Sunder, Unite (with Olivia Block)


CD, 38 min.
Sedimental sedcd034
Composed 1999 – 2001, released 2003
Cover photograph by Carmen Resendez

Audio ‘chopping’, mutual destruction, improvisation, live recordings as raw material, free exchange.  Sources include grass, beans, pebbles, small cassette players, blown bottles, flute, reeds, oboe, piano, bowed wires, metal objects, wood pieces, and recordings of crickets, frogs, crows, streets and temples in Tokyo and Kyoto, the botanical gardens in Paris, a wooden ladder.


The marvelously concrete title of Sunder, Unite describes the artist’s working methods, namely separating sounds from their sources and bringing them back together. Block and Nehil, two young sound artists who live at distant ends of the country (Austin and Chicago), painstakingly crafted this 38-minute piece of musique-concrete over several years of face-to-face and postal collaboration. They took field recordings of urban spaces, live performances involving amplified grass rustling and fire crackling, a few instrumental contributions by reed players, and re-recordings of installations.

They disrupted their source materials by inserting silences and running them through lo-fi electronics, arranged them, and then swapped recordings and reworked them some more. The results should consistently engage fans of Metamkine’s Cinema de L’Oreille series, and like the best of those recordings, Sunder, Unite encourages the listener to re-evaluate their relationship with their environment.

By cutting sounds short or removing them from their surrounding contexts, the artists encourage the audience to hear them anew, and to hear them now; after all, they might not be around long. By juxtaposing sounds, they illuminate hidden similarities; did you ever consider how similar fire, rain, and static can sound to one another? By blurring them until they’re unrecognizable, they render the commonplace unique. Nehil and Block select sounds rich enough to stand up to close scrutiny. They arrange them in non-obvious but intuitively right ways that highlights the mystery of sound without actually illuminating it.  – Bill Meyer at Dusted

In many ways Sunder, Unite feels like a continuation of the dialogue that began with Block’s first two recordings, Pure Gaze and Mobius Fuse, both released on Sedimental to much acclaim. For those records, her style of composition centered on ideas of combination and alignment instead of juxtaposition; the music achieved a subtle melding of extremes: found sound with scored passages, orchestrated parts with improvised elements, and live or “natural” space with the imagined resonance of synthetic creation. The disparate pieces of Gaze and Fuse come together to create half-hour intervals of transcendence, subtle sound environments as quick to reject the atmospheric, mood-oriented interpretation as they are to quietly envelop the most unwilling of listeners. I feel carried through her deceptively thick and intricate compositions, afloat on currents of de-sourced field recordings, invisibly suspended piano notes, wind and brass ensembles blowing in as if on short-wave frequency, and all manner of electronic blurts and organic sounds, sometimes manipulated via sampler, though more often left unruffled to hang like flies in the gleaming web of the whole. The sensuous drift of these early recordings makes them challenging in the best of ways; Block’s thorough blending of the natural and artificial realms introduces confusion and disorientation only in afterthought, almost through a willful suspension of disbelief. Even the harshest of sounds used, such as the clashing rock and wood noise or firework explosions in Mobius Fuse, Block treats with the care of a surgeon, guiding each into unique functionality without a scrap of sensationalism or over-emphasis. Sunder, Unite works in similar ways, but with an increasing stress on the motion and physical manifestation of the piece. This shift in momentum comes with the presence of Seth Nehil, who played with Block in Austin’s Alial Straa and whose impressive solo output focuses largely on rough, physical sounds sourced in the natural world. Much of the sound on Sunder, Unite comes from previous live and field recordings by Nehil and Block during a Japanese tour where the duo’s performances involved the live, often extreme manipulation of natural objects like leaves, grass, and rock. But while these shows seem easily located within the Japanese noise tradition or the influence of sound artists like Akio Suzuki, Sunder, Unite is a truly foreign creation. The piece is rarely harsh, nor does it get caught up in Suzuki’s ponderous method. Block and Nehil recognize the essential physicality of their source material, but their arrangements show greater interest in leading the sounds through the composed drama of the piece’s movements (“through,” “within,” “beyond” etc). They accomplish this through an elaborate cut-and-paste of the original material, including the insertion of large chunks of silence and glitch-ist sound-chopping. Elsewhere synthetic drones or heavily manipulated pieces of the original tapes form swooning backdrops for the microscopic clatter and pop painstakingly organized across the Sunder‘s 40 minutes. Block’s contributions become especially effective as a wind ensemble fades in and out wonderfully on a few tracks. As a whole, Sunder, Unite echoes Block’s previous work in particular, through the subtle way it brings together (in this case aggressively) natural or organic sound and “artificial” elements of strict composition and digital deconstruction. The result is music less concerned with the detail or clash of different sounds than with synthesis and progression, an always-beautiful blending of disciplines. – Andrew Culler at Brainwashed