Vol. 45 Issue 1 Reviews
Mauri Edo: The Present Time

Digital download, 2021, London, England, available from Naviar Records NR011. https://naviarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-present-time; https://www.naviarrecords.com/

CoverReviewed by Seth Rozanoff

Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Mauri Edo, known as Subespai, has recently produced an album entitled, The Present Time. In the Catalan language, Subespai means ‘subspace’ – a space within a space. This concept, which is found in mathematics, appropriately characterizes the composer’s approach to organizing a sonic landscape within this set of tracks, which was produced on a 4-track tape machine. Subespai has deployed an improvisatory approach to layering sound in The Present Time, exploring the limitations of his resources in the studio. Subespai’s intuitive compositional process stems from the use of what he describes as found sound components: “samples from here and there, downloaded, recorded or generated (by myself).” Subespai identifies the results of this process used for building sonic layers, as his “instruments” or “primary colors.” This foundation is then processed further, where the total set of operations for construction resemble what Thom Holmes' describes as “listening, reacting, augmenting, and creating.” Holmes uses this approach as it relates to performing with electronic instruments. For me, this composer-performer strategy characterizes how Subespai adds and removes, cuts and pastes, and alters the tempo and pitch of his physical and digital sources. He applies these techniques or strategies subjectively, continually developing the role of sonic fragments for use in a given track. Subespai mentions the following about working in his studio environment: “it's very hands-on, very manual...feels very alive to me.”

Although one might be compelled to characterize Subespai’s process as fitting into the ‘ambient’ music genre, the beauty heard seems to be due more to the composer’s ability to capture or extract a range of sounds that complement one another, resulting in fluid music. For me, the composer has successfully circumvented any technical limitations inherent in the tools used in creating The Present Time. The following comments by the composer support this view: “nothing is off-limits with this process, neither the original sound source nor the manipulations it goes through or the final track. It's all about getting to the point...where I could listen to something over and over, losing track of time.” This attitude highlights the composer’s confidence in the sonic material with which he is working.

Upon listening to the first track, “Untitled (black on gray),” one is presented with a sonic image that could be described as a pulsing electrical current paired with night insect sounds. The intuitive process of interweaving these two sound classes together is not the result of convolution, but of blending each other’s timbral materials with one another. As a result, a closeness or intimacy develops, forming a hybrid listening environment. Overall, this sound complex aims to demonstrate a broad gesture, led by an intermittent, subtle proliferation of material. Later, this sonic action begins to dissipate, demonstrating a reversal of the growth previously, until that gesture dies out.

In track two, “Bedridden,” the composer immediately highlights a virtual landscape, stemming from combining electronic noise with birdsong. The inclusion of birdsong signifies an outdoor environment, and the integration of wind chime sounds further encourages a sense of place in nature. Overall, this track refers to a broader ‘space’, where the listener is provided with a developing overview of the total collection of sounds used. As such, the narrative becomes expansive, and the listening experience results in a substantial sonic field. Another feature of this track is an en dehors synthesizer melody, which has been carefully placed among the slightly noise-infused environment, resulting in the two elements becoming interdependent. This track also demonstrates an important aspect of Subespai’s compositional output, stemming from his experiences performing electronically. Conversely, his compositional thinking informs his approach to performing.

Regarding the issue of performativity, rather, liveness, Subespai mentions the following: “it comes directly as a result of how I work, how I create, how I record...If I find something...I want to be able to play it live, and also make a piece out of it. This forces me to take a lot of notes, manipulate a lot, make sure I can reproduce things days later... It's all like a long-running performance.” These comments help to characterize the composer’s attitude toward his work’s close relationship to performance.

Regarding Subespai’s studio approach, he transforms his fundamental sound classes over time. However, what is most compelling is his maintenance of a relatively small group of samples. This limitation, coupled with the studio tools he uses, helps to simplify a given musical process, regardless of any musical, timbral, or noise-based element used. Often, this setup results in a sense of stasis heard throughout The Present Time. Another attitude that influenced the outcome of Subespai’s studio composition, is his view on the occurrence of everyday life events. Regarding this issue, Subespai is concerned with life’s extreme nuanced range and its ambiguity, which is inherent in much of our daily experience. Therefore, one could view Subespai’s studio practice as a reflection of his perception of the natural world. This concept reflects the composer’s strategy in the studio, combining organic and so-called artificial sounds, or a more environmentally based sound palette, with noise. Ultimately, the following statements made by Subespai confirm our musical observations of his work in the studio: “I just love mixing stuff that has nothing to do with each other, creating new atmospheres that didn't exist...the listener will come up with their own images to go along with the tracks, their own story.” For Subespai, his studio practice allows for freedom and experimentation, the results of which are then directly integrated in his work. Overall, his process of experimentation forms the foundation of a given composition.

A distinctive feature in track three, “A brief moment of stillness,” is the emergence of a bright and active color amidst a more dense layering. This process seems to have resulted in a blend of sound that is more unidentifiable compared to other sections heard previously. This type of patterning and interweaving of sound material may offer a listener multiple perspectives, perhaps provoking alternative imagery. As such, the composer has carefully selected materials in preparing this track, and similar to what the title suggests, stillness is achieved. This track’s sound world, with its ambiguous range of color and density, progresses further, compared to the musical contrasts found in the previous tracks.

In track four, “Sandglass,” pre-recorded material is looped in a distinctive manner, and pitted alongside another partially looped layer. The composer brings these elements together, overlapping them with other noise-based streams. The result alludes to impressions of a flowing concentration of sand. A nature-based sound has been juxtaposed onto the granular texture, as well. Overall, one could view the total range of sound classes present in this track as forming groupings of cross-rhythmic patterning.

Braidwood to Northside,” track five, offers the listener a seemingly constrained or limited acoustic space, wherein environmental elements of wind and burning wood, and other ambiguous sound classes are brought together. This results in a physical sense of place, offering the listener a visceral, multidimensional sound complex, provoking a sense of physical movements.

In sum, The Present Time highlights the composer’s ability to create a broad, and sometimes complex mixture of sonic weight or color, rather than any particular electronic music technique, or reference to genre and historical precedence. Here, Subespai is successful in his arrangement of material, loosely preparing his sound material in a manner that allows him to repeatedly experiment until the desired sonic result emerges.