Beatriz Ferreyra turned 84 this year and is still composing music – dense, immersive sound sculptures – as the last surviving member from the field of mid-20th-century pioneers that included the likes of Edgard Varèse en Pierre Henry. She was born in Argentina but has spent the last six decades in France, where she relocated in 1961 to study with Nadia Boulanger en György Ligeti. Like many émigré composers based in Paris at that time – among them Stockhausen en Xenakis – Ferreyra was drawn into the orbit of Pierre Schaeffer, who was creating experimental montages of found sound using tape manipulation and calling it musique concrète.
It is tempting to see Ferreyra as a Parisian Delia Derbyshire – both women in a male-dominated scene, both playfully exploring musique concrète as part of experimental collectives that made film and TV themes (where Derbyshire was part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Ferreyra joined Schaeffer’s cabal, Groupe de Recherches Musicales). But a new anthology of Ferreyra’s work, Canto+, shows how much more intense her “acousmatic” music can be.
She initially wanted to be a visual artist and there’s a painterly rigour to her compositions, which are made by cutting and splicing tape, recording random urban sounds, altering their speeds, and editing and distorting them until the sources become quite deliberately unidentifiable. On 1974’s Canto del Loco (Mad Man’s Song), stray sounds are divided into short fragments and jerkily sped up until they form a slow pulse. The nine-minute Pas de 3 … Ou Plus, van 2009, splices together fragments of sped-up conversations until they resemble the rapid-fire vocals of an Indian vocal percussionist or a beatboxer. Musique concrète is often more interesting to discuss than actually listen to, but there is a curious beauty to some of Ferreyra’s work: distended screeches, drones and ambient hums that are cleverly assembled so that they gently throb and glisten quite hypnotically.
A contemporary of Ferreyra’s was the British composer Peter Zinovieff, wie died last month, bejaardes 88. He’s best known as a synth pioneer, but his final work, South Pacific Migration Party, is a half-hour piece of musique concrète that filters, distorts, manipulates and transforms blue whale noises into an ambient symphony, a series of shifting drones, watery burbles and paranoid pulsations. Simulacra (released 13 Augustus, Warm Winters) is a superb mini-album by the German-Icelandic trio Minua, who use assorted woodwind instruments, modular synths, bass guitars and Bavarian zithers – sometimes tuned to unorthodox natural temperaments – to create thick, impasto layers of slow-moving sound that completely command your attention. Dan Nicholls is a multi-instrumentalist best known for his densely written jazz projects with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and Matt Calvert, but his new album, Mattering and Meaning (We Jazz Records, 13 Augustus), sees him digitally mutilating recordings of him playing an upright piano, and overlaying them with burbling electronica and ambient drones to create something aquatic, immersive and magical.