Review: Richard Chartier – Transparency (Performance)

Transparency (Performance) feels like the most delicately crafted work. There’s a phenomenal sense of tension running through its entire one-hour duration, like the sonic equivalent of precariously assembling a sculpture from brittle glass – each note is perfectly placed and impeccably timed, as if a false move could send the composition into calamitous collapse.

Central to the piece is the Grand Tonometer – an instrument comprising of 692 tuning forks and spanning across four octaves. Chartier recorded the sound of each individual fork during his fellowship at the Museum of American History, and places these recordings in the company of the most subtle but appropriate accompaniments – the buzz of static, gentle drone surges and the soft hiss of atonal noise – that hang in the air like a cloud of trapped electricity.

Chartier claims that the piece explores the “nature of sound” itself, and the Grand Tonometer seems to have been an apt instrument with which to do this. The recordings have been processed and toyed with: sometimes removing the metallic strike of the fork to form gentle streams of sustain, sometimes dragging out the decay to leave beautiful tonal afterglow to dim gradually into nothing. The sharp sound of attack is sparingly used, arriving as a refreshing split-second of immediacy in amongst the phantom reverberations: a sudden interjection of “cause” in a work that seems to emphasize the ever-fading vibrations of sonic “consequence”.