Review: Simon Whetham – Open and Closed Circles (Mappa, Mar 28)

Despite Simon Whetham’s initial plan to take a break from composing in order to focus more on installation and performance work, the idea of a “format-specific piece” intrigued him. According to Whetham himself, “mechanism, magnetism, friction, rotation, failure, repetition, fragility, ephemerality…” were all key words that inspired the compositions found on Open and Closed Circles, his newest tape out on Mappa Editions.  Clearly, many of those key words can also be applied to the cassette format, and help to draw comparisons between the similarities of the physical tape and the music it contains. Open and Closed Circles is full of scraping, grinding, churning, creaking sounds that are sequenced and layered in bizarre ways. Whetham’s compositions haphazardly but purposefully bind the timbres of unrelated objects together, creating brashly physical soundscapes that are unpredictable and erratic. But there is also a clear rhythm to the album, a subtle rotary pulse that mirrors the turning of cogs, the repetitive motion of a mechanical loop; and even though I wasn’t able to actually listen to Open and Closed Circles on cassette, it’s impossible to deny how crucial the format is to its identity.