1. Alpha - 16'28"
Alpha is composed as a union of synthetic sound and highly transformed female and male utterances – a meta-body of sound. Drawing on the writings of Donna Haraway – the 'Cyborg Manifesto' as well as her technological prophecy 'Cyber Quintessence' – the music aims to create an imaginary space as a metaphorical and technological extension of the human body. The silences in Alpha refer to absolute time: there is no past here, no future – only the moment of experience, the present.
The visual scores are made from trac- ing paper, red ink, blood and gold leaf, media that represent the transparent and extreme musical world occupied by electronic sound. The images have been shown in the Ohrenhoch Sound Gallery in Berlin.
2. Glitch - 10'36"
Glitch is fundamentally a behavioural composition. It is made up of a wide variety of materials, some of which always remain the same, while others submit to change. The alternate behavioural states of these elements make Glitch a work of continuous gesture on many different levels.
The sounds collected here are sounds that should have been thrown away – sonic indiscretions in the form of hisses, digital clicks and distortions. An old, flawed recording of a C trumpet formed the primary source for this material. The grain levels in the recording are low and in places there is an impractical amount of distortion.
However, these sonic indiscretions seem to positively expose fragile, delicate and animated sonorities – all essential qualities of the artistic media that I work with. Glitch is an attempt to shape those delicate areas of instability into inspired moments of strength.
3. Dark Noise - 8'41"
Dark Noise is a subterranean sound world based on the female voice. Within this imaginary body of sound there is a deeply embedded idea of motion, expressed in the sound gestures that resonate throughout the work, and in the spoken utterances of air, light and space that are heard at the end. The work also explores a rich dimension of architectural space. Glitches and micro-sounds are precisely placed, creating subtle triangles, circles and lines that provide a structure for the overall form of the work.
Pierre Cécile at Le son du grisli
[Alpha] is a work with [a unique] aesthetic. Its three tracks
burst within the vinyl and lead you to a universe not unlike
that of Tetris; above you, geometric forms made from crashes,
feedback, buzzes and whispers. Luscious and delectable.
Review by Dave Mandl (The Wire)
Issue 315, Page 62, May 2010
Alpha is, surprisingly, the first album of the music of Jo Thomas, a London based electroacoustic composer whose work has been presented and performed widely around Europe and in the US. The three compositions included on this vinyl-only title span the past ten years, including “Glitch”, “Dark Noise” and a new piece, “Alpha”. Though Thomas’s work is to all appearances purely electronic, she is predominantly interested in such physical- world elements as imperfection, mistakes and the nuances of the human voice, and she incorporates these into her work in various ways.
The appropriately titled “Glitch”, a complex soundscape that wobbles, whistles, squeals and explodes across a vast range of sonic textures and frequencies, makes use of such audio detritus as clicks, tape hiss, distortion and the by-products of the granular synthesis process that are normally discarded. These bits of noise added to the computer-generated signal give the piece a warmth that might otherwise be missing, at times pushing into grating, sand-in-the-gears territory. “Dark Noise” is more architectural in intent, with particular attention given to the physical placement of sound sources and the way they combine to create a virtual space (though it must be said that Thomas’s use of sonic architecture on all three pieces is excellent). The composition develops more slowly, subtly and systematically than “Glitch”, with little percussive sounds rattling over a dark, swirling undercurrent of low-pitched wind, and the occasional intrusion of a highly processed female voice.
“Alpha” is inspired by the writing of the American post-feminist academic Donna Haraway, best known for her Cyborg Manifesto. The piece uses as its raw material electronically altered recordings of mobile phone calls (some of them extremely low-fidelity) by both women and men – Thomas’s multi-sexual response to what she sees as a female-centric orientation in Haraway’s cyborg theory. “Alpha” is the most musical of the compositions on the LP, with nearly discernible pitches played on what at least appears to be a keyboard instrument or sampler. But as usual Thomas throws wrenches into the works at every opportunity: the otherwise placid piece breaks down repeatedly, is interrupted again and again by distorted glitches and discordant metallic sounds, and from time to time goes completely silent for uncomfortably long periods. Which is both imperfect and perfect.