Robert McDougall 'Unfinished Studies' (2012)
A1 - Platter Study #2 - 11'21''
A2 - Untitled #4 - 08'32''
B1 - Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3 - 07'42''
B2 - Installation Study #2 - 12'24''
All tracks composed and recorded by Robert McDougall
2010-2011 in Clifton Hill, Victoria, Australia
Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi, Milan, March 2012
Cut at Dubplates+Mastering, Berlin, March 2012
© 2012 Robert McDougall / Angklung Editions
Available on 180gm 12" black vinyl.
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"This LP is the first release from young Melbourne-based composer Robert McDougall, presenting four electroacoustic studies, the fruits of many hours of private sonic research and improvisation. Simple electronics, acoustic instruments, field recordings and textural manipulations are subtly processed, fragmented and iterated into patiently evolving forms. Eschewing the jump-cut dynamics of academic electroacoustics while making use of a large variety of source material, McDougall allows the elements of his compositions to creep gently from background to foreground, layers of sound gradually transforming themselves in the manner of Eliane Radigue’s synthesized spaces. His compositions have an environmental character reminiscent of the sound-work of Rolf Julius, heterogeneous elements forming themselves into blocks of sound that seem to take on a spatial aspect. Occasionally instrumental sounds come to the fore, displaying a wandering sense of melodicism that, whether on piano or acoustic guitar, is reminiscent of the work of Stefano Pilia, Loren Connors or even Harold Budd. Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3, the namesake of McDougall's label, derives from a piano piece by the Australian composer Anne Boyd, which itself makes use of the tuning of the Indonesian angklung; McDougall’s piece is something of a tribute to the influence of the distinctive tonalities and temporalities of Southeast Asian music on the 20th century Western avant-garde, an influence which can be felt in his own compositional approach.
The first release on McDougall’s own Angklung Editions label, Unfinished Studies is presented in a full colour sleeve, on heavy duty black vinyl cut at Dubplates + Mastering, Berlin and mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi."
- Francis Plagne
Frans de Waard / Vital Weekly :
"The Angklung is an Indonesian instrument, percussive, with it's own tuning. Anne Boyd from Australia composed a piano piece using that tuning and it's that piece which gave the name to a new label run by Robert McDougall, as well one piece on this LP. His instruments are piano and acoustic guitar, but both are heavily treated inside the computer. That may all seem regular for anyone who reads these pages, but the music of McDougall is actually quite good. It avoids the usual electro-acoustic composing of fast blocks of sounds and rapid editing, but also the glitchy character of many of his peers. The four pieces here (somewhere between eight and twelve minutes each) are quite distilled, slow moving pieces, of deep sine wave like drone matter that is not unlike the work of Eliane Radigue, say her 'Triptych'. McDougall sets forward a number of sounds, almost right from the start of a piece and then starts, in a very minimal way, to take all of these apart, either by filtering or mixing the sounds in all sorts of configurations together, and perhaps adding one or two extra sounds due process.. Music that is designed to be played at low volume, methinks, which allows itself to float more freely around your space, as opposed to playing this very loud and making these delicate sine waves burst your eardrum. One of the interesting aspects is that 'Platter Study #2' is a piece which has the most angklung-like sound to it. This is a great record, and an excellent new discovery. If Stephan Mathieu is a household name for you, this is certainly one to check out. I know many people will think differently, but I would rather have a CD release of this, as the crackles of the vinyl, even with the first time I played this. I know, I know, vinyl is superior, bla bla, but with such delicate music… I prefer a CD. But who knows, maybe this will be one of those timeless classics, and eventually be re-issued on CD."
Brian Olewnick / Just Outside :
"A charming and ingratiating LP out of Australia by McDougall, the first of his music I've heard, I believe. Four medium length tracks, each generally concerned with textures that combine the percussive and the softly electronic, bringing to mind, to an extent, the early work of Christopher Hobbs and the Gavin Bryars of "Hommages", but with an underlying tug and grit that's very current. "Platter Study #2", which leads of the album, illustrates this quite well, it's chiming tones, eddying slowly, filtered through mid-range, industrial hums and a strong crackle, among other strata. The density of detail is handled very well - it's not immediately apparent how much is going on until you focus on it and realize it's not three sounds but seven or eight. It's also very nicely "of a piece", doing its business, drawing in the listener, lasting precisely the 11'20" it should, then evaporating.
"Untitled #4" is laden with field recordings, into which have been weaved a tolling keyboard note and what sound like flutes of some kind (aeolian?) but may well be something on the order of howler monkeys. Organ-like tones and strummed guitars enter eventually and this piece becomes somewhat pastoral, perhaps a bit too so, but managing to straddle the divide between groovily contemplative and bland. I pick up a bit more Bryars and perhaps even a bit of "Discreet Music"-era Eno in "Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3", with wonderful deep tones flowing beneath muted, flitting piano figures and high, ringing bells. I take it that use is also made of an angklung, a bamboo instrument, though I'm not sure. I have to say that the surface noise of the vinyl actually adds a welcome, sandy counterpoint here (!). It concludes with the bells having acquired an intriguing buzz, a nice bit of mystery there.
The final piece, "Installation Study #2", is my favorite, if only for its stripped-down character, acting as kind of a palate cleanser for the fine richness that has preceded. Hums, clicks and other slightly percussive ephemera come and go, soft bird and/or insect chirps linger. Again, as with the opening track, there's much more occurring than might be apparent at first, but here, there's also a more expansive sense of air and atmosphere, pre-dawn air, cool and seemingly empty. When the somber, slightly sour piano chords enter, offset by some harsher but subtle electronics, the effect is fantastic. A real sense of a beautiful place has been established, mysterious and alluring.
A fine recording, entirely enjoyable. Don't miss it. "
Scott Foust / Swill Radio :
"This is Robert's debut LP and it is smashing. He contacted me about this record and I took a chance and was very, very glad that I did. Unfinished Studies contains four seven to twelve minute pieces, all of which are quite enjoyable. The thing that impressed me first was that each of the pieces has a static character in that while the sonic elements evolve throughout the piece, there is no ADD style clever editing at all. (People seem to believe the computer is some sort of 'meta-instrument' that transcends all other instruments in its totality. To me, if you make music with an organ or guitar, it sounds like music made with an organ or guitar. If you make music on a computer, it sounds like music made on a computer.) Anyway, Unfinished Studies is a fantastic LP of low key, contemplative instrumentals, featuring slow static playing of gongs, piano, keyboards, etc. There are also some tape elements of various sounds, but these too remain consistent throughout the pieces. Quite a strong debut. I can't recommend this one enough."
Doug Mosurock / Still Single/Dusted :
Melbourne-based sound artist Robert McDougall works with parts, like acoustic guitar and piano and field recordings, that you’ve likely heard (and one you likely haven’t, the angklung), and processes that others have explored, but there is a warmth to match the incredible depths reached on this debut album of electroacoustic compositions. McDougall’s compositions hover around the 10-minute mark, playing with soft fields of acoustic crackle (couldn’t tell if it was the record or a sample of a record on “Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3” that was providing all the clicks and pops), incredibly full and rich low-frequency tones, and a gentleness of form that betrays everyone in the field thinking that you have to be this dark artist of unfathomable evil, or alternately, sound as soft as a shoegaze band in decline – or worse, New Agey on a well-trodden path that smells like an Aveda salon – to evoke strong moods and feelings. McDougall’s work is so inviting that the computer editing and recontextualizing of the instruments used to make it simply falls away. It’s rare and wonderful that any artist can find something new to say with tools available to all, but this fellow is doing it, and quite well. Touchpoints: Eliane Radigue, select Idea Fire Company works. A quietly thrilling experience is found within.
Steve Pescott / The Sound Projector :
"Now an ultimately absorbing and beautifully realised slice of vinyl hailing from the antipodean quarter, 2012. This comes in the form of the Unfinished Studies l.p. by Robert McDougall, a Melbourne-based electro-acoustician and label boss, who certainly appears to have a fresh handle on investigations into the disciplines of avant-garde composition. A pleasing meld of pre-production treatments, electronics and field recordings can be found on the four long pieces within the somewhat anonymous-looking sleeve art. Starting with “Platter Study No. 2″; in which the platter in question appears to be a recording sourced from some ancient eastern ceremony, where distant gong/metallic bowl (?) tones are under threat of being consumed by a fluctuating foreground hum of unknown origin and, of course, the reassuring crackle that only distressed shellac can produce. “Untitled No. 4″ uses the same brand of disconcertingly blurred perspective as “Platter…”. The shimmer of a gently uncoiling keys/guitar figure is set against the distant hubbub of what seems to be a village market and reminds me of one of those gauzy dreams that’s remembered on the very cusp of awakening, before melting away forever. Further distant metallics are employed in “Installation Study No. 2″ in which the sound of an all pervading outboard motorboat drone is eventually punctuated by some quietly struck drawing-room piano chords, giving added dramatic import. My favourite though, is derived from a piano piece by Anne Boyd, a music professor from the University of Sydney. “Angklung Study” sounds, for all the world, like an outtake from Cluster, during their fields and streams period, circa Sowiesoso. Rather damn fine. A soft insidious assault on the senses, where…more or less, less is more."
Bob Baker Fish / Cyclic Defrost :
"Unfinished Studies feels like a process driven opportunity to set up various sonic experiments. Yet that that’s not really being fair to Melbourne composer Robert McDougall, as it suggests an absence of authorship, which is not really true either. There’s definitely a commonality in tone on his first album, with most of the piece feeling relatively subdued, particularly early. There’s also a relative sparseness of ingredients and a late introduction of more musical elements alongside the more textural experimental sound art material.
The opening piece for example, the 11 minute plus Platter Study slowly unravels. It’s a tune that is lacking fingerprints, evolving with its own trajectory in mind, the Zen-like sounding of bells and repetitious multi-faceted organic yet electronic textural ingredients. Whilst certain elements are highlighted over the course of the piece, everything comes and goes slowly which offers up a certain almost spiritual peacefulness, like the ingredients themselves, rather than an external composer are in control. In this sense it feels like chance based composition, composition by way of setting up a series of audio experiments with the tools at hand, given the title possibly on a prepared turntable.
Untitled #4 begins with field recordings and low mixed searching whistles, the odd strum of guitar and some kind of awkward noisy movement, perhaps mechanical in nature. It feels somehow distracted like we’re only half listening, the disparate elements playing out some kind of beautiful unfocussed junkyard symphony that we’re unable to totally focus on and only makes sense in a way we can’t yet grasp. What’s really interesting about this piece is midway everything dips away aside from the guitar and a looped harmonica drone, and it’s relaxing like taking a deep long breath. It’s possibly the most overtly musical gesture on the disc, as strumming fills up more and more space.
Unfinished Studies demonstrates an accomplished use of sound, whether its field recordings, electronics or more musical elements McDougall never calls attention to himself, never engaging in the cult of the composer. It’s all about the music. Angklung Study (after Anne Boyd) #3 in particular is some of the sparsest most restrained and beautiful experimental music you could ever hope to hear, based on a solo piano performance from Australian composer Anne Boyd, though extended by McDougall.
Ultimately despite its title Unfinished Studies feels complete, and is a really beguiling and experimental approach to ambient sounds. With four long pieces both the structures and the approach differ dramatically, though McDougall seems quite partial to a drone here and there, which serves to create a lazy feeling of stasis across the album.
With Unfinished Studies McDougall demonstrates that you don’t need bluster or difficult sounds to make really compelling experimental music, you don’t need your fingerprints all over it or structures that demonstrate how clever you are. You just need patience and a faith in the inherent beauty in your sounds. And it doesn’t hurt being on thick heavy 180gram vinyl either."
Shaun Prescott / Crawlspace :
"First thing’s first: this is a very pretty record. Unfinished Pieces comprises four electroacoustic improvisations that exist on the more sedate, ambient side of that spectrum, but we’re not dealing with inert tones and loooong, periodic silences here. Melbourne’s Robert McDougall uses an electric guitar and a piano, and while there’s a hint of these tangible elements present on each of these tracks, heavily treated semblances are at the forefront. On ‘Platter Study #2’ a percussive but muted series of morse codes taps dominate. They could be emanations from either instrument. Who knows. It doesn’t matter.
That’s probably what shields this type of music from a lot of potential listeners; the prospect of form and design taking precedence over a direct avenue to the ears, or the heart. An avenue it needn’t have, of course! But just to reinforce – this is a very pretty record. It’s austere sometimes, but it’s not aggressively Experimental, and whether there’s a goal here outside of sound for its own sake, it’s only betrayed by some of the song titles. One piece, titled ‘Angklung (after Anne Boyd)’, references both a little-known Indonesian bamboo tube instrument, and the Australian composer who based a composition for piano around it.
Boyd is known for her affinity with the meditative, and McDougall shares that with her. Despite the aforementioned presence of McDougall’s instruments in their rawest form, an otherworldly variation on those textures prevails. Field recordings (or what sounds like them) act as a foundation for each of these tracks, thus buoying the manipulated tones into the realm of strangeness.
There are times when that doesn’t happen. The recognisable guitar notes that sprout from the otherwise ominous mesh of ‘Untitled #4’ sound too vividly ‘mixed in’, as if McDougall is just playing along. But for the most part the sense of traversing a hall of mirrors, of revelling in a euphoric lack of clarity, marks proceedings. In its best moments Unfinished Studies sounds like mining blank and familiar sounds – like the guitar, like the piano – and happening upon a renewed sense of magic. And that’s an endeavour that will hopefully forever remain unfinished."
Rigobert Dittman / Bad Alchemy:
"ROBERT MCDOUGALL Unfinished Studies (Angklung Editions, ANG01, LP): 'Unfinished' ist vielleicht Koketterie, vielleicht aber auch die Einsicht und zugleich Hoffnung, dass ein Musikerleben ein lebenslanges Studium ist und jedes Werk nur ein Zwischenschritt. Für 'Platter Study #2' mischt McDougall, ein Newcomer aus Melbourne, den Klingklang einzelner Klangschalenschläge mit dem rieselnden Klickern von Kies und elektronischem Gedröhn. Suggeriert wird dadurch so etwas wie unberührte Natur, Natur, die als Wind mit sich selber spielt. Aber gleichzeitig ist da eine künstliche, eine zivilisatorische Präsenz, eine Verunreinigung, wie durch Transformatorengebrumm, jedenfalls einem technischen Eingriff. 'Untitled #4' mischt ähnlich (wind)spielerisch Flötenklänge (und auch ein paar gedämpfte Gitarrentöne) mit regnerischer und geschäftiger Unruhe. Tuten da Schiffe, klackert da ein Zug vorbei, heult da eine Sirene? Die Ununterscheidbarkeit von 'natürlich' und 'menschlich', von Ereignis und Eingriff wirkt zugleich metanaturalistisch und raffiniert, vor allem, da sich zunehmend eine Melodie herausschält, getragen von der träumerisch geharften Gitarre und einem Sirren wie von einer Sho. McDougall ist nämlich empfänglich für die Klangwelt des ostasiatischen Raumes, nicht zufällig hat er sein Label benannt nach dem auch manchmal schlicht Gitterrassel genannten indonesischen Angklung. In seiner 'Angklung Study (After Anne Boyd) #3' hallt es, gebrochen durch ein Pianostück der im Titel genannten Komponistin, wider, wenn auch entsprechend indirekt und eingebettet in einen summenden und knisternden Bordun. Dieses sonore Dröhnen wird zum Fluidum für träumerisches, hintergründiges Pianogefunkel. 'Installation Study #2' durchsetzt seinen dröhnend aufs Trommelfell drückenden Fond mit dem Zirpen von (mehr oder weniger künstlichen) Grillen, im Hintergrund wird mit Stangen geklappert. Plötzlich ein Pianoanschlag, der sich nach einigen Atemzügen mehrfach wiederholt, zu monoton, um etwas anderes auszusagen als der kleine Totenkopf auf der Coverrückseite: Alles ringsum nur Stillleben, alles Klingen ein Verklingen. [BA 75 rbd]"
Keiichi Fukushima / Mimi no Wakuhazushi :