Tape Quarantine: Claire Rousay

text by Kelly He

04 August, 2020

With Internal Music Director under self-quarantine, Matthew McPherson (Wane Lietoc) has taken to their personal tapes, highlighting and documenting the most outstanding in their collection. For the seventh edition, they enter Claire Rousay’s world.

Image courtesy of SoundCloud.

I’ve spent a lot of time waiting on tapes (including some from the original Bandcamp Friday in March) and chipping away at an endless, frantic backlog. When I started building a collection, I never envisioned that it would become sprawling and untethered, divided up into sub-collections dedicated to categories like “4AD Dreamgaze” and “Louisville, Ky Twang.” The in-between lies all the Bandcamp tape labels where you can catch glimpses of vivid music on the fringe, one pop song or column away from blowing up in tightly knit circles. I’ve begun to notice this was the case for Claire Rousay.

Rousay is a percussionist that plays drums like Gastr del Sol played guitaras an object to break apart and reassemble and become your own language. It’s been a busy year for Rousay and she’s recently been on a tear with her tapes for Astral Spirits and Already Dead. Both take her percussion prowess to its most versatile and ingenious state. It was a perfect surprise that the music I bought on a whim would become the perfect soundtrack for when I needed to pass out from stress reading. When you listen to Rousay, you need to deeply listen and meet her on her own terms—it is not music to wrangle an answer out of.

Her tape for Already Dead, a heavenly touch, opens with a space to get you there. Glitched electronics and airy field recordings lead to Rousay’s hushed and soft-spoken voice. The whispers are blurs, yet paired against light crackling and a piano, they tingle. Rousay’s ASMR-infused field recordings are a self-care coda, like the sounds of her breathing as she walks a trail or the drone of a synth.

Wane Lietoc’s personal copies of Claire Rousay’s tapes.

On a heavenly touch, Rousay revels in everyday moments and transforms them into astonishing displays of percussion. The familiar tapping of an iPhone’s back-and-forth messaging in “loose light” and “swipe” is playful and tender, reimagining its usual mundane role in life. These details give the tape a scrapbook quality, covering a wide span of sound while still remaining personalistic. 

Side B contains her most exciting tracks. “Dice in santa fe” turns a hushed diary story of playing the flute into an ASMR medley of quiet, half-sputtering recorders. Utterly adorable, the whimsical quality gradually shifts to light drone and horizon-gazing piano. 

“Last date,” an eight-and-a-half minute finale, channels the fuzz of radio noise until it dissipates. Out of its wakes is a cacophony of people describing the last time they went on a date, one story fading into another. If you keep up with the dialogue, you’ll find wonderful soundbites from the unique and universal way she assembled the dialogue’s seamless transitions. Before you know it, it’s vanished and you’re back to the start of side A.

Or maybe, you’ve swapped in Specifically The Water, Rousay’s collaboration with Alex Cunningham (out on Astral Spirits!). “Free-noise” would be too general a term to describe the uniquely attuned frequency Rousay and Cunningham find themselves in. Cunningham takes a violin as an objective of tension: high-pitched squeals, barely self-contained, and always ready to spiral out of control. Rousay’s percussion is not a foil; it moves and guides through the straight and narrow tones of a violin sputtering on the loose. The result is a tense affair, gripping and exhilarating on a single listen if you can lose yourself in Rousay’s multi-layered percussion. The ASMR-quality tingles and unique sense of pace are still intact. Even more, you might walk away with an idea of what cowbells, water bottles, and other extensions are attached to her percussion setup.

They save the best for last on the deviously titled “Social Capital Where I Grew Up.” Opening with the screech of a violin (reminiscent of the tying of a balloon animal or fingernails on a chalkboard), Rousay and Cunningham trade atmospherics back and forth, attempting to land on the perfect percussion gallop against an unnerved string. Like standing on a tightrope, they spiral into their own revelry when they find sounds that connect. 

While both tapes are sold out, my recommendation is that you get a nice pair of headphones in a dark room and sit back. Who needs pop music when you’ve got Rousay’s perfect percussion?