One spring night, the San Antonio-based experimental musician Claire Rousay was within the driver’s seat of her parked automotive, smoking cigarettes and sipping a well-concealed beverage, when she picked up the Zoom H5 subject recorder that’s by no means removed from her attain. “I track my whole day every day,” Rousay says. “If I’m home, I’ll have a pair of stereo microphones in my living room, and a field recorder in my bedroom. I’ll probably have 18 hours of field recordings … I basically record my whole life.”
She turns these discovered sounds into musique concrète that locates grains of emotion within the mundane — a automotive door slamming, a lighter igniting, the plink of an Apple keyboard mid-text. What a songwriter may convey in poetry, Rousay evokes with uncooked audio. You might name it sound artwork, however it’s viscerally weak. More appropriately to Rousay — who declines to verify her precise age however identifies as “a millennial sun, zoomer rising” — her work has been tagged as “emo ambient.”
Last fall, Rousay launched the 20-minute composition “It Was Always Worth It,” for which she spun the contents of actual love letters she’d obtained over a six-year relationship by means of a robotic text-to-voice program. In a 12 months broadly missing in new, intimate conversations of the unguarded three a.m. caliber, it was a heartbreaking revelation. In a world of limitless distraction, Rousay’s is an artwork of paying consideration. Her immersive new album, “A Softer Focus,” is her first to attract in melody and concord (“the pleasure of making music,” because it’s been known as), and although she’s posted 22 releases to Bandcamp since 2019, it appears like an arrival.
In her artwork as in her life, Rousay appears intent on breaking by means of the perceived super-seriousness that her work may portend. She calls karaoke “an intimate soul endeavor” (her go-tos are Taking Back Sunday and Lil Peep) and lights up when discussing, with equal reverence, the composer Pauline Oliveros’s guide “Deep Listening” (2005) or her longtime favourite band, Bright Eyes. “Being a real person is what I care about most,” Rousay says. “Being present and open.” Evidence of this abiding dedication to honesty might be present in final spring’s “Im Not a Bad Person But …,” one other text-to-voice piece that ends on a daring admission: “I think Avril Lavigne’s album ‘Let Go’ is better than Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps.’”
Building on her unconventional fashion, Rousay produced “A Softer Focus” as an equal collaboration with the San Antonio artist Dani Toral. The pair met in center college there — after Toral had relocated from Mexico City, and Rousay from Canada — however had been quickly in fixed movement, with numerous excursions and residencies, till the pandemic compelled them to remain put. In addition to the floral cowl artwork, Toral made a video, took images, designed a T-shirt, named the report and a number of other songs and created 30 ceramic whistles to accompany the discharge. The widespread thread, Toral mentioned, is a “glowy” sense of consolation. The whistles, impressed by Mexican folks artwork and a 2006 guide in regards to the historical past of ceramic devices known as “From Mud to Music,” had been an particularly becoming addition. “I love clay because it holds a lot of memory,” Toral says. “It holds every touch that you put into it.”
Rousay’s items perform equally, and for “A Softer Focus” she even recorded Toral in her yard ceramics studio sculpting one of many whistles, taking part in it and reflecting on the method — placing their dialog into the music. On the album, that snatch of dialogue additionally finds Rousay and Toral considering the stresses of Instagram for visible artists — the anxiousness of being anticipated to submit not simply your work however your life. “It was us smoking joints and talking,” Rousay says, “and I think the recording is like six joints deep.” It’s a element that speaks to the entire undertaking’s ethos of presence and progress: Toral had by no means made digital artwork earlier than and, as Rousay places it, “I had never really made a listenable record. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of being in the zone. We were learning together.”
ROUSAY GREW UP in a strict evangelical Christian family in Winnipeg, Manitoba — secular music was forbidden — and was 10 when her household moved to San Antonio. She drummed throughout church providers earlier than untethering herself from Christianity and looking for that means round her as a substitute. After dropping out of highschool at 15, she toured with an indie rock band and, after discovering jazz, turned to free improvisation. She traveled as a solo percussionist, doing 200 gigs in 2017 alone.
The awe-inspiring swarm of “A Softer Focus” can really feel like an amalgam of this all. On the spotlight monitor “Peak Chroma” — named by Toral to evoke “the highest saturation of a color” — Rousay provides a pitch-shifted vocal line about listening to “the newest Blackbear song,” a reference to the Florida emo rapper and Justin Bieber co-writer Matthew Tyler Musto. It’s a acutely aware nod to a realm of latest pop that Rousay finds “infinitely more experimental” than many artists would permit. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” she says. “Experimental music is so limited as it is. There are so many fake rules that the whole thing is not really that experimental anymore. What can I do to change that?”
It was across the time that she embraced emo ambient as a descriptor that she determined to cease avoiding her distinctive confluence of pursuits. “I couldn’t do it anymore, just being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I really love Stockhausen’ — are you kidding me?” she jokes. “I don’t know how you can go through life being so selective about parts of your personality.” Ultimately, although — and in one other nod to Oliveros — Rousay says her best influences are seemingly within the sounds of her personal surroundings.
“Sitting on the back porch, listening to the sounds of my backyard — that’s what should matter,” Rousay says. “But if I listen to Fall Out Boy every Friday night after 11 p.m. when I’m blackout drunk, that’s the way it is. Some people have the cicadas in their backyard. And some people have Fall Out Boy.”
Rousay has each. And this duality of an nearly meditative stillness and earnest emotion runs by means of “A Softer Focus,” in addition to “It Was Always Worth It.” “I know things have been rough lately,” a dispassionate automated voice broadcasts on the latter, “but I want to remind you that I love you, and I’m working hard to be with you. You’ve got a great heart. You are so loved. Even if you weren’t, all you’d have to remember is to love yourself above everything else. That’s the most important love you can experience.”
I ask Rousay when she started to really feel that self-love was crucial sort. She says it was two years in the past, when she got here out as trans. “I have a really strenuous relationship with my immediate family,” she says. But she speaks with conviction about the place she does discover contentment: “Enjoying simple pleasures is a huge part of my work,” she continues. “I love lying in my backyard and having a picnic with me, myself and I. It’s so fun to make a cute meal for yourself and get the sun on your face. I don’t understand why that’s always left out of things.” Capturing the fragile rustle of those small moments is Rousay’s manner of magnifying the inherent pleasure in them.
Recently, Rousay took a stroll alongside the San Antonio River along with her canine, Banana. She had introduced her recording gear — headphones, a few mics — and sooner or later, she and Banana sat down for a drink of water. In the audio, there’s the sound of the river, the jingle of Banana’s collar, birdsong and the hum of site visitors within the distance. There are additionally traces of Rousay texting, sniffling, taking deep breaths. “I’m crying because I’m so invested in that moment,” she says. “To have a dog that loves me, to be able-bodied and walking in a park when the weather’s perfect, to own a field-recording device that I was too poor to own for a while … ”
“There were so many points in my life where I would not have been satisfied by simple pleasures,” Rousay says. “But sitting with headphones on, listening to what the microphone’s picking up — that’s the closest to any kind of internal peace I’ve ever experienced. Even if I’m recording essentially nothing. Because I’m in the moment. When you slow down and actually think about what’s happening — it’s beautiful.”