Fletcher Pratt, ‘Selected Works (2015 – 2016)’

Posted by on October 9, 2017

selected pratt

Never Anything Records, 4.10.2017

The music and sound design found in horror movies is surely a primary contributor to the unease, tension, and dread found in such films. Horrific visuals alone, while certainly frightening, lack the same sensory impact, which can cause an audience to leap from their seats or cower into them. Canadian-born musician and composer Fletcher Pratt posits that of all the styles and genres that have accompanied horror films, it is abstract sound — music and sound that is dissonant and unfamiliar — that is the most frightening. Perhaps, he speculates, abstract sound charges the primal flight-or-fight response in our brains, causing our autonomic nervous systems to flood our bodies with a cascading series of hormones in preparation for a harmful engagement. This hypothesis sure sounds plausible, and is certainly worth further investigation. In the meantime, Pratt has done some sleuthing himself, presenting two cassettes’ worth of intriguing work composed and produced during his tenure at Mills College as he set out to obtain his Master of Fine Arts degree in electronic music and recording media.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Pratt cut his teeth in that city’s experimental and noise scenes, rubbing elbows with the Dub Ditch Picnic crew and slinging modular synth in the Solar Coffin duo. Relocating to the San Francisco area and attending Mills gave him access to mentors as diverse as Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, Maggi Payne, John Bischoff and Chris Brown and introduced him to fellow travelers like Curt Brown (Black Unicorn, Rubber City Noise). Having obtained his degree, Pratt continues to expand his horizons: his lessons in instrument-building (taught by American gamelan builder and composer Daniel Schmidt) have led to an apprenticeship with Bay Area instrument builder Sung Kim; his friendship with Brown has spawned the Map Collection modular synth duo; and he’s working on the fourth installment of his Dub Sessions project.

The body of work that Pratt accumulated while at Mills made its way onto magnetic tape thanks to the gentlemen behind the Portland-based Never Anything Records establishment. Both the aural and visual aesthetic of the label match nicely with Pratt’s abstract compositions, so the pairing feels organic. The centerpiece of the release, also the lead-off track, is Pratt’s thesis composition, which he titled “A Mind Consumed By Dread.” The five-movement piece was performed by a collection of fellow Mills students with the addition of Pratt’s partner Sharkiface on samples, noise-maker Jake “the Bran (…) Pos” Rodriguez playing cello, and percussionist Tim DeCillis. Each movement is meant to accompany a phase of a horror film, beginning with the opening credits and culminating in the resolution or climax. The first movement features swirling string glissandi in a manner similar to the opening of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, accompanied by swatches of bass and a smattering of percussive sounds. The feeling of dread is enhanced by whispered vocal samples, as the strings, prepared piano and percussion work themselves into a frenzy.

In the second movement, which is meant to evoke the opening scene or setting of the theoretical horror film, Pratt has his ensemble attempt the opening credits sequence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (including the eerie creaking that Hooper obtained by dragging a pitchfork across a table). The third movement is the requisite chase scene, featuring fast-paced woodblock percussion; the other players provide abstract accents, and Pratt himself adds prepared guitar. Field recordings and synth make up the primary source for the fourth movement, providing a desolate backdrop for the killer to bury the bodies of his victims. The uncanny synth drones and disembodied samples make for a frightening experience. The piece closes with the ensemble conjuring a massive field of drone while snarling beasts and rattling chains provide a spooky accent. Pratt’s text-based score leaves room for the performers to stretch out and improvise throughout the 20-minute piece, and this symbiosis shows through in the end result; both noise mavens and fans of modern composition will find something to drool over.

“Bone Scavenger” rounds out the A Side of this collection, but actually pre-dates “A Mind Consumed By Dread.” Developed for a composition seminar led by Roscoe Mitchell, it featured a small group — violin, bass, percussion, guitar — performing an acoustic take on electronic industrial music. It is startlingly full-sounding given the sparse instrumentation, and slides between chaotic interplay and hypnotic droning. “Traversal” is a six-part song cycle that was originally released on its own, but is thankfully included in this collection. A primarily computer-derived patchwork of digital synthesis, modular synth, percussion, voice, field recordings and cello, the piece scurries between outright bedlam and the rarefied atmosphere of outer space.

The compositions comprising the second cassette are relatively short, save for the side-long piece that closes out the collection. Titled “The Well-Tuned Oscillator,” the thirty-minute workout is Pratt’s computer-based version of La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano. Constructed as the final project for Chris Brown’s class in just intonation, it is a performable piece of music, with Pratt mixing in chords and drones live as the piece progresses. Deep listening reveals many complex juxtapositions of strange and unique tones.

The Bay Area has proven to be fertile territory for Pratt, as can be evinced from this stellar collection of music. Perhaps through further collaboration and continued focus, his compositional output will blossom exponentially and we’ll be treated to a Fletcher Pratt-composed horror flick in the not-too-distant future.