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At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9, Richard Chartier was standing by the side of Route 50 in Arlington. He wasn’t stranded; he had walked there from his apartment. He was listeninglistening to the sonic effect of last month’s surprise snowfall. “I went outside…and listened to my own crunchingtrying not to make a lot of noise. It was so beautiful because it was stiflingly quiet. But it was a rich silence, not like being in a quiet room.” No two snowflakes sound alike.
Chartier, a painter, graphic artist, and electronic composer, had just finished his second CD, a hesitant fold, to be released later this month by the Japanese minimalist electronic label meme, whose all-white CD covers, adorned only by tiny text, are as stark as Chartier’s compositions. A few days later, he prepared the recording for CD release at the Airshow mastering studio in Springfield, Va., with Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Charlie Pilzer, who had also worked on Chartier’s first CD, direct. incidental. consequential. Chartier recalls Pilzer’s remarking that his music often resembled the clicks, pops, and out-of-phase sounds that most artists hire him to remove from their recordings. “He thought it was very strange that I was keeping in a lot of things that on contemporary music people want to take out,” says Chartier.
Chartier is part of a growing international contingent of electronic composers weaned on the compu-rock of Kraftwerk or the early synth pop of Depeche Mode and raised on subsequent, often dance-oriented electronica such as technoonly to abandon rhythmic strictures for new synthesizer and computer-based sounds. Such works amount to aural paintings, pieces more at home in an art gallery or on headphones than in the bass bins of the contemporary dance floor. (Chartier’s first CD is labeled “Intended for headphone use,” and he uses headphones exclusively in his studio.)
One of the pieces from his new CD is part of an installation at the WPACorcoran’s projectspace group exhibit “Fuzzy,” with a diptych of mixed-media collages on plywood. arranging between patterns resides at the back of the gallery’s first floor, with the collages just outside a small, unlit room that is bordered on two sides by stark, aged cinderblock walls; the room is an apt place to listen to the piece, made up of rough low tones and tiny, carefully placed industrial-like sounds.
As a child, Chartier says, “I listened to the fridge, fans, the air conditioner, and stuff.” Reviewers of his first CD picked up on this early electric inspiration, describing his music as “the soundtrack to the power outlets the computers are plugged into” and “emissions and discharges from some abandoned power house.”
He’s already at work on a third CD, to be released by Microwave, a subsidiary of Staalplaat, Amsterdam’s purveyors of all things electronic and avant-garde. Though he avoids any representation of the environment in his work”I don’t want anything that refers to something else”he does like to alter his audience’s perception of its surroundings. “I don’t think people are trained to listen very well,” he says. “Why give them an experience that they experience every day? There’s so much sound to hear, and we lose so much.”