SxSW Review: Claire Rousay, Moor Mother, Circuit des Yeux , March 17, Central Presbyterian Church

This must be one of the most unique showcases that I have ever attended at SxSW. It is little surprise that it took place in one of the Churches – where else should people sit silently through what at first might appear to be snippets of grating and unpleasant garble in the hopes of a holistic nirvana at the end?

Claire Rousay

20220317 Claire Rausay

San Antonio-based Claire Rousay uses humdrum found sounds such as voicemail, conversations and urban background as samples to weave together soundscapes that are ordinarily more suited to an installation in one of the MoMAs than to a SxSW performance. As I’m sure she was aware, in a church fitted with concert speakers, the live experience is more haptic than auditory. Fuzzy white noise invades like water flowing through your toes, and the voice recordings pierce with an urgency like a woodpecker knocking its head against the trunk. Of course, that’s just my euphemistic that her musique concrete mostly centers on insecurity and self-harm. Unless we’re not supposed to discern the meaning from words alone.

Moor Mother

20220317 Moor Mother

Even for a novice, it’s clear that Moor Mother‘s Black Encyclopedia of the Air was not meant to be played in a place of light. It took several tries for Philly’s rap poet to raise the attention of the stage-hands, who finally realized that the stained-glass panels on both sides of the chancel needed to be blotted out. And so we sat in near pitch darkness in the nave while Camae Ayewa told us terrible tales.

The recorded version has more life given it by the backing of synth music and beats, but she played this set as a string of lamentations and eulogies. Using the space as a gathering space for storytelling, she was only accompanied by a lone trumpet that served like a backup vocal. Out of order, separate tracks like “Made A Circle”, “Tarot”, “Shekere” and further afield were fused into a continuous timeline that despairs and inspires simultaneously. It is an ingenious take that synthesized the material and the locale into a new experience.

Circuit des Yeux

20220317 Circuit de Yeux

Chicago-based Haley Fohr, aka Circuit des Yeux, was committed to deliver an impression as far removed from that on her bandcamp profile as possible. Given the music videos, I had expected a dramatic if eccentric fashion but not the morbidly gothic garb and makeup. However, it does suit her powerfully baritone voice as she presides over the many mournful numbers like “Dogma” and “Sculpting the Exodus.”

The first half of the set was focused on the recent album -IO. And quite dramatically (again), she opened up a theremin-like voice and the songwriting veered 180 degrees into lighter passages that included… Manatees, if I recall correctly.

Either this was the most uniquely enjoyable showcase ever, or I’d gotten into some potent edibles from that Curb driver.

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest

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