Confluence is the companion album to Stria.
CD, 50 min.
Intransitive Recordings INTO22
Composed 1998 – 2000, released 2002
(Particle [Cell] > Wave [Body])
The following piece Confluence is the result of a continual two-year collaboration and exchange. Significant not only as final compositions, these pieces are nearly complete documents of our individual and collective output relating to sound experimentation, recording and composition during this period. Although the listener in the end is left to experience the acoustic presence created by these works, a survey of the elements that comprise what one hears along with some general information concerning our intent is presented here. Our primary thread of research over this time was to study evolutionary patterns of sound dynamics through various methods of live generation and recorded mediums that focus on multiplications and groupings. While this has been one of the fundamental bases of our work since the beginning, in these compositions a concentrated effort was made to explore how our artistic and conceptual ideas of sound experimentation affected the physical, perceptual influence of intensive listening. Much of this has to do with the idea of resonance; the phenomenon of natural vibrations that give rise to intensified or stable structures within sound bodies and fields.
Our use of resonance not only encompassed sound behavior but also included analogies of the phenomenon in group interaction and/or participation in the social context of sound generating activities. This originated with the observations of complex, naturally occurring, acoustical environments which were then transcribed or applied to a series of spontaneous sound-gatherings in Austin, Texas. These initial experiments were then developed by John into the ‘Resonance Ensemble’ concept carried out at the Stazione Topolo Festival in northern Italy. All of these experiments in one way or another dealt with challenging the role of the individual as either performer, or ‘passive listener’ through exercises in collective efforts. As “enactive” listeners, participants are encouraged to improvise according to a perception of sound-space created in a particular sound environment rather than to adhere to an imposed micro-structure. In our playing, an effort was made to de-emphasize the individual presence, being attentive instead to the collective sound body and one’s place within, without need for self-expression. The situations and results varied and can be heard throughout the pieces, from intimate vocal chants and the scattering of dry beans or stones to the ringing of antiquated ceramic roof tiles or the bleating of plastic reeds.
In looking at the reasons for our curiosity we find in a letter from Seth from our correspondence: “What is the coherence of a pattern which arises from complexity through resonance? How do ‘isolated’ incidents become more significant through their relation to the larger whole?” Indeed, this project could be seen as a continual series of questions, the answers to which may be found only in the results themselves (which in turn lead to further investigation). These recordings were assembled through extensive studio manipulation and experimentation, along extended lines of multiplicative processes and resonance-seeking. Within the compositions, various stages of this exponential variation are revealed (in a non-linear fashion). Anywhere from one to over a thousand layers may coexist at any one moment, in a manner that can simultaneously operate as striations or confluxions. The differentiation of these layers is evidenced in their shifting movement through time, a correlation to the drawing together of source elements, and the way they were produced, transformed and composed. The image of an organism more or less accurately depicts the proposed unity of these compositions (thus the term “sound body”); a living matter which can be broken down into ever smaller components or synthesized into ever-larger wholes, being formed by cellular entities. – John Grzinich & Seth Nehil
John Grzinich and Seth Nehil’s Confluence (Intransitive) does one thing over its three tracks and does it gloriously. Even without reading inside the “exponential variation….revealed (in a non-linear fashion)”, the thick syrup slowly oozing from the speakers is a shifting mass of hundreds of layers of smaller sound nuggets. In both “Pneuma” and Lohme” individual characteristics of the sources are unrecognizable, congealing instead into gargantuan whooshes which flow like the circulatory system of Antione de Sainte-Expurery’s mammoth snake digesting an elephant.”The Distant Edge”, the best and shortest track, uses field recordings from a demonstration in Belgrade, and the clamor of car horns and machinery remains more apparent than in the other songs. (songs?) The honks, shouts, and clangs are folded in upon themselves to the point of completely obscuring any relation to a field recording, resembling instead a discontented angelic choir singing hymns to passerby trying desperately to carry on their business in exaggerated oblivion.
– Alesandro Moreschi III, Bananafish #17
Released at the same time as jgrzinich and Seth Nehil’s Stria (that one on the Belgian label Erewhon), Confluence presents three more electro-acoustic pieces resulting from their collaborations between 1998 and 2000. Their stated intent was to “study evolutionary patterns of sound dynamics through various methods of live generation and recorded mediums that focus on multiplications and groupings.” In other words, the interaction and resonance taking place between smaller parts of a greater whole — a sound organism of sorts. These pieces involved a long process of gathering sound sources which included the use of group recording participants reacting to sounds played to them by playing themselves (on small percussion instruments and objects like bowls). This is an interesting concept, but you can choose to ignore it all and just listen. Each piece contains layer upon layer of sounds moving at different paces, creating rich but not too dense textures that allow you to focus on a different “region” of the sonic space each time you press the play button. Somewhere between musique concrète and very detailed drones, the music opens up and sucks you in. Both artists collected the material, but Jgrzinich composed “Pneuma” and “Lohme,” two 20-minute pieces, leaving the 5-minute “The Distant Edge” as Nehil’s sole contribution (the situation is reversed on Stria). The latter piece features car horns and other street sounds that make it sound more aggressive than the other two, so it works as a kind of interlude between JGrzinich’s quasi-ambient pieces. In its last minutes, “Lohme” threatens to turn into one of Francisco Lopez’s sound constructions. Recommended.
– François Couture, AMG (All-Music Guide)
With the proliferation of amazing software packages and ever more powerful machines, making electronic music today is, in theory, easier than it ever has been, and the recent slew of unimpressive (to say the least) remix albums seems to be depressing proof that increased sophistication of resources has not always led to a corresponding raising of the stakes when it comes to quality. It’s comparatively rare to find composers of electronic music who are prepared to really take their time in working and reworking their sonic material, which makes these two exceptional companion albums by Seth Nehil and John Grzinich, one on the Belgian label Erewhon, the other on Howard Stelzer’s Boston-based Intransitive imprint even more worthy of your attention.
Using sound material sourced from various objects played (Nehil prefers the word “manipulated”) by large groups of people, the two composers “trade, treat and trade” sounds again until, as Nehil writes, “because of the very long composition time (more than two years) it becomes impossible to claim ownership.” Rather than trying to fit their material into a pre-conceived architecture, Nehil and Grzinich “allow the sounds to dictate the overall form,” and the end-product manages to combine a naturally breathing sense of form (in a manner not dissimilar to much electroacoustic improvisation) with a sound surface of extraordinary precision and complexity (“anywhere from one to over a thousand layers may coexist in any one moment”). Listening through headphones – recommended unless you happen to have a state-of-the-art stereo system and a listening space large enough to enjoy the music at the necessary volume – reveals the extraordinary lengths to which the composers go to interleave, crossmix and develop their sound material. At times the source sounds seem easily identifiable, but once the layers of crackles, rustles and clanging pots and dishes have been superimposed and set back into the middle distance of the mix through masterly and subtle panning, they assume different, multiple identities. What could start out as a gentle tap on a piece of wood ends up as distant thunder – or is it gunfire?
The steady accumulation of sonic events inevitably recalls the stochastic pile-ups of Xenakis, who, you will recall, in his 1966 interview with Marc Blancpain (which accompanies the Fractal reissue of his “Persepolis” – not the shoddy job released by Asphodel last year), explained his interest in mass phenomena as a means to obtain “form, a completely new plastic sonority that no longer behaves according to polyphonic or tonal or serial rules, but rather a completely new concept that can be found in calculating probability, or in theories such as the Kinetic Theory of Gases which [..] plays an important role in astrophysics today.” Many composers today pay lip-service to Xenakis while apparently understanding neither the sheer difficulty and complexity of his music nor the compositional strategy behind it (I’m thinking particularly of those who participated in the disappointingly shallow above-mentioned Asphodel Persepolis remix project), but works such as Nehil and Grzinich’s “Pneuma” (on “Confluence”) and “Arboreal” (on “Stria”) are the authentic descendents of “Bohor” and “Concret PH”.
” The Distant Edge” (on Confluence) was sourced in recordings of a 1999 street demonstration in Belgrade, and superimposes recognisable sounds of mass protest – blaring car horns, chanted slogans and angry cries – to form a huge pulsing cloud of sound about an octave in range. If Xenakis comes to mind once more (and we should not forget that his experience of public uprising during the occupation of Greece during the war was a formative influence on his concept of mass sound), so at times does mid-period Ligeti (specifically a piece like “Clocks and Clouds”) – the music appears to drift by slowly until you focus your attention in on the detail and find it to be teeming with activity like a beehive. Simply put, these two albums contain some of the most technically accomplished and awesomely beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, as infinitely complex and infinitely simple as light. Any self-respecting new music enthusiast can’t afford to pass them by.
– Dan Warburton, paristransatlantic.com, march, 2003
Belle musique de ces deux poètes du sonore qui vont faire résonner leurs drones organiques aux lisières d’un temps immobile. Les mouvements lents de ces sons, comme des coulées épaisses de matières offrent des paysages tendus et étrangement sereins, faits de grincements, de frottements, d’ondes vastes, de résonnances scintillantes, révélant majestueusement dans le temps leurs contours gracieux. On pénètre dans ces flots lourds comme un animal géant, prenant nos aises en se laissant porter par le courant, quittant une certaine pasanteur pour une autre, plus subtile. Le courant nous entraîne dans des cavités obscures, dans des cirques ouverts et gigantesques, d’autres échos apparaissent, habités de fantômes. Dense-musique de déplacement de masses titanesques, on s’y arrête timide et observateur, et au final on n’est pas déçu du voyage.
Beautiful music from these two sound poets who will make their organic drones resonate at the margins of an immobile time. Like thick currents of matter, the slow motions of these sounds offer strained and strangely serene landscapes made from creaking, gratings, broad waves and sparkling resonance majestically uncovering their gracious surroundings in time. You penetrate into this heavy flow like a gigantic animal, taking its ease, letting yourself being taken away by the current, leaving a certain heaviness for another, more subtle. The current takes us into obscure cavities, in the open gigantic pools other echoes appear, inhabited by phantoms. With this dense music of shifting titanic masses you stop, shy, observe and in the end you are not deceived by the voyage.
– Manu Holterbach, revue&corrigée no 54, december 2002