The artist’s life can be a solitary existence, filled with hours of research and development in isolation. That even holds true for the performer, whose public appearances usually reveal an end product achieved after stretches of seclusion. But Jason Lescalleet, a sound artist and improviser known for innovative, evocative work with analog tape and electronics, is opening new doors into his working process, through a monthly series of CDs on his own label, Glistening Examples, and with a new quarterly concert series that starts on Saturday at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, N.H.
Lescalleet was a regular presence on Boston’s experimental-music scene for roughly four years starting around 1997, collaborating with regional mainstays such as Ron Lessard, Laurence Cook, and nmperign. But since 2001, when Lescalleet relocated to Berwick, Maine, he has been less visible close to home, even as his international renown has swelled in response to a series of acclaimed albums and a ruthless touring schedule.
But via the Internet, Lescalleet has fostered a new kind of community with “This Is What I Do,” a monthly series of full-length CDs issued through the Glistening Examples Bandcamp site (www.glisteningexamples.bandcamp.com ). The informal series is ephemeral by design; each volume is withdrawn after a month.
“I’ve always been interested in field recordings and using found sounds,” he says by telephone from Berwick. “It just seemed natural to me to use prerecorded music the same way I would use the sound of a snowstorm, or traffic noise. But copyright law doesn’t allow that, and it just isn’t appropriate in most cases. So it’s a risky thing where I have to go out on a limb and determine what I’m going to present and not present.”
Lescalleet posted his latest work on his Soundcloud page (www.soundcloud.com/lescalleet) initially, removing older files as he added new ones. But when his original vision for “This Is What I Do” as an anthology of rarities, outtakes, and live recordings fell through, he reimagined the series as a kind of audio progress report for listeners who saw him perform or heard his releases on other labels, and came looking for more.
Determined to hone his craft in public, he still wanted to avoid oversaturating a limited market. “I hate being as crass as having to talk about commercial viability, but where I am trying to make a living at my art, it does matter whether or not my records are profitable,” he says. “If a label would be interested in pressing my record, would they be concerned that I’ve put out five other records in the same year?”
That issue, too, was resolved by the policy of monthly deletion. And the series addresses one further goal: “In the past I’ve had a hard time letting go of a record when somebody has commissioned a work from me,” he says. “I really need a hard deadline, because otherwise I don’t know how to let go of it, and I always work it to death.” Admittedly, he still bends his own rule. “The most recent issue, Volume Seven, for anyone who bought it before the CD was actually manufactured and shipped, the digital download version of one of the tracks is different than the one that came out on the CD, because I changed it at the last minute after I put the tracks up on Bandcamp.”
Fascinating in its own right, “This Is What I Do” also provides unique insights into the musings and methods of an artist whose more formal albums, such as “Songs About Nothing” and “The Pilgrim,” tend to be densely layered constructions so rich in allusion that they often seem to imply a kind of abstract storytelling.
“I often aim for the sort of narrative that you’d find in a dream,” Lescalleet explains. “There isn’t a definitive, specific narration, but you still get the sense that there’s a story – even if that story doesn’t make sense.” Leaving his art open to interpretation, he notes, is intentional – in a sense, each listener becomes a co-conspirator. Even his monthly reports, he notes, are meant to have a coherent overall shape.
Alongside his solo albums, Lescalleet has also been involved recently in a string of notable duo projects with a range of fellow mavericks: two with Aaron Dilloway, formerly of the power-noise outfit Wolf Eyes; one with the mercurial guitarist Kevin Drumm; and three with Graham Lambkin, previously of English avant-rock band the Shadow Ring, with a fourth in the works.
Those collaborations inspired Dan Hirsch – for years one of Boston’s most ambitious and respected arts programmers, and now the curator of performances and public programs at the recently opened 3S Artspace – to propose a related residency. “I said, what if we kind of approach this as if this is a laboratory and you’re the control subject? And each concert we’re bringing in a different variable, and seeing how that filters your methodology, your approach, your aesthetic,” Hirsch explains in a telephone interview.
Accordingly, future events in Lescalleet’s residency will showcase new work jointly created with Drumm, Lambkin, and Dilloway. But in the initial concert on Saturday, Lescalleet will collaborate for the first time with sound artist and composer Olivia Block in the world premiere of “Sonorous Vessels.” The jointly conceived piece uses ideas derived from a composition by Alvin Lucier, an experimental-music icon regarded by both artists as a foundational influence.
Block, who is preparing to release a new album on Lescalleet’s label, holds her new partner in high esteem. “What I value most about Jason’s work, particularly in his recorded compositions, is his incredible sense of composition and pacing,” she says in an e-mail. “I also like that the sense of humor he uses in his presentation and titles belies his serious and absolute expert approach to composition. I also appreciate Jason’s inclusion of (what I think of as) the epiphonographic sounds of each medium – the hiss of tape, or the burned sounds of digital overdrive.”
A premiere presumes novelty, but Lescalleet intends to sustain freshness and intrigue even alongside familiar partners. “I’m working really hard to make each of the performances special,” he says. “It’s not going to be just two guys showing up and jamming for an hour. We’re working hard to have new material, and present it in a slightly different way than we have in the past.”Steve Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.