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Interview with Vanessa Rossetto

Your early releases were all solos and that somehow seems very appropriate for the kind of music you make.  How do you find collaborating with other musicians, and in particular with Lee, who you've never actually met in person?  

Due to temperament and circumstance the vast majority of my collaborations have been with people I've not met in person. I hardly ever actually play with anyone here. But it's helpful to have someone to bounce things off of and who can, when needed, call bullshit on your compositional decisions. The distance can be good too as it lessens the likelihood of coming to blows! Working with Lee was nice because he is so much more restrained and subtle than I am and was able to keep some of my more excessive tendencies in check.

Yes, almost all of your music that I've heard has been on disc and has evidently been carefully constructed with lots of different overlapping layers rather than being a recording of a live improvisation or performance. Do you prefer working / composing in this way rather than playing live, or is it simply that there aren't many performance opportunities where you happen to be?

I do prefer composition to playing live, yes, but it's not so much that I don't play out as that when I do it's generally solo sets. Using Ableton has been able to bring me as close as possible live to replicating the sort of things I do on record. Exotic Exit was actually developed over the course of the past couple of years using recordings from live performances here that I'd then bring home and tinker with, discarding what doesn't work and keeping and modifying what does, then take them out into a live setting again, bring them home again etc.

So would you say that you  are more a composer than an improviser, even if improvisation plays a significant part in your compositional process? Or does it feel odd to think of yourself as a composer?  And would you like to play live more often in duo and trio situations if the opportunities arose, or are you really happier performing solo?

It feels more odd to think of myself as an improviser! I have great respect for good improvisers (it's hard!) and I would like to play in more duo and trio situations if circumstances permitted, but at heart I'm definitely a composer. That is my greatest pleasure, sitting on my own in my room editing or making notes and diagrams, planning things.

In an interview with the 06:00a.m. website you define a composer as ‘just an organiser of sounds’, which seems a pretty good definition to me.  But does this mean that you like to organise and tightly control every aspect of a piece you’re composing, or is there room for the kind of happenstance / indeterminate / uncontrolled elements that are the staple of improvised music?

There's definitely room for those things and those elements can sometimes lead you in a direction you hadn't initially intended to go but that somehow works. I think, though, that even when you're employing these emergent themes and elements, you're still selecting and organizing and placing them in the final context. Even for something like the accidental capture of an interesting incident in a field recording, the composer has a choice to use or not use it and how to do so. I like to joke about how I hate spontaneity, and while that's obviously an overstatement, for me personally when I am making something everything is very carefully organized and placed very deliberately even if the original creation of an individual element arose indeterminately.

So given all that, it’s perhaps strange that you became known initially through the improvised music world.  Do you feel that you ‘belong’ there, or indeed to any particular ‘scene’?

I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for the people I know in the improvised music world and if they don't mind that I'm unabashedly a composer, I could be very content to be lumped in with such fine musicians. Would that be strictly accurate, though? Probably not, but the same would apply for the field recording world, the "new music" world, and others all of which I have things in common with and great affection for. There's a term I have seen used on the ihatemusic forums - "taomud," which stands for "the area of music under discussion," which might seem a bit self-referential but works for me on a few levels, a sort of "you know it when you hear it" kind of thing. If people flat out ask me what type of music I make, I'd be inclined to say electroacoustic composition. Is that a scene? I sort of hope it is!

So  how did you start composing? And were you isolated at that point, or were there other musicians who you important to you?

I started later than most, in my thirties. Of course, living in Austin everyone seems to be in a band so I knew a lot of people to assist with technical issues and to borrow gear and the like. Even if they weren't interested in working in the same areas of music as I was, a microphone's a microphone! My best friend is an amazing vocalist and was a big influence and a great help. Internet fora and their denizens, too, were very useful and I found lots of lasting friends and collaborators in those settings.

Did you have any formal musical training at any stage?  And is that something that you’d find useful?

I've not had any formal musical training; I went to art school and was trained as a painter, but I've learned a few things here and there over the years. It would definitely be useful and enjoyable to me, though, especially as a direction I'm interested in going involves writing music out for other people to play. I suspect any formal training I'd receive would probably have to be quite remedial in nature!

You could sit at the back and flick paper pellets at people.  Do you have concrete plans for composing pieces for other people?  And do you think that the process is likely to change the way that you create music yourself, or would it be a separate thing?

I would absolutely be flicking paper pellets and asking a lot of distracting questions, too! As far as specific plans, I'm interested in introducing in some scored segments (most likely for vocalists, but possibly other instruments as well) into some of my new concrète pieces. I think it could be interesting to have live voices and instruments in performances, too, so in that way it could change the way I create or present things. I've messed around making a few graphic scores also, but haven't yet summoned the cojones to ask anyone to play them. I've also almost completed and am trying to get into presentable condition an hour-ish long piece that's just string playing (with no field recordings or anything) that's taken a couple of years of work so far.


““Both Lee Patterson and Vanessa Rossetto have worked within improvised music, and each uses field recordings, but their methods and intentions are dissimilar. Rossetto’s early solo CD-R Imperial Brick comprises layered viola improvisations recorded in a single night, but she only occasionally plays live. Most of her albums are composed of sounds assembled collected during her daily peregrations around Austin, Texas, which she arranges over periods of months into sonic narratives. Patterson, on the other hand, plays amplified household objects – wine glasses, springs, dissolving seltzer tablets – at Improv gigs, and makes recordings of domestic events, such as an egg frying, and natural phenomena, like the sounds generated by underwater plants releasing gas bubbles. The sounds don’t tell a story – they are a story.

Temperament as Waveform is the product of a couple of years of file exchanges, so while some of its instrumental sounds might have been spontaneously generated, they were carefully placed and re-evaluated before the record was complete. Rossetto’s viola contributes Tony Conrad-like string drones and bristly high pitches that recall La Donna Smith’s playing, and I suspect that Patterson is responsible for the occasional small rustles and scrapes that push up from the music’s surface. These occasional events impart a sense of temporal immediacy that contrasts with both the process of the music’s creation and the yawning sonic expanse that fans out behind them. They never last for long, and they feel like not-quite-erased signatures, just as the signature qualities of each participant have been partially removed.

In a recent interview for the online journal Surround, Rossetto described the work as a process of removal, in which one player would contribute by telling another what to strip out of a piece. Apparently the field recordings were often the first to go. While you might hear the sounds of open air or a passing bus, they’re details in a continuous expanse of humming sound, like small framed pictures nestled in a much larger painted landscape.

The result expresses depth and distance rather than the manifestations of presence that Patterson and Rossetto accomplish in their own work. Listening to this record is like gazing into the distance from a high vantage point on a misty day. The proximity and exact shape of whatever you regard is hard to gauge, and the more you listen, the more you hear.”

Bill Meyer, The Wire 352, June 2013

“In the area of improvised and experimental music Another Timbre is one of those rare labels, along with Potlatch and Ertswhile, that consistently promotes music that is very close to my taste.  Just about every quarter, this English label releases a series of four or five discs that are mostly excellent.  CDs of instrumental free improvisation, electroacoustic music, composed minimalist music, sonic abstractions, with a particular emphasis on new English musicians, such as Rhodri Davies, Patrick Farmer, Dominic Lash or John Butcher, and on the composers of the Wandelweiser collective (see the incredible 6-disc box set ‘Wandelweiser und so weiter’, dedicated to this collective).  Most recently a surprising duo CD has appeared: the duo of Vanessa Rossetto and Lee Patterson,  an American woman and an English man who have never met, but have composed this disc solely by exchanging files of recordings which were edited and assembled between 2010 and 2012.

Vanessa Rossetto is a young composer, violist and painter who usually works solo.  She mainly composes with field recordings, electronics and for chamber instruments (note that she recently brought out an excellent LP on Kye, the label of Jason Lescalleet, who mastered this CD).  Lee Patterson is a musician who lives near Manchester, whose discography is principally on Another Timbre, and has played on many realisations of works by the Wandelweiser composers, but equally in many formations playing improvised music. Patterson often explores the immediate sonic environment in his work, notably by amplifying acoustic objects.

There is no indication as to what instrumentation is used on the cover of Temperament as Waveform, but it is mainly a matter of electronics, amplified objects and Rossetto’s viola.  Four compositions that are like different sonic landscapes, often close to drones, but drones which contain a multiplicity of micro-details. The first piece is fairly loud and powerful, a long continuous bass tone like a dense, massive sine wave to which which various metallic rubbings and sizzlings are added, a constant drone over which abrasive, irregular sound colours scurry like ants, details rising up from the sonic mass and attaching themselves before you’ve noticed.  The two following pieces are calmer and less massive, with details and ornamentation alone taking the place of the continuous sounds. Two pieces which exist outside of conventional aesthetic categories: neither instrumental nor electronic, neither minimalist nor active, and which seem as much composed as improvised. Two pieces in which field recordings, sine tones, drones, instruments, silences and objects are all mixed together in such a way that you can’t tell who is doing what and how. The last piece rounds off the disc perfectly, looping back to some extent to the mood of the opening track. A massive, largely static piece with a continuous, hoarse sound from the viola, complemented by numerous granular electronic frequencies. Heavier, louder, rich and intense, the concluding track wonderfully balances the disc as a whole.

Four pieces with different sonic temperaments, each plunging into unique sonic territories which are created afresh for each piece. Yes, Temperament as Waveform provides a suite of sonic and psychological tableaus such as are rarely heard, tableaus which are personal, sensual and intelligently constructed. In conclusion, an immersion into sound and its psychological properties which is truly surprising and unique.”

Julien Heraud, Improv-Sphere

at58  Temperament as Waveform

Lee Patterson & Vanessa Rossetto

Four tracks produced by file-exchange between Austin, Texas and Manchester, UK.  

Composed and edited between 2010 an 2012.

Total Time: 46:30

Youtube extract

Discount price £5