"Influenced by Gertrude Stein, Clark Coolidge and Steve Reich, his non-sequitur iteration of words in pungent combinations transforms them away from signifiers toward functional, percussive sound objects.

He is widely known for his live and taped works utilising speech (or sound poetry) elements in rhythmic patterns resembling percussion music. Complex, funny and sonorous, his pieces draw on his rich radio-announcer's baritone speaking voice, a keen ear for rhythm and rhyme, a fondness for the suggestive, poetic absurdities of Gertrude Stein and technological inquisitiveness and experimentation."
(Charles Shere)

Intertwining instrumental sounds, texts, and environmental samples, Charles Amirkhanian creates dreamy and disjointed durations of immersive experience. A synthesis of electronic and acoustic effects, voices and background noise, his compositions strive to capture listeners' bodies and minds in tonal and textural entanglements, reticulated rhythms, and syntactical assemblages. This is not the kind of aural experience to wash the dishes to - it begs us to sit down, sink down, and do nothing but listen.

You can imagine Amirkhanian as the listening world's version of John Rauschenburg. Carrying a recording device wherever he goes, Amirkhanian is a gatherer of sounds, sampling everything from the birds outside his home to Armenian folk songs. He experiments with distance, capturing certain sounds up close and others at a far remove - he layers his compositions with these distances, their multiplication creating an almost bottomless sonorous depth. Mixing the familiar with the unrecognizable, the referential with the abstract, his tangles tease us with moments of memory and recognition twisted beyond their quotidian contexts.

Amirkhanian's career spans an enormous range of diverse projects. Besides directing several music festivals, he created experimental programs for Berkeley's KPFA radio station between 1969 and 1992. In addition, he devoted an album to the life of Samuel Beckett, sampling sounds from the lobby of the writer's apartment, the bus stops at which he regularly waited, and his other habitual haunts. Out of these various points springs a disjointed narrative that attempts to evoke the essence of Beckett. In another artistic tribute, Amirkhanian has composed a spoken-word portrait of American composer Morton Feldman.

In all his projects, Amirkhanian evinces his mastery of making moods. Whether it's the spare, minimal compositions of his early days, or the dense and intricately layered pieces produced more recently, each work defines a mood, an entire affective habitat. Or the work moves the listener through a whole series of habitats and moods, unraveling a continuous line of variation. In either case, this craftsman does with sound what the artful writer does with metaphor: he discloses an elaborate world.

Electric Voices

Thursday 10 April, 8pm
(BBC broadcast 19 April)