Quiet Forage came together over a four-year period, Kelly and Lacey recording source material in a series of sessions at Lacey’s house, which was then stitched together by Kelly into the pieces here. “We chose to work on some occasions purely acoustically, others electronically,” Kelly told me in a Facebook exchange. “Sometimes we imposed time limits on each take, or limited ourselves to one or two sources – all as a means to try and sidestep the usual pitfalls of improvisation.”
Their approach worked. Despite its protracted birth, Quiet Forage is remarkably consistent and well executed, reordering the grammar of electroacoustic improv to create something fresh and compelling. Pieces such as Old Minutes combine a kind of post-AMM rigour in the duo’s examination of the sound-making potential of every last bit of their kit, with the DIY ethos of post punk. Kelly in particular has referenced this latter influence in past interviews, particularly outlier abstractionists like :zoviet*france and Einsturzende Neubauten so it’s not exactly surprising to encounter this ongoing synthesis, but it makes for great listening. Meanwhile Lacey, a percussionist, is adept at the kind of tactile sonic promiscuity that’s so enlivening from artists such as Gino Robair. I’m not that familiar with his biography, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d spent more than a few hours at Eddie Prevost’s improvisation workshops, or some equivalent, given how much acousmatic cymbal bowing, snare rubbing and (probably) polystyrene cup scrunching there seems to be.
Quiet Forage does, however, shrug itself free of all those influences, with less of the high-volume banging and clattering that you might expect from a Test Department fan such as Kelly. The resonant chimes of metal being struck are still in evidence, however, especially on the low-rise business of Meyer, but they’re set within a fluid, almost organic soundscape. The whirring scuttles and metallic bongs give each piece the feel of an individual ecosystem, all of its constituent parts somehow interconnected, yet going about their business oblivious to the wider universe. A drop of pond water viewed under a microscope. A valley’s immutable change through the year.
Yet there’s also a rather pleasing dialectical shuffle between organism and machine taking place throughout the album, even on relatively brief tracks such as After The Matter Had Settled. Every bustling sonic biome is balanced by the etched bareness of industrial process, with motors whirring and various repeating scrapes and buzzings. Disappearance & Rising deploys these in abundance, its various looping fanbelt-lathe-conveyor belt growls earthing sequences of metallic clonks and weightless ringing.
I guess those two poles of nature and technology aren’t always in conflict. We are all Darwin’s machines, after all. But what’s interesting is the way in which Lacey and Kelly absent themselves from the frame, keeping the whirr and grind of their pieces front and centre, their anonymity encouraging us to look beyond the cause and effect of human agency . The brooding whines of Meyer exemplify this, its headachy drones and strange mechanical shifts like some kind of self-cloning machine virus creeping out across the landscape. This in no way undermines the wit and concentration the duo brings to their pieces. Instead, we can sidestep the old ‘who does what’ question that tends to bother reviewers when faced with releases of this type, de-anthropomorphising these tracks and see them as complex entities in their own right. Post-human improv, anyone?