TO:119 CLEARED – ‘Of Endless Light’

CD – 6 tracks – 72:21

Release date: Friday 23rd September 2022

Track listing:

1. First Sleep
2. Of Endless Light
3. Dawn
4. Pulse
5. Blue Drift
6. Walking Field

Now available to order on Bandcamp

Photography & design by Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Denis Blackham
Recorded by Jeremy Lemos

Cleared is the longstanding project of Steven Hess and Michael Vallera, based in Chicago, Illinois. Of Endless Light was recorded by Jeremy Lemos at Electrical Audio in Chicago and mastered by Denis Blackham. The six tracks complete the longest release to date by the duo, who were resolute in utilising the maximum time available on the compact disc format. Cleared has produced a series of critically recognised recordings since its self-titled debut in 2011. Working with the Touch label on The Key (recorded in spring 2019, released in October 2020) was a leap forward, prompting remixed tracks by Philp Jeck, Fennesz, Bethan Kellough, and Olivia Block.

Of Endless Light is noctambulant, a walk through formal sonic spaces and colours beginning with the cascading, bell-like tones of the opening track, ‘First Sleep.’ The husks of a city’s industrial past are summoned: warehouses hollowed out for condominiums, dust-covered factory floors, a distant grind of machining, clouds of metallic particles, and the persistent background hum of traffic. These remnants contrast with hints of the sterile present of a city no less cruel than its industrial past. ‘Dawn’ opens with a grey drone and scattered electronic rhythms as wiring, and extended guitar lines suggest the opening of another cycle of the day into evening. ‘Pulse’ offers a hypnotic pattern that suggests the movement of people through the city’s core, slowly overlain with cymbals evoking the shimmer of sunlight cleaving off the windows of distant buildings. The album appropriately concludes with ‘Walking Field,’ methodically moving forward via a cloud of meditative clicks and looping melodies.

Of Endless Light is a patient listen, distilled into a sonic environment specific to Hess and Vallera’s lens. Cleared created its crepuscular moods using the core methodology of their previous records while expanding their music’s range, artistry, and subtlety. Deploying careful instrumentation, sampling, and mixing to experiment with tone and atmosphere, Of Endless Light breathes and drifts through layers of sound that veil, reveal, and intrigue. The result gives a listener much to discover, examine, experience, and consider – as well as the incentive to return again and again. [Bruce Adams, 2022]


Electronic Sound (UK):

The latest album from Steven Hess and Michael Vallera exists in the darkened shadows of their Chicago base. An exercise in maximalist duration but easily missed minimalist detail, Of Endless Light requires extreme volume to be fully appreciated. When heard this way, the otherwise quiet, grainy textures of the 18-minute opening track ‘First Sleep’ reveals an ever-shifting landscape of low, fluttering rumbles, overlapping metallic drone splinters, elegiac tones and deeply submerged rhythms. Dramatic, exquisitely layered and hugely absorbing. [Mat Smith]

The New Noise (Italy):

La prima cosa da sapere è che amano i minutaggi lunghi e gli elementi che si aggiungono con cadenza organica. La seconda è che, per i tempi attuali e l’ambito di ricerca, è una discografia alquanto contenuta quella dei Cleared di Chicago, duo composto da Steven Hess (lo si conosce bene da queste parti per il suo operato coi Locrian) e Michael Vallera. Poche uscite ma profilo qualitativo alto e ‘sorvegliato’ sotto tutti gli aspetti. In altre parole: si sente che è gente a cui le cose piace farle bene. Non so se The Key, il disco precedente, sempre su Touch, abbia dato loro una visibilità maggiore per via del prestigio del marchio. Ma quel che è certo è che va recuperato, sia per il mood che lo lega a questo in esame, sia per la sua particolarità. Sì, perché è una specie di doppio album: alle quattro composizioni autografe del duo seguono gli stessi pezzi remixati da Philip Jeck, Christian Fennesz, Bethan Kellough, Olivia Block. Tutta gente perfettamente sulla loro linea di tiro. Che fa emergere, ognuno con la sua sensibilità e portato d’esperienza, aspetti magari nascosti negli originali o nuovi sistemi di relazione tra gli elementi in gioco. Una radiografia intima affidata agli amici e allo stesso tempo una patente d’appartenenza. Ma addentriamoci in questo nuovo Cleared. Flussi di velluto in solitudine appartata che sembrano dirci di un tempo smangiato ai bordi dal suo procedere orizzontale (‘First Sleep’); tenue linea di galleggiamento ritmico e correnti ascensionali con squarci d’emotività che crepitano (Of Endless Light); partenza drone severa che cambia gradualmente di segno attraverso l’immissione di elementi morbidi (‘Dawn’); fondali oleosi da elettronica riduzionista e pulsazioni dub fantasmatiche per una cosa vicina nello spirito alle destrutturazioni languide di un Pinkcourtesyphone (‘Pulse’); tintinnii di campane che farebbero felice il David Shea dell’ultimo disco su Room40 (‘Blue Drift’); cartolina dei saluti dove i colori sembrano prendere vita dopo tanti banchi di nebbia (‘Walking Field’). È inutile girarci intorno o sforzarsi di aggiungere altro: tra quanti trafficano in quella terra di mezzo dove deep drones, minimalismo, estetica Kranky si compenetrano, Hess e Vallera sono i più bravi e preparati. Scommettiamo che vedremo comparire questo disco in molte playlist di fine anno? [Loris Zecchin]

Otis Nugatory:

How can music be so wordless yet say so much? Evocative-grinding; spatial-condensed; drone-journeyscapes. Distant cousin of of Coils’ ‘How to Destroy Angels.’ Thanks to Bruce from Kranky for recommending; going on my Best of 2022 since no album has so aptly captured our world and its limping around the sun. Joins Touch pantheons like Fennesz and Biosphere.

Lost Tribe Sound

Absolutely love that Cleared continues to refine their snail-paced, ever-steady rhythmic mechanism. Of Endless Light is a masterpiece! My love for long-form thump and drone music has rarely felt this satisfied. It’s a sound pleasing enough for the ambient-lite folks, while leaving enough sonic grit and gristle for the fringe types. Highest recommendation!

Gonzo Karaoke:

It may seem counterintuitive, but the closer music approximates to silence, the more forceful its likely impact. It’s a fact plainly not lost on Chicago-based duo Cleared whose breathtaking new album is the turbid, thrice-distilled essence of quietude, an inchoate foam of dimensionless un-sound that enters via the pores rather than the auditory canal. At a considerable stretch, one COULD argue Of Endless Light falls within the parameters of dub techno, but only by implication, its signature rhythm-centric sparsity smeared and splayed to the very brink of breakdown. Proceedings commence with the ultra-refracted blur of ‘First Sleep’ which crests the horizon like a gust of smog across moonlit moorland. Fragments of wounded melody bleed through the blanketing static until decomposition inevitably sets in and the track slowly expires to a mo(u)rning chorus of axes being sharpened on a distant grindstone. By contrast, ‘Pulse’, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Waking Field’ are gorgeously eroded simulacra of Chain Reaction-esque avant-minimalism, dance music passed through a fine-mesh sieve to remove almost every joule of kinetic energy. Kick drums – or rather the muted metronomic clicks that pass for them – are so subsumed by grainy swathes of ambience, they barely register as rhythm. The album’s piéce de rèsistance though is the stunning ‘Blue Drift’, a darkening pall of drone and reverberant carillon bells that rivals Sarah Davachi’s ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ for stentorian solemnity. Step inside; the silence is DEAFENING. [Jordan F. Talbot]

TouchLine 10 CLEARED – ‘Breathing Ring’

Video single – 1 track – 7:23

Track listing:

1. Breathing Ring

Now available on Bandcamp

All sound by Steven Hess & Michael Vallera
Recorded by Greg Norman
Arranged and mixed by Michael Vallera
Mastered by Matthew Barnhart, December 2020
Published by Touch Music/Fairwood Music UK Ltd.

TO:116 Cleared – ‘The Key’

8 tracks – CD + DL – 1:12:24

Available on Bandcamp to pre-order soon
Release date: 30th October 2020

Track listing:

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 of 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]

Blow Up (Italy)