Lee Patterson, Vanessa Rossetto – Temperament as WaveformJune 9, 2013
Caveats first, this is an album by two friends of mine released on a label owned by another friend who I occasionally do design work for. Try as I might to the contrary, objectivity will I guess naturally be more difficult to achieve. Read on with this in mind.
So this album is another in an increasingly active area in which music is created via the digital transfer of files. In this case, the files crossed the Atlantic between two musicians that have never met (someone correct that soon please)- Vanessa Rossetto in Austin, Texas, and Lee Patterson in Manchester, UK. This is one collaboration that always made sense. Both musicians work a lot with field recordings, often combining them with more immediate textural sounds. They have a similar personality and perfectionist work ethic. I’m not surprised it took the duo the best part of two years to complete the work, and even less surprised to find that (having heard a working version at a point about halfway through the album’s gestation period) it changed a lot along the way.
Although in many ways similar in their approaches, each of the duo bring something different to the album. Rossetto’s solo work has tended to use quite explicit field recordings- grabs from everyday life, people talking, urban sounds etc. On Temperament as Waveform there are few recordings that are immediately clear in such a way. Instead she seems here to work more in a manner familiar to Patterson- using highly detailed, but more textural sounds. The closing track An indication of presence also puts her viola to good use, though rather than anything melodic it is used to produce wave-like tones and screeches that are layered together by the pair.
Throughout, the four pieces here each have droning elements, but what makes the music interesting are the texture and qualities of the sounds here. There are no lazy choices, no slides into generic material. Lee Patterson has possibly the greatest ear of anyone I have ever known when it comes to finding interesting, different sounds in unexpected places. Exactly what precise items he has brought to this album isn’t clear, but things pop and crackle hum and hiss throughout, and I have no doubt that things were burned, soaked, dissolved or otherwise naturally decimated to find the sounds here, along with the most incredibly subtle recordings of amplified springs blown on by Patterson and I think even some piano sounds amongst who knows what besides. Then I assume many of the more grainy, featureless field recordings here, and certainly the viola tones originate from Rossetto. As with all strong collaborations, there is a significant portion of the music that cannot easily be attributed to one musician or the other, but on the whole, while everything combines very well, the two musicians’ distinct characters remain.
It often takes a lot for me to click with drone-based music, finding as I do that simply layering extended sounds over each other often results in music as uninteresting as its creation is simple. Listening to this album then through half closed ears is not all that rewarding, but really paying attention, and listening down through the music, like peering through the various layers of a murky stagnant pond reveals all kinds of shapes and patterns as the various parts reflect off of one another. If the opening piece builds gradually to a rich, warm clustered drone, my favourite track here, by far is the second of the four, adorned with the intriguingly cheeky title There is a very small chance that you are not making a mistake here. This quite stunningly beautiful piece of work sees soft swells of finely detailed sound rising out of, and then sliding back away into long silences. Here, the sounds are really left to their own devices as the listener’s ear chases them down into the quiet, and we yearn to hear more, to hear better as they disappear. The tendency towards the drone is broken here, and sounds arrive in groups of two or three, stay just long enough to make their subtle mark and then depart again. The way that the silences frame these little events is just perfect.
This music is at once the antithesis of both busily active improv and ambient watercolours. Luscious, rich, and yet unassuming, Temperament as waveform refuses to grab you and force you to take notice of itself, but then you also find yourself seductively drawn in, left to drown in it all. A very fine album indeed.
As a footnote: The sleeve art, a very nice pencil drawing by Patterson is incidentally the perfect image to accompany the music.