usic is a mnemonic device; even if we don’t consciously ape the hyperbolically sentimental mien of Proust, we can’t help but attach phenomenal significance to certain songs. It’s often the lyrics that do it for us, whether they encapsulate hackneyed tales of unrequited love, saline yarns of endless summer or pure nonsense that unintentionally signifies personal history if only because of the frequency with which it was dealt. The memories are powerful; their potency does not wane. An octogenarian nimbly remembers a country club dance to Glenn Miller’s ‘String of Pearls’; the 60s survivor recalls an ecstatic beach weekend framed by the confectionary Pet Sounds; both people couldn’t be more different, but their response is homogenous: music’s associative mechanism erects monuments out of the skeletons of instance; singular actions glue the event together, pasting them evenly over the face of a jingle, a lyric, a song. Like books, songs sound pictures in our heads, emptying our minds of the disparate errata of the day-to-day, and relocating us to a time and place perhaps nearly forgotten. If past music becomes a part of our memory, and the music of the present is ostensibly bound to trigger personal recollection, what are we to do when present music steadfastly references the memory of the artist, rather than preen for our anxious sensibilities, eager to smartly package something that was destined to be forgotten?
The music on Lori Scacco’s first solo effort, Circles, does just this; acting as an auditory journal, the album allows the listener to hear of experiences that were once private, yet now are brazenly forthcoming. The experiences chronicled on Circles inhabit a variety of form: some shape a dreary alienation, the likes of which often informed the narrative push of Antonioni’s best films; some blush, percolating with ingenuousness, some are more evasively brilliant, like gasoline smears stubbornly disappearing on streets after an unexpected rain. The instrumentation is as varied as the public reflection: a piano broods openly as in Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, oscillating between quiet joy and ruminative sadness; guitars operate in a disciplined flutter, not unlike the solo work of David Grubbs, most notably his Banana Cabbage, Potato Lettuce, Onion Orange; bowed bass strikes a mystical figure; synthesizers and samples offer warmth and solace to a plaintive mood, much like those on Carpet Musics’ 2001 recording, Weekday. It’s an odd enterprise, equating the sounds that issue from Ms. Scacco’s instruments with sounds that issue from other artist’s instruments. Parsing the pieces on Circles results in a wildly disparate yield: the everything-is-connected mania overpowers reason, and you’re left with a notebook page of highbrows, scribbled in a crabbed hand. Ultimately, one realizes the pointlessness of the exercise: where most current ‘electronic’ artists are compelled to digitally manipulate the acoustic—Christian Fennesz, for example—Ms. Scacco is more than happy to let it stand on its own: each piece a microcosm broken off from its larger whole. And yet it feels utterly incorrect to dissect separate pieces, which, in effect removes specific instrumentation from its context. It’s not a delineation of the parts themselves that informs, but rather a broader focus on the summation of those parts; altered emphasis grants one entrance not only to a restricted locus, but also to the emotive whole. Coming away from Circles is akin to coming away from a von Trier film: it’s not certain moments that hold you, it’s the overall trial, a process at once egregious and useful and ultimately transformative: beaming contentment is born from depression’s barren corpus.
For all of Circles’ fullness, though, space remains. Our psychological predilection demands that we imprint something of ourselves upon nearly everything that we come into contact with; and even when that surface is loaded already—as Circles is—we’re able still to see it as the blank slate that it isn’t. Unlike music that’s sustained by its highly personal quality, Circles keeps its experience dressed in neutral clothes: even though the listener is turned into a voyeur, there’s an oddly disengaged facet to this engaged music—the experience sound-tracked is decidedly Ms. Scacco’s, yet its soft rendering allows the listener to enter the location as an empty space—a home outgrown, put up for sale, and walked though by a potential dweller.
Ultimately, Ms. Scacco’s Circles succeeds in oxymoronic fashion: the music she crafts is of vibrant minimalism; she imbues a wholly instrumental music with lyric exuberance, and moves in an orbit that allows the public a voyeuristic insight into her past all while providing music that will undoubtedly close around a significant moment in a listener’s prior or forthcoming experience. Circles, indeed.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2004-07-22