Imagine, if you will, the sound of a bell. What is it that you are hearing? If the sound is replicated and multiplied–so that one toll becomes indistinguishable from a din of chimes and strikes–and a new type of sound both bell and not-bell is born, are we able to transcend the suggestion of the bell and encounter something entirely unique? Indeed, if we could detach the sound from its source, uncouple the sound of the bell from the bell itself, what would the sound, sound like? It is these questions and others like them that Danish composer Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard endeavors to explore in his work SOUND X SOUND, an iterative project that has culminated in a special, seven-disc vinyl box set, released in 2016 and now available directly from Danish indie label, Hiatus.
Composed between 2014 and 2016, the complete work is a series of seven pieces, each for a small, homogenous ensemble consisting of a single instrument in multiples. Practically titled, they are: “Music for 8 Recorders,” “30 Chromatic Tuners,” “9 Pianos,” “15 Shakers,” “18 Clarinets,” “16 Triangles,” and “10 Hi-Hats,” respectively.
As the composer remarks in the liner notes:
“Imagine you enter a room with vibrant acoustics, such as a café full of people having conversations, and when you’re close to those conversations you hear the language and understand the words. If you step away from the tables, however, and stand in the doorway, you begin to lose the ability to distinguish the words from one another. Now instead of hearing the individual conversations, melts all the conversations together [sic], and [they] transform into one new sound. A sound of people without words and language. Just as when you hear a group of geese squawk, or the wind in tree tops, a kind of nature-given sound of people. Once the language is dissolved and the words stop making sense, what is left, is the sound. Clean, free of meaning and open to all ears. This applies to the spoken language, just as much as it does to the musical language.”
Indeed, while the concept of the work implies a kind of scientific or clinical aspect and is presented as a kind of holistic archive of sounds, the mysterious nature of Løkkegaard’s exploration into the expressive nature of timbre maintains an artistic dimension that is complemented by the use of the word “music,” both in the composer’s comments and in the title of each piece. That Løkkegaard chose not to call these works, “The Sound of 8 Recorders,” for example, is a creative choice that serves to broaden the depth of each composition into an abstract realm.
Addressing the concept alone, it may be suggested that we have heard this work before. Pieces such as György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes immediately come to mind, alongside monochromatic spectral and textural atmospheres created by composers such as Giacinto Scelsi or even the primordial tonalities and rhythms of Harry Partch. But Løkkegaard’s forceful brevity of form and shrewd focus in concept and execution allow these pieces to exist in a creative space that feels unchallenged by cliché. The result is a satisfyingly holistic library of sounds and textures, indirectly described in the liner notes as the captured sounds of “various instruments in their natural habitat.”
Further in line with this notion of preservation, the physical product makes a robust statement on several levels. Held against a high standard that will appeal to true audiophiles, each disc is a heavyweight 45rpm 7-inch, packaged in a glossy, chipboard sleeve. The design of each sleeve emanates from the same aesthetic universe as the musical material archived within, capturing the essential spirit and shape of the sounds in simple geometric shapes and patterns. In some instances, the shapes represent the featured instruments, such as the triangle or hi-hat cymbal; in others, fields and patterns allude to the quality and shape of the sound itself, as in concentric circles or sandy fields of static implying clarinets and shakers. The set is contained within a heavy, grey chipboard box, fastened together with metal grommets and subtly embossed with the title SOUND X SOUND flanked by rectangular fields of tiny circles taken from the artwork of “Music for 30 Chromatic Tuners.”
The simple aesthetic and quality of the materials instill a satisfying sense of permanence that transcends the possible novelty that contemporary vinyl releases may bear. As explained further in the liner notes, the robustness of the materials and attention to detail with regard to the quality of the sound effectively align with Løkkegaard’s intention “to store the essence of [each] instrument on a 7-inch vinyl, much like the gold plated copper record the space probe Voyager 1 carried with it into space when it was launched in 1977. That record contained what was considered to be the essence of earth and mankind. Thus the essence of the various instruments will be preserved for posterity, each on its own mini-record.”
As stated above, despite the composer’s frequent allusions to science and technology, there is a prevalent mysticism in this work. The ritual elements associated with listening to vinyl, in combination with the beauty of the product itself and the various shades of symbolism encoded in its packaging, further suggest the anticipated evocation of a heightened sensory awareness that cannot be described. This anticipation is again best summarized in Løkkegaard’s own words, “I want to create sound that will let the instruments transcend their inherent sonic norms and reappear as new, untouched sound.” Wherever the threshold lies, beyond which this archetypal and uncorrupted sound universe may exist, it could be safe to say that Løkkegaard has plotted a clear trajectory toward this point, and in memorializing this unique work in physical form, leaves behind a profound offering for many subsequent generations of ears to ponder.