The Clear Distance: a contemplative work of quiet minimal improvisation

Bill Seaman & Stephen Vitiello, The Clear Distance, Australia, Room40, RM 4201 CD (2023)

As a media artist, academic and researcher, Bill Seaman has produced a considerable corpus of work, including installations, and commissions spanning the globe over the past 40 years, but his work as a composer and musician is probably not quite as well known. From what I have been able to see online, Seaman released an album of musique concrete and experimental music in 1991 but his musical career didn’t really take off in earnest (as measured by album and other releases) until 2014, and since then his output has been steady with solo and collaborative work.

“The Clear Distance” may be Seaman’s third collaboration with electronic musician / media artist Stephen Vitiello, on which the two swapped various sound materials and worked on one another’s recordings, then swapping them again for further work. The overall result though does not sound overworked or loaded with layer upon layer upon layer of music and effects; rather the entire album comes across as very minimalist in its approach, contemplative in mood, and sparing in delivery. Space seems to be as much an instrument in its own right as are the piano (the dominant instrument on most tracks), banjo, clarinet and various other acoustic instruments that feature on several tracks. Some electronic treatments appear on the last track “The Rest”. Recordings by other musicians, worked on and arranged by Seaman and Vitiello, also feature on a number of tracks.

Although the music is organised in eight tracks, you could listen to them all as one long continuous soundtrack, due to the improvisational nature of the music, but the pace is very slow and languid, and changes in the music are usually gradual. You can treat the music as background relaxation though on some tracks, like “A Solumn Nature” (sic), the mood can be very solemn, even melancholy, and it goes downright dark on the following track “Found Notes”. It may not be the kind of music you’d play at parties – unless of course you need something to chase out the stragglers at 6am in the morning – but during times perhaps when you are feeling a bit low, and a soundtrack that empathises with your mood and helps you clear any bad feelings is called for, this album may be your best friend. Rather than constantly doing or searching for something, or working towards a goal or climax, the music is just in the moment, and is content to just be.