claire rousay – a softer focus (American Dreams, 2021)

I’ve always felt a little more transparent, a little more vocal than most of my friends when it comes to my online presence. I started blogging and talking in forums well before anyone else I knew at the time, and even today it still feels as though I project more of my thoughts and feelings into cyber-space than many of the people I know (for better or worse). Indeed, people can often learn more about me through my writings here than conversations we would have in person.

It creates an unusual dichotomy, a sense of separation of selves almost, as though I have some distinct online persona outside of my physical self that can and does talk about things that maybe I wouldn’t in person, and that people can and do associate with. Only, is that the real me, or is that only the me they know, the me I want known? And how do I feel about this “other” me that talks on my behalf, the mouthpiece of my life online?


I feel a certain kinship with Rousay’s a softer focus, whose diaristic and sketch-like field recordings blended with soft musicality in strings and pianos provide a snippet of life and feeling. It is at once both intimately personal and yet somehow also detached from the “truth” of her existence, separate from it, incidental to it.

In “discrete (the market)”, as we are softly drawn by the ear through a carefully woven fabric of textures set against plaintive strings, there’s a sense of the activity that proceeds irrespective of our presence. Claire works here to permanise their existence, and in the setting to music also seal the reality of her experience with them, culminating in the densifying physicality of its latter half as twangling chimes and rich string drones reach their peak.

It falls in direct opposition to highlight “peak chroma” whose urban atmospheres that migrate through subways and stations find themselves in thinned drones and cerebral electronic suspensions. Then Claire’s voice cuts in, autotuned and spaced out, lost and pained:

I’m trying not to miss you

It’s an intimate moment, direct and unequivocal, and yet the processing and appearance makes it feel distant and unapproachable in some way, as though it’s emanating out of another self. This is reinforced in the loop snippets of conversation at the conclusion of the piece, chatting away on social media profiles and talk of sensitivity to the perception of projected selves to others. All this power and potential for closeness, and yet something which holds us apart.

A similar trajectory falls in penultimate “stoned gesture” also, a sense of drift in a world of things. A lighter flicks aimlessly, objects rustle, glasses clink. Fireworks bang in the distance like popped corn, muted and separate. Vocals float across the surface of its hollowness, unintelligible despite their platform, crooning alongside the Vantzou-esque strings that haunt the backfield in lonely isolation.

Despite everything we can communicate through our other, that part of us that channels our thoughts and feelings and articulates them for people, there’s a surprising accompanying loneliness. Perhaps, as Claire intimates here, we should go a little easier on ourselves, get a little closer to the voice that speaks for us, from us, and in doing so get become more attuned to the real things all around us.