Review: Danny Clay – Stills

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A listener who wishes to treasure sound must confront the fact that sound wants to disappear. The piano loops on Stills bear the blemishes of being forcefully carried through the present tense. The keys are muffled now, softened by the erosion that comes to claim repeat plays, falling into a mist of crackles and hiss. The pitches falter as crinkles and holes emerge in the tape. The listener has a choice: to let these sounds vanish of their own volition upon first exposure – existing as an immaculate, purposeful shape in the present tense, triumphantly inhabiting a solitary moment in time and nobly extinguishing itself once the moment is gone – or to drag them into a future to which they don’t belong, instigating a gradual process of decay as yearning begins to wear the edges away. Stills is the latter. Each of these pieces is a withering extract of time, dissolving into the act of over-cherishing as the memory of the moment becomes a slow, miserable decline into the forgotten.

It’s clear that these loops have been cut from a wider context. I’m unaware of how these melodies may have begun and ended in their original form. The loop of “10.15.2015”, which is a brief, tumbling piano descent, ends with a major chord that contains glimpses of upturning fortune. Yet it’s possible that the next chord – poised in unheard waiting beyond the edge of the loop – would wash this optimism away with a sudden return of minor key. The strings on “3.15.2016” feel similarly uncertain of their new context, played with a vibrato that foreshadows the warble of ageing tape, the tones outstretched like hands catching droplets of rain. And where the piano replays the same gesture over and over again, these strings keep sliding into different configurations. The loop is harmonically reinterpreted each time, trying to recapture the exact conditions of the very first instance of the loop (before it was even a loop at all). It’s impossible; the harmonies feel suspended and unsure of themselves, unable to integrate the past into the present. Time is slipping away. The piano flickers like a broken light. Sometimes we perceive memory and documentation as the act of immortalising a moment in time. But what if the document itself is prone to the very ageing process we want to defer?