As the duo Golden Retriever, Matt Carlson and Jonathan Sielaff have explored an ocean’s worth of sound. Primarily working with the intersection of modular synthesis and amplified/effected bass clarinet, the duo has done eight releases for labels like Thrill Jockey, Root Strata, and NNA Tapes. Their music combines an intense emotional immediacy and meditative focus with strong melodicism and an organic, naturalistic approach to experimental electronic sound. Rotations features the duo expanding their sonic palette to incorporate a full chamber ensemble. The results of this stunning collaboration are meditative, lush, and emotionally arresting.
Rotations began when Golden Retriever received a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council to organize and perform new works. The public performances took place in October of 2015 at Portland’s historic The Old Church. For the performances, Golden Retriever created a series of pieces for an expanded ensemble that included piano, strings, wind instruments, percussion, synthesizer, and pipe organ, which became the foundation on which Rotations was built. While their duo recordings and performances are typically developed from studio improvisations that evolve into specific musical structures, in this case Golden Retriever began with simple acoustic compositions, improvisations and fragmented ideas between bass clarinet and piano and used them to develop melodic and harmonic themes. After transcribing the various parts into notation and adding layers of additional instruments, the result of their collage process creates the effect that Golden Retriever are playing the ensemble as their instrument, and through careful arrangements, have integrated improvisation and composition.
Through the course of the creative process of choosing, editing and arranging the pieces, the duo saw a clear theme: a meditation on the cyclical nature of life and on going through something difficult but emerging on the other side of it with hope. Pieces such as “Pelagic Tremor” tell the story of a tumultuous seascape, stormy and churning. “Tessellation” weaves a tapestry of overlapping patterns that are impenetrable and sifting. In contrast, the sounds of “A Kind of Leaving” (whose title is a reference to a Bei Dao poem) evokes quiet and contemplative imagery, and “Thread of Light” is perhaps Golden Retriever’s most minimal piece to date, finding beauty in simplicity. Within each piece, the instruments cycle together rhythmically, harmonically, and texturally. And the album itself forms a cycle made up by the ebb and flow of each piece that is both dynamic and engaging.
Rotations was recorded throughout September and October 2015 by Matt Carlson with help from Branic Howard of Open Field Recording. The album was recorded at Golden Retriever’s studio at Yale Union in Portland, with the exception of the pipe organ, which was recorded at The Old Church. Musicians who contributed to the album include Mousai Remix String Quartet: Erin Cole (violin), Shin-Young Kwon (violin), Jennifer Arnold (viola), Marilyn De Oliveira (cello); Jen Harrison (french horn), Colin Frey (pipe organ), Catherine Lee (oboe), Matt Hannafin (percussion), David Coniglio (vibraphone), and John Savage (alto flute).