Paula Matthusen and Olivia Valentine – Between Systems and Grounds
12.5.18 by Ryan Masteller

My mom used to sew a lot when we were kids; she had an electric machine, and with all the holes me and my two brothers put in our blue jeans over the years, that sucker got a massive workout. I can hear its mechanical buzzing now as its needle rapidly runs thread over patches and reapplies zippers and pockets and belt loops or whatever we happened to rip off our wardrobe. One thing I can tell you – it had a kind of irritating noise, certainly nothing that you could peer further into for any sort of deep intellectual resonance.

My mom didn’t do any lacework – I mean, she had three (championship-caliber) athletic sons to deal with, she wasn’t dabbling in anything frilly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just, you know, where’s the time? Lacework is the foundation, though, on this new tape by Paula Matthusen and Olivia Valentine – yeah, I said lacework is the foundation of an audiotape! You’re looking at me funny, kind of like my mom used to do when I’d bring her a shirt with a sleeve off. But Matthusen and Valentine begin with the place and action of Valentine’s work and extrapolate from there, with Matthusen recording the sounds of the lacework and the setting and providing accompaniment – or filtration, or whatever – via electronic means. Basically, this involves capturing the audio of both act and environment and turning it into a kind of mad scientist art project.

Totally simplifying, there, sorry. There’s way more at work here, including intense documentation as well as capturing real-time sound or manipulating recorded sound within self-imposed time-compressed strictures. For example, here is track 1’s title, which includes date, time, place, and sound sources: “I 07_12_16, 4_00 pm, Rabun Gap, GA (real-time [insects, summer breeze, bobbins, feedback]).” (By the way, kudos for the correct use of those nested brackets.) All of the elements listed in a track’s title are part of the recording, part of its history, and part of the activity of its creation. So, like, insects, summer breeze, bobbins, and feedback are all mixed together in both a mastering program and your imagination, where they sound nothing like what the words represent or even what your imagination is likely cooking up. Which is great. And still, the result washes over you in a type of ambience, an evolved product that stands alone beyond its components.

If only my mom could do THAT.

“Between Systems and Grounds” is available from Carrier Records. Please note that the presentation is friggin GORGEOUS (see image above).