Simon Whetham – Open and Closed Circles

Simon Whetham - Open and Closed Circles, artist outdoors recording sounds from electrical wires.

Simon Whetham’s artistic practice is broad, encompassing field recording, concerts, workshops, installations, and soundwalks, though always related in some way to the medium of sound. He had resolved to stop composing in favour of making installations and performances, but the invitation of Mappa Editions to compose a work for cassette proved too good to miss. Whetham had the idea of making a ‘format-specific’ piece, exploring the “keywords” of “mechanism, magnetism, friction, rotation, failure, repetition, fragility, [and] ephemerality” — all qualities the artist associates with cassettes.

One immediately noticeable quality of “Open and Closed Circles” is the way in which the music draws attention to the conscious arrangement of sounds: sudden cuts, silent pauses, and other such structural devices are used to build thoughtful and intricate assemblages, and make the hand of the composer obvious. A wealth of different textures and timbres are heard for a short while before they vanish, never to return. The various hisses, rumbles, clatters and thumps are usually ambiguous in source, but Whetham makes them sound huge — as if they were part of some enormous industrial production line or manufacturing process. Recorded sounds of industry are indeed present, but they are mixed in with the sounds of cassette playback mechanisms and manipulations, and there is great uncertainty as to which is which. Deep thumps and clatters in ‘(Re)Cycles’ and echoing clatter in ‘On Heavy Rotation’ sound as if they are happening at a distance in some cavernous space, but the effect of distance and size could easily be an illusion induced by playback or recording technique.

At times “Open and Closed Circles” seems archaeological in its methods, as if undertaking the excavation of sounds buried deep within the machine. Sometimes the sounds unearthed are recognisable, such as the brief bursts of a woman’s voice speaking in Spanish in ‘Tracing the Edges’, or the clicking of buttons on old-fashioned cassette players in ‘Singing, ringing’. Most of the time, however, we’re invited into a rumbling, clattering, rushing space that exists with no other identity or meaning other than as a place for listening. Whetham’s complex and carefully considered arrangements make that listening engaging.

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Simon Whetham

Mappa Editions

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