Sillage (with Brendan Murray)


CD, 43 min.
Sedimental sedcd049
Composed 2003 – 2006, released 2007

Jagged sounds, abrupt breaks, propulsive tempos, sudden pauses, re-use of scraps, digital distortion, spun speakers, banned fades, improvisation, live recordings as raw material, multiple exchanges. Sound as the scent of perfume left in a space after a person exits.  Sources include upright bass, plucked piano, sine tones, wine glasses, leaves, grass, bowed metal, stairwell railing, blown organ pipe, voice, jaw harp, drums, church organ, and recordings of a plaza in Boston MA, a canoe in water, a refrigerator, fireworks, a straw broom, galleries and lobbies of the Met, a windmill in Maribor Slovenia, a train station in Limoge France.


Sillage are a duo comprised of American sound artists Brendan Murray and Seth Nehil, and this, their first CD, relies heavily on material recorded during two performances in 2003 and 2004. Nehil has released dozens of small (sometimes miniscule) edition CDRs [sic], and in his means (and aesthetic) he’s an eclecticist. Murray can be described as more of an electronicist, but again he’s not easy to pin down. The basso profundo, unstable drone kicking off “ebb/cess”, the CD’s first track, is a bit misleading. The listener is led to expect a slow enrichment or unfolding of material, but almost immediately the sonic ground shifts and gives way to field recordings of a somewhat ambiguous nature.
The tracks are mostly brief, hence uncharacteristic of fully improvised (which these almost certainly are) performances, suggesting that only excerpts from lengthier pieces have been used, but that merely serves to focus attention on the presentation of the material. There’s a shapeliness that’s unusual in abstract music of this kind, and no matter how fractured, layered or collage-like the sounds become, they always seem to fit the immediate purpose, the requirements of the composition, and the trajectory of the music on the CD as a whole. In fact, the way the pieces fit together and imply a sonic ‘narrative’ is extremely pleasing. The final track, “waving”, ends as the CD begins, with a drone, but here Murray (who’s known for this kind of thing) and Nehil make the most of it. Sillage is, in other words, a hugely satisfying piece of work.
– Brian Marley, The Wire 285, November 2007

Sillage comes from two of the most interesting sound sculptors in North America, whose contrasting styles (Brendan Murray’s rich and fulsome, Seth Nehil’s more spare and dry) make this a promising summit. It’s comprised of material culled from several live dates and reassembled with an incredible dynamic range and an unpredictable musical imagination. It opens with a harmonically rich dronescape that slowly evolves, with what I think is a distant minor third settling over a pedal point, all the while suspended amidst a sound like magnetic tape being sucked and mangled. But soon a pinwheel occurs (such shifts are frequent, but not flashy or demonstrative) and an entirely new image emerges, a dense and dry-sounding room with metal cans, bowed hubcaps, and soft wet noises. Machinery comes to life amidst detuned piano strings. Whew. There’s a lot going on here, clearly, and each listen to these pieces yields a fascinating new detail or point of focus: the long cymbal and gong reverberation on “underneath a portrait” is fascinating, as are the soft echoes from a distant struck bell on “feet wrap around chair” (after which it sounds like one is slowly entering a chatty cathedral before abruptly closing the door and exiting again). Seldom is music in this idiom so warm, personable, imaginative and lively.
– Jason Bivins, Signal To Noise #48 Winter 2008

When a label as esoteric as Sedimental describes a release as their “most challenging,” adventurous listeners should know they’re in for something fascinating.  The disclaimer should not be ignored because it is a difficult excursion into dense, hostile worlds of sound with a complexity that makes additional listening mandatory.

A trans-continental collaboration (Brendan Murray lives in Boston, Seth Nehil currently resides in Portland, Oregon), this disc actually has its roots in a live collaboration between the two artists in 2003 and 2004, recordings of which are used as base elements for the bulk of the tracks here.  That is not immediately apparent though, as the tracks are extremely focused and tightly structured, even if it seems like unbridled chaos at first.

“Massive” would be an excellent one-word adjective to describe this disc.  Not to say there aren’t quiet or subtle elements to this work, because there are, but when the sound gets “big,” it gets “really big.”  Even the field recordings of “Feet Wrap Around Chair,” which are mostly fragments of surrounding anonymous conversations, there is a wall of reverb that’s so thick its almost tangible enshrouding everything except the electronic sounds that crop up here and there throughout the mix.  The electronic drones of “Waving,” which actually resemble that of an organ are again massively thick and overpowering, but nicely augmented with a subtle bed of quiet electronic textures that compliment the noise nicely.

Beyond the electronics experimentation there are occasional percussive elements too, of the more improvised metallic variety, and more instances of field recordings as well, like the heavily amplified and distorted mechanical sounds  of “Underneath A Portrait,” which may very well be recorded from underneath of a traveling subway car.

The quieter moments of the disc might not be as prevalent, but still convey their own mood and feeling, like the buried, emergency beacon like tones of “Wake of Scent” that lead the listener in to shore among the battering waves of feedback around the track.  These sporadic peaceful moments also serve to reinforce the more violent ones, and “Clothes Tear” as a title gives a more than fair indication of the aggression to be heard:  the dying gasps of a foghorn, sounds from a sampler on its last legs and painful electronic squeals.

Brendan Murray and Seth Nehil have collaborated with a release that probably won’t be bringing on many new fans with its innate difficulty, but for that reason it excels and thrives in its complexity and makes the reward for the more determined listener all the sweeter. –

There’s a song on Sillage called “Runs Toward Needles” which sounds like someone looking in a closet full of percussion and brass instruments and never being able to find what they want. The title “Runs Toward Needles” in some way represents the artwork a bit, what looks like a bunch of little lines scribbled as if it’s a fabric, thumb print, or a tree limb, but up close at 200x. It is this burst of confusion that may make you want to understand Sillage, but don’t look to understand. Look to listen, and listen to observe.

Both Murray and Nehil bring in found sounds and create them at the same time, and combine them every now and then to make sounds that could be the source of sound effects to a bizarre film of submarine dynamics. In a piece like “Clothes Tear” one doesn’t hear clothes or tearing. For the first half of the sound you hear a lot of electronics twisting and turning to be heard, and then it heads underwater, maybe to find that sonic submarine. Then with perfect timing, something begins to rise. At least that’s my interpretation of it, and in truth it’s nothing more than collaborative sounds that make an effort to speak to each other while having its own voice be heard and known.

The 8-track album has to be heard in full from start to finish, since some tracks contradict each other in sound, sometimes they contradict within the same track. One part may sound bright and open as if it’s some vehicle riding on the beach as water comes to shore, and then you’re in outer space. I go back to the needle theory, and perhaps that if there is some sense of logic to this, the needle has to be found. But perhaps the portrait Murray and Nehil are trying to present is about all of the needles, and that if you’re going to dive in, you’ll bleed a lot. If you venture in, bring rubbing alcohol. – John Book at the run-off groove

Gaspingly looking for a virtual box to file this recording in, I remained unsuccessful even after the second and third listens, becoming seriously convinced that there is no real chance of achieving the goal. Brendan Murray and Seth Nehil are mostly considered for their work with, respectively, “long form dense compositions of pure sound” and “multi-speaker installations” besides being acknowledged for clever contributions to various types of scene. “Sillage”, though, will surprise in different ways, especially because it features environments and settings nearer to acousmatic music than loop-and-drone-based soundscapes, despite flourishing from the seeds of what the two artists have been doing throughout their career. This doesn’t mean that de-structured field recordings and smog-smelling repetition are absent: there are indeed thick layers of that kind of colouring, but Murray and Nehil worked a real lot on a factor that elevates these eight pieces to the highest level of aural gratification, spelled “dynamics”. Abrupt changes, imperceptible pulses, awesome imagery and secret codes are sapiently mixed with the unsophisticated biotic qualities of natural timbres and that omnipresent metropolitan aroma which makes one feel lost in an unfamiliar soundtrack. Electroacoustic sceneries crossing the hubbub of a shopping mall and the invisible-yet-audible movements of a set of turbines get entwined with threatening passages full of harsher details and ever-growing sense of doubt. Saving the best for last, the pair drills the final track “Waving” into our cerebrum through a scary juxtaposition of sources whose mass – first scarcely mobile, then continuously morphing in panic-eliciting growth – looks for us, positioned womb-like in the tiny hole of presumption, to finally submerge a useless corporeal entity by enhancing the absence of relevance that paralyzes many people and, instead, is the basis of a primary principle of existence that they still refuse to accept. This impenetrability might leave many receivers puzzled in mental standstill, but hopefully someone’s willing to start the process all over again. If this is not a masterpiece, we’re very close.
– Massimi Ricci, Touching Extremes

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