Return of the Atom: Atom Eye’s journey
of sound

The Otolith Sessions is the realisation of a long-standing curiosity I have developed for magnetic tape. I have become increasingly fascinated with the medium—the way it sounds, the way it works, and how it can be interfered with.”

“A significant part of my creative process involves manipulating sounds: deconstructing, layering, looping, degrading, suspending, and the palpable nature of tape allowed for me to do this in a very hands-on way… to really ‘feel’ it. I invested in a few ¼ inch tape machines, revived cassette players and varispeeds, and these machines, specifically chosen for their tactile nature, offered boundless playful opportunities.

Over the last two years or so, they fuelled hundreds of disintegration and suspension experiments. The Otolith Sessions is the culmination of the ideas formed from this play/work, arranged and produced with invited guests and collaborators into a showcase of a labour of love.

The varispeed element (which was very much introduced in my last release, Trilogy 120) played a big role in the creative process. Messing around with tape playing speeds gave sounds a feeling of timelessness—but taking this process to the extreme, I ended up suspending sounds with surprising results. I imagined a process for sound suspension similar to slowing down moving image and entering the image to explore the details hidden in the movement. With this experiment applied to sounds, I discovered a new world hidden in the recordings.

But I wanted to take the varispeed element further, so I looked to experimental composers and sound artists for inspiration. One person I discovered was Ernie Althoff (read about him on the Atom Eye blog) and his varispeed sessions were particularly inspiring for me and influenced my own improvisation experiments. I focused on harmony, pitch, and tone and when also embracing Cage’s approach to working with chance, I got some very interesting results—much of them ended up on one track in particular, track “15”.

I also wanted to explore drones, steady pulses and gradual transformations—and for this I concentrated heavily on the use of tape loop repetitions and tape saturation; taking sounds and layering multiple additions on to itself. The results were surprisingly melodic—if fuzzy and altered to the point of decay—and gave way to wonderful backdrops for new melodies to emerge.

Living in the digital age, the precise nature of computer recording programs offer instantaneous results, but tape allowed me to take some of the creative processes and break them down in to more organic and tactile exercises (tape phasing, delay, echo etc.) There’s nothing revolutionary here of course—some of the techniques I outline in the companion Audio Cookbook were pioneered by luminaries (and heroes of mine) such as John Cage, Steve Reich, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, and Delia Darbyshire, to name but a few—but what I gained from working with magnetic tape was an added element of unpredictability, of losing control over what the exact results might be. This spontaneity was very much the underlying force fuelling the sessions.

The next challenge for me now is to take the show on the road. I’ve spent the last six months converting elements of the sessions in to condensed tape loops—which will form the backdrop of the live show. Keep an eye on the Atom Eye website for upcoming UK and European tours dates.”
Elsie Martins, Atom Eye

The Otolith Sessions is offered as a limited edition CD + Companion Audio Cookbook on the Forwind label on the 18th November.

Atom Eye Official | Label

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