I feel as though I haven’t heard (or own) enough records by Jason Lescalleet, an American sound artist who has carved out his own niches and caverns in the rock-face of avant-garde music, occupying and colonising these spaces with the robust determination of a wild mountain flower. What scraps fall our way are gratefully devoured in the old mulch-cannon of consumerism, but I’m always left with a general feeling of bewilderment – his work is never something that lends itself to easy explanations, pat understanding, or sound-bite user-friendly snippets of shrapnel for the prose machine. Unbeknownst to me, he’s been quietly issuing a regular series of informal documents under the banner “This Is What I Do”, a programme of publication which began in 2011 and has now reached its completion in 2019 with the issuing of Volume 21. I have in my grubby, clumsy mitts a CDR copy of same, but I believe they were mostly issued to subscribers via Bandcamp. He calls it an “open workbook” concept, enjoying the sandbox aspect which evidently allows him to publish whatever he chooses, without having to meet the expectations of an audience or a record label. This might be his laid-back way of saying “Ni Maitre, Ni Dieu” to the world, though that’s a rather absolutist way of putting it. Interestingly, there was a gap of several years between Vols 1 and 2, and it was only around 2014 that he hit on the scheme of putting out these gobbets of sonic dough in monthly instalments. A musical magazine, almost; that’s a good idea. He owns that “it was fun and liberating”, and the enterprise clearly brought him a sense of personal satisfaction. How many people working today can say that? There’s also some highly intuitive logic at play in Jason’s mind that led him to end the series with Number 21 rather than Number 20 (the latter would have been more “logical” or “tidier” perhaps), and he follows these instincts in line with what his “inner artistic demon” requires.
Some of this highly inscrutable working method – some might call it OCD – has passed into the sequencing of Vol 21. Of the six tracks here, four of them are timed to last precisely 11 mins and 11 seconds, one of them precisely half that duration, with an opening cut (which might be pure silence) of 11 seconds. I admire an artist who feels they must build an exactly-calibrated canvas before they even pick up the paintbrush; it says something about the order of the world, adhering to mathematical principles in some way. Or perhaps following the code of secret geometry, well understood by Piero della Francesca for instance. The audio on these tracks is packed with fascinating, mysterious material that is hard to describe, but it’s compelling. Maybe field recordings, maybe found sounds, maybe electronic music; maybe a collage of all of these, put together according to a process or system that only the artist understands. Voices and spoken words mingle with sound effects, leaked out in small fragments, almost amounting to a radio play or film soundtrack, with a story that is impossible to follow; these elements suspended loosely in a vague drizzle of simple, minimalist electronic drones and low-key process treatments. At all times, I find myself savouring the lightness of touch of Jason Lescalleet, the subtlety of his approach. When I hear any given work on the Canadian empreintes DIGITALes label, I’m often overpowered by the aggressive electro-acoustic processing that seems to be the signature style of the Montreal school; it’s as if they want to call attention to the mixing desk and the million faders and knobs, and their artistic style in mastering these technical hurdles. Lescalleet, conversely, is so light-touch that he’s almost invisible, like the builder you invite into your home who promises “you won’t know I’m here”. Every beautiful piece emerges in a natural manner, and we’re invited to share the joy of its discovery.
I was hoping to find all the “back issues” of This Is What I Do available on the Glistening Examples Bandcamp page, but only a few are hosted there. Perhaps the subscription model still applies. I would recommend hearing this one and anything else by Jason Lescalleet you can get your paws into. From 29 April 2019.