Tracing a Boundary
Devin DiSanto was not an artist I was familiar with before I came across “Tracing a Boundary” via Brian Olewnick’s blog Just Outside. A cursory Internet search revealed few details: a couple of Wandelweiser realisations credited here and there, and a collaborative release with Nick Hoffman on Erstwhile a while back. Task Records appears to be DiSanto’s label, as when I emailed to enquire about buying a CD of the release, it was the composer who replied. This lack of media presence turned out to be in no way correlated with the quality of the music I received in the post a week or so later.
Some details that are provided with the release include a list of eight performers, followed by credits for trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, two guitars, and a ukulele. The instruments are distinguishable only rarely throughout the single long piece, and when they are they strike a very gentle, low key tone. Most of what is heard in “Tracing a Boundary” consists of clicks, clatters, crumples, scrunches, and scrapes — the sounds of objects being moved or unpacked or folded or otherwise manipulated — and quiet background noises of traffic, murmuring voices, city hum, and so on. As the piece gives the impression of being a recording of a performance done in one take, a semblance forms of standing in a doorway, at the threshold between inside and outside, with the sounds of the street behind you and a bunch of people engaged in some diligent activity in front, maybe decorating or furnishing a room or something.
Listening to people doing their decorating sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, but this is far from simply an audio documentation of DIY — a fact underscored by a voice that every so often announces a precise time measurement, articulating intentionality and perhaps a score. And it’s absolutely enchanting. The piece ebbs and flows ever so slightly as different objects are introduced and then put aside, or as background noises increase or decrease just a little in volume; the occasional drifting of attention does nothing to break the spell. The categorising of sounds as either ‘musical’ or ‘extra-musical’ loses meaning as inside and outside mingle. The sounds of people clumping around, moving a wooden chair or scrumpling and smoothing out sheets of carton paper, breathing through a wind instrument or opening and shutting a suitcase, become at once, at the same moment, as intentional and meaningful as a broken guitar chord and as incidental and contingent as the rumble of distant traffic. And then you realise that the boundary the piece is really concerned with is that old avant-garde muse/provacateur, the boundary between art and life. Paradoxically, dissolution via the blurring of the musical and the everyday does not erase this distinction, but merely traces it out — its sensible contours and, yes, its beauty.