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Music Review: Monty Adkins – Fragile.Flicker.Fragment

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When Professor Monty Adkins is not teaching music students at England’s University of Huddersfield, he is researching and recording sounds in many different formats. He describes his latest release, 2011’s Fragile.Flicker.Fragment (Audiobulb), as “Slow shifting organic instrumental and concrete soundscapes.” He is part of a fascinating group of musical pioneers in electroacoustic music.

The term “electroacoustic music” is somewhat broad as it covers a wide range of sound experimentation. Some of the forms include musique concrete, computer music, tape music — basically electronic music of all sorts. It is no surprise that he is recording for Audiobulb, who are dedicated to “exploratory electronic music.” Although Adkins has released a number of solo recordings and has appeared on quite a few compilations, Fragile.Flicker.Fragment is his first effort for the label.

In his official biography Adkins explains the various strands of the movement he has explored over the years. For the purposes of this review, the following quote is particularly illuminating: “Recently the work has become increasingly minimal and introspective. This work focuses on encouraging a deeper immersive listening experience. Working with a reduced sonic palette, the new works draw together elements from ambient, minimal electronica, acousmatic and experimental electronic music.”

The emphasis on the intellectual side of things is understandable for a professor, but I think it also tends to alienate the “average” listener such as myself. It is one thing to understand the conceptual framework of these tracks, but in the end one does not need to be a musicologist to enjoy this recording. I knew next to nothing about Professor Adkins before listening to Fragile.Flicker.Fragment, and it did not matter in the least. For the most part, the nine tracks fall into the ambient minimalism category, with some notable exceptions.

The disc opens up with “Memory Box,” a very inviting piece utilizing what sounds like “tubular bells“ to me. I actually have no idea as to what specific instruments were used on the album or whether it was created entirely electronically, so I can only describe what I hear. The moods created by Adkins are what count, and they are varied, and often quite beautiful. “Remnant” evokes an air of mystery, where “Ode” is probably the most raucous track.

The most experimental piece is quite appropriately titled “Torn Mosaic.” This is by far the longest track on the disc, clocking in a 11:30. Adkins pulls out all the stops here, beginning with some very “futuristic” tones, underscored by a nice, very ambient bed of sound. Following this portion, we hear the intriguing tones of an of instrument that sounds very much like a harmonium. The ending is a long, low drone, sprinkled with intermittent flourishes. I must say that I found “Torn Mosaic” to be a very impressive sound-sculpture.

The ninth and final track, “Memory Etching,” is also quite experimental in nature, although not quite as long or involved as “Torn Mosaic.” As with all of the Audiobulb releases, detailed information is available on their website, as well as ordering options. Monty Adkins’ second Audiobulb recording, titled Four Shibusa, is set for release in April, and is one I am highly anticipating.

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