It’s an enticing welcome into Elizabeth Price’s SLOW DANS trilogy—tempted in with a lo-fi arcade style countdown clock and a laser-quest-esque emergence into complete darkness; the inside of GoMA’s main space is deleted and replaced by a gamer station of mega monitors. As I focus on the music by Price and collaborator Andrew Dickens, an emphasis on micro motifs and macro themes resonates from the offset—a constant throughout the film cycle. Hyperreal high frequency textures occupy a close aural proximity to the listener, whilst bigger, grander musical gestures build, swell and crash over into the foreground, ultimately to retreat back and reinvent themselves.
Our introduction to KOHL involves a quartet of QWERTY keyboards that share storytelling responsibilities through typed on-screen text. Each voice is individualised by a different timbre of plastic-y key clicks, varying in register—a play on the standard bass/tenor/alto/soprano choir division. Visually, each character is assigned a photograph of a mine headframe, one for each in a string of towns in Yorkshire, further differentiated by columns of vertical colours reminiscent of tracks in a DAW timeline but physically inverted, like the images. As the contours of the story play out, a wash of microtonal synth chords rise up, the close clusters of pitches creating a suspense driven beating effect that adds the unease and discombobulation crucial to any ghost story. These pulses create an illusion of space using aural tactics—the architecture of the abandoned mine corridors which are the subject of the film are rendered phonically through reverb and EQing that physically bounce across the exhibition space in real time and evoke dense, dark, sprawling underground halls.. I’m reminded of the corner of youtube that replicates listening experiences by transporting you to imagined places to feel imagined feelings—mostly to fulfil that Donnie Darko apocalyptic fantasy; Tears for Fears—Everybody Wants To Rule The World (playing in an empty shopping centre), American Football—Honestly? (playing outside a party you weren’t invited to).
As we respawn into the world of FELT TIP, there is a maximalist and rhythm driven approach to the music, working in tandem with the narrative lines of intensifying consumerism and capitalism. Here, Price explores the shifting nuances of real and digital memory, social mobility, class and working culture in the wake of post-war technology becoming office based in the 70s and 80s. Drum machines and indulgent synth chords form a backing band to the narrator who is assigned a computer generated voice, sometimes solo, sometimes with a supporting chorus, the text becoming lyrical. The music of course nods to new wave, new romantic and synth pop emblematic of this period which embraced newly commonplace musical technologies, but rallied against socio-political conformity and co-opted formal office wear as a means of pastiche and protest.
Here, the music performs as watered down, royalty free, supermarket versions of acts like the Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat and Depeche Mode, the inevitable absorption of counterculture into the corporate machine. As we dive into the visual textural motifs of nodes in motherboards and fibres in mass produced ties, the listener is bombarded with audio textural motifs of mechanical buzzes and hisses of industrial sewing operations and the inner processes of computer hardware.
In THE TEACHERS, the narrator returns, having multiplied by four. The story unfolds—a vow of silence spreads amongst a group of intellectuals who agree to communicate using only short bursts of sound, not words. Forming a pseudo barbershop quartet, the narrators move in unison, with moments of these oral sounds being verbalised—both methods associated with accapella singing particularly in the era of doo-wop. This is underpinned by a very simple repeating chord progression, an ostinato that morphs, changing instrumental form and becoming increasingly outlandish and comedic—at first, 50s Americana, into 90s breakbeat, then a brass band, emerging into a string orchestra, then a piano concerto—genre and form hopping in a non linear order, like flicking through music channels before streaming culture.
I think of Louis Andriessen’s work ‘De Stijl’ which cherry picks cliches from boogie woogie, jazz and chorale music, reinventing them in an orchestral context. To end with the trope of all tropes, the cycle closes unapologetically, and without preciousness, in a perfect cadence and a curtain close.
Ailie Ormston is a composer who makes acoustic and electronic music, sometimes together and sometimes separately. Ormston’s work is mainly concerned with motivic development, counterpoint, microtonality and timbral abstraction, using improvisation and assemblage. Releases and more information can be found here: ailieormston.xyz
SLOW DANS by Elizabeth Price, Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow 27 Jan-14 May