I purchased tonight’s CD when I saw it top the end of year list compiled by someone whose musical taste I have much respect for, and in particular when he added that it was, in his opinion better than any of the Gravity Wave releases. Well, I don’t know about that sort of a claim, as to me beyond some obvious stylistic similarities it doesn’t seem to have much to do with any of the discs on that label, but Seth Cluett’s Objects of Memory is indeed a nice collection of five compositions written and recorded between 2006 and 2009.
My previous experiences with the New Yorker Cluett’s music before have been limited to contributions to a couple of compilations on the windsmeasure label. This collection however, released on the Line label allows his ideas to stretch out a little. Despite the length of time between the composition of each of the pieces here they work well together as a set, each inhabiting a similar area of music somewhere roughly in between softly droning ambient music, Steve Roden-esque lowercase composition and the Wandelweiser aesthetic. The five pieces here are all electroacoustic in their make-up, with instrumentation ranging from the bassoon, viola, guitar, percussion and sine tones of the opening Objects in stillness to the amplified paper, bowed vibraphone, bass drum and compressed air of A radiance scored with shadow. The feeling overall is one of of lulling calm. There isn’t much silence to be found across the five pieces, but the music is never busy, consisting quite often of sine tones or similar sounds. The half hour long Untitled (Objects of Memory) that forms the bulk of the album consists mostly of heaving swells of feedback that really bulge out of the speakers and into your cranium at times in a style very reminiscent of Alvin Lucier’s later music. Alongside the thick, cloudy tones are little bits of unidentifiable grit and clatter.
The issue I have with this music, and much of the Line catalogue, which often sits in this Roden-esque world of pretty chimes and humming tones is that it often feels like a style-lead form of composition, with a kind of surface sophistication undermined by not much driving the music from below. That one of the tracks here is a recording of a gallery installation doesn’t help this suspicion a great deal, but I actually don’t think this is the case with Cluett, whose work here is performed by quite an array of musicians and contains a large amount of carefully matching of sounds, acoustic and electronic. The album is often considerably restrained but certainly there is a soporific quality to the music, the long closing piece in particular. The compositions have a feeling of emptiness to them, a laziness that doesn’t really feel like bland ambient music at all- there is easily enough edge to the music to deter such comparisons, but also seems to encourage a state of hazy drowsiness in the listener. I don’t think it would be fair to say that the album has a prettiness about it, but certainly there is a sensation of slightly syrupy tastefulness about it- what is missing might be tension, that atmosphere found between tones on an Antoine Beuger recording or a Markus Kaiser work. It all feels a little obvious- very beautiful, nicely balanced, a sense of poetic delicacy throughout, but apart from a brief, but excellent moment in a radiance scored with shadow where a sudden strike at a drum is followed by a rush of escaping compressed air, there is never never really any kind of a surprise, or an air of danger at all. This isn’t necessarily to be taken as a criticism- some music just works well as examples of very beautiful craftsmanship, and I suspect that is the case here. It certainly provided a nice, gentle backdrop to my evening at home tonight after a tiring long day at work.