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 monitor my entire day each day,” Rousay says. “If I’m house, I’ll have a pair of stereo microphones in my front room, and a subject recorder in my bed room. I’ll most likely have 18 hours of subject recordings … I mainly document my entire 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 would possibly convey in poetry, Rousay evokes with uncooked audio. You can name it sound artwork, nevertheless it’s viscerally weak. Extra appropriately to Rousay — who declines to substantiate her precise age however identifies as “a millennial solar, zoomer rising” — her work has been tagged as “emo ambient.”
Final fall, Rousay launched the 20-minute composition “It Was At all times Value It,” for which she spun the contents of actual love letters she’d obtained over a six-year relationship by a robotic text-to-voice program. In a yr broadly missing in new, intimate conversations of the unguarded 3 a.m. caliber, it was a heartbreaking revelation. And in a world of infinite 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 constructing music,” because it’s been known as), and although she’s posted 19 releases to Bandcamp since 2019, it looks like an arrival.
In her artwork as in her life, Rousay appears intent on breaking by the perceived super-seriousness that her work would possibly portend. She calls karaoke “an intimate soul endeavor” (her go-tos are Taking Again Sunday and Lil Peep) and lights up when discussing, with equal reverence, the composer Pauline Oliveros’s e book “Deep Listening” (2005) or her longtime favourite band, Shiny Eyes. “Being an actual individual is what I care about most,” Rousay says. “Being current and open.” Proof of this abiding dedication to honesty could be present in final spring’s “Im Not a Unhealthy Individual However …,” one other text-to-voice piece that ends on a daring admission: “I believe Avril Lavigne’s album ‘Let Go’ is best than Coltrane’s ‘Big Steps.’”
Constructing on her unconventional model, 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 Metropolis, and Rousay from Canada — however have been quickly in fixed movement, with varied excursions and residencies, till the pandemic pressured them to remain put. Along with the floral cowl artwork, Toral made a video, took images, designed a T-shirt, named the document and several other songs and created 30 ceramic whistles to accompany the discharge. The widespread thread, Toral stated, is a “glowy” sense of consolation. The whistles, impressed by Mexican folks artwork and a 2006 e book concerning the historical past of ceramic devices known as “From Mud to Music,” have been an particularly becoming addition. “I really like clay as a result of it holds lots of reminiscence,” Toral says. “It holds each contact that you just 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 nervousness of being anticipated to put up not simply your work however your life. “It was us smoking joints and speaking,” Rousay says, “and I believe the recording is like six joints deep.” It’s a element that speaks to the entire undertaking’s ethos of presence and development: Toral had by no means made digital artwork earlier than and, as Rousay places it, “I had by no means actually made a listenable document. The one factor that was acquainted was the sensation of being within the zone. We have been studying collectively.”
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 companies 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 best saturation of a colour” — Rousay provides a pitch-shifted vocal line about listening to “the most recent Blackbear music,” 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 extra experimental” than many artists would enable. “I don’t wish to be pigeon-holed,” she says. “Experimental music is so restricted as it’s. There are such a lot of pretend guidelines that the entire thing just isn’t actually that experimental anymore. What can I do to vary 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, simply being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I actually love Stockhausen’ — are you kidding me?” she jokes. “I don’t know how one can undergo life being so selective about components of your character.” In the end, although — and in one other nod to Oliveros — Rousay says her biggest influences are probably within the sounds of her personal surroundings.
“Sitting on the again porch, listening to the sounds of my yard — that’s what ought to matter,” Rousay says. “But when I take heed to Fall Out Boy each Friday night time after 11 p.m. once I’m blackout drunk, that’s the way in which it’s. Some individuals have the cicadas of their yard. And a few individuals have Fall Out Boy.”
Rousay has each. And this duality of an nearly meditative stillness and earnest emotion runs by “A Softer Focus,” in addition to “It Was At all times Value It.” “I do know issues have been tough recently,” a dispassionate automated voice pronounces on the latter, “however I wish to remind you that I really like you, and I’m working laborious to be with you. You’ve bought an incredible coronary heart. You might be so liked. Even should you weren’t, all you’d have to recollect is to like your self above the whole lot else. That’s crucial love you may expertise.”
I ask Rousay when she started to really feel that self-love was crucial variety. She says it was two years in the past, when she got here out as trans. “I’ve a very strenuous relationship with my speedy household,” she says. She speaks with conviction about the place she does discover contentment: “Having fun with easy pleasures is a large a part of my work,” Rousay continues. “I really like mendacity in my yard and having a picnic with me, myself and I. It’s so enjoyable to make a cute meal for your self and get the solar in your face. I don’t perceive why that’s all the time overlooked of issues.” Capturing the fragile rustle of those small moments is Rousay’s approach of magnifying the inherent pleasure in them.
Not too long ago, Rousay took a stroll alongside the San Antonio River together 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. Within 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 as a result of I’m so invested in that second,” she says. “To have a canine that loves me, to be able-bodied and strolling in a park when the climate’s good, to personal a field-recording machine that I used to be too poor to personal for some time … ”
“There have been so many factors in my life the place I might not have been happy by easy pleasures,” Rousay says. “However sitting with headphones on, listening to what the microphone’s choosing up — that’s the closest to any type of inside peace I’ve ever skilled. Even when I’m recording basically nothing. As a result of I’m within the second. Once you decelerate and really take into consideration what’s occurring — it’s lovely.”