Steve Roden: Striations
Striations is a prototypically unusual work from Pasadena, California-based Steve Roden, who's released over forty solo recordings on various labels since 1993 and whose output encompasses painting, sculpture, writing, sound art, and film/video; before addressing the sound work itself, some background detail will help bring the project into focus.
Striations presents a single long-form setting titled “Distance Piece,” itself one part of a larger project called Stone's Throw that involves a group of unfinished carved stones by Roden's late grandmother, a sculptor, as well as paintings, drawings, a sound piece, and a 16mm film shot with artist Mary Simpson. The ever-resourceful Roden determined while editing the film that its material naturally lent itself to a related project, which eventually grew into the forty-five-minute “Distance Piece.” Five years ago, the film and sound work were presented at the Sculpture Center in Long Island, New York as part of the exhibition Time Again, with “Distance Piece” playing outside of the museum and the looped, six-minute film Striations shown inside the exhibition space.
Not unusual for a sound work of its kind, “Distance Piece” unfolds at a relaxed pace, though it's hardly lacking in incident. A broad array of mechanical and natural sounds intermingles, among them the whirr of a film projector, the high-pitched shimmer of a bowed cymbal, stones tapped together, birds and other outdoor sounds, and even Simpson herself speaking. All such elements emerge as a constantly fluctuating stream augmented by an ongoing current of tremolo textures and electric guitar shadings (as an interesting side note, the guitar parts were determined by the vowel structure of a text by sculptor Henry Moore that Roden's grandmother had taped to her studio wall). The challenge, which Roden satisfyingly meets, has to do with pacing and stimulation: sufficient aural stimulation needs to be present for the listener's attention to remain engaged throughout; at the same time, the elements themselves need to appear in orderly manner so that they're not cluttering the sound field and undermining the intended effect. Though one presumes that Roden assembled the piece, ostensibly a sound collage made up of processed field recordings and guitar, methodically and with great care and deliberation, “Distance Piece” plays like a spontaneous, real-time event.
No account of the release would be complete without mention of the presentation itself, which includes an eight-page insert of full-colour photos showing some of the sculptural forms presumably featured in the 2011 Time Again exhibition. Presented in a wide-format package, spekk's presentation definitely enhances the impression the listener forms of Roden's sound work.