Passive/Aggressive

Olivier Alary – Creating intimacy from purely digital sound

In English New Music August 18 2017 OA

By Wieland Rambke

With Olivier Alary’s “Pieces for Sine Wave Oscillators”, California-based label LINE Imprint continues its flow of conceptual and minimalist releases that refuse to draw a line between sound art and music.

At the heart of the compositions assembled here lies a strictly formalized idea: By only resorting to using sine wave oscillators as sound sources, Alary is creating sound that is only electronically possible.
Sine waves are pure frequencies with no overtones or harmonics; they are found nowhere in nature. And more often than not, digital music is being described in ways that only describe an absence. Often accused of lacking what has become known as ‘analogue warmth’, it is being called cold, inhuman, or alien. Alary sees this as an opportunity to use electronic means to reach the other end of the spectrum, shaping digital sound into an offering that is warm, human, and relatable. We accept it immediately. These recordings speak very directly to us. They are an intimate experience.

As can be discerned from the title, the album has no reference points beyond its rigidly technical concept. And the pieces assembled here are all uniform exercises of the same basic principle: Tones gently fade in and out of, and dissolve into each other, with no discernible starting or ending points.
This creates a floating, otherworldly experience that stays with the listener long after the music has ended. While nothing repeats, everything here is a variation of itself. The pieces do not develop in a classical sense, rather, they are moving in spirals and circles, ebbing and flowing. They oscillate. In fact, there are no contrasts in this music – it is pure motion. The real task with this approach is to prevent a deterioration into a shapeless mess. Alary masters this problem by carefully balancing out all elements at all times.

These “Pieces for Sine Wave Oscillators” are sparse, but not timid, gently convincing the listener without any pressure or force. They are reminiscent of the compositions of Éliane Radigue: Both are having a highly sensitizing effect on the listener. Clearly, this is the work of a mature and confident composer who knows exactly what they are doing. You will not want to listen to anything else afterwards.

Info: “Pieces for Sine Wave Oscillators” was released in June.