Claire Rousay has gamely embraced the delicious shibboleth “emo ambient,” though it makes her unmistakably modern sound art seem much easier to pin down than it is. The San Antonio experimentalist has added two dozen releases to Bandcamp in the last few years, starting as a solo percussionist and evolving into a composer who refreshes musique concrète for the smartphone age. But 2021 has been her breakout year, one in which she earned three admiring Pitchfork reviews—as noted, she is prolific—and a New York Times feature. She did it by flooding her highly personal field-recording collages, once so stark and amelodic, with gorgeous sonority.
The sudden acclaim is concentrated on A Softer Focus, a collaboration with the visual artist Dani Toral that “locates grains of emotion in the mundane—a car door slamming, a lighter igniting, the plink of an Apple keyboard mid-text,” The Times said. Yearning harmonies suggest a zillennial Eluvium, drifting over abstract yet detailed diegetic sound as Rousay discloses secrets and heartaches in a voice dripping digital effects. It’s all somehow like the ancient ruins of a Myspace playlist built around Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
On another 2021 release, Rousay made emotionless voice-to-text software read her old love letters, unleashing ineffable melancholy in the juxtaposition. She “captures aspects of 21st-century auditory culture that others see as blemishes, foregrounding what might otherwise be discarded,” Pitchfork said. The result is an exquisite and unpretentious new vision of sound art, unbeholden to myths of nature and history, about the real lives of young people today.