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Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, "Photographs"

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cover image After amplifying their homes and magnifying the subconscious; after reshaping kitchenware into instruments and finding voices in the buzz of computer fans, distant traffic, and the crunch of dirt; after transforming the spaces around them and constructing a space-time of their own, Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet finally turn the microphones on themselves. And not just on the noises they make, but on the places they grew up, on the people they've known, on the ideas that have driven their work, the sounds they love, and ultimately on the past and their memories. Don't come to the show expecting self-portraits though. On Photographs Graham and Jason make enigmas of themselves. We get to see a shadow of them in these pictures, but everything they do and every event they capture points to a subject somewhere outside the frame.

Erstwhile

Photographs work by suggestion. Take any photo off the Internet and start asking questions about it: Who is that in the picture? What is it that they're standing in front of? When and where was it taken, and why from that angle? Who is behind the camera? What we see in them and what they show are inevitably unequal. The image presents the viewer with an apparent set of facts, but without context or witnesses or some personal experience bringing everything into focus, the subjects fail to take definite shape. Something is missing.

So it is with Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet's music. The apparition of familiarity presents itself to the listener by dint of the material employed: intelligible conversations, fixable locations and precise directions to them, a loop from Kiss's "Great Expectations"—our acquaintance with sights and sounds such as these, plus the incredible artwork with family, friends, place names, and the images of Graham and Jason as children—it's as if they're opening a door into their personal lives, or pointing us to a keyhole through which we might spy a handful of their private thoughts. How could it be otherwise?

To answer that question it's best to ask another one: what is it that we actually see and hear in these songs? Disc one in this two-disc set begins with "Loss," in which a pair of anonymous voices explain what the word "loss" means to them. One of the respondents discusses the loss of their grandparents, the other describes a feeling of daily disorientation: he wakes up and is unsure of where he is despite a firm mind, familiarity with the local geography, and a copy of this year's calendar. As he elaborates, the audio suddenly cuts out. We hear clicking, a compartment opening and shutting, as if the tape needed changing mid-sentence, and then the conversation continues.

From that point forward the listener is subjected to the same kind of confusion. By way of sudden edits, seamless transitions, and invisible leaps, Lambkin and Lescalleet navigate the streets and sights of Folkestone, Kent in the United Kingdom, where disc one was recorded. They capture a morning church service in "Quested to St. Hilda," converse with unnamed participants at tea time, and in the absolutely brilliant second half, hitch a ride with a banjo player, talk with Graham's sister about her new car, fill up their gas tank in a rain storm, and discuss walking along the harbor during winter. It's a whirlwind of bewilderment and constant flux made all the more exciting by the voyeuristic thrill it inspires.

The catch is that these events butt up against a blend of slowed down recordings, synthesizer melodies, and manipulated audio morsels à la Luc Ferrari. Places blur together, time accelerates or slowly loses its shape, conversations start and stop with an invisible logic. It's natural to ask where Graham and Jason are, who they are with, and when. Is that a clock I hear in the background or does "Danger of Death" capture the machinery of a hospital visit? As with Air Supply, it's tempting to work the confusion out and invest the sounds with a specific meaning, a temptation that's reinforced by the subject matter and presentation. The image for "Danger of Death" that's included in the artwork is ominous, and it's hard not to read that content into the audio.

But the impossibility of putting it all together is insured by the same means. Having a clear sense of where Graham and Jason might be, and knowing that family and friends are involved, only complicates matters, it doesn't clarify anything. The juxtapositions and edits disorient and create more confusion this way. The conversations, with all their allusions and suggestions, gain weight, become overloaded with meaning, and nearly burst. Every interaction and reference, no matter how slight, acquires a special significance. Even the skillet in the Lambkin kitchen seems important.

Appropriately, the second disc begins with a conversation about change, specifically the changes that towns undergo. It's unclear whether the town in question is Boylston or Worcester, Massachusetts, where disc two was recorded, but the message is the same either way. What we hear in Photographs is only a fragment: a snippet of audio, the memory of a time or place that's gone now, little bits and pieces of something bigger, each incomplete in itself and each leading out in potentially every direction—from the sound of church bells to the watery echo of tea time in slow motion, from cash registers to traffic jams and opinions about plum pudding. There's no stepping back and getting a wider view, unless maybe you're Graham Lambkin or Jason Lescalleet.

Their memories and their sense of place and time ground Photographs. For everyone else, the music hovers in the air. What was true of household items on The Breadwinner and of the half-unheard noise on Air Supply is true even of such solid things as the local grocery store and past events. There's no wrapping it all up or making sense of it as a whole. Perceptions twist, details shrink and expand, memory loses its clarity. As soon as we think we have a grip on anything, it changes shape and spills to the floor.

That's how Graham and Jason conclude their trilogy. The secret sounds they found hiding in their homes and in the studio spills over into the places they grew up and into the relationships they formed. The music is in what they remember and in how they remember it, but it's not fixed in stone. We also get the chance to see and hear, and in observing we find that the pictures change. Maybe they gain or lose meaning. Maybe they're just pretty shots from some place far away. Whatever the case, the images merely point us in a direction. The music emerges in the tension between what they suggest and what we perceive.

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Last Updated on Monday, 20 January 2014 02:59  


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