Intimate Subjects – Review of Foreign Objects

Intimate Subjects

This release from clocked out pleasurably confirms to me the greater satisfaction that can be had from encountering the music-CD as a tangible object, as compared with the more abstracted and ethereal phenomenon of music as download. Whilst it may be passé and may be in vain, I relish the objectness of CDs especially where, as in this release, the packaging is much more than mere receptacle, and where it successfully functions as a corporeal means of amplifying the album’s concepts and conceits. And this release accomplishes this not by including voluminous liner notes — in fact there are none — but instead by the especially apposite packaging handmade by designer/photographer Sharka Bosakova.

foreign objects cover
Foreign Objects by Clocked Out Duo

The cover of the CD is neither glossy nor plastic, but, somewhat roughly textured, and flecked a little here and there randomly with atomised specks, a Moleculitis of minute colourations, artefacts of its new birth from something (?paper, ?cardboard) recycled, holding in its particular materiality evidence of clocked out’s penchant for recycling ‘found objects’ as instruments for new musics. The front cover design, which projects literally outwards, is of objects which, whilst variously shaped, deliberately resemble the meshes and gears of clocks. Thus, clocked out clocks out, its foreign objects pointing clearly on the one hand to the album’s title, and on the second, to the fathomless depth within each moment, as well as to the more familiar linear progression of time, its clocking, moment to moment. There is an array and range of materials selected — paper, opaque & translucent, deliberately cut, as well as roughly torn; felt; an elastic band; a plastic disc with an absent centre; a rubber button, pouffe-like, encasing within its folds, and only partially visible, a metal screw. These materials, collectively and individually prefigure and echo the various ‘preparations’ Erik Griswold uses for his prepared piano, as well as the range of other objects, unidentified and often unidentifiable, upon which Vanessa Tomlinson excites her various and complementary percussions.

There is a minute hexagonal nut on the reverse side of the little metal screw, on the inside cover, which holds this assemblage together. This hexagonal shape is re-cast pictorially onto the disc itself, surrounding and encasing the hole in the disc’s middle, a void which, paradoxically (by virtue of its absence) allows the music to realize its presence: without this zero-at–the-centre, the disc would lose its material utility and could not be played… Because this hexagonal shape is coupled both with the temporal conceits of clocking out, and with the mutability and incidental utility of material forms, there is a further resonance of the hexagrammatic form of these components with those of the I Ching, that ancient Chinese oracular text, which attempts to lineate the changes in elemental states across time. Lest the author of this review be construed as simply another kind of hexagonal nut, the second track on this album is titled A Slow Boat To China, and clocked out’s other 2009 release, The Wide Alley, is nought other than a collaboration with a Sichuan composer and a group of Chinese musicians. And, in another satisfying loop, this invocation of I Ching recalls inevitably to mind John Cage, and his extravagant extrapolations for prepared piano.

That this is demonstrably a playful album does not imply that these musicians are not serious: Vanessa Tomlinson is Head of Percussion of the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, and includes amongst her many releases the complete recordings for Xenakis for percussion; Erik Griswold is an adjunct professor at the same institution, and specializes in prepared piano, percussion, and toy instruments. In an interview in extempore 5 Erik explains one of the motivations of their works as being to encourage people to listen to their own world in a more creative way.

It is interesting to note that clocked out duo is sometimes abbreviated (as on this album) simply to clocked out. I think this is significant because the excision of the word duo takes the focus off the dual, and back onto the single and the singular: in this regard the “& in the statement all music by Vanessa Tomlinson & Erik Griswold (which appears on the back cover of the CD) assumes a literally central relevance: this is music of &, both in composition and execution. This ethos of inclusiveness is consonant with that expressed by clocked out in the liner notes to their contemporaneous & superficially very different sounding release The Wide Alley: it is about a meeting place, a street where musicians play together, express their history, their ideas, and possibly even leave a little of their sound world behind.

Because Erik’s prepared piano is so percussive in character, so varied in timbre, it can be difficult to isolate who is playing what: a YouTube video of Popsuvius showed me that a part I had assumed to be Vanessa Tomlinson’s percussion was actually Erik’s Griswold’s piano. After watching this I decided that it was not so important to figure out who played what: what was more relevant was the audible result of the dissolving &. An implication of this approach — a stance which deliberately blurs the limiting fixity of certainty of authorship & origin — is that it requires of the listener reconciliation with uncertainty. But there are sounds whose genesis remains a source of intrigue: do I really hear jal tarang, the music of water and glass, in Lavendar Mist?

By repeated listening what starts out as foreign, as object, becomes intimate, becomes subject: Foreign Objects, with its irregular regularities and iterations with variations, untimes like Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes, in cascades of bells and shells, of wood blocks, gongs, and clock-like chimes, until it too winds finally down. Then starting up, departing, A Slow Boat to China, a junk sculpture cargoing bicycle bells, plotting a course staccato. Still gear-stuck, Stick This clocks me with its rhythm stick. Toy Feldman is musica frustrata: the scratchy crackles of music-box music, music of surface & edge. And with Paniculata (sounding medical, sounding serious) what harmonium can come? Ushered from Lavendar Mist are smells of colour, and the galloping hockets of suburban fireworks. The hands of the Tiny Dancer, the jerk and jolt of the in-revolt, all wound up, have only sideways to go. Hold Me Closer, like Roedelius on a Möbius strip, teases until Popsuvius erupts and sticky fingers tattoo you too. Afterwards, Moleculitis, reflecting on Brownian motion, until thinking itself becomes Brownian Motion, and an end drops off. Seeking relief in Bottles to Bottles Huang Ruo swigs, one ear to a shell, another listening to rain, breathing over bottles. But when the sun goes down there are still Rainbows in The Dark & someone somewhere still is breathing.

This is music which not only plays with the elements — on wood, metal, earth, water, air; the familiar and the foreign; but this also is music with elements of play, where in clocking out there is literally a reversal of the more familiar clocking in, of starting work…

The Time is Now

Clock Out

& Play!

See more about this CD and Clocked Out Duo at