Whoresonin the wilderness
One of the pleasures of following new music is when someone springs up out of the blue (at least, to you), almost fully formed, with no particular connection to any musicians or musical scene of which you were aware, if anything known only as an avatar on a discussion board. For this listener, that happy circumstance occurred in the case of Vanessa Rossetto, a violinist/violist/electronicist from Austin, Texas. These three discs were all recorded in 2007and, though not intended as a triptych of any sort, can easily be heard as such, and a mighty impressive one at that.
“misafridal” opens with some almost idle sounding flicking, presumably of a stringed instrument but abstracted enough to suggest almost any taut pieces of material, from plastic to paper. One of the first magical moments in this music occurs subsequently as rich, dark bowing from the viola enters quite unexpectedly, soon overlaid by field recording atmospherics, either out in the wind or inside some large enclosure, among which plaintive violin pluckings are briefly heard. It’s quite evocative and mysterious and sets the table perfectly for what follows as the music caroms between the impassioned string playing and the tapes. While she’ll occasionally, as near the beginning of the second track here, play rough-edged quasi-melodies, more often Rossetto fluctuates between freer playing inspired by musicians such as Polly Bradfield and Phil Wachsmann and low drones that recall Tony Conrad but with perhaps a greater emotive range. These drones constitute one of the deeper elements at play throughout the discs, often anchoring farther flung sounds though Rossetto is quite content to abide in a given area for an extended time, wringing out variation upon subtle variation. The third cut here, “eohippus” (Rossetto also has a way with titles), is gorgeous, all slightly splintered but relatively tonal, high-ish drones, one lapping at the heels of the next, with a soft rumble of something, perhaps a rogue field recording, maybe just ambient sound in the studio, beneath. As an album-length suite of sorts, it’s not perfect—the fourth track throws in a bit of a wrench with some accordion-like wheezing and disjointed, scrabbling string attacks, but on the whole it holds together beautifully, Rossetto varying both sound and structure within a seemingly narrow plane but achieving great breadth. The closing string piece (three or four overlaid, I think), returns to a fairly tonal character, a wonderful rumination that recalls, just a bit, the bluesy keening of the late Leroy Jenkins while also making reference to early minimalism.
The “middle” disc (they were in fact recorded in the order issued), “imperial brick”, consists of seven improvisations on the viola, all laid down on the same day. (One can sometimes make out ambient sound from outside the room, traffic and such, a very nice effect). Here, the connection with earlier free improvising string players is the strongest and this set can be heard as part of the entire tradition of solo performances in that vein, though still the strongest attractor seems to be that of the ornamented drone. As ever, it’s a difficult feat to pull off consistently and Rossetto wavers here and there but by and large holds matters together with a sure hand. Not that it’s technically flashy, but I admit to being a bit wowed every so often, unable to quite believe that a mere single viola was in use; I get the feeling she has chops to spare. My favorite cut is “The Girlhood of Baba Yaga”, once again a drone-centered improvisation, with coiling, smoky tendrils unfurling off the central spine. Though I don’t know his work terribly well, I was reminded a good bit of a fine solo concert I saw in Nancy several years ago by Malcolm Goldstein. There’s a similar latent romanticism in Rossetto’s playing, not woozy at all, but clear-eyed with a dash of harshness and possessed of a striking vocal quality. While I can’t say I’m the most knowledgeable fan of the genre (solo string improv), I do have very fond memories of seeing Jenkins playing alone at Washington Square Church in the late 70s, an amazing performance. This session, at its best, isn’t far short of that or the Goldstein.
But Rossetto saves the best for “last” with “whoreson in the wilderness”, a title out of Cormac McCarthy. It opens with a thrilling quartet (? I actually have no idea how many violins and violas are involved) that spirals up into a dizzying column of sound complete with what sounds like feedback. Indeed, that feedback initiates the next track, “myself with water”, in my opinion the finest track from these three discs and one of the single strongest pieces of music I’ve heard over the last year, period. An eruption of clatter ensues, soon embedded in that recurrent low, creamy drone, pulsing along at a relatively rapid pace. These, in turn, subside into a crystalline, delicate mesh of high arco and electronic tones, with metal scrapes weaving through, morphing into keening, birdlike wails. Specific sounds aside, the structure of pieces like this one is hugely convincing; more than once, in this respect, I was reminded of Olivia Block’s constructions, heady company to be sure. “stale cream moon” is more composed, a lovely mix of groaned low tones and march-like middle ones with a sorrowful, chorded middle plaint. The sawing grows more and more frantic on “impending shark music”, verging on derailment, Rossetto in full maximalist mode. She takes things out with a marvelous funnel of taped sounds and strings, an intense eddy of echoic, metallic swirls, those deep string drones and insectile chirps.
As I said above, very impressive work, beautifully conceived. It held my attention throughout and provided more than a few thrilling moments. Highly recommended.
Imperial brick link
Whoresonin the wilderness link