Complex webs of rhythm from a sound art visionary.
Fell's art practice has expanded to include film, installation and choreography, all of which were represented in a recent exhibit, Intermetamorphosis, at the Serralves Museum in Porto. Intra, a performance with the percussion ensemble Drumming Grupo De Percussão, playing a set of metallophone instruments designed by Iannis Xenakis, was one of the pieces commissioned. The Greek composer's Sixxen is a set of six microtonally tuned instruments featuring 19 metal bars each, laid out like a vibraphone, with every Sixxen slightly out of tune with the next. But the Sixxen isn't the focus of Intra. Like much of Fell's work, Intra is about the computer-human operating system functioning behind the music.
To perform Intra, Fell relayed a series of computer-generated patterns to the players via headphones. The players were then instructed to repeat the patterns in real time as accurately as possible, a method Fell devised in 2011 and released on the Focal Music cassette. The LP's title refers to physicist Karen Barad's concept of "intra-action." "Human-computer 'inter-action' [HCI] means that the human and the computer are separate and there is a dialogue between them. 'Intra-action,' however, means the two become fundamentally part of the same thing," Fell explained.
Intra is Fell's first major acoustic release. This is only superficially important on your first encounter with the record's flimsy, delicate sonics and metallic inflections. Once you plough deeper into its spider-webbed rhythms and subtle matrix of tonalities, Fell's quintessential hallmarks start to emerge. The record sounds clean and crisp, with no additional processing other than basic editing. This purist technique and the aesthetics they produce have been with Fell from the beginning. The timbres may be a far cry from the high-intensity, synthetic sound of Multistability, Fell's landmark LP. But these records do share a lineage. But both records draw from Fell's knack for minimal complexity, albeit using a different set of tools.
Whether making art or music, Fell's creative process is the same. "I just tend to mess about and see what things do," he told the musician and writer Andrew McKenzie. He went on to compare his role to that of a tour guide, "leading people through this stuff I've found." As ever, Intra is a conceptually rooted record brimming with Fell's philosophies on technology, art and society, but with Fell as our guide through "this stuff," the academia never eclipses the main attraction: the sound. Intra is one of his most mellifluous records to date.