Gil Sansón / Lance Austin Olsen - Works on Paper (2CD)
Double CD of a collaborative works of Venezuelan-based composer/artist Gil Sansón and Canadian-based composer/painter Lance Austin Olsen. Disc 1 consists of two variations of the interpretation of Olsen's painting/graphic score Pra Mim (2016) by Sansón. Disc 2 consists of two variations of the interpretation of Sansón's graphic score Meditations (2017) by Olsen. Cover graphic score by Gil Sansón, design by Yuko Zama.
CD 1: Gil Sansón (realized and recorded in Caracas, Venezuela, 2017-2018)
Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper (Lance Austin Olsen, 2016) 36:26
Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better (Lance Austin Olsen, 2016) 26:14
CD 2: Lance Austin Olsen (realized and recorded in Victoria BC, Canada, 2017-2018)
Meditations #3 (Gil Sansón, 2017) 28:30
Meditations #2 (Gil Sansón, 2017) 26:10
(released February 1, 2019)
Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper:
Gil Sansón (acoustic guitar, melodica, violoncello, electronics, objects, field recordings), A. F. Jones (spoken voice). Samples include: excerpts from Sansón's Untitled (for Antoine Beuger) and Untitled (for Annmarie Mattioli), performed by Dante Boon (piano); excerpts from Antoine Beuger's Monodies pour Mallarmé, performed by Anna Rosa Rodriguez (soprano voice) and Gil Sansón (melodica)
Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better:
Gil Sansón (voice, unplugged and plugged electric guitar, melodica, objects, electronics, field recordings)
Lance Austin Olsen (guitar, shruti box, amplified objects). Samples include found wax cylinder recording and excerpts from Lance Austin Olsen’s work Craig’s Stroke performed by John Luna (voice) and Debora Alanna (organ)
Lance Austin Olsen (guitar, amplified objects)
mastered by Taku Unami
cover graphic score Meditations by Gil Sansón
inside graphic scores Pra Mim by Lance Austin Olsen (left) and Meditations by Gil Sansón (right)
produced and designed by Yuko Zama
p+c 2019 elsewhere music
Venezuelan-based composer/artist Gil Sansón and Canadian-based composer/painter Lance Austin Olsen began to work closely together via long distance in 2014. Their collaboration initially began when Olsen painted the CD cover of Sansón's release 'Immanence, A Life' (Makam 003) in 2015. Sharing a similar aesthetic in art and music with deep respect and understanding of each other's work, the two soon started to make music in collaboration through realizations of each other's graphic scores or paintings. Their first collaborative piece 'A Meditation on the History of Painting (2017)' was published as one of the four tracks of Olsen's notable 2018 release 'Dark Heart' on Another Timbre label. Their collaborative relationship has been rapidly flourishing and deepened with intensity since then. Subsequently, Sansón and Olsen recorded four new collaboration pieces in 2017-2018: two variations of the interpretation of Olsen's painting/graphic score Pra Mim (2016) by Sansón; and two variations of the interpretation of Sansón's graphic score Meditations (2017) by Olsen. This double CD 'Works on Paper' (elsewhere 006-2) contains these four pieces on two discs in nonchronological order.
Sansón said, "At some level, I find no distinction between painting and sound making. The processes are similar in essence and they seem to come from the same place. In the case of Lance's paintings, I find a great example of this. He is able to switch mediums and combine them as if there were no actual distinction. I believe the idea that you can makåe music that is both radically modern without sacrificing the idea of beauty, which to me remains essential and grounds me in the centuries-old tradition of Western classical music, so dear to me since I was a child."
Their realizations are exquisitely layered collages of sparse sounds of musical instruments, objects, electronics, field recordings, voices, and fragments of their past compositions and early classical music as samples, creating an open, profound expansion of the horizon of the music. The intense, vibrant raw energy and graceful beauty immanent in both artists’ pieces are organically integrated into one whole album, forming an epic arch that connects the inner worlds of the two artists poignantly yet meditatively.
Steve Smith, National Sawdust Log
Think about how you respond to looking at a work of abstract visual art. What elements do you fixate on the most? The colors, or lack of them? Light, or its absence? A feeling of volume, or of emptiness? A sensation of motion, or of complete stillness? Nearly all of those quantities and qualities might come into play; what’s certain is that your own personal response is unlikely to duplicate exactly that of another viewer.
Now, imagine using that work of art as a musical score. In effect, that’s what’s happening on Works on Paper, a beautifully mysterious new release from the consistently edifying young label Elsewhere. The album, issued as a two-CD set and in a variety of download formats (including high-resolution lossless files), presents the newest developments in an ongoing partnership between two unique and distinctive creators: Gil Sansón, who resides in Caracas, Venezuela, and Lance Austin Olsen, a London-born artist based in Victoria, British Columbia.
These artists represent different generations and life experiences. Sansón, born in 1970, has fashioned an impressive oeuvre of electro-acoustic work, drawing upon improvisation, text scores, graphic scores, digital collage, and more. “His audio work,” one recent biographical blurb said, “emphasizes the nature of sound and its capability to transcend stylistic boundaries.” Olsen, born in 1943, came to sound art relatively late; in a 2014 essay, the writer and concert producer Jesse Goin enumerated “Olsen’s half-century of painting, 40 years of zazen, and 15 years of musical practice”—“footprints of my journey,” in Olsen’s words. A great deal of his work, though certainly not all of it, has been documented by Infrequency Editions, the label Olsen founded in 2001 with his longtime artistic partner and collaborator, Jamie Drouin—yet another composer and visual artist. (Goin wrote that essay, incidentally, to accompany Scores & Markings, a fascinating collection of works created by sound artists, including Drouin, in response to Olsen’s visual scores.)
A connection between Sansón and Olsen, which had started as a long-distance collaboration in 2014, grew closer when a painting by Olsen served as a wrap-around cover illustration for Sansón’s splendid 2015 recording, Immanence, a Life.
Their first true joint creation, A Meditation on the History of Painting, came in 2017: Olsen used field recordings, amplified copper plate and engraving tools, a wax cylinder recording, guitar, voice, and even an amplified iron park bench to realize Sansón’s graphic score. The piece was issued in 2018 on the album Dark Heart, a crucial introduction to Olsen’s music, released as part of the consistently illuminating Canadian Composers Series on the English label Another Timbre. (The redoubtable listener and writer Brian Olewnick, in a characteristically perceptive review, helpfully describes Sansón’s score and textual pointers.)
Works on Paper expands on that initial collaboration’s fascinating, elusive abundance. The first disc features two distinct realizations by Sansón of Olsen’s Pra Min, a 2017 visual score consisting of a sequence of collages. For “Pra Min #2 – Works on Paper,” Sansón employs acoustic guitar, melodica, cello, electronics, amplified objects, field recordings, and samples—of the pianist Dante Boon playing two Sansón compositions, and of Sansón’s own performance of an Antoine Beuger composition with the soprano Anna Rosa Rodriguez. Crucially, Sansón also employs A.F Jones – the sound artist and recording engineer who facilitated last week’s album of the week, Alloys – who delivers in plainspoken manner a narrative of unknown origin, detailing rich but fleeting impressions and snatches of memories.
It’s a lot to take in, but Sansón deploys his palette with the same attention to color, contrast, and detail that Olsen used in fashioning the score. That’s not to suggest Sansón’s performance is a literal translation of Olsen, but rather an accurate impression of qualities evident in Olsen’s art. It’s also not the only available interpretation of the score—not even by Sansón himself, who uses his own voice, electric guitar (unplugged and plugged), melodica, amplified objects, electronics, and field recordings in “Pra Min #1 – Fail Better.” This alternate view of Olsen’s score shares some features in common with its disc mate, but feels more intimate and tactile (claustrophobically so at times), with harder and coarser surfaces and textures.
Disc two likewise features two interpretations by Olsen of Meditations, a 2017 graphic score by Sansón, part of which is visible on the album’s front cover. In a fitting instance of symmetry, the first version you hear is more elaborate, populous, and self-referential; the second more solitary and bare. “Meditations #3” opens with a sample from an old classical recording – a men’s ensemble from an opera, I presume, though determining just what has proved elusive – rendered gelatinous through pitch alteration and other manipulations. Aural components in this realization include guitar, shruti box, amplified objects, wax cylinder recording (presumably the source of the men’s chorus), and samples from a recording of his own graphic-score work Craig’s Stroke.
Around three minutes in, the acoustic expands and grows more present; “Okay, don’t hit me,” Olsen says, unemphatically—a motif that recurs elsewhere in the piece, both prominent and not. As in Sansón’s visual collage, with its wolflike crimson figure spattered like a blood stain above a supine block of text, Olsen’s music renders indistinct notions of foreground and background, focus and context. Common to both score and interpretation is a heady sense of dislocation and everything-at-onceness. “Meditations #3” grows edgy and coarse midway through, sharp contours lending a feeling of anxiety that never wholly departs. The work’s final minutes seem to hold tension and resolution in tenuous equilibrium.
As on the previous disc, the second track on this one – “Meditations #2” – is starker, sparer, and more uneasy than what came before it. Olsen limits himself to guitar and amplified objects, though some echoes, flits, and squelches defy easy assignment to any particular sound source. Not quite 10 minutes in, droning sustained chords begin to supplant the nervous, itchy sounds that started the piece. These long tones hold sway for a meditative nine minutes or so, after which the insect music returns to close the piece.
Needless to say, the four performances featured on Works on Paper can be enjoyed simply as richly detailed, lucidly balanced, grippingly paced sonic excursions, with no heed paid to the elaborate relationships between these artists and their idioms. But for anyone interested in aural manifestations of visual stimuli – and especially in gauging how artists who know their collaborators well still can produce wildly varying responses – this beautifully produced release will provide endless contemplation. To borrow an idea from Heraclitus, the set offers compelling evidence that you can’t view or hear the same art, twice. (2/1/2019)
John Eyles, All About Jazz
Coinciding with the first anniversary of the formation of the Elsewhere label, its sixth release maintains the high standards set by the previous five. If anything, the two-CD set Works on Paper may be slightly more experimental, even risk-taking, than its predecessors—none of which could ever be described as safe.
First, some history. Back in the late 90's, guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Han Bennink agreed to each record something and then post it to the other one, who would then play with the recording and record the results. The end results were the albums Post Improvisation 1: When You're Smilin—credited to Han Bennink + Derek Bailey—and Post Improvisation 2: Air Mail Special—vice versa—(both Incus, 1999). In late 2017, the two old friends Christian Wolff and Antoine Beuger produced something similar for the album Where Are We Going, Today(Erstwhile, 2018) with Beuger making a recording which was then sent (electronically, not by mail) to Wolff who added his contribution to it, the end results being mixed by Taku Unami; as that album's sleeve note says, "A silent dialogue with an absent partner."
Works on Paper is subtly different to, but firmly in the footsteps of the above albums, as it also fits that quote's description. It features two men who are both visual and sound artists, Venezuela's Gil Sansón and London-born, Canadian-resident Lance Austin Olsen. The pair first collaborated when Olsen painted the cover of Sansón's CD releaseImmanence, A Life (Makam, 2015). Respecting and understanding each other's work, the two soon started to collaborate, making musical realizations of one another's graphic scores or paintings. Olsen's 2018 album Dark Heart, which was part of Another Timbre's impressive Canadian Composers series, featured a realisation of the Venezuelans' 2017 graphic score "A Meditation on the History of Painting."
For Works on Paper, Sansón and Olsen each made realisations of one of the other's graphic scores. Disc One features two Sansón versions of Olsen's 2016 piece "Pra Mim," recorded in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2017-18; with a pleasing symmetry, Disc Two has two Olsen versions of Sansón's 2017 piece "Meditations," recorded in Victoria, British Columbia, from 2017-18. Commendably, the album sleeve includes images of each of the graphic scores, so that listeners get to see the images that stimulated the sounds they are hearing. Each is a beautiful artwork but, as with many graphic scores, the images do not prescribe what should be played in response to them, but leave it to the musician's discretion and creativity. Noticeably, Sansón and Olsen both produce two versions that differ considerably from each other, one featuring them playing alone and another with considerable use of samples to fill out the soundscape. (Listen to the YouTube clip below, for an example of the latter.)
Given their past collaborations, it is unsurprising that Sansón performing Olsen ends up sounding remarkably similar to Olsen performing Sansón. The two are subtly distinct but sound very alike. Their soundscapes are uncluttered, ensuring that all the component sounds can be appreciated clearly and distinctly. Neither of them attempts to construct a narrative, instead leaving the juxtaposition of sounds to be appreciated for its inherent beauty. In effect, each of these fine visual artists is literally painting with sound. The end result is an album that runs for over an-hour-and-three-quarters, one which is able to grab listeners' attention and hold them spellbound, no matter how many times they listen to it. (3/4/2019)
Ben Harper, Boring Like A Drill
Feels like I’ve been away forever. I got a bunch of new albums I want to talk about and a superb Alvin Lucier concert I went to last week, but right now I have to say something about this new release by Gil Sansón and Lance Austin Olsen. I got all excited about Olsen’s music last year, with his visual approach to making music. A real artist, y’know? He makes paintings, some of which function as musical scores, and takes a very collage-type approach to his recordings.
On his Another Timbre CD last year, Olsen produced a multitracked realisation of a graphic score by the Venezuelan artist Gil Sansón. I’d described A Meditation on the History of Painting as “like painting, a synthesis of gesture and editing, with traces of the two processes preserved in the medium”. On this new album, Works on Paper, Olsen and Sansón give an extended presentation of their technique of creative exchange. Disc 1 features two realisations of Olsen’s painting/score Pra Mim, recorded by Sansón in Caracas. On the second disc the roles are reversed, with Olsen in Victoria, Canada recording two realisations of Sansón’s graphic score Meditations. For two hours, the air teems with tantalising connections, potentialities.
As with painting, the fabric of the music hovers between fragments of narrative and unspecified affect. It’s an elusive music, part radio drama, part collage, part pure sound. The sense of meaning is always present, both in content and form, but is left to the listener to find for themselves. Sampled music, taken straight or manipulated, combine with field recordings, musical instruments, isolated phrases spoken or sung and mysterious electronic clicks and buzzes. Similarities between the two artists abound, inviting further connections and comparisons to be made between the two minds at work, one in British Columbia and the other in Venezuela. The sounds are captured beautifully. Within each realisation, certain elements repeat, or seem to. Everything becomes suspended in a dream-like state, fully aware but inexplicable.
The pieces have been sequenced so that words, spoken or sung, appear less and less as time goes on. Pieces end on extended hiatus, with aural figuration giving way to empty spaces, alive with background sound. The final Meditation is wordless, with Olsen interpreting Sansón’s score with layers of sparse, amplified sounds and guitar. The album’s an ideal follow-up to last year’s Dark Heart release. (3/18/2019)
Peter Taber, Dusted Magazine
Works on Paper, the newest release on Elsewhere Music, presents a joint work by Venezuelan Gil Sansón and Canadian Lance Austin Olsen. Each sound artist provides two interpretations of his collaborator’s graphic score. Like a letter that arrives already opened, the album’s disjointed, subdued ambiences present something intimate that nonetheless brings distance itself into focus as an unsettling object of attention.
On Sansón’s two tracks, unfussy fades move through a series of impressionist tableaus. “Pra Mim #2 – Works on Paper” enters with the quietest of drones underpinning a mix of rain and typing. English-language spoken word punctuates the moment, before a move to spare guitar plucks and what could be a recording made in a public plaza. The piece builds to a tropical shower at two-thirds through, perhaps applause, and layered, anxious spoken word fragments giving way to silence. “Pra Mim #1 – Fail Better” starts with bare electrical self-noise and manipulation of the recorder, gradually adding bowed metal textures and vocal snippets.
Olsen’s entries exhibit greater density. Down-pitched choral music begins “Meditations #3”, quickly accompanied by pleading vocals, lending a sense of impending violence. An eventual eruption of feedback squawks, rustling noises, reverberant object manipulations is at once hallucinatory and cathartic after the preceding restraint. “Meditations 2” presents synthetic squeals against a backdrop of amplified ventilator shaft ambience and low hums. An organ-like drone gradually moves the track into a more subdued passage and finally into environmental noise.
The title Works on Paper can be read two complementary ways. The first draws our attention to the device of the graphic scores as an interface between composer and sound collagist. The second suggests an untested idea, waiting to be cast out into the world to see what comes back. The mode of collaboration engaged in by Sansón and Olsen either aptly reminds us of the limits of a subject’s agency and the inevitably mediated relationship we have with others. Tense, disconnected biographical reminiscences against indifferent environmental noise or the manipulation of nearby objects amidst coldly reverberant spaces make the album’s most intimate moments feel fraught. Elsewhere, the lowercase murmur of devices, traffic, climate-controlled atmospheres envelops much of the album in infrastructure, calling to mind the vast concatenation of people and things required to convey sound, image or artist between Caracas and Victoria. (2/27/2019)
Jeph Jerman, The Squid's Ear
Gil Sanson and Lance Austin Olsen are both artists who work in sound as well as graphics, and this 2-disc set is a blending of these disciplines. Each artist chose a graphic score by the other to interpret, in two separate renderings each. Luckily for us, parts of the scores in question have been reproduced on the cover. They are both complex, layered affairs, as is the music produced from them.
Sanson's first pass at Olsen's "Pra Min" (subtitled "Works On Paper") opens with an electric humming soon joined by crackly textures and what sounds like a field recording of rain. Tones are introduced, along with the voice of Alan Jones, who ponders a vegetarian conundrum. Distant, warbly music is just barely audible with louder plucked guitar notes. "England won the world cup, and the hotel burnt down." Hisses and piano notes from an older recording of Sanson's roll by, and fresh sounds and textures are introduced frequently, varying in presence and volume. The voice samples that keep cropping up are not used in a narrative way, but are rather just another layer of the whole, perhaps a bit too focused on idea and therefore a bit jarring, but they pass quickly. Later the textures become more electronic in nature, as drones and serrated hums ebb and change timbre. The second pass, subtitled "Fail Better" (and which was actually recorded first), is sparser, using fewer components. The quiet/loud juxtapositions are more extreme as well, and this time the voice is singing rather than speaking, albeit very briefly. Around five and a half minutes in there's a really nice section of guitaristic fumble backed by super loud room ambience, before things thicken up considerably, with sweeping tones, melodica discords and distant traffic sounds. The big difference here is that there are no sampled or pre-recorded music, perhaps the whole piece was recorded in one pass.
Olsen's two interpretations of Sanson's "Meditations" are presented on the second disc, again in reverse order, and again one version is considerably thicker than the other. "Meditations #3" opens with a slowed down found cylinder recording of a choral work which sounds rather spooky to me. Gradually other textures creep in, including a section of an older Olsen work, "Craig's Stroke", with its repeated admonition "don't hit me". Electronic squiggles and fuzzy tones accompany. A single repeated chord clangs out against a rolling wooden grinding sound, before a more complex section consisting of select bits of earlier sounds swells up. On the whole it seems that introductions of new material happen more slowly in this piece, and (to this listener at least), there is more of an emotive, even cinematic, feel. Perhaps almost narrative in an alien way. "Meditations #2" is a bit less complex, with Olsen listed as playing only guitar and amplified objects, but just as dense and immersive as the previous piece. Throbs and wheedling peeps repeat, giving the whole a cyclic feel, while crackle and whirr are added over the top. Things thicken as a low drone is introduced, the objects taking on a castanet-like timbre. A big chord that resembles an organ rises and falls. Controlled feedback and a beautiful swelling low end the piece.
It would be interesting to find out how these gentlemen went about translating the painted collages into sound, but barring an actual conversation we'll never know. Perhaps a quote from Gil Sanson might be helpful though: "At some level, I find no distinction between painting and sound making. The processes are similar in essence and they seem to come from the same place." (3/23/2020)
Eyal Hareuveni, The Free Jazz Collective
How abstract, visual art is translated into graphic scores and vice versa? Venezuelan composer-visual artist Gil Sansón and British, Vancouver-based composer-painter Lance Austin Olsen attempt to answer this kōan in four imaginative textures.
Neither of Sansón and Olsen are ordinary musicians. Sansón is a self-taught composer who defines himself a “lifelong music student”. His musical origins are in rock, avant rock, classical music, contemporary music, and electro-acoustic improvisation, and his music is not governed by dialectics and shies away from rhetoric or representation, narrative concerns or virtuoso playing. Olsen is known for his abstract large-scale works, where the surface is endlessly reworked, with each subsequent piece forming a record or narrative of ongoing discovery. Through this process the viewer experiences an inextricable link between the activity of producing the work as well as the sense that they are seeing but one element in a lifelong pursuit. He began working with sound in 1997 and released limited-edition album on his label Infrequency.
Sansón and Olsen began to work together, long distance, in 2014 when Olsen painted the cover of Sansón's Immanence, A Life (Makam, 2015). Soon both decided to enhance their profound, mutual understanding to collaborative musical projects through realizations of each other's graphic scores or paintings. Their first collaborative piece, Sansón’s graphic score for “A Meditation on the History of Painting”, was released on Olsen's Dark Heart (Another Timbre, 2018). Works on Paper offers four new collaborative works: On the first disc, recorded in Caracas, Sansón interprets two variations of Olsen's painting-graphic score "Pra Mim (2016)"; On the second disc, recorded in Victoria, British Columbia, Olsen offers two variations of his interpretation of Sansón's graphic score “Meditations (2017)”.
Sansón plays on Olsen’s “Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper” and “Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better” variations the acoustic guitar, melodica, violoncello, electronics, objects and field recordings, samples the voice of America sound artist A. F. Jones, as well as excerpts from two compositions of his own, performed by pianist Dante Boon, and excerpts from experimental Dutch composer Antoine Beuger's “Monodies pour Mallarmé”, performed by soprano Anna Rosa Rodriguez. Sansón manages to arrange all these contrasting medium and transform-paint all into a multilayered, kinetic and colorful texture. This rich, expansive texture still sounds intimate, delicate and quite mysterious.
Despite the geographical distance, the distinct methods of composing-painting, and different backgrounds in musical aesthetics, Olsen’s variations explore like-minded inner worlds. Olsen plays on Sansón’s “Meditations #3” and “Meditations #2” (part of the graphic score is captured on the cover) lone, un-tuned guitar, amplified objects, shruti box, samples, including found wax cylinder recording, and excerpts from his work “Craig’s Stroke” performed by vocalist John Luna and organist Debora Alanna. The atmosphere on these sonic meditations-sound paintings is more intense and tensed but also more austere and compassionate, as if envisions a dark, threatening future.
Every listening to this unique work of art may bring completely different answers, all insightful and all valid, to the kōan of Sansón’and Olsen. (6/2/2019)