Posts Tagged ‘Forced to Repeat Myself’

Misanthropic Agenda – MAR056 – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a few years since I last engaged with Simon Whetham’s work, which at least up to a certain point had a certain preoccupation with geography, or least location. In a sense – albeit somewhat tenuous, that relationship to place remains as a backdrop of sorts to Forced to Repeat Myself, which documents a tour (remember those?) in 2018.

Perhaps the absence of touring has driven many artists to review their archival recordings, and on Forced to Repeat Myself, Whetham contemplates the way in which touring drives a tendency toward homogeneity in terms of the way each night’s performance is assembled. For rock bands and acts performing compositions of a fixed nature, this is part and parcel; the repetition of set lists and even, over time, between-piece patter and introductions. But for artists whose work is based on improvisation, repetition is undesirable – after all, at what point does repetition become something rehearsed and preplanned?

As the accompanying text observes, ‘One characteristic aspect of the touring experience that is not discussed often enough is the dilemma of repetition. Not repetition as a mechanism of the work itself, but as a tedious consequence of being obligated to perform night after night in quick succession. Generating a completely unique performance for each stop, even with the assistance of improvisation, is a laborious undertaking that consumes too much time and sanity, while adhering to a rigid set of rules leaves one open to both burnout and diminishing returns. Is there a way to split the difference so that both performer and audience are always engaged to the highest standard?’

And so this is the context for Forced to Repeat Myself. As a document, it’s a curious one, and it may or may not be ironic that the cover art for Whetham’s ‘live’ album is a photograph of a venue with rows of empty seats. If it was indeed shot at one of the shows where Whetham performed on said tour or any other (and the presence of a flipchart suggests otherwise), it was surely during soundcheck. But then, history can be subject to so many manipulations, and the time and space begins to flake over the passage of the latter… the relevance of the track titles is unclear: they’re not dates, and this is not some kind of aural tour diary. Nor are the tracks really the same. Yes, Whetham does revert to certain tones and textures as one would expect from the same equipment operated within a more or less predetermined set length.

Random is only so random, and external factors invariably influence and direct the shape of things. That said, the same performance is never the same performance: different venues of different shapes and sizes, the kit run through a different PA, different audience responses… Life in lockdown may feel like perpetual groundhog day, but the reality is that we never live the same moment twice. No-one is more acutely aware of this than Whetham himself when he comments, “In each situation objects and materials unique to the space were incorporated into the performance setup and structure, generating sounds or resonating with them. And yet I could hear similar scenes, movements, even spaces. This repetition determined the dynamic of the composition, working with it and against it.”

And so we return to geography, location, in the most immediate of contexts. And over the course of the album’s eight pieces, the identifiable repetitions are few, as the same sounds are reworked, remixed, reimagined, and with each manipulation, however subtle, they’re a step or phase away from their previous version.

But over the course of the album we’re reminded just how strong Whetham’s ear is for texture and tone, and there is a spectacular abundance of crackling overdoing distortion, groaning drones humming clicking, bangs and scrapes and minimal electronic sounds colliding and vibrating against one another – hard and violently. The absence of audience sound and the up-close fixing of circuits mean that this doesn’t feel or sound like a live album, but it is, every inch, a hard sonic challenge.

mar056 digipak