Article

Mathew Adkins on Accents/Accidents

"In an age in which muzak now seems to be assaulting our ears wherever we go, the music of Erik Mikael Karlsson provides a haven for those who care about what they listen to. For Karlsson the primacy of the ear is everything, both for composer and listener. As a composer, Karlsson's craft is unquestionable. What marks him out is not only the sheer beauty of the sonic objects he conjures but also an innate sense of timing and poise of gestural evolution and interplay. Accents/Accidents possesses all of the hallmarks of Karlsson's style.


The work is epic as one would expect of a piece that 'has to do with the trembling of the earth, with gravity...with the breathing of life, the murmur of distant sounds...' It projects an immense panoramic vista which is gradually surveyed throughout the work. Within this space are a plethora of detailed, sonically differentiated microclimates. Although differentiated, the sense of organic evolution is so strong that the impression created is that the myriad of dynamic and restless activities within these microclimates are ongoing and we as listeners are merely invited by the composer to alight on them at various points. The vast sense of space which Karlsson creates is not merely to do with his technical craftsmanship in the studio, but also because he gives each evolving texture or gesture its own frequency space. This stratification creates a sense of translucency and clarity which allows the development of the sounds themselves to be carefully observed and appreciated. Rarely do sound objects traverse anothers frequency space. When they do, we hear this as a significant moment. Stratification enables Karlsson to create the illusion of time moving at varying speeds simultaneously. The kinship to cinematic techniques is obvious and pertinent. The distant ‘slow-sweeping pan’ is heard as the long sustained lines and the ‘close-up’ in the gradual revelations of the various microclimates. Because Karlsson's work relies on the aural rather than the visual, such an overlaying of seemingly discontiguous spaces is possible, creating a gesturally rich and fluid environment for the listener to inhabit..


As well as a very clear gestural profile, Accents/Accidents has a strong sense of harmonic movement. This movement has been slowed to an almost imperceptible pace. Long sustained lines provide a framework for the more detailed gestural interplay which occurs and proliferates, especially in the last third of the work. These lines act almost like the earth's tectonic plates - seemingly static but always slowly shifting. This sense of gradual evolution is reflected in all levels of the work. Phrases are characteristically long, slowly revealing themselves, both spectrally and morphologically, as isolated gestures gradually develop internally and accrete similar objects. There is a strong causal relationship between sound objects. The triggering of chains of events from an initial sonic gesture heightens the organic nature of the work. What were previously unrelated gestures are now temporally juxtaposed, so creating new relationships and trajectories.


The organic nature of the works evolution initially renders its structure elusive. Nevertheless it is possible to discern an exposition of the primary materials up to 7’36, a two-part development of these material up to 14’20 and a final coda. The exposition is itself composed of several subsections, most notably: 0’00-1’53, 1’53-3’07, 3’07-7’37. Each of these sections presents either single or complementary microclimates, each with their own behavioral characteristics. Rarely is the evolving bass pedal absent, as befits a work concerned with gravity and earthly tremblings. In the development section where these microclimates collide, they mutate into new extended lines which are both rhythmically and spectrally more active. For much of the work, the detailed frontal gestures of the microclimates and the background sustained lines are kept separate. Instances where the articulation of the surface materials also affects the sustained background lines are rare, and are thus all the more striking when they do occur. Two such instances, at 12’06 and 12’27, mark the close of the first part of the development and the beginning of the second.


Although this structure can act as a useful guide what is most important in listening to Accents/Accidents is to allow yourself to be immersed in the landscapes which are conjured in which sounds not only shine and linger, they are teeming with life."