Old regulars: Lance Austin Olsen and friends

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Canadian-based artist-musician-composer Lance Austin Olsen appears to be getting even more prolific, with at least four releases this year, so far. I’ve reviewed a bunch of them in the past (see the index) and every time I started writing one up another came in. Presumably, becoming familiar with an artist’s style makes one more critical, with the risk of finding fault where things differ as much as where things remain the same. I’m going to run through all four here with some quick impressions, testing how I currently sit with each one.

Olson often collaborates, working back and forth with a fairly free approach but guided by interpretations of his visual works as a score. His collaboration with guitarist Barry Chabala, A field of wildflowers for our lost souls, is in three sections: Olson, duo, Chabala. Olson’s typically textural sound work forms a prolonged introduction to the duet, where the more distinct tone and pitch of guitar coalesces into a defined but shadowy musical passage. Chabala’s solo electric guitar coda is longer than the preceding movement, starting out as a sculpture made of single notes before washes of reversed chorus effects fade in. This strikes me now as a more complete work than their previous Patterns for a future human, even as (or possibly because) the two musicians’ work is less clearly differentiated.

The most satisfying of these four has been Olson’s piece with Terje Paulsen, Nattinsekter. A single movement nearly forty minutes long, it feels like the most technically assured work using this particular methodology to date. Olson’s collaging of amplified objects, stray instrumental sounds and crusty sounding electronics combines here with Paulsen’s mix of field recordings and organ. They’re very sympatico in approach, each complementing the other with an ecological language fusing nature and memory that presents subjectivity as a matter for contemplation. Each sound blends with another to take on a life of its own as the piece constantly evolves.

That development of language can be heard in the two solo releases here. The Telling is a remaster of a 2015 work, a very subdued montage of sustained, overlapping sounds which require closer attention and an inner stillness to appreciate. The contrast with this year’s Polishing The Mirrors Of Psychosis is striking: an equally subdued, low-level work which broods and even lapses into silences at times, but with sounds that are much more detailed and eclectic yet never become disruptive. Events merge and flow in an ever more naturalistic way. The disruption here comes from human intrusion, a strange poem recited, pondering imponderables. As an appendix comes a fragmentary travelogue, a Ferrari-like sketch of lingering impressions of place and conversation.