Various Artists – The Mondrians

3.25.19 by Ryan Masteller

I was a bit confused at first by the direction of this splendorous double cassette release from Hotham Sound, the fabulous Canadian experimental music label that we’ve tackled ever so expertly in the past. “Why have they gathered so many wonderful artists in one place to fete the magic microscopic things in your blood that give you Jedi powers?” I wondered. No, those are Midichlorians. Wait – are the Mondrians those immortal Scientology beings? Wrong again: Thetans. Am I thinking of “Alien” itself? Now I’m way off. Those are xenomorphs.

Mondrian is such a funny word though … the connection is right on the tip of my brain. I guess I could read the j-card and figure out what this release is all about … Oh! PIET Mondrian! The Dutch artist, the one who inspired that Apples in Stereo album cover. I should have known from the yellow, blue, and red lines geometrically arranged on the cover. (I’m really embarrassed, in hindsight, by all those sci-fi connections I tried to make.) “The Mondrians,” then, would suggest Piet’s followers, his disciples, his students, his likeminded artistic peers. And sure enough, these twenty musicians do double duty, getting inside the head of the master while interpreting his work through sound art.

“Huh?” you bellow as you spit-take some half-chewed breakfast in surprise (pancakes, from the looks of it). I’m with you there – I have no idea how this idea got into anybody’s head or how it’s gonna shake out in the end. But then that old standby, reading, was there to once again save the day and make me not look stupid: “Twenty contemporary electronic musicians and sound artists were presented with a simple premise: reimagine the Mondrian painting of your choice as a graphic score, and rigorously interpret it.” Imagine if I had given up on reading as a kid! I never would have known what was going on here.

To call this exercise fascinating is ridiculous on so many levels, mostly because all of these artists chose paintings and interpreted them without words, which is so much harder to do than see some lines on canvas and go, “Huh. That’s pretty nice.” “Fascinating” doesn’t do it justice, and I have no skills other than words or gif lookups to work with here. These musicians have so much more going for them – so equal is their audio component to Mondrian’s visual work and so capable are they within their chosen idiom that the visual bleeds into the aural, and vice versa. In fact, it has to – more from the premise: “Imagine you have been asked to describe, in full, the spatial and chromatic aspects of this painting to a blind person using only sound.” Some of the contributors take this literally, mapping their chosen painting exactly with musical accompaniment, while others take a more broad approach to the concept and go abstract. In the end, you, as the consumer of this 2xCS, are the only one in position to parse the compositions, to match the intention to the concept. And that makes you the winner, in my book. It’s like a never-ending puzzle!

This also happens to be a who’s who of electronic/electroacoustic/ambient sound designers, an all-star team of audio talent assembled under one roof for one time and one time only. I’ll list them here: James Druin, Chris Harris, C. Diab, Khyex, Ross Birdwise, Alexandra Spence, Lance Austin Olsen, TUAM, PrOphecy Sun, Benjamin Mauch, Soressa Gardner, Norm Chambers, Laurie Zimmer, connect_icut, Sean Evans, Camp of Wolves, Mount Maxwell, Ian William Craig, Pulsewidth, and Benoît Pioulard. Gasp, gasp – I said that all out loud in one breath.

Purchase directly from Hotham Sound. Also, all your streaming needs will be met there. And take it from me, this thing is unbelievable to look at and listen to. Buy now!