Artists can find inspiration and sound sources in an infinite range of things. For composer Michael Reiley McDermott’s Music for Ephemeral, it was the flap of birds’ wings. As he notes on his Bandcamp page, he “found … hidden worlds of sound in the quick bursts of flapping sounds that last only a second in our time.” The hidden sounds get manipulated, stretched, and stacked to create four movements for a ballet. This intrigued me, because the work skews toward a very minimal, drone structure that one would think belies the idea of it being used for dance. (Visit the video link below to see just how wrong that line of thought actually is.) As for listening, McDermott’s structures unwind and spread with a rich organic grace, rises in intensity coming naturally up out a flow in simple curves and receding back to the integral mix. “Part 1” is constantly underscored with a sound like running water or, more likely, the susurrus of countless wings. Beneath it can be heard light touches of piano and a lingering drone. “Part 2” uses a variety of microsounds, and for much of its time it sounds quite like listening to the patter of rain. A steady metallic beat and soft voices arise out the sounds–again, emerging quite naturally out of the existing structure. The sonic textures thicken as McDermott chops and slices his samples, letting them grow quite aggressively into an in-your-face wall that cuts out suddenly. “Part 3,” a short palate cleanser before the 25-minute finale, returns to a very quiet place, almost little more than a series of electronic exhalations allowing us to recover from the assertive ending of “Part 2” and melting themselves into the start of “Part 4.” McDermott notes that in this final movement he wanted to create “…a hail storm of granular sounds that rain down…” As it evolves, it sprouts various tendrils of sound, from spatters of electro-crackle to waves and gulls to the hum of strings, all grounded in a high, slowly oscillating drone. It gets quite complex, with a lot of interplay between the sounds, but nothing is ever out of place or fights against the oddly harmonious atmosphere that’s created. It’s not a particularly soft sound, but between its easy flow and the mesmeric influence of the drone base, it can certainly set your mind drifting for a while.
Listeners whose tastes run toward drone and conceptual/experimental work will more easily find a point of entry into Music from Ephemeral. Its sparseness and use of small, granular sounds can be challenging, but listening to all of it evolve and unfold is intriguing, especially in a close listen.
Video of the ballet can be found on Vimeo.
Available from Bandcamp.