Think of the music of Olympia, Washington, and a familiar story unfolds: Beat Happening and Kill Rock Stars, riot grrrl and a young Nirvana. A heavy legacy, but these well-told stories also have a habit of bulldozing the smaller, lighter stories that came before them. In fact, the Olympia of the early 1980s was an open creative space where a loose community of DIY musicians drifted across the boundaries of sound art, new-age music, modern composition and improvisation. free. American rituals Discover one of those almost forgotten stories: a set of playful, experimental and entirely original recordings made in the early 80s by Cheri Knight, a music composition student at Evergreen State College at Olympia.
Originally from western Massachusetts, Knight grew up in a musical family, playing piano and clarinet before his head was turned by the music and ideas of John Cage. During her studies, she discovered the possibilities of synthesis and met the composer Pauline Oliveros, whose philosophy of deep listening offers new ways of understanding and experiencing sound. But you get the meaning, by listening American rituals, that the real genesis of Knight’s music was the access she gained to the recording studio on Evergreen’s campus. You can hear him formulate his own musical language using only his voice and simple instrumentation, shaping a unique sonic world from loops and layers.
Knight uses a range of sounds on American rituals: guitar and bass, piano and chimes, rhythms beaten by hand or on struck metal. But his voice is the basis of his music. On tracks like “Hear/Say” or “Primary Colors” – these are less songs than chants or mantras – Knight multitracks his voice and weaves it into tessellated patterns. Some of her music adopts the dry tone of an educational text: on “Prime Numbers”, she counts upwards, her voice swept wide left and right, accompanied by slightly post-punk music; the filled drums and splinter-like guitar intrusions are reminiscent of a band like the Raincoats. But the track also evokes one of those lively musical interludes that you might see in an old episode of sesame streeta half-remembered earworm that is both heartwarming and weird.
As part of his academic work, Knight spent time at the Zen Arts Center in New York and studied Buddhism. His music does not generally express spiritual themes, but there is a devotional sensibility to American rituals, an underlying sense of mindful practice. “Tips on Filmmaking”, the best track on the album, mixes chanting, handclapping and dancing marimba to sound like the music of a peaceful ashram. “Breathe” takes the form of a meditation exercise – breathe into breathe out. Yet there are none of the more giddy flavors common to new-age music. American rituals feels relatively lucid, guided by an academic sensibility.