Rossetto (originally published July 1, 2009)

Further activity from Vanessa Rossetto, who, including the production of three recordings last year on her Music Appreciation label, has developed a distinctive, recognizable voice within a field of music that is hyper-productive, to put it lightly. She’s an interesting (and rewarding) musician to follow, and it deserves mention that, for many, both in the states and abroad, she’s become a point of representation with which the arts-conscious city of Austin, TX is currently identified. What’s most engaging is that this voice — in a comparatively small span of time — has developed without setting foot outside a 20-mile radius, and that it’s projected from a shoestring. Using minimal, inexpensive gear and freeware, Rossetto capitalizes on the freely available environmental noise unique to Central Texas, and augments with signals from “found” or “everyday” objects, often laced with her own playing on stringed instruments. Listening to her music, one gets a very real sense of a musician’s response to (and interaction with) the surrounding environment, by way of cello, viola, and field recordings. Many musicians seek the same juncture, but with flat results. A Rossetto recording leaves us with the appreciation of a musician’s sincere investment in the process of it all. Two recent solo recordings are discussed here.

Among her latest work is a short-ish piece entitled, “Century Oaks,” and is available for free download from Recreating the Domain, an audio gallery where Austin artists re-imagine and repackage a high-end local commercial district using site-specific recordings. “Century Oaks” exemplifies well that aforementioned voice and does so making full economy of what can be achieved in twenty minutes. I find it to be her definitive work thus far, for its range of sounds that sway on hinges affixed to a single mood. An outdoor field capture opens the piece, from some place in Texas where the birds and wind are active and cars and airplanes are extinct. These sounds are superimposed with electrical hums before a semi-abrupt transition to urban sprawl made acoustic, presumably near The Domain. Industrial rumbling finds kinship with electronics, only to be supplanted by a continuous, sustained loop and the fledgling resonances of a bowed viola string. Rossetto deflects any temptation to settle into a drone, merging the naturally acoustic with bits of fabricated electronic sound, in sing-song with the backing environment. Then, a low chunk of cello appears for the denouement just before a three-note arco viola pattern. Amid field recordings, the viola makes the transition from happenstance sketch to central figure, finding company with gradually added, multi-tracked clones of itself, with no semblance of cadence and building to something orchestral before dying a lonely death, in a final statement absent of all but the viola itself. It’s a powerful work whose evolution only its maker will understand, but with an existential grip from which breaking free is difficult. It’s a provocative instance of musician-courting-environment.

Dogs In English Porcelain is the bigger, but more timid, brother to “Century Oaks,” and is the fourth title to be released on the Music Appreciation imprint. It takes a commitment of time to get the full impression from this single 41-minute piece, but it’s a worthwhile investment whose return pays in dividends of minimalist electronics and audio captures of small animals and inanimate household stuffs. Such sounds are eased into the track’s beginning before a decisive excision around three minutes in, at which point the recording settles into a room with in- and outdoor activity slowly building. Interesting here is the introduction of Rossetto’s viola, more as component of the background, as if played from the furthest corner of a 25′ by 25′ room. Oscillators make quick entrances and faster exits. The dirty sputter of a passing car finds belonging with the more inherently musical songs of nearby birds. And then begins the central pursuit: the periodic consummation of acoustic instrumentation as a feature among its environmental counterparts. Her cello swaggers in finite statements, and later, impromptu, unrehearsed viola recitals seem delivered from a seated position on the floor of that room. This room, we want to see its walls, know their textures, their colors, their influence on the sounds that come out of our speakers. From inside them, Rossetto pulls out hidden sources, like the steady flow of water and air through household piping, the last sounds we hear. Like last year’s The Breadwinner, Dogs In English Porcelain brings things overlooked out of simplification and allows objects and everyday occurrences to make their own statements, only here in unashamed duet with the person doing the recording. Where the former is operatic, Rossetto’s piece is suitably, properly modest. Here, her touch is everywhere, whether or not she’s making a sound.

The two recordings are unique enough from one another as to make their own statements, but at the same time mark a clear, homogenous waypoint in Rossetto’s growing discography. Dogs In English Porcelain is irresistible for its strange obscurity, easy on the ears in its own transformation. And “Century Oaks” assists in the slow drying process of that cement encasing the merits of free, downloadable music. That it’s a gem sitting modestly in a small, non-advertised archive only adds to its appeal.

other: Vanessa Rossetto’s “Fall”, a bagatellen listen

~Alan Jones

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