Lance Austin Olsen
Plato’s Cave (Infrequency Editions; CD/DL)
I’ve been following this British Columbian label since their inception back in 2001 and have always found their output to have resilience and artful restraint. One of two recent releases is this twenty-seven minute work by one of the imprint’s stalwarts, multimedia artist Lance Austin Olsen. Since they only put out a few editions annually I’m always curious about the evolution of what comes out from their neck of the woods, hey, after all I used to mingle through all the nooks of the Pacific Northwest myself. So taking a venture to Plato’s Cave should be a shared experience, no matter how contained it might be. And from the start we hear the tap-cracking of stones upon a surface that has an echo. Taken from a 17th Century allegory by Jan Saenredam, the thought of living chained to a cave would be a terrifying, sensory depriving experience to say the least. But Olsen does not leave us in the cold, he only infuses the experience with sparse minimalism.
The snail’s pace and feather-light strumming of guitar that is barely audible is met with the continual cracking sound that drags and shifts its ground every other tap. The atmosphere is slightly tense and fairly claustrophobic. He has incorporated amplified copper plates to add to the tension as a broken voice excerpt pops-up in a split second adding to the overall situational, in-situ experience at hand. Literally at hand as tiny actions are performative as if building an audio mapping system for escape. The low frequencies vs. the hard tactile nature employed make for a defused soundtrack that just might steer you in circles. What sounds like marbles, or the pulling apart of surface layers may be low-fi but it’s sensationally dramatic in a microsound environment. Each tiny movement is akin to a watchmaker putting together the finest of mechanisms that will eventually allow the whole to work in certain harmony. This is a pure electro-acoustic composition, pared down, redefined, and illuminating a story through an assortment of terse movements. Its form is well considered and goes against every last wasted allegiance of a multitasking society.
In the final six minutes there’s a bit of cosmic wizardry in the very distant background. If all you had were the tools at hand, and you were stuck in a cave (rather than on a desert island), I’d imagine one would make best with sticks and stones as tools for liberation, communication. But as this comes to a conclusion their is an uncertain spirit that starts to submerge like sea level is slightly rising and air pressure is becoming vacant, until every last stone is turned.