This review, this chat, begins with the premise that sound is a haunt, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence over time is transitory. The amplification of a sound or sounds through the stimulation of a guitar string and the exaltation generated by its body generate effects that linger for a long time in the environment in which we live. The intangibility of sound is something that can reveal disturbing, a phenomenal presence both in the head, at the point of origin and all around, sometimes indistinguishable from auditory hallucinations. The attentive listener is like a medium who draws substance from what is not entirely there. Listening, after all, is always a form of interception, the sound vanishes in the air and in the past, generating a narration of listening built from myth and fiction. In such contexts, sound often functions as a metaphor for mystical revelation, instability, forbidden desires, disorder, formless, supernatural, breaking social taboos, the unknown, the unconscious and the extra-human. That’s why I found this cd very interesting, “Refracted Resonance”, the work of the English guitarist and composer Sam Cave, the new exponent of the guitar as far as new music is concerned. Sam Cave studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Gary Ryan and Chris Stell. He also studied with Vincent Lindsey-Clark, Michael Zev Gordon, Michael Finnissy, Gilbert Biberian and Craig Ogden and graduated from the University of Southampton with honors, winning the Edward Wood Memorial Prize in Music. In 2020, Cave also completed a PhD in composition from Brunel University in London under the supervision of Christopher Fox and John Croft.
As a composer, his work has been performed in the UK, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Australia and the US by some of the most interesting young ensembles and soloists. He is an associate composer of LSO Soundhub for 2017-21 and his music is published by Babelscores. “Refracted Resonance” consists of six tracks:
1 Tristan Murail– Tellur
2 George Holloway– Guitar Sonata
3 Christopher Fox– Chile
4 George Holloway– Second Guitar Sonata
5 Horaţiu Rădulescu*– Subconscious Wave, Op. 58
6 Sam Cave – Refracted Meditations III
and was produced by the Metier record company, a sub-label of the British Divine Art Recordings in 2019. An interesting album precisely for the selection of the songs presented, which have in common a use of the instrument aimed at deepening the relationships between sound, space and distance . The title, “Refracted Resonance”, which already clearly defines the exploratory intentions of this album, prompted me to purchase this CD.
The classical guitar does not seem to be a particularly powerful instrument in terms of sustain and resonance, but it is precisely its physical limits that make it so interesting and the bearer of new compositional innovations. What is a sound? A sound is seductive absence, out of sight, out of reach. A sound is a sense of emptiness, fear and wonder. By listening, the ear tunes to distant signals, eavesdropping on ghosts and their echoes, as they slip through time. This possibility is a specific feature of sound, and it leaves us perplexed and uneasy. David Toop in his book “Sinister Resonance” writes how sound is a present absence and silence is an absent presence. Or perhaps the opposite is better: sound is an absent presence; is silence a present absence? In this sense, sound is a resonance that leaves us restless, an association with irrationality and inexplicability, what we desire and fear. Listening, therefore, is a form of mediation, a matter of discernment and involvement with what lies beyond the world of forms. When sound, silence and other modalities of auditory phenomena are represented through ‘quiet’ media such as the classical guitar, our relationship with their enveloping, intrusive, fleeting nature becomes fragile, unstable and impalpable. Like the sound of Sam Cave’s guitar.
Stravinsky said that “To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also”, underlining how important is to listen carefully to what is presented to us, with an analytical ear and not simply a contemplative one, in the passive sense of the term. Stravinsky’s point is that auditory discernment requires some careful skill, but pace of the poor duck, the rest of his claim could easily be questioned. Are we really sure that listening requires more attention than hearing, or is it the other way around? Listening can be done with effort but does not involve anything, while hearing can begin as an instinct and end with Le Sacre du Printemps. The point is that all individuals are always open to sounds. To develop our listening skills to gain a deeper understanding of the complex sound passages of the entire auditory world, even if this is a decision that may involve a rejection of cultural norms.
What remains after listening to an album like “Refracted Resonance”? When the music is off, what remains is a vague sense of emptiness, which leaves room for a question: where does the sound that you can no longer hear go to? According to a widespread belief in medieval times, sounds do not vanish, but continue to reverberate in the audiosphere in eternity, projected towards distances greater than the capacity of the human ear. Personally I believe that, rather than an outdated conception, the medieval idea refers to a sort of discipline of sound which, in turn, resonates as a practice still being explored by composers and interpreters attentive to research on the liminal boundaries between sound, silence and space. A movement made of action and reaction, reflection and refraction, amplification and echo. Highly recommended.