Sarah Hughes – Accidents of Matter or of Space
Sarah Hughes’ ‘Accidents of Matter or of Space’ is a limited edition of 100 archival CD-R’s mounted on an 11×14 letterpress score produced by Milkfed Press in Alameda, California. A complementary informational sheet includes credits, track list, and an essay by Dominic Lash. This release brings together a solo zither improvisation recorded in a disused transmission station in mid-Wales with three realizations of the 2011 composition (can never exceed unity), performed by Rhodri Davies, Patrick Farmer, Jane Dickson, Neil Davidson, and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga…
In what has become an oft-quoted passage, the British composer and improviser Cornelius Cardew wrote that “it is impossible to record with any fidelity a kind of music that is actually derived in some sense from the room in which it is taking place – its shape, acoustical properties, even the view from the windows. What a recording produces is a separate phenomenon, something really much stranger than the playing itself, since what you hear on tape or disc is indeed the same playing, but divorced from its natural context”. This text is usually cited as evidence of the artificiality of recorded improvisation and the superiority of “the real thing”, the live concert happening in real time.
I love “the real thing”, but it seems to me that recorded improvised music at its best deliberately exploits the strangeness to which Cardew refers. We are not forced to choose between either experiencing the “natural context” (if one is there in the room when the improvisation is taking place) or having no inkling of it (if one only hears a recording of the improvisation later). Rather the recorded sounds can give greater or lesser hints as to the nature of that context, depending on the way the music is recorded, and the particular sensitivities and sensibilities of each listener. These hints can be accurate or misleading in any degree and any combination, and the activity of the listener’s fantasy in relation to these hints comprises one of the great pleasures of listening to recorded improvised music.