I once saw a Michael Pisaro concert that involved a piece for bowed crotales and sine tones. One of the piece’s goals was to produce a psychoacoustic beating effect between the relatively stable high-frequency drone of the crotales and the constantly modulating sine tones around it. However, during this particular performance, a loud rock band was playing across the street, and occasionally their performance would cut through and blend with and alter the close register beatings of the frequencies. Instead of hindering the performance, I found that this chance occurrence turned the piece into something else. The juxtaposition of the rock band’s rhythm and harmony was gradually blending in and out of the pulsating drone, almost as if their distant playing came out of the beatings itself.
Eli Keszler and Ashley Paul’s second collaborative release as Aster comes across as something of a fully realized version of the aleatoric acoustic phenomenon that I witnessed at Pisaro’s performance. Many of the pieces on their forthcoming Things That Just Happen album involve the exploration of high-register beatings through the use of crotales and various woodwinds, but the duo use this textural template to allow genuine harmonic movement to emerge from the psychoacoustic effects of their playing. Of these pieces, “Secrets and Lies” is the most removed from the high-frequency work, but listen closely and the wails of Paul’s clarinet and the subtle squeaks of Keszler’s percussion draw a clear line to its place in the midst of the duo’s impossibly successful psychoacoustic song cycle.
The concept of intimacy has often been discussed when examining Paul’s work, and “Secrets and Lies” definitely continues to develop that theme. Even though the track clearly involves overdubs, the duo create an atmosphere that is at once claustrophobic and expansive. Paul’s voice and clarinet often sound like they’ve drifted in from a room over the course of the track’s close-mic’d acoustic noise. In this sense, Paul and Keszler create a space where the roomy-sounding melodic/harmonic components of the work seem to emerge from the microcosmic world of their warped instruments. Of course, Keszler and Paul acknowledge this emergent nature of their compositions both with the album’s title and by allowing songs/melodies to develop out of their psychoacoustic explorations. As a result, they’ve managed to make a record that recreates the contingency of various spaces and styles interacting in real-time.
Things That Just Happen is out October 22 via Rel Records. You can listen to “Secrets and Lies” below.