REVIEW: CLAIRE ROUSAY – SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE I HAVE NO FRIENDS

Prolific US sound artist Claire Rousay takes us on a lengthy meditation exploring companionship and solitude, told through field recordings and non-linear compositions in sound collage.

CLAIRE ROUSAY – Sometimes I Feel Like I Have No Friends

[Ambient, Drone, Field Recordings – USA – Self-Released]

Prolific sound artist and experimental composer Claire Rousay is a name who has cropped up into my consciousness frequently throughout the past year or so with a multitude of intriguing releases. Rousay is carving out a wide and unique discography experimenting with field recordings, sound collage, musique concrete, drone and electro-acoustic techniques in order to tell stories and narratives that are largely devoid of traditional melodies and linear song structures. Last year’s full length A Softer Focus felt like a breakthrough, finding shorter length tracks and a greater sense of linearity (as implied by the title) utilising synth and guitar passages much more frequently, whilst still merging in plenty of natural recordings of every day life. Throughout 2021, Rousay has released at least five other albums, collaborations and EP projects, with this latest (but for how long?) drawing me in with it’s striking title and snapshot of the world from outside a window.

Listening to this album in particular, the music of Claire Rousay makes me reminisce over the slice of life cinema of Taiwanese director Edward Yang. In his three hour swansong Yi-Yi, Yang lingers on characters through long, static takes observing the low-key and the mundane of the day to day lives of unassuming people. Yang finds a stillness and calm within his main characters, who are frequently filmed motionless in the foreground, whilst the world in the background continues to move along. For much of Yi-Yi’s three hour run time, a traditional music score is paired back in order to let gentle breezes, the sounds of traffic and background conversations act as a de facto soundtrack. Through the opening third of this 28 minute long sound collage Sometimes I Feel Like I Have No Friends, a slow ambient drone looms, ever so gradually and subtly becoming heavier. An accompanying violin creeps into the mix much later on giving more emphasis on the drone, but it’s Rousay’s field recordings mixed into the foreground that are propelling the narrative along. At points I genuinely couldn’t tell if the sounds of footsteps and overhead traffic noise were coming from my speakers or outside my own window. Sandwiched between the drone and the field recording, the protagonist of the story speaks aloud rhetorical poetry like a stream-of-conscious diary or blog entry. A meditation on the meanings and definitions of friendship, companionship, solitude and loneliness.

The resulting feel of the ambient drone, natural samples and spoken word dialogue captures a similar feeling to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s track BBF3, in which a man passionately retelling his experience of challenging a parking ticket in court almost threatens to eclipse the explosive post rock of the band themselves. Only of course, Rousay comes to a much quieter and more meditative conclusion. But after twelve minutes, this ambient drone and spoken dialogue is abruptly cut away like a radio station has been switched over to reveal a lengthy and faint recording of people talking, perhaps outside the window on the street, perhaps at a party – the actual words they speak sounding too muffled to make out. This stretch lasts for around eight minutes, before the crackling of fire, the clanging of cutlery and a haunting and brittle piano melody starts to slowly breach into the listener’s consciousness. Patient listeners who are willing to endure the full 28 minute long journey will be treated to a surprise ending in the last two minutes that concludes this aural film really nicely.

Claire Rousay clearly has a firm grasp on the wonderful subtleties and haunting radiance of ambient and drone music, yet is vigorously putting her own twist and signature stamp by building narratives through the mundane sounds we hear on our walk to work day in, day out. I can only think of the lengthy stretches of field recordings that accompany the likes of Godspeed’s Lift Your Skinny Fists album and The Mars Volta’s Frances The Mute – compositional elements that have often been disregarded by critics and fans as “filler”, and yet are now being reinvented into the main event. Much like the pioneering use of sampling and turntablism of DJ Shadow’s 1996 masterpiece Endtroducing… Rousay is reshaping what defines an instrument. To Claire Rousay, the passing sounds of cars, the crunch of footsteps, the rustle of leaves and background chattering are not things to be ignored or blocked out, but weapons to build stories, moods and emotions with. Claire Rousay has a phenomenal ability to wield a Dictaphone and a DAW like a rock star would a guitar, or an electronic music would a synthesiser, or a DJ would a turntable. If late film director Edward Yang became the master of slice of life cinema, then Claire Rousay is surely on her way to mastering slice of life music.

//

Sometimes I Feel Like I Have No Friends is out now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: