Matt Carlson is one half of Portland, Oregon duo Golden Retriever, and has also released a number of solo recordings under his own name. His latest, for French label Shelter Press, demonstrates his interest in linguistics and language games, combining heavily processed and manipulated voices with blooping and chirping modular synthesis. Sometimes the voices are squeezed to the point of wordlessness, simply pitched tones that are never quite simply pitched tones because of their still-recognisable source in human speech. At other times, such as in the tracks “The Game” and “An Enhanced Interrogation of Authenticity”, the meanings of words and their modes of presentation are played with to dizzying and disorienting effect.
In some ways, “The View From Nowhere” reminds me of the work of US artist Bruce Nauman, particularly his classic video works such as “Good Boy Bad Boy” and “Clown Torture”. In these works, Nauman uses repetition, recontextualisation, and similar techniques to transform language into sculpture-like objects, revealing its inherent absurdity and arbitrariness. The same devices are frequently used by Carlson, but while Nauman was primarily concerned with critiquing the use of language to exercise power and inflict violence, the Portlander seems genuinely interested in the intricacies of linguistic science and the ways in which, through repetition and social injunction, the meanings of language gestures come to be attributed or undermined.
The synthesised elements of the album reflect this theme, with rapid-fire pulses, sweeping filters and pans, and shimmering textures mirroring the complex and constantly shifting sands of verbal discourse. The vocal sounds mingle freely with the instrumental ones, being multiplied, echoed, and filtered to the point where they often become rhythmic and tonal elements in themselves. While genuine in its attempts to engage in a musical way with linguistic theory, “The View From Nowhere” retains Nauman’s penchant for the absurd and for off-kilter humour, turning what could have been quite a dry, impenetrable exercise into something intriguing and fun.