Steel II

2000 / Electroacoustic composition

Performances / broadcasts / exhibitions:

• 30th International Festival of Music and Electronic Art, Bourges, France (June 2000)

• Radio Taipei International (TX 16.9.00)

• Kunstradio, ORF Radio Osterreich, Austria (TX 11.2.01)

• Prizewinner (Experimental Audio category) Twin Rivers Media Festival, Virginia USA  (Oct 2000)

• Pulsefield- International Exhibition of Sound-Art, Georgia State University Galleries, USA (Jan-Feb 2003)

In 1937 the poet Geoffrey Bridson produced Steel – An Industrial Symphony for the BBC.  The programme, a symphonic sound poem, celebrated the manufacture of one of the key materials of the modern era.  Industry, at the service of a Modernist idealism, was to build a new world.

I began Steel II (2000) with two questions: how would an optimistic, heroic Modernism sound in the 21st century, and how would the new century sound in contrast to the last? Steel II celebrates and mourns the failure of the Modernist dream represented by Geoffrey Bridson’s 1937 broadcast. Now, the proud trumpet fanfares of the 1930s have lost steam, and transform to the dissipated anal rumblings of modern broadcasters.  Steel II is a slab of sonic flatulence, a cloud of voices and sounds to herald the dribbling into being of a new era. The sounds for this new millennium are weak and gently folded, at other times they are strained and confused, copied and cut up - but long gone are the timpanic fantasies of the über-broadcasters, the über-poets and the über-composers.  Steel II celebrates the beauty of confusion, compression, and release from structuration.

The piece features the sounds of steel, flatulence, dissolving trumpet fanfares, and a moody BBC narrator translated into Mandarin and German.  One of the key ideas behind the piece was to explore contemporary post-structural ideas by rubbing them up against a classic modernism.  In particular I was interested to read an article from an architectural journal that explored new ways of thinking about how elements can be combined in buildings. It took as its starting point culinary manipulation, and thought through how whisking, chopping, mincing and grinding could serve as conceptual models for a rhizomatic form of architecture.  The Deleuzian notion of the rhizome challenges modernist notions of individuation and specificity, and this idea influences how Steel II develops both in terms of style and content.  The BBC narrator, although occasionally barking at the listener for their drifting attention, constantly drifts himself – listing objects with no apparent connection, luxuriating in culinary vocabulary, inventing names for new sciences.  The protean aspect of sound resists easy subjugation by modernist paradigms: the narrator’s lesson in the sound of elemental geometric forms is meaningless.  Rather it is drifting, rhizomatic shifts that mark contemporary art and media forms, as well as our own experience of sound and indeed of consciousness itself.  Such are the sounds that herald a new era – perhaps one of dissipation but also of tremendous creative opportunity. However, the nostalgic pull of modernism tinges the arrival of a new era with slight sadness.  The piece finishes with the dribbling into being of the new millennium, marked by the occasional mumblings of the narrator and the sounds of the millennium celebrations held on New Years Eve 1999, with their depressing suggestions of warfare.