Tranquil multi-instrumentalist Walt McClements shares breathtaking ambient song

Photo by Rachel Pony Cassells

“I hope the essence of the record conveys the beauty and wonder of secret worlds,” Los Angeles composer Walt McClements says, discussing the role of subcultural societies on his new LP A Hole In The Fence. Primarily created with an accordion, the album takes notes from contemporary classical, drone, and electronic music. “I think of the record as a fragmented narrative connecting threads of the somewhat hidden worlds I’ve travelled through my life, from underground music and punk communities to train hopping and gay cruising grounds.” Pairing his glacial, meticulous music with personal experiences of artistic, traveling, and queer subcultures, McClements has created an evocative soundtrack, paralleling a lifelong journey stumbling through doorways, portals, and hidden passages to find his place in the universe.

McClements’ desire for adventure on an individual level mirrors the playfulness and experimentation on A Hole In The Fence. Though he had played the accordion for years in folk and indie rock bands, as McClements’ listening habits expanded, so did his artistic ambitions. He admits to not having a serious pedigree in ambient or drone listening, but becoming familiar in recent years with artists who create singular visions out of classical and early music instruments like Kali Malone, Mary Lattimore, and Pauline Oliveros provided growth and newfound compositional interest with the accordion, concentrating on overtones and intervals.

Fittingly, as the songs mark novelty in his artistic life, McClements’ titles on A Hole In The Fence often construe moments through a gateway. Take the gorgeous title track “Thresholds (through a hole in the fence).” It’s a slowly-building, melodic drone that echoes the tradition of synthesizer music while also firmly staking its claim as an accordion piece – tapping keys and blown reeds rear their percussive heads through the patient maelstrom. The title is a literal demarcation – alluding to McClements’ tenure as a train-hopping traveler, “learning where the holes in the train yard fences were, alongside other punks,” he says.

Exploring queer histories and traditions was equally important in McClements’ maturing, and on the sublime, ascendant piece “Climb (two times past same point in six hours),” he nods to the “No Cruising” signs still up in some Los Angeles parks. As the song builds, blooms, and explodes, it considers the joy and ecstasy of hidden worlds like cruising grounds, train yards, and punk houses, as well as the intermittent darkness they can hide. “Many people in these communities also have relationships with hidden worlds of addiction, McClements explains, “and I’ve lost many friends to that.”

But the blossoming through knowledge and sense is singular: even if the clandestine can hide a darkness, it’s often the wonder that prevails, which, for McClements, is the thing “making the world a place [he] wants to live in.” A citizen of hidden worlds, he creates and gives his testament to them – it’s a guide for those starting to find them, and a welcome friend for those who already count themselves denizens.

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