Claudia: We've Met Before, When We Were...

Claudia's We've Met Before, When We Were … represents a dramatic departure from past Audiobulb releases. On his debut album, LA-based Justin Varis largely frees himself from conventional time structures and rhythms, opting instead to sculpt eccentric sound settings from found sounds and acoustic instruments. The resultant audio narratives meander dramatically, especially when he gives three of them extended running times, the longest 17 minutes in duration. Varis builds upon musique concrete traditions to create an album of deeply idiosyncratic and explorative sound studies.

The album sometimes approximates a visit to Claudia's workshop with Varis delightedly demonstrating the myriad sounds his noise-making objects and toys produce. In “Holding Hands/Arm In Arm,” he electronically processes piano note repetitions and incorporates scissors sounds, the swishing noises of a toothbrush, a woman's lecturing voice, hammering, and tinkling melodies. “Me & My Tornado (Part B)” could even be the audio record of a technician's audition with the candidate showcasing his entire catalogue of sounds: percussive pops, poured liquids, squeals, horns, whirrs, et al.

Such playfulness is interesting but only for so long and Varis wisely shifts the focus during the album's later pieces. He radically stretches and warps piano playing throughout “Things Getting Better Here, Miss You Dearly” in a way that recalls Institutional Collaborative, Terre Thaemlitz's collaboration with Jane Dowe. To his credit, Varis never bludgeons the listener with noise but rather quietly and patiently shapes his narratives, confident that the listener will be engrossed enough by the material to stay focused. Varis generally succeeds though the journey can be wearying when the ever-changing scenery demands one's constant attention for a full 74 minutes. Still, just when one expects fatigue to set in, specifically with the arrival of the penultimate 15-minute epic “Just Ask Me,” Varis entrances the listener with the album's most becalmed setting, a lovely paradisiacal evocation where time feels wholly suspended.

September 2006