Hearing something in the "right" place is an elusive, ever-enticing search. It's also one that's completely subjective - dependent on mood / time of year / personal history / you name it. Not that that's discouraging. The countless permutations of what you can listen to and where is both overwhelming and exhilarating. Our physical surroundings affect how we absorb a record just as our emotional states do.
More often than not, the importance of where you were when you first heard a song is illuminated through hindsight. But sometimes you recognize in the moment itself that something special is happening. Maybe it's the music's doing, maybe it's what's happening alongside or maybe it's an inexplicable combination of the two. It just clicks.
The first time I heard Grouper (Liz Harris is her name) was somewhere between Athens, Georgia and Shreveport, Louisiana. Well I shouldn't use heard here, let's say listened. I'd found a track of hers on some playlist and liked the first thirty seconds, so I made a mental note of it (as you're wont to do while prepping for a 17+ hour road trip). So really, the first time I listened to Grouper was in my car, lovingly nicknamed The Toaster. All but one of my friends were asleep or drifting off as the clock edged towards the next day. We talked quietly of plans for the future, what we wanted to see in Austin. Ours was the only car on the road its headlights stretching out unimpeded. Grouper's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill had unfolded almost seamlessly behind our conversation. Maybe it had always been there?
Reading that back it sounds like a non-event. And maybe since it's my memory it won't seem the least bit profound to you, but for me it's an incredibly special one.
Regardless of whether you're on an endless highway in the middle of the night or sitting on your sofa on a bright Sunday morning, Liz Harris's music has an uncanny ability to wrap itself around you. It's not written for any one place. Nor is it tethered to any given time. It's fills the space it's given. Frankly, it's magic.
On her records songs meld into one another, like taking a charcoal line and blurring it with your finger. Simple tends to carry a negative connotation, but her music ultimately is simple. It's comprised of a few parts and to a beautiful effect. Vocals, keys/synths, loop station (on one occasion a microwave). Mundane items all, but here they're profound. It's a hand stretched to a different plane, headlights extending into the night. Both weightless and timeless.
Much like Harris, photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto uses minimal equipment to create stunning works that are both of/not of this time. In his theatre series (one of which is included above), he set the exposure on his camera to run the length of the film being showed. As a result, the screen would be a totally illuminated white, while the rest of the frame would be lit depending on the light given off throughout the film. It's a striking, surreal image that's all at once familiar.
So maybe this is your first time hearing Grouper. If so, I hope you find a good time/place to wade in. And even if you've listened before, maybe you'll find a new side that you've yet to see. Either way, here's my guide to Grouper and the fuzzy world of Liz Harris.