Vanessa Rossetto erased de kooning +rocinante Bandcamp; DL only
Everything that’s erased leaves its trace of its passage behind: a point as familiar to the manuscript recyclers of antiquity for whom the term palimpsest was coined to modern-day digital data-recovery sleuths. We learn via firsthand accounts of concert tapes by John Coltrane and Albert Ayler wiped clean for reuse, and become acquainted with vintage Doctor Who episodes bulk-erased by the BBC through muzzy snapshots of fuzzy TV screens.
Common to those examples is the idea that deletion rarely amounts to a positive thing. But on erased de kooning, one of two recent recordings composer Vanessa Rossetto posted on her Bandcamp site May 4, an act of bulk erasure results in an absorbing new piece surprisingly rich in ghostly associations. An even newer composition issued at the same time, rocinante, is immediately notable not for an act of removal, but for the return after several years of Rossetto’s viola to a position of foregrounded prominence in her work; still, hovering throughout the piece is a sensation that thematic signifiers might be hidden just out of reach.
Rossetto, long active in Austin and now based in New York, entered the public sphere in 2008 with a trio of self-released albums in generic black packages: imperial brick,misafridal, and whoreson in the wilderness, all on her Music Appreciation label. Released more or less simultaneously, the discs provide a tightly compressed view of a stylistic evolution, from intense, tight-focus scrabbling on viola to a broader, more layered, and more nuanced approach to evoking a holistic sound ecology in which her playing was one part, her listening another. (Matthew Revert, an Australian composer-performer, novelist, and graphic artist who has worked closely with Rossetto, lays out her back story with exacting detail and a keen ear in a 2013 article for the web journal Surround.)
On the strength of those discs, and especially for a brilliant 2009 release, dogs in english porcelain, which built on the original trilogy’s foundation, Rossetto generated substantial buzz among followers of electroacoustic improvisation and field recording – a paradox, considering she seldom improvised live onstage, and treated field recordings less as inviolate artifacts than as raw material for cut-ups and assemblages. Rossetto told one interviewer after another that despite her lack of formal musical study (she trained as a painter), she considers herself a composer, one happiest left alone to contemplate and manipulate recordings retrieved from her routine ambling.
Regardless of her lack of academic credentials, Rossetto has proved her compositional acumen repeatedly with each new project she’s released. In particular, three limited-edition vinyl LPs to date on the Kye label – mineral orange (2010), exotic exit (2012), and whole stories (2014) – established her as a sound artist of astounding efficacy: one able to direct the ear from one detail or vector to another as efficiently as a seasoned film director leads the eye, while also situating discrete elements within a teeming soundscape exactingly designed and intimately nuanced.
At any given moment a listener can feel swept up within a vast panorama, or privy to someone else’s personal conversation. Moments later, Rossetto might bring a random noise (or her viola) uncomfortably close; execute a jump cut too sharp for routine perception to navigate; or foreground some bit of noisy detritus that reminds you explicitly: This is a recording. In duo projects issued with Revert, Kevin Parks, and Lee Patterson, she has proved her techniques are amenable to collaboration.
Rossetto’s impetus to create erased de kooning – its title a reference to Robert Rauschenberg’s famous 1953 conceptual art piece Erased de Kooning Drawing – was an invitation from Casey Anderson in 2015 to contribute to the Experimental Music Yearbook, using only past contributions to that annual series as her raw materials. She downloaded all previous submissions back to 2009, recordings by artists such as Christian Wolff, Olivia Block, Taku Sugimoto, Peter Ablinger, Julia Holter, and Blevin Blectum (Bevin Kelly), then manually erased them and worked with what was left. Rossetto explains her approach thusly:
It occurred to me to build the piece out of the interstices – the unperformed parts of pieces and the silences between deliberate acts. … As in any erasure, complete eradication to the point of absolute vacuum is not possible – marks may remain that prove unusually indelible and in yet other spots the hand of the remover may prove too forceful and rend uneven holes in the plane of the paper.
What resulted is an expansive aural terrain littered with tiny scrapes, pings, rumples, and hisses, punctuated liberally with recognizable sounds from musical instruments, electronic implements, and the occasional human voice. The background ambience shifts as often as the foregrounded details, from antiseptic silence to the shush and hum of a voluminous space. The piece feels quietly chaotic, but never merely random, and the continual ebb and flow moves at a pleasingly narcotic pace: a leisurely parade of fleeting sensations, with the emotional gravity of memories misplaced or cast off. It’s surely because of that last quality that the overall impact of erased de kooning is not one of absence, but of presence.
The other newly released project, rocinante, marks a fresh turn in Rossetto’s compositional and performative output. At just over 60 minutes in length, the piece is her most extended creation on record – “also known as ‘long piece,'” her Bandcamp page acknowledges. What’s apparent immediately is that Rossetto’s viola has returned to center stage, foregrounded to an extent unheard since her first few self-released albums, and joined here by a newcomer, the cello. It’s not uncommon to hear two or more stringed implements simultaneously vying for space among the other sound objects she collages into the mix.
As ever, Rossetto uses her string instruments chiefly as noise generators, producing hisses, pops, scrapes, and rumbling beats far more frequently than mellow bowed tones. But the handmade quality of those extramusical sounds gives her music a relatable sensation: a feeling of hands being used, choices being made in real time well before manipulation on a notebook computer’s screen occurs.
Given the album’s title, one might presume a connection to Cervantes and his iconic knight, Don Quixote, rider of the titular steed. That supposition is borne out by a quotation on the Bandcamp page:
“a name, to his thinking, lofty, sonorous, and significant of his condition as a hack before he became what he now was, the first and foremost of all the hacks in the world”
Whether the reference extends to Richard Strauss, in whose symphonic poem Don Quixote the viola and cello also play starring roles, is unclear, though complete coincidence is unlikely. No musical affinity to Strauss is evident, yet there’s no denying this music is Rossetto’s plushest and most sensual, in its way. Again, she creates and sustains a sensation of forward motion without conventional architecture or obvious thematic signposts.
The music moves and morphs at a pace all its own, unfolding with mystery and intensity. A gradual metamorphosis that transpires over a nearly 20-minute central span starting 16 minutes in, wherein a minor, ticklish metallic buzz mixed deep into the background slowly swells to become an insistent and then dominant feature, and then recedes to be overcome by equally urgent wooden tones, is brilliantly handled, and just one example of the long-sighted processes that Rossetto develops over the course of this rich, engrossing piece.
Equally effective is the element of surprise she enacts by shutting down the aforementioned chain of events abruptly and completely just before the 36-minute mark, and then sustaining a minute of silence – a gesture familiar among Wandelweiser composers like Michael Pisaro, whose work might be a useful touchstone in assessing rocinante – before building anew from gently sustained drones.
Whether rocinante marks a new direction for Rossetto or is revealed in time to be a distinguished outlier, it is a marvelous affirmation of her versatility, growing assurance, and capacity for fresh intrigue.
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