Seth Cluett: Objects of Memory

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, electroacoustic 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.

May 2011