EAReview: PHILIP PERKINS APARTMENT LIFE by Scott Fraser
Scott Fraser is a composer active in Los Angeles.
The work of Philip Perkins has to do with seeing or hearing slices of our sound environment in different degrees of resolution. Using field recordings and studio techniques, he focuses on certain details, exploring them microscopically through selectively filtering and amplifying them. Once broken down into its constituent elements, harmonics, resonances, and spectra, the sound environment is reassembled into a new macroscopic "big picture." The result is not the correct or definitive view of sound reality. It is one option of the multitude of options for listening to our surroundings. "Apartment Life" is a thirty-minute tape piece comprised of six loosely related sections examining various aspects of the soundscape as heard by the composer, an apartment dweller in a large city. The tape is available as an independently released stereo Dolby cassette from the composer at 2315 Jackson St., San Francisco, Ca. 94115.
The work begins with "Introduction" , in which a set of identifiable, unaltered readily perceivable city apartment sounds are introduced. We hear pacing footsteps, slamming drawers, a complaining girlfriend, the neighbors' stereo, a dripping faucet, TV news, and the omnipresent buses of Jackson St.., all presented as they naturally sound either originating inside or filtering through walls and window. With its snappy editing scheme, there is a juicy physicality to the sound which draws us into the slower, more cerebral, meditative sections to follow.
Just as every sound-producing object radiates physical vibrations, so do all objects within a sound space receive vibrations from the surrounding environment. In section two, "Ear to the Ground," instead of city sounds from within or filtered through walls, we hear the city" translated" through a concrete and steel fountain structure. A contact mike picks up what the foundation "hears." Through filtering, Perkins zooms in on specific elements of the sound material and gives us several dissected versions of the sonic environment as conducted through the medium of the fountain.
There are other sounds in the city besides those that we can directly hear. These sounds are either-borne and require the use of specialized decoding apparati. Thus the third section, "Reading the Mail," composed of sounds received through a cheap walkie-talkie consisting of CB radio transmissions. Perkins continually contrasts foreground with background settings, interior with exterior, near and far. Here, the somewhat bizarre CB culture, with its attendant noise, distortion, and rather frenetic energy level is offset by the interior environment of a church-like organ. The result, though garish and irritating, is vibrant and celebrative.
Again we have the juxtaposition of interior and exterior in "Idle and Depart" as the sounds of buses waiting on the corner near the apartment are analyzed electronically with filters and augmented with oscillators enhancing diesel engine resonances and adding a sort of internal comment upon the relentless roaring of these beasts in the street below.
In "Party Mix" we move back inside the human sound environment to a party situation, then follow it further within, examining it with filtering, spatial shifting and phase dislocation. Human voices are at first recognizable, then gradually shift into rolling textures of harmonics and room resonances. We are given a hint of how this party may appear filtered through the walls in other apartments.
concluding with "8:51 for jack Everly" we hear both the interior and exterior environment, simultaneously and equally, mixed through acoustic filters which both literally and sonically telescope our perspective, not so much spatially as harmonically. Outside sounds of rain, traffic and neighbors are recorded through the same selective acoustic filters as indoor voices, doors shutting, etc. Thus we focus upon certain harmonic and textural similarities that seem common to many of the sounds around us. In a way, we have come full circle to the equal blending of outside with inside sounds heard in the first section. Now, however, the emphasis is on the elemental similarities of many of these sounds, and we may feel we have evolved along the way by perceiving the inherent relatedness, potential compatibility, and even musicality in these sounds.
Apartment Life is a collection of slices of sonic reality, dissected and exposed, but not interpreted for us. Perkins is providing road maps for the aural topography, rather than supplying addresses. pp.8,11