Claire Rousay

“What if?” can be a trapdoor to hell. Waiting on the other side of that interrogative lurk paranoid delusions and pipe dreams, both potent mood oscillators. In sometimes i feel like i have no friends, San Antonio composer Claire Rousay explores the subject of friendship through a spiralling self-examination packed with dangerous hypotheticals. “Why does anyone want to be around me?” Rousay wonders in the mission statement of the 28-minute piece. “How do I have friends? Do I deserve it?” The ambient soundscape, like all of Rousay’s work, is assembled from field recordings, inventive percussion, and captured conversations. Here, Rousay seeks the marrow of friendship, and in turn presents the mechanics of the mind: its tendency to wander, scrutinize its host, and occasionally soothe.

In the opening measures, wind chimes flutter and tree branches sway and crack. sometimes i feel like i have no friends plays like footage of a blustery seaside, although it’s possible that these sounds—recorded in San Antonio, Chicago, and Rotterdam (the only coastal locale)—may have nothing to do with the sea. Rousay doesn’t map out the origin of each field recording, possibly because she knows that the mind is quick to construct a scene for each. What passes for surf might be a freeway overpass, or trash blowing around an empty parking lot. The tableaus morph with each listen; is that really a wind chime, or is it a bicycle bell? What’s interesting is that such disparate sources can produce such tranquil audio. Rousay, who once told The New York Times, “I basically record my whole life,” is intrigued by the multiple sonic properties of everyday things. Listeners can get lost in the limitless vistas she conjures, only to learn that they come from the sound of a pop can.

The images of windy beaches and blown leaves drift in and out as a halo of piano, played by Emily Harper Scott, quiets the mind. But when Rousay’s voice chirps in at the three-minute mark, it feels like a guided meditation gone wrong. “How many friends do you have?” she asks. “Do you ever say something bad about someone you would call a best friend?” (You may find yourself answering these questions silently and inadvertently.) “What if word got out that I’d said something bad about a best friend? Would they forgive me?” Each “what if” grates on the nerves, prodding you out of hypnosis. Rousay spirals further down, taking us with her: “What would happen if everyone turned their back on me one day? Am I ready for that? To be completely alone?”

Early in her monologue, Rousay sneaks in a growling drone. It grows louder and inflames the sense of unease stoked by her interrogation. But Rousay is an excellent manipulator of mood and atmosphere, and she is quick to rescue her listeners from self-obsessed despair. The remaining minutes are filled with barroom chatter, a car radio, and snatches of conversation between Rousay and her friends. The topics are light and banal: an 80-year-old Vietnamese tailor who is “obsessed” with Anthony Bourdain; a student who turned in improperly formatted homework. Rousay drowns out her anxieties in the mundane chitchat, which eventually disappears in a rain of wood and metallic percussion. Scott’s piano returns, and a swell of violin (courtesy of Rousay’s real-life best friend Mari Maurice, aka More Eaze) restores a sense of calm. In this serene passage, the questioning voice has been silenced.

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