WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER is the fourth collaboration in a decade from poet Susan Howe and musician David Grubbs. Veering away from the stuttering, profoundly fragmented seance of Frolic Architecture (2011), Howe and Grubbs present a sound-work that germinates from new Susan Howe text collages and prose poems (referencing Tom Tit Tot, Childe Roland, Paul Thek, W.B.Yeats, and so on), a number of which were included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and have more recently been collected in Tom Tit Tot, a MoMA publication featuring artwork by R.H. Quaytman. In WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER, Howe’s texts are blended with the resonant sounds of Grubbs’s composition for piano and field recordings made in the near silence of off-hours in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
In his liner notes, composer Michael Pisaro writes:
To live in the museum as a house, as Susan did in writing this text, must be to hear voices in the fragmented time of the pre-dawn hour. After the opening footfalls, the piece begins with such voices, whispering. Later, leading into the final section, there’s a kind of fugue of them. (Howe’s poetry is crowded with voices.)
When Howe speaks in the midst of the extended Gardner sound assemblage of this piece, she knows she is interrupting, and you can hear it in her voice. In the gaps in her speech, in the breaks and letters uttered and broken off, she shelters other voices. If you listen carefully, the empty frame that once housed Vermeer will echo back at you from its invisible shadow. As they echo across the hard surfaces of wood and stone, the morning sounds of the preparation for the day’s visitors make a haunting music. The elevator’s E is the fundamental of the building and the tonal center of the long song-structure that Grubbs creates to shelter Howe’s words. (The 42’35” of this piano elegy pass like the 2’36” of “Standing in the Shadows of Love.”)