Based on Concret PH by Iannis Xenakis, performed for Bang the Bore X: Zone of Alienation at the Hansard Gallery in Southampton, 06.08.11.
From the programme:
Based on composer and architect Iannis Xenakis' classic piece Concret PH which was composed for Xenakis and Le Corbusier's Phillips Pavilion at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels - occasion for the construction of the iconic Atomium building.
Concret PH can seem on first hearing to be a modest, even minor piece. It is less than three minutes long and deals for the entirety of that duration with a wavering field of microscopic sound events. Beyond these appearances, however, the work is a highly ambitious and groundbreaking work of post-war modernism. Constructed by filtering and painstakingly collaging fragments of a recording of burning charcoal, Concret PH marked an early exploration of particle and cloud based approaches to composition and of three-dimensional sound-spatialisation methods; and broke with conventional structural forms (even within the then new form of electroacoustic music) by exchanging event and narrative based structures for a hovering exploration of sonic material. This form, despite the short length of the piece, works to imply the endless unfolding of an idealised physical process, emphasising the eternal facts of material and energy over transitory, human matters.
With Concret BP we adapt and extend the ideas of the original for a different political context. We sourced our recordings from the burning of oil shale, gathered from cliffs nearby the Hinkley B nuclear reactor on the south west coast of England. Pitch classes (analogous to scales), used in filtering and resonating the recordings, and in the sine waves which augment them, were derived from the relative abundances and atomic weights of the compounds found in kerogen - a hydrocarbon mixture extracted from oil shale. Oil shale requires considerable energy to burn and the piece begins with the sound of the blowtorch we used to ignite it.
Oil shale is a controversial source of liquid hydrocarbons found in abundance beneath some of the UK's most significant conservation areas. The process by which the oil is extracted has proven environmentally damaging and offers a relatively low energy yield per gram of the carbon released in its mining and processing. Nonetheless the fuel now plays a significant role in the energy policies of the US and other major economies - though not, at present, the UK. The relatively short stretch of coastline from which the oil shale for this piece was gathered is home to Hinkley A & B (and soon C) nuclear reactors, another reactor at Oldbury and was the proposed site for the Avon Barrage, now shelved but set to have been one of the largest tidal energy projects in the world.
Dan Bennett is a Bristol based musician and programmer with an interest in the relationship between material sound, idea and memory and in the repression of social and political content in C20th electronic music. He records as Skjølbrot.