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Steve Roden, "Striations"

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cover imageMultimedia artist Steve Roden has stated that his work often begins with the product of some other artist, and becomes a jumping off point for him to create his own inspired work.  "Distance Piece," the audio component of Striations presented here, was part of a larger body of work inspired by an unfinished sculpture by his grandmother.  The audio portion that makes up this disc may lose a bit in the translation from its overall conceptual framework, but still makes for a strong work on its own.

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"Distance Piece" itself is a 46 minute composition that was made to accompany the six minute film Striations, and played outside of the Sculpture Center in New York, where the film was screened on a loop inside.  By design, the audio portion was intentionally divorced from its visual component, but is intrinsically linked at its overall composition, however.  The audio is culled from treated field recordings that were collected when Roden and artist Mary Simpson were filming, capturing cars and birds in the distance, speaking, tapping rocks, bowing cymbals, etc.

These recordings were then treated and processed by Roden into expansive rich, resonating tones.  There remains a constant low-level hum throughout, so that even when the mix becomes extremely open and superficially sparse, it never transitions fully to silence.  The elongated tones and heavy panning effects make it unclear where the sounds were initially sourced from, though the occasional hint of human voice or chirping bird occasionally slips through to stand out.

The entirety of the piece is underscored by a passage of electric guitar, playing a note progression created from a passage of text by sculptor Henry Moore that Roden's grandmother kept around as an inspiration.  For the most part this too appears largely in its original form, a cold passage of tonally pure notes that underscore the more abstract passages, weaving through the less obvious sounds surprisingly clearly.

While the piece has its strengths, at times "Distance Piece" simply fades off into the distance.  Given that it was originally part of a larger multimedia piece, and intended for incidental listening to viewers walking to, from, and around where the film was being screened, it suffers from being the sole focus of attention.  It is never a badly executed work by any means, it just simply becomes stagnant and seemingly unchanging at times, which can be a flaw in this sort of electro-acoustic work.

I hope my criticism of Roden's work does not come across as too harsh, because by no means is Striations a bad piece of music.  At times it is simply too subtle for its own good, and by being presented as a single album-length work, my attention tended to wander here and there throughout.  Fans of his previous work, and adherents to this minimalist brand of experimental work will easily find much to enjoy here, it just does not manage to transcend far beyond the genre’s adherents.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 02 October 2016 22:52  


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