Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet - "Lucy Song" (The Breadwinner)
Edgar Varèse once said that “The present-day composer refuses to die,” and it’s true. One might even argue that nowadays the composer can thrive like never before. Liberated by home computers from the need for massive financial or technological resources and freed by alternate distribution means from the obligation to satisfy patrons, conductors, grant committees, or peer review boards before reaching the 500 people worldwide who give a shit, the circumstances are there for composers with a modicum of gumption to bypass the politics and struggle and simply get on with their work.
But Varèse might have added this caveat: “From now on the modern-day composer must descend from the ivory tower, work some crappy job that has nothing to do with his or her art, and live like everyone else.” While some try to transcend or escape this circumstance, Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet have made it a cornerstone of their art. The Breadwinner is subtitled “musical settings for common environments and domestic situations,” but they’ve also made these musical settings from common environmental sounds and domestic situations. While both men are credited with using microphone, tapes, and Casio SK-5 (a cheap sampling keyboard), the main sound sources are the contents of Lambkin’s apartment; the utensils, people, and records within it, and its essential parts were fair game, as were any sounds that happened to come through the window while the two men wrangled with their reels of tape.
The duo work with sounds so mundane, one normally filters them out; one of the key elements of “There and Back” is a stirred drink, and “Soap Opera Suite” makes liberal use of a creaky door. Which might sound like an explicit homage to Pierre Henry’s “Variations on a Door and a Sigh,” but brings to mind another composer’s quote. John Cage once said that “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four,” thereby implying that one could plumb rewards from the mundane by simply trying harder. The addendum here might be “if it’s boring after four, slow the tape down so that it lasts eight.” Lescalleet has often used tape speed manipulation to transform his material, and here that intervention makes the sounds of murmured conversation and stuff being moved across a table waver on the edge of strangeness; it’s as ordinary as ever, yet subtly — or not so subtly — off. Introduced surreptitiously into a domestic situation, The Breadwinner is likely to bring it to a halt. The rest of my family is pretty numb to most of the racket that comes out of my office, but the distorted gurgle running water on “Two States” totally freaked one of my teenagers. Lambkin and Lescalleet never explain their point of view, never give away their perspective on the sounds they’ve martialed, and they even withhold the auditory acknowledgement of what they’re doing until the penultimate track, when they insert the sound of a tape reel precipitously stopping. It’s up to the rest of us to keep listening harder.