Clarice Jensen, ”The Experience of Repetition as Death”
By Marc Masters · April 08, 2020 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

The music of cellist and composer Clarice Jensen is so immersive, it’s easy to just get lost in it. Her patient “Cello Constellations”—as one early track title describes them—float on waves of bowed strings. But Jensen’s work has a lot of other levels too, be they intellectual, thematic, or emotional. That’s more true than ever on her latest release, The Experience of Repetition as Death, the title of which reflects the record’s the deep conceptual underpinnings. Here, Jensen doesn’t just use recurring motifs, she grapples with the fundamental cycle of mortality.

The word “death” in the album title is not just a metaphor. Jensen wrote much of this album when her mother was dying of leukemia—a time filled with the repetition of errands, doctor visits, and the omnipresent bleats of hospital equipment. The latter influenced the hypnotic “Metastable,” in which Jensen’s cello swings gently between high and low pitches, slowly building intensity yet never wavering from its steady pulse. That intensity ratchets up in the drama of the next track, “Holy Mother.” Though the title of this massive piece is taken from the Tibetan name for the similarly-massive Mount Everest, it’s hard not to also hear in the track’s organ-like tones an elegy to Jensen’s own parents.

Such layered themes are strengthened by the way Jensen returns to specific musical figures throughout The Experience of Repetition as Death, especially in the album’s circular beginning and end. Opener “Daily” uses a simple chord progression that continually rises, and closer “Final” reiterates the phrase from tape loops that Jensen created in the studio—but only after she deliberately degraded them by crumpling and even stepping on them. The track’s murky feel slowly fades to reveal a pure, majestic version of Jensen’s theme. By ending where she began, Jensen offers both resolution and hope, suggesting that if death is bound to repeat, so too is life.

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