Free improvisation is one of those musics in which it is difficult to quantify “good”, yet quite knowable upon hearing. As most ears search for patterns and superimpose Western tonality onto the vibrations they absorb, solo freely improvised percussion is about as far from these historic aural norms as sound can get.
To that point, it is no small achievement Claire Rousay roundly accomplishes on her new tape on Already Dead, Several Erasures. Despite what could be counted as limitations – no harmony or melody, lack of repetition and form, etc. – Rousay creates an immensely listenable experience. As with all strains of music, emotion often rises to the fore when the performance is communicated with honesty and authority, Rousay’s understanding of the tones she generates and their interweaving relationships leads to a nuanced and, above all, personal journey for the listener.
Rousay’s previous release, Neuter, was described by the artist as an “exploration of the relationship between masculinity and percussion.” Several Erasures continues to scrutinize this idea, the titles of the pieces suggesting themes that parse gender, self, and identity.
“Clocked” possibly refers to a term used to describe when a person who is trans does not “pass” in public – regardless, the track features much literalism as well in the assorted dings and chimes that ornament the varied percussive patterns. Toward the end of the piece, snare brushes intensify furiously, but to my ears suggest anxiety, not aggression.
“Shadow” begins with something emulating mouth sounds, increasingly resembling the rubbing of a stick on a surface. As the piece progresses, other effects are added to the mix, eventually absorbing and restructuring the approach of the playing to incorporate more pitch-based and elongated tones. Rousay performs even the occasional hard strike with definitive grace, a style of playing in which both the choices and actions are executed in deliberate yet delicate fashion.
Halfway through “Several Erasures”, something akin to a beat arises, rhythmic repetition briefly nearing tradition. This is abruptly interrupted, however, then situated within the negative space of silence. Throughout these recordings, Rousay makes similarly considerate use of silence. She is acutely aware of how to fill space – feeling not the “need” for sound to occur, but rather to occupy uninhabited spaces, cognizant of the grave intentionality of each sound. “Several Erasures” climaxes with each hand proceeding in disconnected, frenetic movement, playing slightly out of sync and nearly opposing each other, before uniting ever so briefly upon its final phrase.
The final piece, “For Jacob”, begins with soft snare rolls that manage to express great dynamic range, despite all levels existing well under the standard sonic threshold. Sustained intonations from struck bowls float above scrapings against different membranes. These divergent sounds are representative of much of the album in their movement – are they operating at odds with each other, traveling parallel paths, or perhaps, in brief glimpses, even joining together?
Rousay seems to leave that decision open to the listener’s interpretation. This is sound with meaning, not obscured but personal. In presenting it to the larger world, her personal journey is united with the universal.
– Bob Bucko, Jr.
Digital downloads of Several Erasures are available at Already Dead’s Bandcamp page: https://alreadydeadtapes.bandcamp.com/album/ad306-claire-rousay-several-erasures