Thursday, March 18, 2021

Jamie Drouin – Touch: Works for Solo Dancer (Infrequency Editions, 2020) ****


By Nick Ostrum

It is hard for me to listen to Jamie Drouin’sTouch: Works for Solo Dancer without thinking of Derek Bailey’s Music and Dance. From the fuzzy ambient noises and the clangs at the beginning, to the crumbling rain sounds and pulsing energy that infuses the pieces, to the meticulous spaciousness of the sounds and the movements. In ways, Touch seems reinterpretation and expansion of the Bailey-Tanaka collaboration, though performed twenty-five years later win a wholly different post-Bailey corner of the abstract music world. Naturally, I developed these thoughts before I asked Drouin, who is largely unfamiliar with Bailey’s work, let alone familiar enough that he derived deep inspiration from Music and Dance. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that there is some common thread of closeness and patience that runs between these two works: Music and Dance, improvised on the spot as an intimate conversation between two masters of sound and dance and Touch, carefully constructed in isolation at home during quarantine with only the vision of a lone dancer against which to throw ideas.

Touch consists of two electroacoustic compositions for solo dancers. Both tracks, the twenty-minute Part I and the ten-minute Part II, deploy Drouin’s familiar bag of unfamiliar found and synthesized sounds, often just one or two at a time. The layers, in other words, are fragile, lending (I imagine) clear threads for the dancer to follow and spaces to fill, even if those threads and spaces can provoke a variety of movements and positions. Part I begins as one might expect, with a slow roll-out of sounds that increases in density. Density, however, is a detour rather than a goal, and this compulsion towards heavy layers is soon interrupted by spare percussive sounds that evoke a soft and irregular precipitation. (These passages, especially the extended one in the begins 13 minutes, are particularly entrancing in their calm internal variation but lack of cumulative development.) Part II begins somewhat heavier, though the rain imagery remains in crackling electronics and a deep, distant thunderous pulse that propels the piece at irregular intervals. Though still open, Part II evokes a somewhat stronger storm than the soft pitter-patter of Part I. By the end, however, the storm shifts and Drouin opens the piece first to ethereal shining tones and mysterious clicks and buzzes, then more cryptic rumblings, clatter, and oscillations.

I have listened to a lot of Drouin’s work over the last year. He is an intriguing artist who produces work that invariably makes this listener squint and ponder. Sometimes, I find his work a little too sparse, like a sketch or study rather than a full-on piece. Interestingly, this release (for which half of the performance, the dancer, is notably absent) gives the impression of a project more completely realized. Despite the quiet, it has a fullness that hints at that of his experimental ambient Liquid Transmitter work (highly recommended) but remains more firmly rooted in his electro-acoustic collage projects. And, because of that, Touch is one of the most compelling solo works that I have heard from Drouin yet. Would love to see the project even more complete, dancer and all, when the conditions permit it.

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