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Gil Sansón / Lance Austin Olsen: Works on Paper

John Eyles By

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Coinciding with the first anniversary of the formation of the Elsewhere label, its sixth release maintains the high standards set by the previous five. If anything, the two-CD set Works on Paper may be slightly more experimental, even risk-taking, than its predecessors—none of which could ever be described as safe.

First, some history. Back in the late 90's, guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Han Bennink agreed to each record something and then post it to the other one, who would then play with the recording and record the results. The end results were the albums Post Improvisation 1: When You're Smilin—credited to Han Bennink + Derek Bailey—and Post Improvisation 2: Air Mail Special—vice versa—(both Incus, 1999). In late 2017, the two old friends Christian Wolff and Antoine Beuger produced something similar for the album Where Are We Going, Today (Erstwhile, 2018) with Beuger making a recording which was then sent (electronically, not by mail) to Wolff who added his contribution to it, the end results being mixed by Taku Unami; as that album's sleeve note says, "A silent dialogue with an absent partner."

Works on Paper is subtly different to, but firmly in the footsteps of the above albums, as it also fits that quote's description. It features two men who are both visual and sound artists, Venezuela's Gil Sansón and London-born, Canadian-resident Lance Austin Olsen. The pair first collaborated when Olsen painted the cover of Sansón's CD release Immanence, A Life (Makam, 2015). Respecting and understanding each other's work, the two soon started to collaborate, making musical realizations of one another's graphic scores or paintings. Olsen's 2018 album Dark Heart, which was part of Another Timbre's impressive Canadian Composers series, featured a realisation of the Venezuelans' 2017 graphic score "A Meditation on the History of Painting."

For Works on Paper, Sansón and Olsen each made realisations of one of the other's graphic scores. Disc One features two Sansón versions of Olsen's 2016 piece "Pra Mim," recorded in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2017-18; with a pleasing symmetry, Disc Two has two Olsen versions of Sansón's 2017 piece "Meditations," recorded in Victoria, British Columbia, from 2017-18. Commendably, the album sleeve includes images of each of the graphic scores, so that listeners get to see the images that stimulated the sounds they are hearing. Each is a beautiful artwork but, as with many graphic scores, the images do not prescribe what should be played in response to them, but leave it to the musician's discretion and creativity. Noticeably, Sansón and Olsen both produce two versions that differ considerably from each other, one featuring them playing alone and another with considerable use of samples to fill out the soundscape. (Listen to the YouTube clip below, for an example of the latter.)

Given their past collaborations, it is unsurprising that Sansón performing Olsen ends up sounding remarkably similar to Olsen performing Sansón. The two are subtly distinct but sound very alike. Their soundscapes are uncluttered, ensuring that all the component sounds can be appreciated clearly and distinctly. Neither of them attempts to construct a narrative, instead leaving the juxtaposition of sounds to be appreciated for its inherent beauty. In effect, each of these fine visual artists is literally painting with sound. The end result is an album that runs for over an-hour-and-three-quarters, one which is able to grab listeners' attention and hold them spellbound, no matter how many times they listen to it.

Track Listing: Pra Mim #2 – Works on Paper (Lance Austin Olsen, 2016); Pra Mim #3 – Fail Better (Lance Austin Olsen, 2016); Meditations #3 (Gil Sansón, 2017); Meditations #2 (Gil Sansón, 2017).

Personnel: Gil Sansón: acoustic guitar (1), violoncello (1), samples (1) [including excerpts from Sansón’s Untitled (for Antoine Beuger) and Untitled (for Annmarie Mattioli) performed by Dante Boon (piano), excerpts from Antoine Beuger’s Monodies pour Mallarmé performed by Anna Rosa Rodriguez (soprano voice) and Gil Sansón (melodica)], melodica (1-2), electronics (1-2), objects (1-2), field recordings (1-2), voice (2), unplugged and plugged electric guitar (2); A. F. Jones: spoken voice (1); Lance Austin Olsen: guitar (3-4), amplified objects (3-4), shruti box (3), samples (3) [including found wax cylinder recording and excerpts from Lance Austin Olsen’s work Craig’s Stroke performed by John Luna (voice) and Debora Alanna (organ)].

Title: Works on Paper | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Elsewhere

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