Simon Whetham

Forced to Repeat Myself

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from the label:

“When performing with a limited set of resources, through choices in materials to work with and the constraints of being nomadic, there can be a tendency to repeat actions and scenes that 'work', even when improvising and having to respond to each new situation in a unique way.”

One characteristic aspect of the touring experience that is not discussed often enough is the dilemma of repetition. Not repetition as a mechanism of the work itself, but as a tedious consequence of being obligated to perform night after night in quick succession. Generating a completely unique performance for each stop, even with the assistance of improvisation, is a laborious undertaking that consumes too much time and sanity, while adhering to a rigid set of rules leaves one open to both burnout and diminishing returns. Is there a way to split the difference so that both performer and audience are always engaged to the highest standard?

“I set these constraints on myself. The need to produce something (at least a little) different in each event of a tour was fierce, especially when traveling with other musicians.”

Explicitly within the title itself of his latest CD, Forced To Repeat Myself, UK sound artist and composer Simon Whetham tackles these questions with both a sly wit and sincere inquisitiveness. The tracks, all collected from recordings documenting a 2018 tour, utilize analogous source material and means of execution. Whetham paid particular attention to the contour and character of each venue when deciding how to best put the pieces together, offering a customization that subverts pure deja vu for a sharp observance of the unfamiliar.

“In each situation objects and materials unique to the space were incorporated into the performance setup and structure, generating sounds or resonating with them. And yet I could hear similar scenes, movements, even spaces. This repetition determined the dynamic of the composition, working with it and against it.”

By the very nature of their disseminating sparseness, the tracks of Forced To Repeat Myself demand from the listener an attentiveness fixed on nuance and variation. The amplified cracks and static of ethereal currents and anonymous electronics infer the works of others who’ve made it their mission to attune our attention toward sounds outside our natural perception, including Christina Kubisch’s electrical walks, Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixer excursions, and Jason Zeh’s experiments with blank tapes and the mechanizations of his cassette players. Whetham’s shaping of the album’s source material to highlight certain exclusivities of each live performance emphasizes how the inherent dynamics of time and chance guide his self-imposed constraints into pathbreaking spectrums.

“The title references a phrase many of us will have heard in our formative years, ’Why do you force me to repeat myself?’ I have no answer to this question. I never forced anyone to do anything. But with this work, I did.”

One inherent paradox of Forced To Repeat Myself is that each listen naturally manifests a distinct, individual experience. The way sounds are received and processed in one instance to the next each forget their own entryway into transcribing meaning from this abstraction. And Whetham is keenly aware of this as the sounds of Forced To Repeat Myself find consistent, unique ways to perpetuate themselves, ensuring any repetition to be delicately understated.