Liquid Transmitter / Jamie Drouin

Thursday 3 December 2020

Two of Jamie Drouin’s personae at work here. As Liquid Transmitter, Arboreal continues on from where Meander left off. Bell-like synth tones and clear washes overlap in old-school ambient tones. Nothing drones on, but comes and goes; events are sparse enough to create transparent textures. The timbres of the sounds remain simple, too. There are loops, but never heard in full more than a few times for each piece. It all sounds more linear and (slo-o-wly melodic) than Meander, with those long, sparing loops giving each piece a song-like feel while at the same time each track dwells on a single place.

Released under his own name, Drouin’s Touch: Works for Solo Dancer is both more specific and more abstract. The dance referred to is intended, not yet extant. Unlike Arboreal, he reveals the tools used here: Buchla synthesizer, tape and digital treatments. This older generation of electronic equipment produces suitably crusty sounds, with more noise in the system and specific pitches blunted or entirely absent. Presented in two parts, the music avoids obvious rhythms, repeats, steady pulses or continuity, even breaking down into silence from time to time. Droun specifies that either or both parts may be used for dance, but must be used whole. It’s an intriguing two-dimensional sound sculpture that opens up spaces more than it fills them in.

Three LPs by Jamie Drouin and Lance Austin Olsen

Monday 6 July 2020

Good to see some people making better use of Covid-19 downtime than I have. It’s been a while since I wrote up any music by Lance Austin Olsen or Jamie Drouin (aka Liquid Transmitter) but I’ve just been hit with three new releases in short order by the two of them working together. Well, two of them are new: Snowfield is a reissue of a collaboration from way back in 2003. It began as a four-track sound installation, made up of field recordings of the two artists “interacting” with a small patch of snowbound landscape. On paper, it looks heavier on concept than on substance, but Drouin and Olsen have worked their material into seven distinct tracks of finely differentiated sounds that come together in collages that are very soft, very long, nearly white.

The two new collaborations show how their collaging chops have deepened over the years, mixing eclectic elements into something more complex yet equally organic. Both were conceived during, and resulted from, the self-isolation of pandemic lockdown. With direct working together now impossible, the pieces were created through a process of exchange, sending files back and forth online. The French Drop is a set of five pieces in which perspective and focus slip back and forth from one state to another; as in an optical illusion, each graspable image hovers between two identities, never fully resolving into one. Drouin’s synthesisers never settle into being a mere backdrop to hold Olsen’s objects and found sounds together: both sound palettes fuse into one portentous, if ambiguous, whole.

Olsen has worked this way before, with long-distance collaborations that cross the equator, not just across town. But what is space or distance these days, anyway. With less of a direct programme or idea driving the project, both The French Drop and This, And The Other Space, released a few weeks later, allow for a more purely musical experience than some of Olsen’s other work, so that the listener’s mind is free to conjecture as to what lurks beneath the surface. This, And The Other Space may be bolder in its contrasts, with more discrete elements sticking in the mind, but the dual storylines collaged together here merge into one experience which the listener may not disentangle. The two albums act as counterparts, each forming a double image of space, place and subjectivity.

Lying low

Monday 30 March 2020

It’s awful when people describe music as ‘relaxing’. We know they mean to be nice, but it’s just so wrong. It’s an experience made from hearing recordings, that no longer requires listening. The only truly soothing effect I’ve had from music is from not paying attention to it, or knowing the recording so well that I fall into its shape and flow without consciously registering the sound. The so-called relaxing effect of listening to music is not that it blankets the senses, but opens up a mental space.

A little while back I wrote briefly about Jamie Drouin’s album Ridge. I wasn’t satisfied with it. Thinking back over it, that clean sound, “a little too neat and untroubled” came across to me as sounding too simple in its certainties, in a way that rebuffed interpretation or contemplation. By contrast, his new release Meander – released under the pseudonym of Liquid Transmitter – is a much more rewarding listening experience. Six short pieces are made from overlapping loops of material, combining synths and amplified sounds as before. The loops are not immediately apparent and the sounds seem more interesting than before. A simplicity in approach yields an understated complexity in sounds and structure, never easily settling into a recognisable form. “Early forms of ambient electronic music” gets a shout-out in the notes – strangely, it sounds less derivative and more like the real deal, the genre at its best.

I’ve been listening to a lot over the past week or so but haven’t felt like writing much. It’s mostly older stuff, reacquainting myself or catching up on what friends have been up to. People have been emailing me with new stuff; I won’t have the excuse of not enough time to get back to them for long. There’ll be more writing soon. I’ve also been sorting through my own music and releasing it online – more about that later. I hear this disturbing edge in my music, which doesn’t seem right for today. That will pass – we don’t need to be soothed in perpetuity.

Every now and then for the past few months I’ve played Torsten Papenheim’s release on Tanuki, Tracking – Racking. This would be the opposite of relaxing. It doesn’t necessarily provoke anxiety, but it sure is tense. What’s worse, for two pieces so rigidly gridlike and unyielding in their structure and content, I can never remember precisely how each one goes. All that’s left is that sense of tension. Tracking shuttles back and forth between minidiscs in a compressed pingponging crosstalk of indiscernable noise; Racking steadily pounds on an acoustic guitar for a similar length of time. What may pass as music is what squeezes through the cracks, surviving tendrils shaken free.

Dark Night On The Black Dog Highway

Monday 27 January 2020

I’ve been playing this one on and off since the end of summer and on these cold, dark nights it’s coming into its own. Dark Night On The Black Dog Highway is the latest joint release from Lance Austin Olsen. Working this time with Tim Clément, the two pieces here are another example of long-distance collaboration that Olsen has used in various ways when making music. Each artist exchanges files back and forth, adding to or modifying a collage of field recordings, found sounds, instruments and electronics. In this case, this “third mind” approach to working has been particularly rewarding for the listener: the title work, some 35 minutes long, is a vast, brooding abstraction. The expansive pacing belies the restless activity contained within, as the transparency of the textures belies the complexity of sounds produced. Clément and Olsen have found a fortunate means of working with each other in a way that diverts both of their contributions towards an end that neither would have anticipated (knowing when to stop also helps a lot). While some of Olsen’s previous works suggest at an external reference or a programme, there is no such indication here. The work seems stronger for it, allowing it to establish a profound but elusive mood within the listener, for their own personal significance.

The companion work on the album, Memory Lost, Memory Found, provides a focal point, albeit inarticulate, through the introduction of electronically manipulated voices. I couldn’t help but resent the intrusion of the voice as a distraction after the sublime menace of Dark Night.

Around the same time, the label (Infrequency Editions) released a half-hour work by Jamie Drouin, about whom I have no other knowledge. Although it’s a single track, Ridge takes the form of a suite, with contrasting sections divided by silences. It’s evidently a solo effort, made from “amplified objects, sine wave generator, and Buchla”. The synth tones predominate, giving it a clean sound even as the amplified noises thicken the texture. They’re finely crafted studies, but come across a little too neat and untroubled for my ears, so that I keep expecting something more.