Review: Kelly Ruth – Simulacra (Pseudo Laboratories, Oct 14)

Many of us found new “worlds” in which to spend our time thinking, experimenting, and healing once the first lockdowns started to hit, but for sound and textile artist Kelly Ruth that world is more than real and concrete enough to break free of the abstracting frame quotes. Second Life (SL) is no revolutionary new technology (the open-ended virtual reality platform first became available to “players” in 2003), but the idea of audiovisual performances within video games engines, for the most part, is, and Simulacra, the first of Ruth’s sound work to be produced entirely via her SL avatar and in-engine materials, conspicuously engages with an ongoing conversation and loosely collective adventure in contemporary experimental music. This label-faithful follow-up to her 2019 debut shares that memorable tape’s uncanny but nonetheless concrete physicality, but whereas Forms was literally rooted in the tangible with its contact-based weaving tool amplification, Simulacra challenges that designation simply by existing. In between DJ sets at underwater dance club The Electro Squid, Ruth’s SL avatar toys and tinkers with functional replicas of looms and electronics, the effects of the game’s sound design and sample limitations actually complementing the shuffling machinery manipulations and “vocal” interjections with an almost comforting diminutiveness of stuttering loops, murky fidelity, and physical distance. I’ve never ventured into SL, so it’s difficult to visualize the actual virtual areas in which these performances are occurring, but at several points it seems as though Ruth’s avatar may be holed up in the Squid during the day, playing to an expansive audience of no one as the ocean seethes and bubbles outside. This is a must-listen. For EVERYONE.

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