Sarah Peebles: Composer/Performer

Reviews of: Cinnamon Sphere | Hover | Insect Groove | Amber CD
108: Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century | Gathering
Performance Reviews, etc | Whose Forest? | Nova Journal
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#90 Fall 2004

Reviewed by Tilman Lewis

Peebles Plus

Sarah Peebles. 108—Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century. Post-Concrète. Web site: <è>. Insect Groove. Cycling '74. Web site: <>. Smash and Teeny. Gathering. Spool. Web site: <> Artist Web site: <>.

Composer Sarah Peebles is active as a performer of computer-assisted music, often in unconventional settings such as temples and parks, in the ensembles Smash and Teeny (with Nilan Perera on prepared electric guitar and Cinnamon Sphere (with Perera and calligrapher Chung Gong). She is also the host of Toronto radio station CIUT's Audible Woman. She has spent extended periods studying in Japan, learning its classical and contemporary music and collaborating with Japanese artists. Three recent CDs show different aspects of Peebles' exotic explorations.

108—Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century is a time-capsule audioscape that documents the final hours of the last millenium in Tokyo. An hour-long collage originally produced for Radio-Canada's L'espace du son, it is a journal of everyday noise, essentially in the order it was recorded on the night of December 31, 1999. It captures uniquely Japanese sounds such as the country's automated pinball parlours and the cleansing ritual New year ringing of the temple bells (108 times - hence the title). But these sounds are blended with the comfortingly familiar calls of street vendors, bursts of tinned music, the hustle and bustle of traffic, and chiming subway doors.

The CD is enhanced with images by Christie Pearson of Tokyo's architechture and life, which can by synched up to the audio tracks. Vibrantly lit and larger than life, the photographs captures both the bustling grandeur of modern-day Japan and the vulnerability of its individual people.

Liner notes by Niroshi Yoshimura describe the piece as a "sonic portrait...brimming with the sounds of the city, the thrill of encountering an unknown sound, an interest toward sounds that have a sense of history, and a Pied Piper-like impulse to follow the sounds that beckon"

Often bewildering to a Western ear, 108 can, however, be enjoyed with a certain prelinguistic delight. The magic of radio permits a holistic evocation of specific time and place. This CD will appeal to listeners whose aural curiosity encompasses everyday life—who enjoy listening to conversations in languages they don't understand, or who habitually switch into soundwalking as they wander from one neighbourhood to another.

Insect Groove is a collection of electroacoustic pieces, many of which dramatically conjure up the rich and varied emotions inspired by the insect world: the heady buzz of cicadas on a hot summer day, the plaintive chirp of distant crickets in the dusk, the menace of an agitated swarm of bees. Natural sounds are sometimes the source material and are otherwise evoked, creating textures that are peaceful yet contain a hint of the ominous. Gentle percussion, bubbling water, and samples of shakuhachi and bamboo reeds are juxtaposed with jarring clangs and sudden transitions.

White Powder/The Spiders is a narration over an ominous drone. David Toop's calm voice relates his tale of ancient shapeshifters swinging bullroarers until dawn to placate the gods, and spider robots scratching calligraphic inscriptions (words unfortunately not included). Where the Wild Things Went is a lovely hiatus in which grinding and trilling sounds are supported by a fainter rumbling in the bass, and a half-talking reedy buzz, all offset by harsher door-slamming interjections. Drillbit Kiploop, using as its source material a skipping CD, creates a surprisingly pleasant texture of relentless industrial drilling and gentle alarms (a mix that brings to mind Pink Floyd's experiments with rhythmicized mechanics).

In the title track, Insect Groove, Peebles, on electronics, is joined by Nilan Perera on guitar and Jin Hi Kim on electric komungo, creating a slow bass groove that underlies gentle rain-on-a-tin-pot percussion, all in support of manic chirping, trilling, and croaking. The CD ends on a wistful note with Listen to the Sound of the Sun Sinking in the Lake, featuring gently fading, sustained singing tones by Ko Ishikawa on shô (Japanese mouth organ)

Most of the works on Insect Groove were recorded in uninterrupted real-time performances, with minimal editing or multi-tracking. Peebles generously shares her Max patches for Macintosh for those who wish to download and manipulate them for themselves.

Gathering is a two-CD offering the duo known as Smash and Tweeny (Sarah Peebles on laptop and de-tuned shô, Nilan Perera on prepared electric guitar). The first CD features a "best of" Smash and Teeny, 2001-2003, performing in the U.S. and Canada. on the second CD, they are joined in a studio by the sound explorations of saxophonist John Butcher. And on a 1999 video segment, Cinnamon Sphere (Peebles, Perera and calligrapher Chung Gong) performs Kaladar Kodex, in a farm field. Gong applies his thick Korean brush and black ink to canvases standing in the open air to the live accompaniment of Smash and Tweeny and the nearby lowing of cows.

Together, Peebles and Perera improvise magical textures. Peebles' sustained, languorously unfolding washes and drones serve as a cushion over which Perera coaxes out unlikely, ethereal timbres. He prepares his instrument with inserted plastic drinking straws, paper clips, and metal brushes and places it across his lap. Then in a spirit of discovery, he delicately bows, strokes and plucks it.

The voice of Peebles' beloved insect realm is again heard in this collection. Stridulation Nation uses the high-pitched, excited buzz of (I believe) a beehive, first as a gentle underpinning of sound, then building, with the slow but relentless pace of a jet plane grinding to a halt, to a strident insistency. Puzzling titles like Ox Tendon Engima or Table Setting for Snow reflect the through-the-looking-glass aesthetic this duo practices.

On the second CD, the duo's sound is nicely complemented by the multiphonics, growling and flutter-tonguing of London saxophonist John Butcher. A leading figure in free improvisation, his presence adds another layer of depth to their rattle and hum.



Reviews of: Cinnamon Sphere | Hover | Insect Groove | Amber CD
108: Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century | Gathering
Performance Reviews, etc | Whose Forest? | Nova Journal
Back to Main Reviews Page

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