objects of memory
objects of memory, line imprint
from the label press release:
beneath the fabricating and universal writing of technology, opaque and stubborn places remain . . . hidden in customs, rites, and spatial practices . . . only fragments in language . . . like the deteriorating pages of a book
– Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
These works occupy a position between an expanded notion of composition and a gallery-based art practice. The content of the works presented on this disc produce a slow series of gestures that give the illusion of stillness amidst a texture of continually developing material. The central concern in all of these pieces (the three fully scored works, the installation documentation, and the live-performance) is the construction of a sound world that is able to be environmental rather than temporal, proceeding slowly enough that it might be explored without the anxiety that it will move away too quickly. Like much of my output, I am interested in providing the listener with material that allows for an active agency of perception and that affords the ability to move through the sound autonomously. Whether the work is gallery-based, conceptual, or created for a concert hall, I am interested in viewing simple, everyday actions at extreme magnification, acknowledging failure by amplifying impossible tasks, and exploring the role of memory in forms that respect the contract between the composer, performer, and listener.
1. objects in stillness
for bassoon, viola, guitar, percussion, and four sine tones (2006). 07:26
2. a radiance scored with shadow
for amplified paper, bowed vibraphone, bass drum, and compressed air (2007). 08:19
3. a murmur which redoubles
for three guitars, electric bass, and four sine tones (2006). 07:18
4. doleros (audio tourism at ringing rocks)
reclaimed building materials, steel, baler twine, speaker cones, light, and 12.1-channel audio (2008). 19:35
5. untitled (objects of memory)
cassette dictaphones, circuit-modified portable cassette player, controlled feedback, and computer-generated and vocally-produced sine tones (2009). 26:03
1-3: recorded by Alex Kass at Taplin Auditorium, Fine Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. 1: Clogs: Bryce Dessner, Rachael Elliot, Thomas Kozumplik, and Padma Newsome. 2: So Percussion: Douglas Perkins, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Lawson White. 3: Catch Guitar Quartet: Wiek Hijmans, Seth Josel, Patricio Wang, and Mark Haanstra. 4: audio documentation of installation at Diapason Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. 5: live performance at NYC Sound Festival, Centre d’Arts Plastiques Contemporains/Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France.
While the five distinct works that comprise this album have different constructs and varying sound sources, the still, subtle sounds and attention to detail is a constant throughout, weaving together into one consistent document.
The first three pieces are more traditional, compositionally speaking, being fully scored and performed by other artists. “Objects in Stillness” is a perfect title for the frozen, but not static sounds that are created via bassoon, viola, guitar and percussion, along with four sine tones. The high pitched sine tones carry most of the work, not quite shrill enough to be grating but definitely on the higher end of the spectrum. Slow, long passages of bassoon drone can be heard, counterbalanced by the infrequent, single chiming guitar note.
“A Radiance Scored with Shadow” draws from a drastically different suite of instruments: amplified paper, bass drum, compressed air, and bowed vibraphone. Even with this far less conventional set of instruments, Cluett creates a similar world of sparse, quiet ringing and subtle studies of sound. The paper sounds give a rougher, more chaotic feel, but only in comparison to the other pieces. In any other context, there is still an intense level fo restraint throughout: even as the piece reaches a near-climax of sound and dynamics towards the end, it is quickly reeled back in.
Of the two longer pieces, “Doleros (Audio Tourism at Ringing Rocks)” is perhaps the most distinct. Documenting an installation at a Brooklyn art gallery, Cluett uses construction materials in a very different context. Rather than just the spacious, arid passages of sound from before, here there is a layer of clinking little bits of sound, panned around the entire piece, creating an almost rhythmic underpinning. Below that, a humming drone expands, changing ever so slowly.
The final work, “Untitled (Objects of Memory),” is a long live performance. Utilizing different forms of existing sounds, from feedback to tape players and computers, Cluett is working more towards the chaotic end of the spectrum. While it has the same dreamy, slow motion vibe of the other works, there is a notable sense of urgency with a more forceful approach. While it is mostly a meditative work of tones, there exists the presence of instability via warbling sounds and rattling textures, giving a more dramatic flair to the performance.
Objects of Memory is one of those contradictory works that sounds icy and still on the surface, but upon closer inspection is a much more diverse and varied set of works. Even through all of the different compositional modalities that Cluett employs, his attention to detail and structure is never forgotten, and the result is a challenging, but definitely rewarding piece of sound art.
**Serene ambient/drone tapestry from acclaimed New York sound artist** The field he operates in is a crowded one, but New York artist Seth Cluett’s latest is executed with enough skill and feeling to stand out from the pack. On ‘Objects In Stillness’ snatches of bassoon, viola and guitar whisper and whine across a Spartan backdrop of sine tones, conjuring rural landscapes caught between seasons. ‘A Murmur Which Redoubles’ stretches out further into minimalist abstraction, summoning the work of Cluett’s label-mate Richard Charthier, while ‘Doleros (Audio Tourism At Ringing Rocks) combines frost-bitten drones with field recorded percussion – it’s like eavesdropping on an ice age tribe fashioning weapons from wood and stone; industrial ambient for weather-beaten neanderthal man. ‘Untitled (Objects Of Memory)’ rounds out the package with a painstaking, time-stopping accumulation of tones that’s striking in its delicacy and discipline. No fireworks here, just beautifully tremulous and thoughtful explorations of electro-acoustic sound. Fans of Oren Ambarchi’s Touch albums and Fennesz at his most plaintive would do well to check this out.
Seth Cluett’s work, whether photography, video, installation or composed music attempts to respond to the everyday, real-time fabric of life. He sites tiny events —often from unorthodox sound sources—within wide-open atmospheres; they hang there, uninflected, unconcerned whether the listener engages, ignores or even fails to notice. Cluett writes for other ensembles as well, and the CD opens with a piece of tremulous magic from Clogs; “Objects in Stillness” falls between a hushed, skeletal version of John Adams’ Shaker Loops and a Tibetan ritual. “Doleros” is a more extended illustration of Cluett’s methodology, and installation piece constructed from “reclaimed building materials, steel, baler twine, speaker cones, and light.”
(The Wire, UK)
Much of Seth Cluett’s Objects of Memory seems intentionally distanced, obscured and opaque, cloaked in aural cotton wool. ‘Objects in Stillness’ for example explores a fixed set of tonal patterns, akin to the more refined studies of Alvin Lucier, but the pure sine tones begin to fade, washed out by competitively pitched gestures from bassoon, viola and guitar. These sustained lines are punctuated by sparse, routine pulses on percussion, lending the drones a hint of portentousness, but the hazy ghostliness of it all ensures it remains warm and approachable.
‘A Murmur Which Redoubles’ for three guitars, electric bass and four sine tones is similarly elusive, the guitars threading snakelike through the sines, creating flickering traces like Akira Rabelais’s Benediction, Draw, and favouring suspended Satie-esque anti-resolutions. ‘A Radiance Scored with Shadow’ is more oblique, barely audible rustlings and gasps produced by amplified paper and compressed air.
The final two pieces take up the majority of the disc at 20 and 26 minutes a piece, and adhere more closely to traditional electro-acoustic drone structure. ‘Doleros’ features the clink and click of bricks, twine, speaker cones and ‘light’, tapping along to an industrial tinged hum. ‘Untitled (Objects of Memory)’ creates a similar extended workout from cassette dictaphones and players, feedback and ‘computer-generated and vocally-produced’ sine tones, although the hum is richer and warmer, contracting and expanding like the sea. These pieces are engaging but the earlier three, combining the malleability of Rabelais with the patience and restraint of Feldman, are extraordinary.
A prototypical Line artist, Seth Cluett, whose work has been shown and performed in museums and galleries in places such as Paris, New York, and Boston, uses minimal yet sometimes obscure materials (one of the CD’s pieces uses building materials, steel, baler twine, and speaker cones as sound sources) to produce intensely micro-detailed settings that manage to be both tranquil and unnerving at the same time. Though the pieces develop gradually, suggesting stillness on the one hand, they’re never static but are constantly developing in subtle ways that might be missed by an inattentive listener. There’s an attunement between the pace at which the material mutates and the listener’s attentiveness that feels natural, or perhaps it’s that it begins to feel that way as the listener adjusts him/herself to the sound design as it unfolds.
For the sixty-eight-minute recording, three relatively short concert hall performances by Clogs, So Percussion, and Catch Guitar Quartet recorded at Princeton University are followed by two long-form pieces, the first an installation piece and the last a live performance. Don’t let the presence of groups on the opening pieces mislead you: they’re not robust improvs but introspective, fully scored explorations that find the participants collectively operating with restraint at a microsound level where every note signifies. “Objects in Stillness” couples four sine tones and materials generated from bassoon, viola, guitar, and percussion in a seven-minute setting whose intense, drone-like surges keep the piece in an ongoing state of tension. The allusive and ethereal sound mass produced in “A Radiance Scored With Shadow” originates from conventional and less conventional instruments, the former bowed vibraphone and bass drum and the latter amplified paper and compressed air. Given such materials, the result is about as mysterious and evocative as one would expect, with the bowed vibraphone and bass drum asserting themselves as atmospheric presences while the other elements enhance the textural character of the soundscape. “A Murmur Which Redoubles” may be scored for a mini-guitar army but the three six-strings and electric bass thread themselves in fragmented and oblique manner in alongside the piece’s four sine tones.
An audio documentation taken from an installation at Brooklyn’s Diapason Gallery, “Doleros (Audio Tourism at Ringing Rocks)” uses the aforementioned building materials, steel, baler twine, and speaker cones (along with light and 12.1-channel audio) to generate a twenty-minute, electro-acoustic dronescape of textural interplay. Everything unspools in relaxed manner until the escalation of a background pitch at the sixteen-minute mark not only injects an element of unease into the proceedings but also brings about some degree of hyperactivity in the clink and clatter constellating around it. The most sedate of the CD’s five settings, “Untitled (Objects of Memory)” uses cassette dictaphones, circuit-modified portable cassette player, controlled feedback, and computer-generated and vocally-produced sine tones to create twenty-six minutes of ebb and flow whose overall calm is as immersive as a warm bath. In toto, Objects of Memory will be manna from heaven, so to speak, for Line devotees, even if the two longer pieces are more geared towards hard-core aficionados of the microsound genre. The concision of the opening trio of pieces, on the other hand, enables them to form an easier and more accessible entry-point into Cluett’s world.
The sense of cohesion throughout this release is strong. Despite being comprised of three studio pieces, an installation documentation and a live performance (and utilizing a fresh set of sound sources in the construction of each), all of these works arrive at the same atmospheric landscape: an anxious mix of creeping activity, gently nudging tranquility and stillness ever so slightly out of joint.
The first three pieces are the shortest and arguably the most immediate. “A Radience Scored With Shadow” is a particularly provocative work – the sound of people stripping gigantic strips of wallpaper in a cavernous warehouse, punctuated by intermittent, bellowing bass drum thuds, and disrupted by an abrupt hiss of compressed air that rips cruelly through the gentle unfolding of sound. It’s the overall sense of emptiness that brings significance to the slightest of gestures, placing every timbral detail under the intense light of focus.
But the 20-minute installation documentation of “Doleros (Audio Tourism At Ringing Rocks)” is perhaps the most unsettled of these pieces – a tangle of low drones contorts slowly, as though awkwardly tilting the soundscape on its axis, with the hollow clang of scaffolding poles rattling precariously against eachother. It’s a giddying experience, settling the listener off balance like a crippling bout of vertigo.
“Untitled” completes the album with layers of overlapping feedback, eternally shifting in shape over the course of its 26 minutes. Objects Of Memory is like the initial unrest that indicates the imminence of something terrible – the slightest rustle of activity that breathes ominous life and caution into a stagnant silence. A beautifully made record.
(ATTN: Magazine, UK)
Cluett’s voice – still, deceptively small, decidedly not calm – makes much of Objects of Memoryveiled and obfuscated, oddly at once soothing and unsettling. The listener disappears in a Bermuda Triangle – of classical minimalism a la Lucier and Niblock, of contemporary laptopiary and installation sound-art.
A focus on perception, concern with “the boundary between the auditory and other senses,” engagement with sound’s role in the creation of a sense of place and the experience of time. Classic Line liner notes, this time trailing new boy Seth Cluett, who’s “interested in viewing simple, everyday actions at extreme magnification, acknowledging failure by amplifying impossible tasks, and exploring the role of memory in forms that respect the contract between the composer, performer, and listener.” As you see, the latest addition to the Line catalogue is of archetypal Lineage: minimal (tick), introspective (tick), a certain austere remote beauty (sometimes); in this respect, it resembles previous release in the catalogue, Stephan Mathieu’s Remain, difference here being that, for all its superficial quietude, Objects of Memory is ultimately unquiet of aspect – not so much cosy as edgy.
Cluett’s voice – still, deceptively small, decidedly not calm – makes much of Objects of Memoryveiled and obfuscated, oddly at once soothing and unsettling. The listener disappears in a Bermuda Triangle – of classical minimalism a la Lucier and Niblock, of contemporary laptopiary and installation sound-art. “Objects in Stillness” is an opener of hazy spectrality offset by assertive drone-like surge that starts out with a bleak backdrop of unadorned sinetone sustains before ceding to a waft and screech of bassoon/viola/guitar punctuated by percussive flurries. Cluett’s line is a thin red one between near nothingness and oblique portent, as “A Radiance Scored With Shadow” confirms, setting up similar tensions – between aether and earth, denying binaries, tonal-atonal, consonant-dissonant. A paucity of timbres in liminal tintinnabulation: bowed vibraphone and bass drum, amplified paper and compressed air (a conceptual kazoo?); a sonic membrane, as it were, progressively rent – paper strip crepitus, bassdrum thrum and hissing efflatus. Restraint is the word. And tension. For even as sonorities seem to strain towards quasi-crescendo, they’re held back, suspended. “A Murmur Which Redoubles” extends further into the pale and interesting end of minimalism, three guitars and a bass, fragmented, serpentine, in parallel to the electronic plainsong of sinetone. The final pair here are as wilfully elongated as they are even more (conventionally) musically depleted: Cluett shuns musical instruments in favour of reclaimed building materials, steel, baler twine, and speaker cones, light and 12.1-channel audio on “Doleros (Audio Tourism at Ringing Rocks).” Taken from an installation at Brooklyn’s Diapason Gallery, vaguely recalling lowercase luminary, Steve Roden, it’s perhaps the most obscure object of the lot. It unravels in edgy tranquillity, till the slow incursion of a pitched presence three-quarters through ratchets up the suspense while scuffing up a dust of surrounding sub-soundsqualls; discreet percussive elements snagged in a writhing tangle of nocturnal drone-hum collude with a rattling rapture of metals.
“Untitled (Objects Of Memory)” is the end-piece, compounding the growing unheimlich feeling with a near-half-hour live piece of hypnagogue shapeshifting feedback strata that oscillates not so much wildly as it swells and relents tidally. Cluett’s a slippery customer, but he clearly knows what he’s doing with this slow-mo accrual of unalluring dictaphone, sinetone, et al. It highlights again the depth and difference in drone demeanor represented throughout the Line catalogue.
Im dicht besiedelten Feld der Ambient/Drone-Releases hat es der New Yorker Soundartist und Komponist Seth Cluett ein wenig schwer mit seinen langgestreckten minimalistischen Klanggebilden auf unbedingtes Gehör zu stoßen. Seine sanft mit klassischen Instrumenten und Field Recordings unterfütterten fünf Kompositionen, die auf Objects Of Memory dezent einander ablösen, sind klare und würdige Enkel von Brian Enos Ambient-Blueprint Apollo. Die von ihnen ausgehende zuversichtliche Ruhe basiert auf einem wohlausgeklügeltem Spiel mit Zeit und deren Wahrnehmung, alle säuberlich über seine elektronischen Flächen eingefügten Elemente markieren minimale Richtungswechsel in der ansonsten unbeirrt und bedächtig dahinfließenden Gesamtbewegung des Albums. Wer bei Virgin eine Reise mit deren zukünftigem Unterseeboot in die tiefsten Tiefen der Ozeane gebucht haben sollte, muss diesen Release unbedingt mit auf dem Kopfhörer haben.
… Objects of Memory is quite possibly one of the quietest albums you could choose to listen to, and yet contains enough activity to make its presence felt. It often reminds of Alvin Lucier’s experiments but lacks his purity and is more suggestive of movements in the natural environment than stillness. While one can’t help feel that what is presented here is more likely to be appreciated by academic peers than casual listeners, the combinations of sounds display such immersive and delicate qualities that they have a charm of their own separate from their weighty concepts.
Five pieces with widely varying instrumentation but fitting into a common aesthetic, quiet, pensive, with, at their best, a nice subtle tension. “objects in stillness”, for bassoon, viola, guitar, percussion and four sine tones, exemplifies this approach well, a sandy, drone-like piece that never rests easy, but diffuses slightly along its path. It also illustrates what I find lacking about some of the pieces, a kind of papery thinness that I might normally enjoy but here, often, find a tad insubstantial. The second work, for amplified paper, bowed vibraphone, bass drum and compressed air gets past this and works very well; the occasional grounding by the soft, thick sound of the drum no doubt helps but the textures as well integrate in a manner I hear as more delicious and sexy, if you will, than on the prior piece. The next work, for three guitars, electric bass and four sine tines, drifts back toward the territory marked out but the first, though smoother given the sources. Again, while pleasant, I felt the need for more grain, more toughness, however disguised.
Gears shift a bit for “doleros”, a documentation of an installation at the Diapason Gallery in Brooklyn, delicate (and lovely) clinks playing off against a flux of gentle drones, the latter varying in texture, quietly surging forth and ebbing. Ambient voices and harsher clangs make a welcome appearance just as the near-twenty minute piece concludes; might have preferred such action earlier but the work hangs together well enough as is. The final and longest track, at 26 minutes, is a live performance involving cassettes and sine tones. It’s the most purely drone-based work here, the pulsing (and attractive enough) sines offset just a bit by some rumbling beneath. It’s a work one would much rather experience live where personal movement would effect the sounds perceived. On disc, there’s once again a lack of depth, some gap I need filled.
There’s much good music here but I can’t shake the feeling that everything could be tightened, dirtied up a bit or otherwise somehow enhanced. I’d be curious to hear more from Cluett down the line.
(just outside, US)
Seth Cluett’s pieces here are incredibly subtle. He combines traditional instruments with appropriated objects and mis-used materials to generate very minimal layers of sound. Instead of sounding like deliberate arrangements, these often result in sounding like overtones and incidental sounds. The first three extended tracks are a clever albeit understated combination of traditional arrangements with found sounds or otherwise concrete or field recordings. “Objects In Stillness” is a piece for bassoon, viola, guitar, percussion, and four sine tones that slowly evolves; I find it to consistently teem with tension, especially as it builds in volume. “A Radiance Scored With Shadow” is even more sublime, recorded with bass drum, bowed vibraphone, amplified paper and compressed air. Of all the pieces here, it’s perhaps my favorite, in just how subdued it is; its shifts in sound are almost imperceptible, nailing what Cluett is going for conceptually — that inability to necessarily perceive change while the parts are actually in constant motion. ”A Murmur Which Redoubles,” on the other hand, is less subtle, though still sparse, arranged for 4 sine tones, three guitars, and electric bass. But all three initial tracks share that same exploration of space and sound, both “traditional” (coming from musical instruments) and unconventional (field recordings, textures, objects). The last two are less organic in arrangement, but no less so in form, continuing the theme of slowly evolving sound that feels at once constant and changing, none more so than the untitled title track (yes, you read that right). It fades in and out of audibility with hums, tones and drones over the span of 26 minutes, mostly from sine tones, feedback and cassette players. Turn it up and soak in it — and then wonder if that ringing in your ear is part of the recording or not… it just might not be.
De tous les disques présentés ici, Objects Of Memory est probablement le plus difficile à appréhender pour les oreilles profanes (et ce terme n’est en rien péjoratif). C’est que le drone analogique pratiqué par Seth Cluett est extrêmement rigoureux et monolithique. Du vrai drone de puriste qui rappelle les travaux d’Éliane Radigue et de Phil Niblock : un monument sonore imposant qui se déplace à une vitesse réduite sur des pièces allant de dix à trente minutes, au gré des ondes qui se succèdent. Une œuvre que beaucoup qualifierait d’austère, disons simplement qu’Objects Of Memory est un objet pour les solitaires qui aiment se perdre dans les méandres du son minimaliste. Une fois dedans, le calme de sa mutation a de quoi hypnotiser un cheval de rodéo. Pas d’explosions ni de feux d’artifices ici, Seth Cluett est comme un architecte du changement, qui travaille le son avec langueur et patience. La métamorphose vaut le détour.
(Off The Radar)