Switched On – Clarice Jensen: Esthesis (130701)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Esthesis is the third album from cellist and composer Clarice Jensen. Initially it was to be a concert experience, comprising a series of long drones that would cycle sequentially through the ‘circle of fifths’, moving from the pitches of C to F.

Unfortunately the pandemic put paid to any plans for a live experience, and Jensen regrouped to realise the concept in solitary form. As she writes, “I expanded my usual palette of layered and treated cellos without the effect of a more grandiose or large-scale feeling of timbre; I wished to employ additional media in an effort to further portray the idea of isolation and containment.”

Jensen goes on to describe the album. “’Sadness is a setting of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament. Liking begins with tentative hope and then blossoms, using an additive compositional process, whereas Disliking is subtractive. Anger uses text taken from Simone de Beauvoir’s letters to Nelson Algren. Fear attempts to simply portray breathing and absence. The organs used on Love suggest hallowed spaces, employing only a short progression that always returns to the same but becomes layered, out-of-sync and lost, but simplest at its end.

What’s the music like?

Deeply intimate – but not in an intrusive way.

Liking sets the tone, using the ‘home’ key of the cello if you like, with the C string being its lowest uniform note, and it builds in layers before settling on a drone that gives an immensely ambient sonority. Sadness takes on an ethereal chill, bright but with soft and mournful tones while Anger really is a striking piece, the emotion portrayed first through disorientating voices but then through an increasingly bothersome treble drone, held above low rumblings in the bass.

Disliking assembles a pile of ambient textures, and while not as confrontational as its title suggests it definitely carries an undercurrent. Joy, on the other hand, is rich and colourful, the sun streaming through an imaginary window as its oscillations proceed, before a softly undulating piano takes hold.

Fear – an all too real emotion during the pandemic – lives up to its billing with discomforting textures and figurations, and the return of that high pitch. Thankfully this is not the final emotion, as Love puts everything back in its rightful place, with consonant harmonies and cushioned textures.

Does it all work?

It does – and as a whole, rather than split into the engaging sections.

Is it recommended?

Yes – a compelling cycle of emotions to which we can all relate, beautifully played and recorded.

Listen

Buy

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