noise of the train carriage. The sounds of Chartier’s composition seem to seep in and out of the train carriage’s ambiance, existing in an ambiguous space somewhere between what I think I’m supposed to be listening to and that background noise that I would ordinarily block out in this kind of listening situation: sitting in transit within the banal non-places of privatised ‘public’ transport, wearing headphones in an attempt to shut out the conversations of others and the repeated listing of “hot and cold snacks, beverages and magazines” that are available to buy in the buffet car.

    Of Surfaces becomes a magnet for exteriority, drawing the sounds of what remains outside the work within, situating the elements of the composition within an ambiguous listening space that is easily—although not entirely—confused with background noise. The relative ‘simplicity’ of these sounds grants them an enhanced mobility, allowing them to slip outside of the work itself into the environment in which listening takes place. These are sounds that do not easily signify, nor do they entirely seem bound to the work itself. The sounds appear slippery and easily confused, leaking from headphonic interiority into the world without. While the work stands up to more focused or isolated listening situations, such as listening to this piece through headphones in the quiet of my flat as I write these words, it is these fluid and ambiguous qualities that extend the work’s appeal and power beyond itself. The work takes place through its ability to seep into the sounds of everyday surroundings, to fold background noise and the incidental into the audile re-composition of the work.

    This enfolding of exteriority within the work establishes what Michael Fried called ‘theatricality’, a label with which he derided minimalist works—such as Robert Morris’s mirrored cubes—for drawing the viewer’s attention not only to the work but to the viewer’s relation to it, to their own presence within the space and the space within which the viewing experience or situation takes place. This contextual and relational orientation, in detracting from the autonomous consistency of the work itself, establishes a theatricality in which the work is only one ‘actor’. It is this theatricality, the way in which space is pulled into the function of minimalist works through the space left open within the work, that can be heard in Of Surfaces. What the sound work gains—expanding upon the possibilities of sculptural and installation based work—is an enhanced portability, being able to be transported on computers, ipods, mobile phones and so on, allowing the work to take place anywhere, pulling sonic elements from any given listening situation into the composition of the piece.

    In framing nothing Cage pulled in too much. Chartier’s minimal degree of resistance to this oversaturation establishes a more subtle theatre, perfectly suited to the banality of the everyday, to non-places such as the interior of a Virgin ‘Pendolino’, wherein one cannot be entirely certain where the composition ends and the world ordinarily shut out through headphone use begins. The work thereby presents an ambiguous augmentation of the everyday through a minimal degree of resistance to it.

  • The title piece is the longest here, with a lot of silence, and also some occassional sound. If you move through your room, you will notice some very low bass frequencies. Spacious spatial music. It seems as not much is going on, but again… this is just an aural illusion. Chartier works with extreme frequencies, either very high, or very low. These are collaged in a very clever, using stereo a lot. Definitly not easy music to access and one that will hand it’s beauty only to those willing to concentrate on close hearing. Unlike so many ambient (= environment, space) music, a difficult but a most rewarding work.
    (Vital Weekly, NL)

  • The most recent Richard Chartier release prior to this was called Decisive Forms, a seemingly ironic title given its incredibly slight, barely audible low-end nature. compared with this new record, though, its predecessor seems both decisive and very well formed. Of Surfaces is just about the single most minimal recording I have ever heard outside John Cage’s 4.33, tiny slivers of muted noise intended to simulate the notion of sound transmitted through “surfaces” (walls, microphones, windows, etc.). This is then supposed to pose questions about the act of listening – i.e. how “pure” can any transmission of sound really be, and how is a “real” experience of ten distorted or fabricated through the “surface” of the performer. It’s the kind of record that is really open to interpretation. The bulk of the record is taken up by a 26-minute piece consisting of blunted swells of sub-bass and a tiny crackle that slowly reduces itself into nothingness so that it becomes unclear whether anything was ever there or not. You start to think that maybe it was just a microphone inadvertently left on in an empty room. There is then a “variation” on that track, sounding not dissimilar to the original. Is it really a variation, or just a continuation? And was it ever there in the first place? You get the idea. Anyone unwilling to engage with the terms of Of Surfaces should steer clear, because it requires considerable input from the listener, even simply to distinguish the sounds. Not the sort of thing anyone would spend the whole day listening to, but it holds a much greater weight than its tiny audio range would otherwise suggest. 
    (Grooves, US)

  • Line label boss Richard Chartier releases his new micro textured CD for the less is more crowd. A reduced soundscape best listened to through headphones or at low volumes in a spacious room allowing movement to alter the ears perception of the subtle sound range flickering and drifting low and high frequencies. Alongside Bernhard Günter, Richard Chartier is the leader of the silence is golden brigade. Superb.
    (Boomkat, UK)

  • Of Surfaces offers three comparably minimal compositions.The title piece throbs and pulses gently between the stereo channels, subject once again to abrupt cuts. “Variance” purrs, sizzles then rises to a quiet judder. “Composition” hums then enacts a low-key drama : busy, almost cluttered by Chartier’s standards. Headphone and closed eyes help to meet his demands and to disclose rewards.
    (The Wire, UK)

  • Richard Chartier’s latest release on LINE picks up from a middle ground of where his previous releases left off: most notably the much celebrated Series (Line, 2000) and decisive forms(trente oiseaux, 2001). The disc features three long pieces; the title piece is followed by a “variance”, which is in turn followed by a shorter work, simply titled “composition”. When listened to on loudspeakers, the natural room tones seem to soak up a lot of the sounds in these pieces, and the impression is that there is more silence in this work than sound. Listening to it in headphones, a completely different world opens up where sounds, however subtle and faint, occupy so much of the sound “surfaces” that you wonder if there’s any silence at all in this work. The terms commonly used to describe works in the lowercase “genre” (bass frequencies, crackles, static , clicks…) don’t seem to do this work justice, although all of the constituent elements are certainly present. Taking full advantage of the stereo spectrum, not to mention a complete range of frequencies (of which extremely low frequencies are clearly favored), Chartier’s work seems both organic and artificial, pulling you into its near-silences and demanding your undivided attention. It is a world I’m most willingly drawn into. His most accomplished project to date, of surfaces is a work of astonishing subtlety and sensitivity. The spaces between silence and sound have never seemed so immediate, so vast, so incomprehensible as this.
    (Incursion, Canada)

  • More hyperminimalism from Richard Chartier. The title evokes texturality, which Of Surfacesdelivers, albeit in microscopic and/or subsonic doses. I feel a little voyeuristic, listening in (when I can) to the interplay of minute particles which exist in their own (very) little world. After a minute or so of gingerly adjusting volume to make sure the disc is not simply blank, I begin to discern the low rumbles and atom-sized specks of of surfaces (26:26); sometimes occurring in tandem, sometimes separately, these basic sound-elements come and go, spread so lightly as to be easily disrupted by even the faintest noise of everyday life. It’s kinda hard to tell at what point that track fades to silence, but it definitely appears to before “of surfaces (variance)” eventually becomes audible. I do detect minuscule activities though, washing around like a microbial commune beneath the comparatively roaring hum of my computer’s internal fan. When a noticeable monotone buzzing begins, so has the final piece… “composition” (11:42). More-obvious occurrences of static simmer and recede with ghostly tonal counterparts.
    (Ambientrance, US)