Electroshock Records: Review:  
Simon Wickham-Smith: “Multiple Tongues” (Electroshock Records 2010, ELCD 055)

10 tracks. Total time - 69:16.

“Multiple Tongues” is a collection of sound collages based on the voices of a series of collaborators. Each voice has been electronically treated and filtered to such an extent that the humanity of the voice has almost been done away with, and what remains barely exists, surfacing in brief flashes throughout their tracks. The track sequences are: “Juskidding”, “Songs and Dreams the Whalers Weave”, “Három Denéver”, “... Al Tempo Del Dolci Sospiri ...”, and “Jäätynyt, Aurinko”. Most of these tracks are quite harsh sounding, high in the treble section of the hearing spectrum, which makes for very uneasy listening - it certainly seems to have an adverse effect on the birds in the garden the day I played this with the window open! I'm not sure that I could call this an album easy to listen to - and as with some of the other albums in this Spring release, I get the impression that “Multiple Tongues” is more of an installation piece for an exhibition area, rather than one’s home.

John M. Peters (“The Borderland”)

In this experimental work, British composer Simon Wickham-Smith, settled in the United States, explores the frontiers of distortion of sound beyond which sounds become unrecognizable. Starting from human voices he carries out a complex task of processing of these with the final result of ten disquieting themes that range from electric noise music, to sonic collage, to loops typical of samplers. In them we can perceive human voices, still recognizable as such, but sounding as if they were screeches of insects or like roars of industrial machinery. Other passages present textures of sound even more radical which we can hardly identify with human voices any more.

Valeriano Guiol (“Amazing Sounds”)

Simon Wickham-Smith is a British born composer currently living in Seattle as part of the faculty at the University of Washington. “Multiple Tongues” is his first album for the “Electroshock Records” label. Wickham-Smith explains in the CD notes his fascination with the human voice and the ways, through emphasis, articulation, tone and pitch, it can convey meaning beyond the level of semantics. The album consists of experimentations with digitally manipulating human voices with the focus on syntax, semantics, disintegration, periodicity and overdubbing to create a kind of verbal/oral soundscape. (both quoting and paraphrasing bits of the liner notes).
               The CD begins with the 6 part, 15 minute “Just Kidding”. The first two parts feature pulsating electronics and warbling sounds. It’s not until part 3 that a recognizable human voice appears, mildly efx’d and reciting a narrative. Part 4 includes heavily efx’d voice, and Wickham-Smith’s description of the voice being “dissolved” definitely resonates on this one. The voice only seems to appear briefly on part 5 and sounds like a robot. Part 6 is interesting, with a sparse repetitive sound pattern and low key single toned signal, plus heavily efx’d voice that seems to be calling out to someone but the words can’t be made out, and I imagined a film where a television goes to a test pattern and a spirit from beyond is broadcasting through the TV. Later in the piece the sounds and voice become harsher and the words only slightly more discernible though I couldn’t understand them. “Songs and Dreams the Whalers Weave” is next and is really just a lot of variable speed with tape experimentation which results in rapid fire chipmunk voices. There are also some tones that are barely perceptible but sufficiently high pitched as to cause mild discomfort (I’m listening through headphones) but it’s interesting combined with the chipmunk voices. Voice spoken at normal speed is multi-tracked so that the individual is accompanying himself with the same text.
               What I’ve described is more or less representative of the remainder of the works on “Multiple Tongues”. Reading Wickham-Smith’s detailed descriptions of his interest in the voice and what he is trying to accomplish on the album sparked my interest but it grew tiresome throughout it’s nearly 70 minute length.

Spaceman33 (“Aural Innovations”)

Simon Wickham-Smith is a composer of musics acoustic and digital, melodic and non-, noisy and quiet. The “Multiple Tongues” project is a series of pieces in which Wickham-Smith exposed the spoken word in many different languages to a series of digital manipulations. The Kin-kindness of Beforehand is divided up into several distinct sections, each of which took on a particular persona during its creation. For the composer, this was the most complex of all the “Multiple Tongues” works, because he wanted to use specific strings of words and the quality of writer Rachel Becker’s voice to somehow comment on the text itself.

“DWM” Music Company)



Reference to "Electroshock Records" website is obligatory in case of any usage of printed & photo materials from the site © "Electroshock Records", 2004