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Richard Chartier

Transparency (Performance)
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Transparency (Performance)
  • Transparency (Performance) feels like the most delicately crafted work. There’s a phenomenal sense of tension running through its entire one-hour duration, like the sonic equivalent of precariously assembling a sculpture from brittle glass – each note is perfectly placed and impeccably timed, as if a false move could send the composition into calamitous collapse.

    Central to the piece is the Grand Tonometer – an instrument comprising of 692 tuning forks and spanning across four octaves. Chartier recorded the sound of each individual fork during his fellowship at the Museum of American History, and places these recordings in the company of the most subtle but appropriate accompaniments – the buzz of static, gentle drone surges and the soft hiss of atonal noise – that hang in the air like a cloud of trapped electricity.

    Chartier claims that the piece explores the “nature of sound” itself, and the Grand Tonometer seems to have been an apt instrument with which to do this. The recordings have been processed and toyed with: sometimes removing the metallic strike of the fork to form gentle streams of sustain, sometimes dragging out the decay to leave beautiful tonal afterglow to dim gradually into nothing. The sharp sound of attack is sparingly used, arriving as a refreshing split-second of immediacy in amongst the phantom reverberations: a sudden interjection of “cause” in a work that seems to emphasize the ever-fading vibrations of sonic “consequence”.
    (ATTN:Magazine, UK)

  • … Rather than focus on the sparkling attack of a struck fork, Chartier zeroes in on its decay, extending it indefinitely to create fields of muted humming, proliferating colour dynamics through changes at the micro level: the subtraction or addition of tone recasting others in hypnotic ripple effects. Headphones are not so much recommended as essential.
    (The Wire, UK)

  • A master of extreme digital minimalism, Richard Chartier wields silence like a sledgehammer; in his patiently wrought compositions the weight of what’s not there is alone enough to pulverise you. His spotless CV takes in installations at innumerable prestigious galleries around the world and collaborations with the likes of William Basinski and Taylor Deupree, and a lifetime of experience informs his latest. This captivating live performance was inspired by, and deploys recordings of, the Grand Tonometer, a set of 670 tuning forks created in the 19th century by the German physicist Rudolf Konig (it’s the only instrument of its kind in existence). The pitches of the forks extend over four octaves, pushing through the limits of human perception, supposedly allowing the listener a chance to glimpse the nature of sound itself. Adding sounds sourced from other large tuning forks, metal and wooden resonators, and wood organ pipes by Koenig and his contemporaries, Chartier’s recording collapses the acoustic/digital boundary and turns hard science into engrossing art. Apparently Koenig’s original demonstrations of the Grand Tonometer were billed as séances, and Line invites us to treat Transparency as “a sound séance for the digital age”. Chartier really f*cks with your senses, his tonal arrangements coaxing an almost occult force out of geometric rigour. Fans of everything from Ryoji Ikeda to Sun Electric pay attention.

  • Celebrating the LINE label’s status as a separate entity and Chartier’s 2010 Smithsonian fellowship (as well as his 40th birthday), Transparency is the document of an hour long performance using the historic Grand Tonometer as it’s primary source.  The result is a subtle piece that is captivating, but also demanding

    … The opening, chiming notes show their underlying source rather clearly, but quickly are stretched out for long, drawn out passages via processing.  Arriving early and becoming a consistent element are ultrasonic tones that hover near the inaudible end of the spectrum, but thankfully are at a moderate enough volume to keep this from becoming an endurance test.

    Changes are subtle, but perceptible in the expansive resonances and reverberations, and the more frigid passages are interrupted nicely by little blurts of tonal bliss, as well as some percussive, crunchy wooden clicks.  The latter sound almost like they could be accidents from the source recordings, but are too fascinating and varied for me to believe that’s actually the case.

    As the piece goes on, there is a greater emphasis on the lower frequencies that counterbalances the shimmering metal tones.  At some points there are even some heavy low-end swells that are almost jarring when they appear to balance out the sharper moments.

    The closing minutes are almost visceral in their effect:  some of the higher frequencies I could almost feel in my throat and teeth but, again, not in a painful way.  The piece ends as it opened, with the obvious sounds of reverberating tuning forks chiming the piece to its completion.

    The only weakness here is that I needed to dedicate my full attention to listening to the piece in its entirety.  While I’d never think that Chartier’s work is something to throw on at parties in the background, normally this sort of work I’m ok to put on while reading or writing, but I noticed that lead to me actually tuning the album out.  Since the piece is over an hour, that means true dedication is needed to fully enjoy Transparency, but the reward is worth it.

  • Richard Chartier’s work is always distinguished by originality and imagination (his 2004 Chessmachinecollaboration with Ivan Pavlov remains one of my favourites), and Transparency (Performance) is no different in that regard. In this case the Line overseer was awarded in 2010 a Smithsonian Institution Artist Research Fellowship with the express purpose of exploring the National Museum of American History’s collection of 19th-century acoustic apparatus for scientific demonstration. So what did Chartier choose to study? The Grand Tonometer, an apparatus consisting of 692 tuning forks that German physicist Rudolf Koenig created in the 1870s (a photographic detail of the instrument is shown on the cover of the CD package). With pitches spanning four octaves, the instrument offered irresistible appeal to someone as sound-sensitive as Chartier, and during the Fellowship period he subsequently recorded every one of the tuning forks, plus other materials (including metal and wooden resonators and wood organ pipes) and their tonal interactions.

    The resultant work, Transparency, which Chartier premiered in a live performance on October 7, 2010 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, shows Koenig and Chartier to be kindred spirits despite the temporal gap separating them. The tuning fork tones thread their way seamlessly into the overall design of the piece, with the tones forming extended cross-currents that resound alongside a stream of textural details (rustlings, static, hiss, whirrs, electrical hum) and myriad sound fragments. The work opens with the bright, resonant ping of a tuning fork, followed by further strikes of varying volume and pitch, as well as other treated sounds. Truncated trumpet-like stutter and tuning fork accents appear against a soft background flutter, making the piece sound more like the onstage improvisation of an electro-acoustic trio than the work of a single individual. The tuning fork tones are given ample space to breathe and as a result we typically hear one struck and then fade away before another takes its place. Chartier scatters tiny fragments of fairy dust across the tones, until two-thirds of the way along it mutates into a rather becalmed, industrial-styled hum that’s suggestive of a machine engine or film projector quietly operating.

    As the hour-long piece unfolds, it shows itself to be quintessential Chartier in its delicacy and precision. Hewing to generally restrained volume levels, it’s not quite microsound but hardly a work of extreme volume either. With the sound design constantly undergoing subtle transformation, it’s not quite minimal either, yet at the same time the sound palette always locates itself on the understated side of things. No fool he, the ever-resourceful Chartier is issuing Transparency (Performance) as the first in what is planned to be a series of works based on recordings made during the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship period.

  • … To merely attempt to ‘review’ such a piece, would be considered an odd and foolish exercise. It is impossible to assess the tones that make up the audio spectrum as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is, however, possible to assess HOW the tones are arranged to form a coherent piece. Yet this is nor the time or the place for such an exercise. As Transparency is a study of the tones themselves and their interactions with one another, I find it fitting to simply describe what I experienced while immersed in this hour long performance.

    Subtle sonar like pings set the piece off. Tones at the upper end of the audio spectrum fizz away like mechanical insects, as heartbeat pulses echo through the background. More pinging tones echo prominently though the mist, as the track nears what you might hear at a remedial therapist’s waiting room. Yet far from being an insult of sorts, I feel this reflects the mood this work can inflict upon the listener. Hypnotic notes glide across a sea of looped tones, like rubbing the rim of a wine glass while flicking the rim of another. Bass tones like giant footsteps echo out into the dark. An overall sensation of expanse is at work here, both physical and non-physical: almost as if you’re floating in space and yet at the same time you ARE space itself. Gradually the piece morphs into a meditation of itself, a seance of sorts. At no time is anything forced or rushed, and yet nothing drags or slows things down. Such senses of momentum are otherwise suspended for the duration of proceedings. At the risk of sounding contrived, I would liken it to a meditative experience, an uncompromising reflection of sound itself.

    It is difficult to find words to encapsulate the material in question, apart from ……What sound is, and what sound can be. These would be the points i could use to describe this work. With this work, Richard Chartier has demonstrated quite clearly that he is for all intent and purposes a master of his craft. Best reflected upon in the dark, in silence, at high volume.

  • Transparency completes a decade of CD releases by once 12k subsidiary, now fully free-standing, Line, serendipitous coincidence aligning its publication with owner Richard Chartier‘s 40th birthday. It documents an hour-long performance using as primary source the Grand Tonometer, an apparatus created by German physicist Rudolf Koenig in the 1870′s consisting of 692 tuning forks with pitches spanning four octaves. It clearly held an irresistible appeal for obsessive compulsive sonologist Chartier, who subsequently recorded each tuning fork, along with other materials (including metal and wooden resonators and wood organ pipes) and their tonal interactions, before subjecting them to his customary processing probings.

    Chartier’s musicianly concerns for exploring the aspect of space between sounds chime (literally!) with those of German physics of a century-and-a-half’s vintage. His opening strategy is a resonant sonar-like ‘ping,’ announcing its sonic origins up-close, before further fork strikes of varying pitch and volume follow, gradually more removed, consorting with other treated tones. A fork, once struck, is given full voice – allowed to resonate, decay and fade before another supplants it; extended into long drawn-out chimings, tiny flecks fluttering through them. The immediate resonance of a struck fork’s attack is quickly forgotten in the fascination for decay, altering it, extending it infinitely, fluidly, pouring the sustain out into pools of virtual mute micro-hum, leaving a tintinnabulating tonal residue; microsonic colours course through, slipping, shifting, from the minimal to the liminal. High-end tones make like digital insect chatter, as pings ring sonar-like up from the deep through a loop sea. Electrostatic plumes of fizzing static mist are nudged by soft drone swells. A slow dissolve occurs – into post-industrial hum, as greater low-end pressure rubs up against the silvery high-end shimmer, by turns stabilizing and destabilizing, establishing a deceptive path through the digi-detritus, then snagging steps on its tread-ways. Chartier’s choeographing of silence with sound increasingly seeks the shortest space possible between the constituents of its fabric. Gradually Transparency becomes, as much of Chartier’s work can be seen, a reflection on sound – and listening – itself. Koenig’s original Grand Tonometer shows were actually billed as séances, and Line’s invitation to us to treat Transparency as “a sound séance for the digital age” is a felicitous serving suggestion.

  • I must admit, that I’ve often looked at my dad’s records and felt envious; he lived through a time where albums often came with a lot of words on the back cover. I like this idea. I used to get the bus home from record fairs and pore over every detail I could glean from the artwork and packaging. So my dad’s old records —with wordy texts operating as introductions, guides and summaries—represented some lost golden age for me. (In fairness, there are any amount of very good reasons why there really shouldn’t be such texts…) I mention this, because the simple packaging for Transparency (Performance)—a printed card wallet—devotes its back cover to a mini-essay; serving as a concise introduction, and a more open guide/summary.

    The work that I’ve heard previously by Richard Chartier, was often characterised by very formal electro-acoustic tones and textures; with great passages of “silence”, as well as frequencies which tested ear and speaker. Transparency (Performance) follows quite happily in that tradition. Its created, primarily, using recordings Chartier made of the Grand Tonometer: a set of six hundred and ninety-two tuning forks that comprehensively cover a four octave range. It was constructed in the late nineteenth century by Rudolph Koening as a purely scientific set of tools. With recordings of these, and other apparatus (wooden and metal resonators, organ pipes, etc), Chartier gathered the material for the live performance on this cd.

    The piece is one long track, lasting over an hour; and the pace is rather glacial. In fact, listening to it, it curiously feels a lot longer than it actually is. That might be due to the hypnotic sense of careful listening it encourages. There are no flashy gestures to catch the ear, no sudden accelerations; just slow, enveloping drifts and developments. In the most simplistic terms, it might be considered electro-acoustic drone. Certainly the overwhelming majority of sounds to be heard are long tones, with the remainder being percussive—either acoustic   sounds, or the same processed into clicks and noises. The tones truly range across the whole frequency spectrum, echoing the Grand Tonometer: I always worry that my stereo can never do justice to this kind of speaker workout. The most startling and visceral of Chartier’s tools, is his use of piercing, high frequencies; often on the edge of perception. These clinical threads of electricity are not so much heard as felt, tickling and tingling the ear and brain; they contrast starkly with some of the incredibly warm, singing drones that occupy the middle (and clearly audible) ground of Transparency (Performance). Underneath these unashamedly beautiful sounds, lurk the lower frequencies; again, some of these teeter on the precipice of audibility, with deep bass throbs and the shifting of tectonic plates. It’s albums like this, that make me want to invest in bigger speakers…

    I confess that when I first played this, I flagged it as “difficult”; but subsequent listens showed an inviting sound-world that rewarded concentrated listening. It’s very rare that I sit for over an hour, listening intently to something. Chartier does create a rather austere, rigorous world, certainly; but the colour is still there if you listen carefully. Indeed, for all my talk of “clinical” sounds, there are a few “noisy”, rougher elements (the very start of the track, no less, has sounds akin to small trumpet blasts) and the overall sound is really quite warming. But the predominant tone remains very subtle, with sounds drifting slowly, and developing slowly – if at all. Whilst writing this, and listening to “Transparency (Performance)”, I had that most hackneyed of “drone-reviewer’s” experiences – an alarm going off outside. For a good ten minutes, the car or house alarm interacted and danced with the recording, in near perfect harmony: a reminder of how someone like Chartier can colour a space or environment, and our perception in it. From the most cold, precise and mathematical of tools, he has created a world of ghostly, ethereal mystery.

  • …“Aún estoy explorando el aspecto del espacio entre los sonidos”. El interés de Richard Chartier bien podría ser el mismo del físico alemán. Si consideramos que la música se construye entre combinar el silencio con los sonidos, Chartier es un gran artista del sonido, es decir, un gran músico, aunque lo suyo es, cada vez más, buscar esa música recorriendo la distancia la distancia más corta que existe entre un sonido y el silencio. Nunca mejor puesto un título, “Transparency (Performance)” es música transparente, una canción que juega a cazar frecuencias altas y bajas.

  • L’ultimo esperimento ai limiti dell’udibile messo in piedi da Richard Chartier riguarda una ricerca commissionata all’artista di Washington DC, recentemente insignito dello Smithsonian Institution Artist Research Fellowship, intorno ad una parte specifica del patrimonio acustico del National Museum of American History. In particolare, Chartier è stato chiamato ad un’indagine centrata sulla collezione dell’apparato sonoro riguardante le dimostrazioni scientifiche nel XIX secolo. Il focus dell’autore si è concentrato in maniera specifica sui lavori del fisico tedesco Rudolf Koenig e sul suo Grande Tonometro, con ben 692 diapason compresi nel range di frequenza tra i 260Hz e i 4096Hz. Chartier ha deciso di registrare non solo i diapason di questo strumento ad uno ad uno, ma ha acquisito anche altri suoni di strumenti e dispositivi vari, indagandone le interazioni tonali. Il campionario di livelli sonori che vengono indagati in questa unica, lunga traccia è veramente diversificato: il frinire digitale delle frequenze al limite superiore dello spettro acustico, il pulsare lento che riecheggia nel fondale basso, il reverbero ipnotico di armonici in una distesa tonale di rintocchi impercettibili. Ed un suono che, come sempre, si muove sulla soglia della consistenza fisica, dominato da una tensione palpabile, in un delicatissimo ed intricato puzzle fatto di materiali fragilissimi in precario equilibrio.
    (Blow Up, Italy)

  • … Chartier has taken recordings of the device to construct this lovely work. As one might expect, the general sound-world is one of shimmers, layered tones usually without the initial strike, though that bit of percussiveness surfaces now and then, a very beautiful effect. There are other subsidiary rumbles and noises, the whole embodying a complexity not immediately apparent. There’s something almost stately about the way it proceeds; one picks up something of the ceremonial, as though witnessing a rite of some kind. I’d love to have witnessed this live but am happy enough to have this document, a unique and beautiful recording.
    (just outside, US)

  • Richard Chartier est un titan. L’une des plus grosse figures du minimalisme musical: patron de l’excellent label LINE, tête de colonne dans l’art de la réduction électronique et fatalement, artiste contemporain inévitable pour tout amateur qui se respecte. Ses œuvres, on ne les compte plus. Ses installations sonores ont été présentées dans les galeries les plus enviées de la sphère contemporaine (jusqu’à obtenir des distinctions au Prix Ars Electronica) et pour finir, les artistes qu’il prend au sein de son label sont parmi les meilleurs minimalistes de leur époque. Pour tout ça, on ne pouvait en aucun cas passer à côté de ce Transparency (Performance).

    Tout commence avec le Grand Tonometer, un ensemble de 692 diapasons destinés à l’étude scientifique du son, créé par le physicien allemand Rudolf Koenig en 1870. Une machine du diable qui n’avait jusque là aucune prétention musicale. Jusqu’à ce que le sieur Chartier, et globalement une certaine conception du minimalisme électronique, ne s’en mêle. Après des séries de prises de sons interminables auprès de ce Grand Tonometer, l’Américain s’est trouvé en position de relever les interactions entre les vibrations – de 206hz à 4096hz, soit une dimension allant du perceptible à l’inaudible pour l’oreille humaine – et de les juxtaposer pour aboutir sur une grande œuvre d’ambient digitale extrêmement minimaliste, ayant pour but final de donner à l’auditeur la chance d’être les témoins du son lui-même.

    Ce qui est clair, c’est que sur cette unique piste longue d’une heure, on nage dans dépouillement le plus total. Deux possibilités s’offrent dès lors à vous : le casque ou le soundsystem d’une qualité rare. Transparency (Performance) est une cathédrale d’ondes sinusoïdales, qui se construit avec plus ou moins d’apparence. Même si ce terme parait un peu inapproprié, on parle ici d’apparence car tout ce disque est une ode à ce qui est caché, à ce qui est plus ou moins perceptible par les sens. Lentement, Richard Chartier ordonne les lignes, les tintements et les vibrations dans un grand concerto d’une finesse à tomber les fesses à terre. Toutes ces ondes créent des sillons qui ne mènent nulle part, repris immédiatement par une autre qui attendait son tour, trop haute dans les fréquences pour s’apercevoir qu’elle était déjà là depuis le début.

    Un disque mathématique, qui aligne les droites en en musique, qui traite le matériau à sa source la plus immaculée. Un jeu de cache-cache lent, un ballet organisé au microscope qui transcende cette œuvre dans quelque chose de terriblement poétique, presque romantique dans sa manière de se déshabiller sans trop en montrer. Et puis il y a cette certitude que le son est ici toujours maître, cette omnipotence de la vibration, ce gigantisme de la (non) perception. On se sent rapidement comme un intrus dans ce cosmos de fréquences. Pire, ce calme absolu en devient terrorisant et claustrophobe. Car on se sait perdu dans un océan de son, et notre seul témoin, l’oreille, n’est que peu de chose face à la puissance totalitaire de cet élément. Le son pour ce qu’il a de plus pur à offrir. Ce monument.

  • Richard Chartier est une figure incontournable du mouvement réductionniste, son label porte le nom de Line, un nom que beaucoup d’amateurs de musiques expérimentales connaissent puisqu’il à été fondé il y a une douzaine d’années pour éditer son propre travail et celui d’une vingtaine d’artistes internationaux. Le catalogue compte à ce jour d’une bonne cinquantaine d’albums avec entre autres: Richard Chartier lui-même, Taylor Depree, Mark Fell, Asmus Tietchens, Alva Noto, Janek Schaefer, Yves De Mey, Yann Novak, Steve Roden. La dernière parcticipation de Richard Chartier sur son label s’intitule Transparency (Performance), il y utilise les sons d’une installation scientifique unique datant de 1870, une installation de 692 diapasons crée par un physicien allemand, non pas pour la musique, mais pour étudier les vibrations entre 206 et 4096hz. Richard Chartier a enregistré un à un chacun de ces diapasons pendant de longues heures pour créer une pièce musicale unique, une pièce toute en finesse d’une extrême douceur qui s’étire très lentement sur un peu plus de soixante minutes. L’écoute de cette composition originale peut s’apparenter à une plongée dans un monde sonore minimal de fréquence, de vibrations, de résonances de bois et de métal sans rythmes ni fractures. Seuls quelques micro sons viendront de temps à autres très légèrement perturber cet écoulement sonore aussi paisible qu’inquiétant. C’est une belle expérience sensorielle qui requiert silence et attention. Nous sommes ici aux limites du perceptible dans cette œuvre plus adaptée à une écoute au casque que pour une diffusion radiophoniques. Montez le volume et tendez bien l’oreille!
    (France Musique, FR)