Sam Pettigrew – Domestic Smear: Bass as Theatre

The claim made by Sam Pettigrews beautiful disc Domestic Smear is that the bass acts as theatre in order to have us question the very triggers inside us that provide the already always aspect of who we are and how we listen.  Here is the central premise and the primary claim of Domestic Smear:

“Domestic Smear uses the bass as a theatre to question stereotypical roles, including the artist as performer, the listener as audience and identity as independent, gendered and individual. ”  (Avant Whatever)

I have talked at great length on this blog about the collaborative relationship between artist and listener in avant-garde music similar to the collaborative relationship between writer and reader in that each needs to bring an element of their freedom to the experience in order for the work of art to exist. Paraphrasing Sartre, the music that Sam makes here is an appeal to the freedom of the listener, is that he is asking for a contributive listening experience from the listener, not a passive one where we are allowed to float off into some sort of memory revelry.

What it interesting here is that Sam wants us to go even deeper than this collaboration and to question the very nature of how we see ourselves as “independent, gendered and individual.”  Rather than lay an existing politics over the music, we are called to examine what makes us comfortable, and what makes us use definition as a defence against the imagination. Music like this is an appeal to the imagination.  Identity is a defence against it.

Take a listen to this stunning track, #2 on the album.

02 Madly

The disc moves through a series of progressions, using the Double Bas (initially alone inside itself and with the silence as its perfect backdrop) then moving through to vibrators, plastics, metals, hearing devices and iPods. The objects are placed primarily within the strings of the Bass and allowed to vibrate and contribute to the slow rise in sounds as the tracks evolve. I can only assume when Sam says “vibrator” that he means “vibrator” and that this is part of the contribution to gender re-indentification. Track three ends with a very soft iPod contribution of traditional music – that is a series of notes and a voice that are strung together in a way we traditionally recognise (and more importantly respond to) as music. The three tracks are entitled Truly Madly and Deeply and move with confidence from the basic form of the double bass alone through to a silence at the completion of the first track, into a more enthusiastic series of sounds through track two (you can hear the sample above) into the crescendo of track three that culminates in a louder more jumbled series of sounds until we end with the near silence of the traditional music. (for a more in-depth description of each track hop over to Richar Pinells review – remarkably done without my knowledge just a couple of days ago)

Pettigrew’s music is aware that we are forever pushing it away, overwhelmed (perhaps) by its informational mass, stupefied by its demand on our intelligence, inured to its unrelenting lengthening relationships to silence as the overarching backdrop against which every track is painted in its minute detail. At the same time, the music never lets us go.  It lures us with unintended tangents and wrinkles; it intrigues us by strategically holding back the information it would take to satisfy the curiosity it has piqued; it captivates us with the inexhaustible figures and tropes that it sets into play; it generates the astonishment enabling us to prevail for a time at least, in the unbearable attentiveness it has demanded of us. In becoming all these things, in the violent unmarked segues and interruptions the tracks impose on our listening experience that vacillates between derision and rapture the music, alive in our own responses almost becomes object – like a breast to the infant – loved and abhorred at the same time.  This listening experience creates a kind of meta-ambivalience, a double think in the halls of double thinking demanding a redressing of all that we use as a safety barrier between a reality we can accept and an imagination we can’t control.

This disc is still available. Grab it while you can. Available through the very brilliant Avant Whatever Label.

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