Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Mobile sculptures by Alexander Calder
The Mobiles Project - Open Modular Compositions
The Mobiles Project arises in part from an interest in the work of the sculptor Alexander Calder, whose mobile sculptures create a fluid, shifting balance by combining a number of discrete modular elements. I thought that it would be interesting to transfer this idea of open modularity into music.
The other major influence was the CD Unbalanced In, Unbalanced Out, on which the guitarist Barry Chabala invited five musicians from round the world to collaborate in another modular experiment. Starting with a blank canvas of 50 minutes’ duration, Barry asked each musician in turn to add 20 minutes music to the piece. So the first musician had no idea what the later musicians would add to the music, and later musicians had to fit their music around the contributions of the earlier musicians with no way of altering the piece as it had developed thus far. With ‘Unbalanced In, Unbalanced Out’ this produced, as the title suggests, a disorienting work with a wonderfully unorthodox and irregular structure which frankly puzzled many listeners and left the reviewer from The Wire sputtering “call me old-fashioned, but….”
(Go here to find out more about Barry’s disc and hear an extract from it)
I was interested to know whether this awkward irregularity of form was intrinsic to the modular concept underlying the piece, or if other musicians starting with their own blank canvas might follow the same rules but produce music that sounded much more cohesive, or at least very different. So I asked three of my favourite musicians – Johnny Chang, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga and Samuel Rodgers – to recreate Barry’s experiment and each co-ordinate new modular pieces with the same basic rules. So Johnny, Dimitra and Samuel invited musicians of their choice to take part, and have each produced new mobiles completely independently.
Whereas Barry Chabala’s project ended up on CD as a finished object, the new mobiles are appearing online in a form which remains open and incomplete. All the individual tracks which the musicians produced for each mobile can be downloaded separately, so that listeners are welcome to take the project on and combine the existing tracks in new ways, or add new tracks. So, while the mobiles sound great in their current states, the ultimate form of each mobile remains open; the balance of each piece can be altered and shifted by different combinations of the component parts, or by the introduction of new tracks / modules.
To hear the three mobiles in their current form, click on the images to the right.
And if you want to download the musicians’ individual tracks to create your own mobile, then see the Make Your Own Mobile box across on the right.
Simon Reynell, April 2014