On April 6 the Miasmah imprint releases the debut from US cellist Clarice Jensen called “For this from that will be filled” on CD/Vinyl/Download. Usually a debut would mean a new artist, but this is not the case with Jensen who is the artistic director of ACME (American Contemporary Musical Ensemble) appearing on releases with them on releases on labels such as New Amsterdam Records, also as part of the Wordless Music Orchestra (and configurations there of) and as a collaborator and touring musician for the late Icelandic composer Jóhan Jóhannsson. On addition to this Jensen is a Julliard graduate who has also collaborated with the likes of Stars of the Lid, Max Richter and Tyondai Braxton to name a few.
The four track album includes pieces Co-composed with Jóhannsson, Michael Harrison and two self composed pieces. Jensen is a cellist who utilizes multi tracking, effects pedals, tape loops to highlight the sound of the cello, but to also experiment and confuse the sound of the cello. For this album the music has been composed either for the artist, such as Harrison’s “Cello Constellations” or composed as an audiovisual collaboration, such as the two-part title track that was composed as a collaboration with artist Jonathan Turner and exhibited at The Kitchen in NYC in 2017. A visual representation of the performance was used in the album’s artwork.
As I have zero musical knowledge in composition, I will be quoting the notes supplied to help describe the pieces.
The album opens with “bc” with its description stating that “the work displays the startling effect subtle changes have on conventional elements across repetitions, employing the simple devices of a two-octave c-major scale and a three chord loop.” The piece uses looped sections of cello drones that work together in a tandem situation where they enter and exit in an overlappping fashion which highlights the difference in the sounds generated. You have one which has a deeper, darker, grittier tone that cuts through, while the other has a more mournful and heartfelt tone that provides the emotional heft to the piece. There is a certain degree of light to the piece that is most noticeable with second section of cello. The pace is maintained throughout the piece which allows for intensity to build, but also provide consistency.
For Harrison’s “Cello Constellations” the music is an “exploration of the harmonic series scored for solo and cello and 25 multi-tracked cellos and sine tones. The work is divided into three sections, each a constellation of pitchers tare sustained at very specific Hertz numbers. The effect of these precise pitches interacting with each others such that harmonic beating occurs as an incidental, but deliberate component of the work.” Slow rumbling cello sounds emerge from silence vibrating away get thicker and denser as the waves of more cello tones start to enter into the sound scape. There is a real throbbing bass like tone reminiscent of the didgeridoo while short fractured pieces of cello sound like cut up transmissions. The harmonic beating mentioned previously gives a slight piano sound. Sections of cello drop out removing the throbbing bass sound to reveal a more experimental feel and higher tones section that revels in suspenseful sound. This then makes way for a fashion of melodic minimal tones, long harp like cello and an underlying buzz. The melodic tones sound like a hand percussion instrument like the kalimba. The tones start to get longer and more foreign sounding, almost like decay and desolation have set in. As the piece continues the music become more ominous with thick bassy tones alongside the sped up cut up tones as experienced at the building. It’s quite a transition from the low long tones to the final flurry of extreme activity that threatens to collapse at the end, bringing the listener to the precipice, dangling them over, but just bringing them back before they plunge into an abyss.
“For this from that will be filled (a)” the first of Jensen’s composed audiovisual pieces utilises a cello sound “that evokes a strange organ that is both grand and deteriorating, at times rich and at times brittle “. The music sounds indeed like a wound up organ alongside dark metallic drones that together with the ‘organ sounds’ create a slightly claustrophobic and nightmarish feel. The music is built up in a way that is pure soundtrack material in the way that it can conjure moods and feelings with the listener. The short repetitive sections that emerge slightly early on, start to become the center of the second half with their off kilter sounds giving off a sense of unease. The deterioration mentioned before does not mean that the music goes all glitchy, but in turn refers (for me) the feeling in the music as it slightly gets warped throughout the piece.
“For this from that will be filled (b)” is composed of “drones, long loops, and a field recording from New York’s Grand Central Terminal interweave with acoustic and heavily processed cello, which conjures the sound of machinery.” The epic piece of the album starts of with loop based cello with both a hum and screech to it. It’s almost like a switch has been flipped and the machinery roars into life, spinning around in deafening noise, before long bass heavy cello drones start to creep out, some darker than others. There is also a slight static, dusty feel to the track which may or not be the field recordings. The cello drones start to become clearer with the ‘machinery’ still holding an important part in the sound scape, but just not as forceful as before. The cello exhibits a haunting quality as it resonates with high notes and drones attached to it that radiate out. The machinery by this stage has disappeared leaving the cellos to traverse in layered fashion covering the sonic landscape. The cello music then changes the focus to a single cello which sounds like it is wrestling with emotions. At times its frantic and at others emotive, but scattered in both instances. Field recordings of the Terminal filter through on looped fashion with the manipulated recording of the word “Attention” being the focal point. The music towards the end still feels a bit scattered, but less frantic giving the feeling of some control has been retained.
Clarice Jensen has created a dark, but deep album that on repeat listens will reveal more to the listener. According to Jensen in an interview with NPR that the album is “Meditative and Disorienting” which is true. The use of loops and effects provides both these processes with Part b of the title track clearly demonstrating the disorienting part as well as penultimate section of “Cello Constellations”. While the meditative part is clearly seen in the opener. Solo instrument albums don’t have to be one-dimensional and this proves it. If you liked Otto Lindholm’s “Alter” (released last year on Gizeh) you will definitely like Jensen’s album too.