8 tracks – CD + DL – 1:12:24
Available on Bandcamp to pre-order soon
Release date: 30th October 2020
1. The Key 10:51 – you can hear this track here
2. Bonded 7:11
3. Of Air 12:56
4. Mesa 10:32
5. Philip Jeck – The Key 10:46
6. Fennesz – Bonded 6:28
7. Bethan Kellough – Of Air 6:52
8. Olivia Block – Mesa 6:48
Cleared is the Chicago-based duo of Steven Hess and Michael Vallera, formed in the latter part of 2009 as a project to focus on repetition and patience as central elements of composition. Hess and Vallera have previously worked in various contexts of improvisational, long form and experimental music (Hess contributed to Fennesz’s Seven Stars, released on Touch in 2011). Cleared is an effort to take the knowledge both have gained from these arenas in order to build hypnotic patterns of sound and rhythm.
The Key was recorded in the spring of 2019 at Electrical Audio in Chicago Illinois with engineer Greg Norman. After a silence of several years, Cleared went into the studio with a set of drawings and notes describing the arcs of various systems for the creation of soundscapes and rhythmic patterns. There was no rehearsal, demo recordings or any other preparation besides theses diagrams which were designed by both Hess and Vallera in tandem. The logic behind this strategy was to erase the confines of previous releases and return to the origin of the project, which simply began as an open improvisation between the two musicians, centering a focus on slow, gradual changes and a meditative sensibility.
The recordings were made with a specific attention to sonic detail and fidelity, resulting in hours of material that was arranged and mixed over the next year by Michael Vallera in his home studio.
The resulting four tracks were further investigated and reimagined by Philip Jeck, Christian Fennesz, Bethan Kellough and Olivia Block, adding another form of The Key as a collection of discreet and weighted sonic explorations.
The Chicago Reader:
Recording studios have reputations, and Chicago’s Electrical Audio is well-known as the place to go if you want to capture how your band really sounds. But when Michael Vallera and Steven Hess of local duo Cleared entered that establishment in spring 2019, they were in the early phase of a transformation. Their first four albums had navigated a linear path through stark rock structures and synthetic sounds, informed by the way those elements sounded in concert. But for their fifth, The Key, they started not with tunes but with written diagrams, which the two of them used to guide a series of studio improvisations. Vallera then took the raw recordings back home and spent a year extracting a finished album out of that material. During that process he not only filtered out anything that sounded like a riff or a melody but also layered and amplified individual elements until they became discrete musical entities. “Bonded” disassembles the component sounds of a drum kit and scatters them across a couple looped guitar notes that appear and reappear like the lights of passing cars flickering across a bedroom ceiling. And the 13-minute “Of Air” consists mostly of guitar resonance and a few low drumbeats stirred into field recordings of a thunderstorm. Once the work was complete, Cleared commissioned remixes of each of the album’s four tracks from Fennesz, Philip Jeck, Bethan Kellough (three of their labelmates on Touch), and fellow Chicagoan Olivia Block. Some of these collaborators turned Cleared’s music into mirror images of their own, while others created crystallized reductions of it—but all of them continued the process of unlocking sounds and tinkering with them at an atomic level. [Bill Meyer]