forms of forgetting


from the label press release:

Forms of Forgetting is a studio construction investigating memory/forgetting and attention/inattention as catalysts for formal development in long-duration sound work. An extension of Seth Cluett’s gallery-based practice and created out of a sequence of materials developed for performance, the piece is the culmination of two years of in-situ live experimentation. Part site-specific performance, part modular, mobile form, this work employs techniques that aim to explore the fallibility of sound memory as a component of saturated, immersive listening over substantial elapsed time.

“It is then no longer oblivion that materiality begets, forgetting by the effacement of traces, but forgetting in terms of a reserve or a resource. Forgetting then designates the unperceived character of the perseverance of memories, their removal from the vigilance of consciousness.”

— Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting

in memory of Lee Hyla (1952-2014)

thanks: Susanna Bolle, Michael Bullock, Kyle Bruckmann, Richard Garet, Jennifer Eberhardt, Lawrence Kumpf, Paul Lansky, Justin Luke, Phill Niblock


Forms of Forgetting is dominated by long low-key drones – actually ‘tones’ is a better choice of word. These cut straight lines through the piece but also oscillate and modulate creating beating tones and discordancies. The track begins by introducing some of these lines but accompanies them with an odd distant ‘noise’ – there are several occasions where Cluett deploys ‘non-drone’ elements and they stick out conspicuously as events in the overall scheme. Indeed the next ‘event’ occurs pretty soon after around seven minutes; when a strange sound akin to sped up breathing appears – it actually reminds the ear of a cat purring. Before during and after this the tones predominate; often sounding like feedback tones they resonate and shift in accordance with the listener’s placing to the speakers. More often than not the tones themselves are literally ‘straight lines’ but interact with each other to produce pulses throbs and beats as well as strange cold melodies; however some of them do appear to be more actively shifting “This might also account for some of the odd reverberations to be found.” <though this may well be a simple aural hallucination. At extremes> this creates looping wheezing synth lines; faltering and dying – though still overwhelmingly ‘clean’ in sound. The piece is essentially a resonant dynamic drone; constructed from a directed tangle of strong tones. This is a great piece entrancing and visceral – its very hard to listen to ‘casually’. Whilst presenting a ‘stasis’ of sorts it’s actually built around many smaller elements across it’s duration. In the simplest terms it begins and ends quietly with a concentrated loud swelling after the twenty minute mark – but at no point does it feel like a formal or process piece. To follow on from this I will be honest and say that frankly my brain couldn’t relate the text spiels on forgetting and memory to the track. Its possible that there are repeated or corrupted movements and passages but given the very abstracted and basic materials of the piece its hard to tell. Beyond anything else I also find these kinds of works somewhat brain-halting – almost brainwashing: the mind gets so trapped in the present moment that it can’t process anything else. Regardless this is another superb release from a label that rarely seems to put a foot wrong: very recommended. 5/5

Cluett writes that “Forms of Forgetting is a studio construction investigating memory/forgetting and attention/inattention as catalysts for formal development in long-duration sound work”. While I’m not at all sure as to how well or poorly my memory functioned over the course of the 55 minutes or so the work lasts, my attention was thoroughly held throughout by the subtly stunning music. All electronic, more of what I would call a strong, complex hum than a drone, the work slowly shifts and wavers, reaching small knolls of activity, subsiding. It begins with a fairly warm hum, probably four or five plies thick although the above cited inattention could cause one to miss this, accompanied by a gentle fluttering sound that lasts several minutes and is never heard from again. Some of the tones pulse noticeably, others seem more constant. Other textures are gradually extruded, including some of a grainier, more metallic nature, though all are folded into the stream smoothly enough. About halfway through, the sound field both deepens and rarifies–the effect is quite dramatic in context, as though a gulf has opened beneath you before you’ve realized it, an exceptionally beautiful several minutes. It takes a wonderfully long time to settle down, still picking up new elements as it does so (including soft beeps and slightly sour warpings of tuning), just hovering, the pulses growing fainter and fainter.

A very lovely, deep work even if my memory’s playing tricks on me.

Forgetting may be seen less as oblivion or effacement, more as a reserve or resource that ‘designates the unperceived character of the perseverance of memories, their removal from the vigilance of consciousness.’(Memory, History, Forgetting). So says hermeneutic phenomenologist, Paul Ricœur, and it’s a view shared by US sound artist, Seth Cluett, revisiting his pet theme of memory/forgetting. Cluett’s research ‘explores everyday actions at extreme magnification, celebrates minutiae by amplifying impossible tasks, and explores the working of memory in forms that rethink the role of the senses in an increasingly technologized society.’ Latest Line of inquiry, Forms of Forgetting, follows Objects of Memory (2011), deploying techniques that seek to explore ‘the fallibility of sound memory as a component of saturated, immersive listening over substantial elapsed time.’Sonically mediated, these themes range from the hypnotic to the liminal in a glacial work of extended electro-acoustic studio construction intended for deep listening.

What we have here is a near hour-long piece at once calming and intense realized through use of elements ranging from static tones to microsonic points and sharp frequency lines intertwined in a delicate model of spatiality and duration. Starting out in tonal sustain with barely perceptible changes, it’s reined in, then accrues chthonic vibrations and high-end warble, taking on a certain density that seems to absorb surrounding sound space, erasing memory of the preceding. It evolves between subtly added, subtracted, present and recedent frequencies. Dense tones form into a metallic chiming universe, then purer and heavier low-end traces build to a faintly abrasive climax before retreat to an ELEH-esque modular sound, ending in a slow quiet fade. Pressure is placed on a particular frequency band, whose centre doesn’t hold, but shifts gently across the sound stage. Revisiting the conceptual theme, the act of forgetting somehow situates the present in its own bubble, past reference points cyclically deteriorating and regenerating on the perimeters of late memory. Some parts are hefty, and not easily forgotten, while others fall into a liminal world prey to any passing ambient sound. And, much like memory and experience in the Real World™, Cluett’s forms embrace both trivial and thrilling, reaching a vanishing point between laptop-iary, installation sound-art, and classical minimalism (cf. Lucier, Niblock).

It would be otiose to say the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts, as these parts are afforded significance only by reference to other parts, their materiality registering only from absence—or lapse—from previous ontology. The act of forgetting may be seen as not so much defective as creative—a subconscious mixing desk across time rather than audio space, edging out those elements whose familiarity affords exit from consciousness. It should noted in closing that Forms of Forgetting is dedicated to the memory of late American composer and professor, Lee Hyla.

A slowly progressing, hour-long drone concerned with memory and attention. It fades in very slowly, with sharp, vibrating sine waves getting bigger and louder and slowly drifting from one frequency to another. I listened to this while falling asleep, and it ended up creating a sort of hallucinatory neon light show in my mind, as the sounds here bend in strange ways and take on different shapes and dimensions. There’s never too much going on at any given time, but what is happening is more than enough to focus your attention on, or trick your mind into seeing strange things when you’re being inattentive.

Working with the themes of memory and forgetting, as well as the role of attention in listening, Cluett’s latest work is highly conceptual. Forms of Forgetting is a lengthy droning work where Cluett toys with these themes from a sonic perspective, sometimes hypnotic and sometimes drifting off into silence. Passages are quiet and hushed enough to be ignored, just to come back with an undeniable force and intensity that cannot be forgotten.

Consisting of a single, nearly 56-minute piece, Forms of Forgetting is constructed from two years of live experimentation, art installations, and mobile compositions that blend together into a calming, yet simultaneously heavy work. The beginning is not forceful, but stays sustained in tone with only the most minor changes, scaling back after about the first 10 minutes. From there it builds to a subsonic vibration and higher pitched warbling, almost like a bell ringing, and the tones reach a leaden density.

At this point, Cluett’s composition becomes a monolith, consuming and absorbing all sound around it. The sheer sustained tone does a superb job of erasing memory of the subtleties that preceded it. The dense tones have a layered, metallic quality to them that just adds to their intensity, like an entire universe of vibrating bells. As the music seems to reach its critical mass of force, Cluett dials things back somewhat.

From here the piece becomes more bleak and introspective. Like depressing memories from the past, the tones drone less, and the space around them becomes more open and hollow. Cleaner tones and heavier low end moments characterize the final portion, building to a vaguely abrasive crescendo before retreating to a more stereotypical early electronic music modular type sound. The ending moments conclude the work with a long, quiet fade out.

As surely his intent, moments of Forms of Forgetting are heavy, forceful, and anything but easily ignored or forgotten. Other segments, however, Cluett delves more into a hypnotizing, understated world of sound that trails off into the background, at times being easily drowned out by any ambient sound that might be around. The whole piece works best due to the sum of these parts, the mundane and the gripping, much like memory and experience in the real world, powerfully succeeding with the concept Cluett intended.

Would Forms Of Forgetting sound the same if I could, at any time, vividly recall its opening moments? Perhaps the act of forgetting is not an inadequacy of cognition, but a perceptual device; a subconscious mixing desk across time rather than audio space, nudging out those elements whose familiarity can afford them to depart my consciousness. As I write, I am 19:42 into this piece and I feel airborne. I am not beholden to the past for a point of reference – I feel as though Cluett uses the act of forgetting to situate the present in its own independent bubble. I sit amidst a momentary congealment of frequencies that hover and tilt toward and away, meeting eachother for the first time as if merely passing by, oblivious to mutual agenda.

At points, it feels like a precarious sculpture that shouldn’t be standing – a tonal yoga that puts temporary pressure upon a particular clump of frequency, before rolling the centre of gravity, ever so gently, to the other side of the space. Meanwhile, the past snakes out into a mist behind me. Where was I heading to end up here? Previous reference points cyclically deteriorate and regenerate upon the perimeter of recent memory, as an arrangement of low/mid frequency feedback pillows begin to levitate and move toward the ceiling, winched up until they hang like the hum of a computer server room, safe and stable for how they linger. Time moves slowly. But then again, the moment I forget the piece’s original point of origin, duration becomes a mutative becoming rather than a block that is built upon. Allegedly I’ve been listening for 42:08 by this point, but what does this actually signify if I can’t tell you what 00:00 sounded like?

American artist, composer, essayist, Seth Cluett returns to Line with a patiently glacial follow-up to his acclaimed ‘Objects Of Memory’ (2011) work. Again, ‘Forms of Forgetting’ focusses on one of the central themes of his oeuvre, the fidelity and nature of memory, manifest over an extended electro-acoustic studio construction intended for immersed, concentrated listening with the potential to warp our perception of time and space. RIYL Eleh, Phill Niblock, Kyle Bruckmann.

A feeble undertone where a pure hypnotical frequency and a flickering noise which is similar to the sound that paper produces when it got flapped by the blades of a working blower fan opens this long psychoacoustic and psychoactive suite by American photographer, essayist, professor of sound art, musician and performer Seth Cluett, who joined the three parts of his sound installation Forms Of Forgetting together in this one-track release. The interfering element of the above-mentioned paper gradually blend in the seemingly monotonal drone that got dilated till the moment when it seems to flicker by its own while resounding filaments peel the main frequency off by reaching the saturation peak after half an hour and getting gradually dried out till the final return of a popure frequency. Besides the interesting listening experience that can be amplified by a pair of good headphones, this release that Seth tributed to American composer and professor Lee Hyla, who recently passed away, comes after two years of live experimentation related to cognitive investigations about memory/forgetting and attention/inattention, which resulted in the employment of “techniques that aim to explore the fallibility of sound memory as a component of saturated, immersive listening over substantial elapsed time”, according to the words of Paul Ricoeur, where forgetting should not be considered as oblivion, but as a process that “designates the unperceived character of the perseverance of memories, their removal from the vigilance of consciousness”. That’s not just a sonic piece for eraserheads!

A path with no signals; a gate without sentinel; a faded memory. Time invites the listener to betray reference and invalidate the possibility of departure or arrival. As we hear, we forget, as the composition runs, it becomes the echo of an infrathin substance, unable to be faithful to the cognitive. Seth Cluett pays tribute to such a meeting through the use of elements ranging from static tones to microsonic points and sharp frequency lines intertwined in a delicate model of spatiality and duration. An exercise of impermanence and repetition, an inquiry into certainty directly from the unsteadiness of memory, evident in the way of evolving the piece between subtly added, subtracted, present and dissolved frequencies; thus creating a mesmerizing sonic tissue that seeks to evaporate both the object and the (embodied) subject. The imprint is unavoidable and gets reflected as an arrangement of silent silhouettes in which sound only remains vanished.

Seth Cluett es un artista norteamericano nacido en 1976 en Troy, Nueva York quien “explora las acciones cotidianas en una magnificación extrema, celebra los detalles más pequeños a través de la amplificación de trabajos imposibles y explora el trabajo de la memoria en formas que reconsideran el rol de los sentidos en una cada vez más tecnológica sociedad”. Abarcando desde la fotografía, dibujo, video, instalaciones y conciertos y ensayos, Cluett se aproxima al sonido desde una perspectiva global que, a su vez, nace a partir de lo trivial, intentando reflejar lo exterior en piezas de ruido minimalista. Dichas obras han sido publicadas por diferentes sellos, como el caso de Radical Matters, Sedimental, Winds Measure, BOXmedia, Notice y Stasisfield. Este es la segunda publicación para el label de Richard Chartier. “Objects Of Memory” (LINE, 2011) fue el primer acercamiento entre ambos artistas, ahora ampliado a un nuevo CD. La memoria y sus objetos permanecen como un tema que acá se desarrolla en una pieza extensa donde la inmovilidad oculta los rastros que afloran a través de manchas de sonido. “Forms Of Forgetting” es un trabajo que consiste en una sola composición de casi una hora donde se aprecian mínimas l variaciones dentro de la quietud, al interior de ella. “‘Forms Of Forgetting’ es una construcción en estudio investigando la memoria/olvido y atención/falta de atención como un catalizador para desarrollos formales en un trabajo sonoro de larga duración. Una extensión del ensayo de Seth Cluett localizado en una galería y creado a partir de una secuencia de materiales desarrollados para una presentación, esta pieza es la culminación de dos años de experimentación en vivo in situ. Parte presentación para un sitio especifico, parte modular, forma móvil, este trabajo emplea técnicas que intentan explorar la falibilidad de la memoria del sonido como un componente de escucha inmersiva y saturada sobre un significativo tiempo transcurrido”. Esta obra que se traslada desde la galería de arte hacia un espacio artístico comprimido se desarrolla en espacios amplios donde de manera paulatina se genera el ruido. Aunque, sin embargo, pareciese que ya su materia gris se estuviera reproduciendo desde antes de pulsar play. Desde un momento anterior, indeterminado, esta música sigilosa se encuentra en el aire, suspendida como un bloque de estruendo que se desplaza por las corrientes invisibles. “Forms Of Forgetting” nace desde ese punto positivo y a partir de ahí se arrastra su sonoridad y las formas ásperas. Esta pieza tiene una materialidad táctil, que se puede apreciar y sentir como algo real, una composición física y perceptible más allá de sus frecuencias. Primeramente con un aspecto más oscuro, los recuerdos encuentran haces de luz que iluminan el trayecto que avanza con un ritmo inexistente. Cuando llega a los diez minutos esa mancha sombría se vuelve un destello de energía eléctrica que todavía conserva la inmovilidad. Pronto la luz deriva hacia un tono opaco y más tarde hacia un resplandor tenue. Las variaciones que afectan esta pieza en la primera media hora se tornan cada vez más inexpresivas en la segunda mitad. La relativa intensidad previa son ahora oscilaciones más imperceptibles, y en los espacios silenciosos se aprecian los murmullos que infectan la linealidad sonora. El ruido se vuelve una masa inapreciable y los movimientos hermosas partículas intangibles. La belleza del sonido inalterable hace de este trabajo una fascinante obra de arte minimalista que parece surgir a partir de fragmentos. El rastro de la memoria variable repercute en esta composición, como si fuesen recuerdos que se deterioran con el tiempo. Seth Cluett genera en “Forms Of Forgetting” un creación de acústica fraccionada, la descomposición del ruido en paisajes translúcidos.

Forms of Forgetting de l’artiste américain protéiforme Seth Cluett est, comme son précédent opus sur le label Line, Objects of Memory (2011), est un corps sonore mixte issu de ses performances en galerie et de la création en studio. Il s’appuie ainsi à la fois sur une expérience sonore collective, une rencontre fixée dans le temps et l’espace qu’est la performance, et sur celle plus personnelle, plus discontinue aussi, qu’est l’écoute d’un album. Comme sur Objects of Memory, Forms of Forgetting s’illustre par la théorie, un des domaines d’exercice de Cluett. Si le premier faisait référence à Michel de Certeau et à son ouvrage Invention du quotidien, pour le deuxième il est question d’un passage de La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli du philosophe Paul Ricoeur. La citation renvoie à une certaine définition de l’oubli qui n’est pas “l’effacement des traces“, mais celui de “réserve ou de ressource“. Oublier ce n’est ainsi pas l’opposé de se souvenir : c’est simplement “sa soustraction à la vigilance de la conscience“. Comme il arrive souvent dans la consommation des produits culturels où le concept a une importance prépondérante, la grande teneur philosophique des références de Cluett peut déconcerter ou désorienter devant le minimalisme absolu de sa musique. Or cette dernière n’exige pas un degré avancé d’intelligibilité ni ne se pense comme élitiste. Ce qui ne signifie pas qu’elle demande une attention particulière, une écoute qui s’inscrit dans la durée. Unique séquence d’une cinquantaine de minutes, Forms of Forgetting instaure un dialogue d’une riche subtilité avec son auditeur, d’autant plus que ce dernier est face à une ligne drone atonale, qui ne gagne en intensité que par moment. Or il arrive, puisqu’on est dans la durée, que l’on oublie également le fait même qu’on est dans une situation d’écoute : la fréquence immobile de Forms of Forgetting se retire de la conscience, et laisse la place à d’autres pensées. Mais ceci pour mieux y revenir, puisque son travail silencieux persévère même dans la distraction. L’oreille investit tout cet espace évacué par la composition de Cluett, qui apparaît comme une structure qui s’étire, qui s’annule dans sa constance. On oublie ainsi le point de départ ni conçoit le point d’arrivée : seul existe un présent, quand toute la conscience est vive et aux abois.