Lance Austin Olsen: Road To Esperance

Road to Esperance is a special release beyond the simple fact that it's only available in a limited run of one hundred copies. The single-track, forty-eight-minute recording is also the first solo release from Infrequency Editions co-founder and sound artist Lance Austin Olsen; plus, in addition to a CD-R, the hand-crafted booklet-styled package includes original ink drawings on vellum and a b&w photograph from Olsen's family history. The visual presentation thus extends the sound material into a whole new dimension that as the label itself rightly proclaims goes missing “in the homogenization of the album format through digital distribution.” The hand-stitched binding of the vellum sheets into the cover and the ink-generated text and drawings personalize the project and enhance its intimate character. That the project combines sounds and visuals doesn't surprise, given that Olsen formally trained as a painter and worked as such for many decades before pursuing his interest in sound art in 2000 and subsequently co-founding Infrequency.

A shape-shifting travelogue of field recordings and other mutated sounds, the CD begins with what resembles a multi-layered assemblage of metal factory-generated clatter gradually being swept away by a dust storm that leaves in its wake the broken remains of music boxes and gamelan instruments. Road to Esperance isn't a soul-soothing ambient project, in other words, something that's especially clear when said clattering sounds morph into ear-piercing screeches a dozen minutes into the work (it's said to be a long-form narrative representative of a “blindfolded journey from Canada to Australia”). Nature-based field recordings guide the listener through a forest area where waters rage and birds call, and voices murmur alongside the seeming roar of a train, but Road to Esperance is hardly a one-note exercise in aggression and noise, however, as quieter passages appear too; such ruminative episodes, like the ghostly one that emerges at the thirty-five-minute mark (and the blurrier one that follows), allow the listener's nerves to settle. One clearly derives the sense of a journey, with all of its wild contrasts in experience, from the recording.

July 2010