Lance Austin Olsen – ThiefJuly 27, 2012
So, oddly, as the site received its 333,333th visitor sometime today, so the Visitor counter feed at the bottom of the page started doing odd things and, on my computer at least, is showing two different counts, similar but a few hits different. Strange. Anyway this evening I have been listening to a free download that has been available for a little while now but I have only recently got myself organised enough to download it and listen to it. The release is named Thief and is a solo work by Lance Austin Olsen and is made available here through the Infrequency label. The album’s title comes from the personal situation Olsen found himself in after his flat was burgled in 2010. Having had his computer, camera, back up drives and just about everything else stolen he lost about a decade’s worth of archived material, both audio recordings, and as Olsen is a very fine abstract painter, also a lot of visual work. Placed in the position of having to start again with a clean slate, Olsen set about making this work, which is apparently something of a departure from his earlier field recording based solo work. While Thief apparently references some of the earlier recordings (I don’t have any of them sadly, though have just ordered one out of curiosity) but also strips things down, away from what was apparently a busier set of earlier pieces. The resulting work here is a twenty-five minute track made up of blended and sequenced field recordings but with a very particular, subtle, and very attractive feel to them.
The majority of the music here is quiet and apparently minimal. Casual listening reveals a grey blur not dissimilar to the beautiful image Olsen provides to accompany the release. Only in a few places do the recordings break through with any real clarity, and mostly what we hear resembles that awkward feeling you have when you get water caught in your ears and your hearing is impaired for a while- blurry, cloudy, masked by a kind of continuous heavy white noise. I suspect though that no treatment has been done to any of the recordings used, and that the music here is made up of carefully recorded and then selected sections that each retain a similar character- a quiet, soft grey texture spiked here and there with little details, occasionally recognisably, but on the whole mostly alien sounding knocks and taps. The overall impact is one of little happening unless you listen carefully (for me this is one that improved a lot using headphones) but when you delve deep into the greyness there is a lot taking place, even though a good part of it remains unidentifiable. However there are some nice moments. A long period of someone, presumably Olsen, huffing and puffing as his feet are caught trudging along somewhere stony ends with an exhausted declaration of “fuck it”. Elsewhere what sounds like weather systems buffeting microphones is matched with what feels like the kind of cloudy scuffing and scraping you hear when someone calls you by mistake and their phone remains in their pocket as you listen to them go about their day. (Not heard this before? You need a girlfriend like mine!) The overriding sensation is one of impaired overhearing of everyday events, masked by the immediacy of the hazy gauze placed in front of it. There are moments when the details break through. A short burst of what sounds like manic high-speed clockwork around the nine minute mark is one such example, but there are several, though you have to wait for them. Thief is a lovely little piece anyway, a study in how minimal, seemingly similar elements can combine to produce work that exists firmly and confidently in one area, and yet also reveal a lot more to those willing to take the time to peel back the skin. Its a free download anyway, so you can grab it for nothing and not feel the guilt of the thief, and I recommend you do.