Sillage (with Brendan Murray)

sillage

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.

Reviews

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. – Brainwashed.com

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

Amnemonic Site

amnemonic

CD, 46 min.
Alluvial Recordings, composed 2004 -06, released 2007.

Percussive bursts, linked events, micro-envelopes, spatial dissonance and crowd noises, Amnemonic Site: a “place of forgetting” – a temporary zone of amusia (the loss of ability to understand music).  Sources include wood, fabric, tuning forks, fireworks, beans in various containers, Balinese gamelan, oscillator, blown organ pipes, brass organ reeds, Serge modular synth, metal pieces, and recordings of parks and New Year’s celebrations in Chinatown, Manhattan.

Continue reading “Amnemonic Site”

Gyre (with Jgrzinich)

gyre

CD, 41 min.
cut 018
Composed 2005, released 2006.
Cover image by Jason Kahn

Location recordings, continuous abrasion, open environments, compositional drift, site-specific improvisation and free exchange.  Sources include rubbed organ pipes, trees, bowed wires, metal objects, wood pile, glass jugs, blown bottles, forests in Estonia and Finland, resonant oil tanks, wind.

Reviews

Gyre is a sound art project which investigates, and then renders abstract, acoustic experiences of place and location. The collaboration of Seth Nehil and jgrzinich has no doubt been informed by the vast distance which separates their homes in, respectively, Oregon and south east Estonia. The pair work acoustic material from “empty barns, forests, fields and hills” into heavily processed passages. The process is most recognizable in “Weald”: sparse, echoing taps and gongs sketch out the contours of their surroundings, as they ring and report back from distant surfaces. But Nehil and jgrzinich also invert such notions. For “Cast”, they use their source sounds not to imply or describe any kind of space, but to build a gathering slew of thickly textured sound, which enters into the listener’s space like a concrete object.
– Sam Davies, The Wire, October 2006

Born from location recordings taken in Estonia, Italy and Finland, “Gyre” is a superb electroacoustic work which marks the third joint collaboration of Nehil and Grznich (now based in the US and Estonia respectively), after the two 2002 releases, “Stria” (Erewhon) and “Confluence” (Intransitive). The 4-year span was well worth the wait, considering the quality of these three pieces. Knowing their inspiring collaborative and solo releases, and having seen a remarkable live performance by Nehil in Milan, my expectations were pretty high, and they surely weren’t disappointed. “Cast” opens the album with a billowing low-end drone, reminding of López’s or mnortham’s absolute music; it’s a fantastic piece, but somehow more predictable than the following two, “Weald” and “Glaze”. The former is arguably the masterpiece of the whole disc, with sparse sounds (is it wood beating on wood, or dripping water?) creating an atmosphere of suspension and recollection; then, more layers of outdoor recordings are added, the piece gets more and more chaotic with the noises of branches and pebbles, the volume billows, then collapses in the last sequence of acoustic debris. It’s an astonishing piece, with a great sense of composition, but most of all an uncommon evocative power. “Glaze” is an equally solemn soundscape, with subdued drones and unidentified metallic rattlings and thumps, with a subtle tension crawling in, as if waiting for an impending storm. Field recordings-based composition hardly gets any better than this. – Eugenio Maggi, Chain DLK, 4.2007

Congealing, free-wheeling atmospherics remain the order of the day for Seth Nehil and Jgrzinich, the unofficial tag team of archaeological experimentalism. The three long tracks on Gyre sport sound sources culled from wildly distant points on the compass. “Cast” takes it cue from whatever the duo lifted from the pine barrens of Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; if the resultant haunted audio is to be believed, that portion of the Empire State hosts a forest perilous, some mythological playground where the earth has opened and fanciful beings scuttle about. Ethereal drift magnified under the watchful eyes of its perpetrators, during the piece’s 20-minute duration campfires cackle, whipped up by cyclonic winds, warming the rampant sprites’ arcane rituals. Estonia provides the brick and mortar on “Weald,” wooden wands banging about a pindrop tabletop while noises of dubious supernatural natures play hide and seek. “Furl,” also birthed in Estonia, boasts a similar tableau of cooing, irising noises that flit about like light glimpsed through cracks in the foundation. An unnerving and unsettling experience, Gyre is a curious oddity amongst the catalog, rendered with exacting precision and a sculptor’s fine hand.
– Darren Bergstein, e|i Magazine, 8.2007

Thank god for the internet! Let’s forget about those cultural pessimists for a while, who see the free dissemmination and publication of art as a problem, not a blessing. But aside from the question, whether there can ever be too much music, the digital data highway has allowed for some collaboratons, which would never have seen the light of day only two decades ago. Such as with Seth Nehil and John Grzinich, who have kept their artistic bond intact, despite putting it to a strong geographical test. With Nehil residing in Portland, where, among other activities,  he publishes the “FO A RM” magazine on sound art and Grzinich working at the center for art and social practice in Estonia, the distance between them on the map has never been bigger. Yet the homogenity of their joint work has increased accordingly.   “Gyre”, in fact, never sounds like a collision or a battle, but more like the result of two different minds working on the same wavelenght, complementing one another and filling in the blanks. In three pieces of between ten and almost twenty minutes length, the duo totally encapsulates the listener with sound, building up a world, which label owner Jason Kahn accurately describes as “acoustic recordings (…) transformed into abstraction”. While the opening “Cast” still offers some harmonic guidance, with little drops of rain trickling into the picture and subaquatic murmurs moaning behind a transcendental drone, which breathes like a static choir, the remaining tracks enitirely turn to processed field recordings: Gentle knocks on wood, grinding stones, distant rumblings, metal being hit, birds chirping and objects drifting inside a liquid-filled basin in “Weald” and smouldering and crackling noises, as well as impressions of a lonely worker in a huge warehouse on “Furl”. And yet, “Gyre” is never satified with merely presenting all of these recordings and of using them as a showcase for the possibilities of technological treatment. In all cases, the source material has been moulded into a flowing piece of music with subtle changes, multiple layers.of aural events and a vast deepness. Behind the natural appearance of these compositions lurks a galaxy of infinite proportions, an endless pit of hollow structures, which lend them a majestic.aura. Just like one were stepping into a thousand year old cathedral, the mystery remains wordless and intangible. If the mooing of a cow can equal a chord change, if a drop of water can resonate like a melody and if an empty barn can take the place of an orchestra, then this is the point where sound art and traditional Western composition slowly converge.  It should be amply clear, that this kind of music takes up a space of its own and does not require for its actors to be in the same room at the same time. It therefore bears no surprise, that this album, despite its closeness, was mixed and remixed in three different countries. Still, as the air-line distance was increaing, Nehil and Grzinich could have easily lost sight of each other and have gone their seperate ways. The internet and regular mail prevented that and made “Gyre” possible. Again: Thank god for that. – Tobias Fischer at Tokafi.com

This is the third release by the duo made up of Nehil (out of Portland, Oregon) and Grzinich (by way of Estonia) though it’s the first to cross my ears. Wish I’d heard them sooner. Loosely speaking, they make field recordings and then process them to a greater or lesser extent in the studio, creating a set of music that ends up, not surprisingly, somewhere in between, the forceful surge of a designed arc tempered by the beautifully random sounds of the natural and manmade acoustic world.
There are three pieces with the initial one, “Cast”, possessing the most immediate dramatic impact. It begins with a wooly rumble, perhaps the sound of wind buffeting in a large, hollow enclosure. This is soon augmented by several other layers—a slightly more metallic, though still hollow-sounding drone and a soft static wash atop. You get the impression of some large but distant source that grows little by little, as if approached at walking speed from a mile or two out. As you near, more detail emerges—clicks, more sharply edged rustlings, raindrops—and the volume creeps up, that wind having acquired a deeper, darker character. Past the source, its massiveness decreasing as you walk away, you’re suddenly aware of an element that may have been there for a while, obscured by the density, something that almost sounds like a very low, loose mbira, on which note “Cast” ends.
“ Weald” is quite different in persona, concentrating on what seems to be pieces of wood (long, irregular dowels?) freely swinging, hitting other wooden objects that, to my ears, possess a spherical nature, all within a large space that supplies echoes and other, more sonically distant, ambient noises. It’s a little like hearing a very, very relaxed ping pong game. The clatter slowly loses density, transforming into dull “bongs” instead of sharp clacks as the surrounding soundscape envelops them. It’s a much more contemplative piece than “Cast”, more about observing a process than directly interacting with one. The final cut, “Glaze”, finds a hammered dulcimer effect along with various ratcheting and strumming sounds, eddying into a dreamy almost drunken swirl. It’s like groping along a back alley, arms outstretched feeling for the walls, the warped soundtrack from unseen bars, cafes, arcades or factories weaving around your cottony ears. Disorienting and effective.
“ Gyre” implies circling, an ambit of some kind. The best parts here orbit around the listener, never quite providing a steady handhold but always enticing one in deeper. A strong recording, well worth hearing. – Brian Olewnick at Bagatellen

Seth Nehil and John Grzinich are two sound artists, both having worked with audio and video on various CD´s, performances and exhibitions. “Gyre” is their third collaborative release and was recorded in Finland, Estonia and Italy.
The facts sorted out, it´s time to write about their recordings, which were composed using location-based “sound actions” which were later shaped in the studio. On the first track, this sounds like a combination of processed field recordings and improvised playing on found, self-made or imported items whose sound could best be compared to rhythmic instruments like the Kalimba. A hollow and gusty drone forms the backbone, over which Nehil and Grzinich “play”, scratch and shake these items. The duo manages well to build a tense atmosphere and structure their elements in a way that keeps the listener attentive.
Track two is slower and more quiet arranging what sounds like water dripping from the ceiling with subtle birdsong and a broad range of other sounds. It creates a surreal soundscape because the first part of the track sounds like it was recorded far away from nature in a cellar or deep inside a deserted cave while the birds deliver the sounds from the outside world. In any way, Grzinich and Nehil´s recording is very direct and plastic. While listening to the CD you´re trying to picture the setting of the recordings which leads to slight confusion.
The third and final track is the most welcoming because it contains something resembling a melody. In that regard, it comes close to Loren Chasse´s solo recordings, as found on his recent “The Air in the Sand” CD. The played and the found sounds blend together into an organic mix making them indistinguishable at times. – Stephan Bauer at Foxy Digitalis

Gyre was originally presented as a four-channel sound piece for Correnti Sonore 05, Tarcento Italy. Seth Nehil and John Grzinich recorded the source material in New York and Estonia through 2005, and the resulting three pieces all cleave fairly strongly to post-processed, gently dislocated field recording “composition.” It’s not exactly an under-populated field, and at times Gyre struggles to distinguish itself from similarly-minded recordings. The duo are fascinated with resonance, tracing and testing the properties of spaces through “sound actions” and then building new architectures through juxtaposition and a cool editing hand. These recordings offer a kind of psychogeographic hauntology, the displacement caused by manipulation rendering the original spaces somehow absent, yet present: you’re constantly trailing an idea of an origin without recourse to any “real” referent. Nehil and Grzinich are smart composers, though they do often rely on wind-tunnel atmospherics as scaffolds for their compositions: not a bad thing, but they sometimes risk over-homogenising their creations. – Jon Dale at Paris Transatlantic

Though Seth Nehil and John Griznich (who always appears under what could conceivably be his email handle) have been collaborating since 1994, the documentation of their work together is slim, consisting only of a pair of 2002 releases, Confluence and Stria. Gyre, their first recorded collaboration in four years, finds the artists working with site-specific recordings as their media, using effects, processing, and editing to mold new forms, field recordings of places that exist only in the superimposition of the studio.
Nehil and Griznich aren’t purists when it comes to their recordings. While some prefer to preserve a recording, especially a location-based one, as a document of the junction fo a particular time and place, Nehil and Griznich aren’t interested purely in presentation. Instead, they use these recordings as a basis for a new construction, building new environs and performances after the fact. They’re not adverse to the appearance of more easily identified sounds; Gyre contains plenty of telltale sonic detritus, but the final product is one of an original synthesis. “Cast,” which opens the album, finds its momentum in what sounds like the exaggerated ambience of room tone, “dead air” recordings built into a claustrophobic mass that, at proper volume, threatens to fill the head through an invasion of the ear canal. Slowly, a shift occurs, as a reedy resonance takes the foreground, with the sound of gently falling rain. “Weald” begins with what sounds like the striking of a wooden rod on a hard surface, the irregular percussive rhythm melding with or morphing into solitary drops of water. The sounds of wildlife begin to appear, and the track’s atmosphere becomes denser as the sound sources coalesce. The track ends with more incidental percussion, though in this case the instruments seem hollow, and the sounds of falling trees shade the music ominously. “Furl” is the first track to contain what sound unabashedly like synthesized effects; it’s the album’s most ambient selection, though it has its share of percussive elements, this time seeming to focus on metal rather than wood.
Gyre is highly textural music, almost palpable in the way it inspires visions in the mind’s eye. Like the dream world’s reconfiguration of familiar artifacts, Gyre spins a web of hallucinatory sound forms, and to the mind that’s willing to enter, the album’s ambience can be quite enveloping. Users of field recordings are sometimes said to play their environments, and for Nehil and jgriznich , this statement might be applicable. But what seems more appropriate is the idea that the duo are not just playing their surroundings, but redefining the context in which they’re heard. The duo don’t engage their recordings passively, and they’re in constant interaction with their environments, both during the recording process and in the studio. Luckily, the album is as immersive for the listener as it likely was for the artists. – Adam Strohm at Fake Jazz

For more than a decade Seth Nehil and John Grzinich work together, playing highly processed acoustic recordings of them playing together. You can imagine them sitting together in the woods, in a cave or on the top of a hill with a small array of wood, glass or metal, and producing sounds with that. The natural acoustics also play a role: the acoustic space or the wind or the rain. Recordings of such pieces are combined together in the studio and formed into lengthy pieces of drone music. ‘Gyre’ is their third release, following ‘Stria’ (see Vital Weekly 360) and ‘Confluence’ (see Vital Weekly 353), which were companion releases. On ‘Gyre’ we find three of these pieces, in which the environment sinks into the playing of the musicians, such as in ‘Cast’, which has the rumbling of acoustic objects, gradually fading over into the sounds of wind and rain. The drone music of Nehil and Jgrzinich may not have changed since their first two releases, but it’s quite still a highly captivating journey and a strong, personal view of drone music. That makes this most worthwhile. – Franz deWaard at Vital Weekly

Although John Jgrzinich lives in Southeast Estonia and Seth Nehil is currently based in Portland, Oregon the both of them present their co-operation on CD format. This time on Jason Kahn’s Cut label. Their previous albums were Stria (released by Erewhon) and Confluence (Intransitive Recordings).
The two of them this time come up with three long tracks that are quite different from each other. The opening track is a long constant flow of dark organic substance in which tiny, crackling details and minimal changes in the sound colour make up for the variation. The second piece exists merely of percussion elements. It’s like somebody is hitting in wood irregularly, or the recording of a sound installation, later changing in a dense recording of a birdhouse (?) and ending in a metallic bustle and cacophony.
The last composition combines the sounds of birds and various layers of mysterious peeps, crispy sounds and other obscure concrete sounds. Just like the other pieces the music or the sound palette develops unnoticeable, which gives these abstract and disassociateable sound explorations an intriguing character.
– Paul Bijlsma, Phosphor, 2.2007

Le label de Jason Kahn convie de façon régulière des artistes à exposer l’avancée de leurs travaux.  L’idée de collaboration a récemment émergé, ouvrant le spectre des possibles.
Le concept d’immanence et d’ubiquité étant acté par la révolution technologique, cet album s’est logiquement réalisé en divers lieux d’Europe. Qu’importe la distance, pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse.  Pour autant, cette connivence à distance n’aurait pu se faire si les deux musiciens n’avaient collaboré par le passé durant plusieurs mois, entre Estonie, Finlande et Italie au fil de résidences, performances et workshops.  Ces multiples rencontres ont donné lieu à “Stria” en 2002 puis “Confluence” en 2005, respectivement sur Erewhon et Intransitive Rec.  Habitués des champs de l’expérimentation à tous crins, c’est logiquement qu’on retrouve JGRZINICH sur Staalplaat, Erewhon, Intransitive, Elevator Bath, Sirr, Cloud of Statics ou CMR ; Kaon, Uva ou Unbra pour le second.
Artiste à géométrie variable, protéiforme, JGRZINICH [soit John Grznich ou Moks, selon les formules] développe un goût certain pour les vibrations et les captations de drones, les lentes progressions d’ondes.  On retrouve évidemment des similitudes avec Popol Vuh, des labels comme Dorobo ou Extrême rec, mais aussi avec Francisco López, ou avec Tô dans cette profonde aptitude à capter la singularité et la frêle beauté des instants et des choses, de manière extrêmement poétique et introspective.  Cast, Weald et Glaze simulent une lente progression en terrain inconnu, une plongée, une variation microscopique sur le mode environnemental, milieu infra-organique d’un monde cellulaire où les éléments naturels (vent, eau, air) se conjuguent aux matériaux primaires (métal, pierre, glace).  Un dialogue dont la contiguïté paraît confondre ces deux trajectoires humaines en un seul et même monologue.
> Julien Jaffré, Revue & Corrigée, 11.2006

Seth Nehil and John Grzinich are two respected multimedia artist who specialize in sound installations, often developed in environmental settings. The source materials for these three enticing examples of their assembling expertise were captured in studio and on location in New York, Mooste and Saaropera (the latter are Estonian cities; Grzinich is currently coordinator of that country’s MoKS – Center for Art and Social Practice). “Gyre” is an extended comparison between a certain event, or a series of aural occurrences, and its placement in a context of subliminal sounds and frequencies which function as a weightless catalyzer in a naturally tuned sonic mixture. As the authors write, “material origins of wood, glass, air and metal are transformed into abstraction”; yet, that very abstraction gives back its familiar character as the foundation of this music, which resonates spontaneously according to simple principles of contraction and expansion, urban murmurs and metallic rolls raising an enthralling involuntary harmony that is best highlighted in the final track “Furl” but, on a “drone-for-pleasure” scale, probably offers the most engrossing result in the greyish mist of “Cast”. Either way, a must-have for lovers of the genre.
> Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, 9.2006

Third collaboration between John Grzinich and Seth Nehil is out on the Cut label, the imprint of celebrate composer and improviser Jason Kahn. Another diary of their accurate interaction in the field of creative exploration, exchange with sound sources and non-verbal impressions. They both are really profound collaborators, one can remember some great albums involving such soundartists as Michael Northam, Olivia Block and Rick Reed. “Gyre” means rotatory movement – I just imagine the survey on the location, somewhere in the primeval forest, when you see trees are besetting you in the close circle. As the liner notes says, the musicians were really going deep in the woods, recording the environmental sounds and occasional events by contact microphones, bringing them back into the studio after. These real sounds were transformed into abstract sounding collages, their textures were extended and multiplied. What we can hear is really close to naturalistic drone ambient, but if you will compare this music with some works of say Paul Bradley or Colin Potter, you will find a difference: here the sound is much more spiritualized, eventful and builds up the new world (not authentic but beautiful). “Gyre” is fascinating application of psychology, acoustics, geography and technology, the demonstration of endless inspiration and ghostly soundsculpturing.
– IEM Webzine, 12.2006

Terza uscita assecondando un’operatività della quale oramai ha piena padronanza il duo composto da Seth Nehil e Jgrzinich, abili sperimentatori multi-media provenienti rispettivamente dall’Oregon e dall’ Estonia, che proprio nell’elaborazione di post-produzione di field recording, rilevate quasi sempre in ambienti naturali, vede il suo punto di forza. Sono tre le lunghe suite in scaletta: subito la prima ‘Cast’ c’introduce ad atmosfere cupe, piuttosto statiche anche se affascinanti, modulate dal rumore del vento, da suoni sottilmente metallici, da micro-riverberi ed echi. Altrettanto chiusa ma ipnotica nell’iterazione dei suoni, questa volta modulati da materiali legnosi (ci pare) e liquidi, con l’aggiunta d’ulteriori pattern, risonanze naturali ed alternanti emergenze auditive, la seconda traccia, ‘Weald’, un piccolo capolavoro d’accuratezza post-ambient, essenziale ma assai suggestiva. Si termina con ‘Glaze’, produzione maggiormente articolata delle precedenti nella sovrapposizione delle forme sonore che qui si fanno distinte. Il tutto è stato presentato originariamente come sonorizzazione su quattro canali al festival Correnti Sonore, tenutosi nel 2005 a Tarcento. Per ultimo, solo un cenno all’artwork, come sempre splendido, di Jason Kahn, un altro talento delle scene sonore performative che sa evidentemente distinguersi anche in ambito grafico.
– Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural.it, 11.2006

Seith Nehil è un multi-artista che pianifica la sua carriera-ricerca attorno più territori espressivi, panorami musicali e prospettive visive che siano. Responsabile di operazioni piuttosto difformi: da azioni candidamente sonore, ad una catena d’installazioni multi-speaker, dalle performance-live, soliste e in compagnia di ensemble, ai progetti combinati di danza-teatro e multi-medialità.
Ha pubblicato lavori di elettro-acustica e/o ‘field recording style’, avvalendosi della compagnia di Olivia Block e – più di una volta – di Jgrzinich, pubblicando lavori conosciuti come ‘Tracing the Skins of Clouds’, ‘Uva’ e ‘Umbra’. Residente a Portland, dopo vari giri tra Stati Uniti, Giappone ed Europa, Seth dedica buona parte del suo tempo curando la pubblicazione di FO A RM: magazine dedicata all’arte, con un occhio attento al fenomeno ‘moderno’ della – nuova – sound art.
Anche Jgrzinich non è un pivello per quanto concerne le materie elettro-acustiche evolute: artista mixed-media sulla cresta dell’onda dal 1994, ricercatore del ‘suono’ e delle molteplici personalità che lo abitano. Su Kathodik abbiamo parlato, proprio poco tempo fa, del suo bellissimo “Insular Regions”, disco solitario pubblicato grazie alla portoghese S.irr.
Ed anche in questo caso, con “Gyre”, abbiamo la possibilità – come allora – di assaporare registrazioni avvenute principalmente in Estonia, paese di cui John Grzinich è (orgogliosamente) originario. Difatti, anche nella precedente discussione, menzionavamo il rapporto intenso tra la cultura estone-balcanica e questo artista che, tra l’altro, collabora attivamente alla vita del circolo artistico MoSK, sito nella lontana cittadina di Mooste.
Due personaggi che hanno stretto, ormai, un sodalizio da tempo, diventando sempre più una sola entità… un unico pensare, agire e suonare.
La scissione di Cast, Weald e Furl (i tre brani del cd) dal contesto specifico in cui ondeggiano apparirebbe come una frammentazione assurda e imperdonabile. Si crea una congiunzione spirituale, un amalgama, oseremo dire, perfetto di rara simmetria, con l’anima satura di registrazioni di campo, trasfigurate in forme geometriche sfuggenti e misteriose. Materiali sonori che si spogliano dell’originario clima atavico per divenire, come per incanto, melodia vitale e indispensabile…
Il senso del concreto, il realismo del mondo, i diversi ‘canti’ che capita di captare distrattamente dalla quotidianità di tutti i giorni, sono materia organica principale, gli strumenti in senso tradizionale di “Gyre”e di tutti gli altri lavori firmati dalla coppia Nehil/Grzinich.
Il principio della prima traccia si riallaccia totalmente a registrazioni atmosferiche americane mentre, sia Weald che Furl, battono il loro cuore per la prima volta nella lontana e calda Estonia.
I tre capitoli inoltre, sono stati presentati come ‘four-channel sound piece’ all’interno della penultima edizione di Correnti Sonore, a Tarcento in Italia.
Un altro colpo secco della impeccabile Cut curata del grande Jason Kahn.
> Sergio Eletto, Kathodik, 10.2006

Seth Nehil y John Grzinich son dos músicos electroacústicos con vasta experiencia en presentaciones en vivo y en grabaciones y han trabajado juntos desde 1994 y han producido los álbumes “Stria” (Erewhon, 2002) y “Confluence” (Intransitive, 2002). También han formado Alial Straa junto a Olivia Block y M. Northam.
Seth Nehil es un artista audiovisual que reside en Portland, Oregon quien está involucrado en varias formas de arte. En tanto John Grzinich es un artista multimedial que nació Poughkeepsie, New York y que ahora vive y trabaja en la República de Estonia, ex Unión Soviética.
Este trabajo tiene una rica gama de percusiones con elementos de madera y metal y en cuyo fondo se aprecia un drone.
” Gyre” son tres temas de 41 minutos aproximadamente grabado en varias locaciones y cuyos sonidos obtenidos fueron procesados luego en el estudio. Se identifican registros de campo tomados en un campo, con sonidos de pájaros que se funden en ecos metálicos: una simbiosis entre la naturaleza y la manipulación electrónica.
Nehil y Grzinich se parecen a dos obreros que están trabajando en una fábrica donde están permanentemente moviendo grandes bidones de lata, que rasmillan el suelo produciendo texturas rugosas y chirriantes.
> Guillermo Escudero, Loop, 9.2006

Wieder eine geniale CD vom widerborstigen Schweizer Label cut: »Gyre« ist die dritte Release aus der Zusammenarbeit von John Grzinich und Seth Nehil, die sich seit über zehn Jahren in einem kreativen Dialog befinden. Als dessen Basis dienen Field Recordings, gemeinsame Auftritte, Workshops und Performances sowie nachträglicher Austausch der Ergebnisse und Bearbeitung im Studio – geographisch haben sich die Wege der beiden nämlich schon seit einiger Zeit getrennt. Musikalisch bewegt man sich im subtilen Segment elektro-akustischer Kompositionen, im ersten Stück »Cast« von einem wunderbar entrückten Transatlantik-Drone eingeleitet, der sich, von Haken schlagenden Subbassfiguren unterlegt, mittels einer langsam auftauenden Geräuschmelange aus Knarzen, Schaben und Plätschern zu extrem spannenden Klangtexturen verdichtet. Das folgende »Weald« widmet sich der rhythmischen Bearbeitung verschiedenster – wie schon zuvor zum Großteil nicht mehr identifizierbarer – Quellen; auch hier scheinen die monotonen, abwechselnd links und rechts im Hörfeld auftauchenden Klopfgeräusche anfangs weit entfernt und erfolgt über eine viertel Stunde Spieldauer ein stetiges, herrlich entspanntes aufaddieren verschiedenster Soundlayer zwischen Vogelgezwitscher und Hohlraumpochen. In ein eben solches entschlummern im abschließenden »Glaze« die zwischen fragilen ambienten Klangflächen auftauchenden mikroskopischen Knarzskelette, ein Stück, das ganz besonders gelungen die beiden Hauptthemen des Albums, die kontemplative, beinahe nicht greifbare Andeutung sowie eine – wenn auch mittels Dekonstruktion und Abstraktion entkontextualisierte – physische Direktheit, miteinander vernäht.
> Tobias Bolt, Quiet Noise, 8.2006

Stria (with Jgrzinich)

stria

Stria is the companion album to Confluence.

CD, 45 min.
Erewhon CDWhon008
Composed 1998 – 2001, released 2003

Sources include voice, bowed metal, pebbles, motor-driven instruments, beans in wooden and plastic containers, a worn copy of Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, and recordings of fire, a field in the Columbia Gorge, microphones dragged through grass, and previous sounds as broadcast on radios in rooms and on streets in Koper, Slovenia.

Y: If we follow a line of inquiry without particular concern for the outcome in any way, what are the unknown effects of space, time or distance?
X: We try to concern ourselves entirely with movement, disregarding or abandoning the idea of ‘objects’, seeing instead only ‘processes’. Sounds attempt to “move through” rather than to be “something”.
Z: Do we create experiments in order to observe results, or do we try to observe what is already there?
Y: There is the effect of one sound on another – the forces of interaction. From this we draw our significance. This is the “sound of space” (the actual acoustical phenomena which is mutual, inescapable, physical).
Y: As participants, we were bound to a horizontal status of using sound-generating materials in a given space. The parameters are space and matter (room and materials).
Z: Where do associations originate and what kind of meaning is inherent in them, if any at all?
Y: The ‘resonation’ effect of this type of exercise can only be seen when the components and process are abstracted from their referential definitions. This is the “space of sound” (the perceptive role of the interacting listener).
Y: Meaning is not dependent on us, even though it is true that we use a focus and a filter. Any more significant meaning can only be reached through repetition.
Y: Is meaning useful at the time of listening? Is meaning only what is useful at the time of listening?
X: It is a matter of observing in, let us say, a holistic context the difference between representation and signification.
Y: To see how a given set of relatively unfamiliar parameters produce a ‘resonance’ among its components.
Z: Taken as symbolic action, this approach is to use a group of people as in instrument of auditory communication.
Y: In this way, the context, material and participants unify to become the ‘instrument’ and the ‘music’.

{from the liner notes by Seth Nehil and John Grzinich (re-composed by Bethany Wright)

Reviews

Stria is the counterpart to the forthcoming confluence soon to be released by Intransitive Recordings. Erewhon is a Belgian label that has been releasing some extremely essential recordings from PBK, Artificial Memory Trace, Mnortham and Lionel Marchetti. On stria there appears to be a universal presence, a good and evil – almost combined as one. The three long play tracks herein gather multiple layered sources. The overall feel to the disc breathes deeply like the residue of a built and destructed climax of a Philip Glass score. This can eerily be witnessed on ‘Tome Gather’, a 20 minute sub-symphonic piece that breathes under cover. All practicality aside, the themes in this track are built on an eight year collaborative relationship between Seth Nehil and jgrzinich (John Grzinich). The focus here is certainly resonance, in its intense tonal vibration and chamber of contained sounds. Any assigned structures have been unmasked to mirror their own continuity. The repetitive acoustics beg to be sited, but there is no clear answer to what “instrument” you hear, it is more an ambiguous amalgamation of found objects played by about a dozen participants. The unsettling perpetuity of the work recalls Robert Rich’s Sleep Concerts. ‘Arboreal’ starts as though it were a group survey of the aftermath of a fire still partially ablaze. Its crunchy distortion piles through with a metered speed in a gesture that seems off center yet directional. There is a circular, wind tunnel running through the piece, the sense of the outdoors – I could almost smell rain. Flames lap through an almost silent conclusion to this track, leaving with a work that is punctuated in mystery. About four years in the making, stria (and confluence) are works of organic growth for these artists. A true collaboration that bends whatever rules would necessitate such meaningful relationships in sound space. ‘The Mirrored Corner’ uses wire drones from the Biotope installation that was shown at the Kapelica Galerija in Slovenia. The constant winding, buzzing, drone builds and retreats and repeats with a weary statement of entrapment and vaporization. There is a reflective caution to this final track, one that speaks of voids and validity, a strict balance of finite realities.
– TJ Norris, SoundVision, July 2002

2 collaborators working across the years bring you, in the first track, drone tones, every shifting and evolving. Low rumbles that add texture, conflicting higher pitches that swoop between each other, a side tone that you don’t even hear unless you ignore all other sounds. There are many things going on. Yes, you could fall asleep to this, but I think it would be better used as headphone music while reading a book sitting cross-legged on the floor. The second track is different, dropping nuts and bolts onto a plexiglass sheet? Whatever it is, it is heavily textured sound. There are a couple of different sound sources and hidden sounds in this, building from simple drops to what could be grease frying to the sound of fire at a small campsite – all from the same original source, just processed. The final song is back to heavily layered tones. This isn’t a dark release, iI wouldn’t say it is without emotion, but it leaves it up to you, if you are having a bad day this ride with you down the hole, if you are happy, you can feel the energy and excitement.
– Don Poe, http://www.ear-rational.com

Sound sculptor Seth Nehil (1973) began his musical career in Texas (he was one half of the duo Philosophical Society, that released the cassettes Transactions of… in 1989 and Crimes Against… in 1990), but is now a resident of Portland, Oregon. His music for tapes and instruments is a descendant of the tape-music experiments of the 1950s. Tracing the Skins of Clouds (Kaon, 1998) was the manifesto of his chamber music for found objects and instruments.
John Grzinich (aka Jgrzinich) is a builder of amplified piano wire instruments, who uses them to compose even more sophisticated sound sculptures. He has created video and audio installations in Eastern Europe. He is also a member of the improvising collective Frequency Curtain (Elevator Bath, 2003) with Rick Reed and Josh Ronsen, and of the live improvisation ensemble ERG with Michael Northam.
Alial Straa is the live electro-acoustic ensemble that Nehil and Grzinich formed in 1994. The two continued their experiments (in particular, letting a group of people make random percussive sounds by banging a variety of found objects) and eventually documented them on a couple of twin releases, Stria (Erewhon, 2002) and Confluence (Intransitive, 2002).
Stria (Erewhon, 2002) contains three droning pieces in slow motion. ‘Tome Gather’ (composed by Nehil) is largely uneventful, except for the moment (towards the beginning) when it summons up ghostly voices from the center of the universe, but for the rest the exploration of sound fails to sustain interest. Ditto for the shorter ‘Arboreal’ (again composed by Nehil), which is too busy admiring the source noises to actually try to do something with them. ‘The Mirrored Corner’ (composed by John Grzinich) is the highlight here: the drones expand and contract like in a drug-induced hallucination, and the massive vibration sends powerful shockwaves to the cerebellum (the last eight minutes are redundant, though, or should have been a separate piece).
Confluence is the more intense of the two releases. Here, the duo’s study of timbres, texture and dynamics reaches new heights of paroxysm, as if they achieved a hypnotic state with Stria and then let their imagination roam inside that state. ‘Pneuma’ begins quietly, and for a while we are let to believe that this will be the usual “exploration of time and space” that is prevalent in this age of minimal digital music. But from the beginning we are enveloped in whirling drones, so that the overall feeling is one of an approaching storm whose clouds are tied to cans and pots. Suddenly, the piece climaxes with a chaotic crescendo of found percussions. That in turn leads into a section of ominous drones, as if the nasty clouds were receding. “Pneuma” means “breathing” in Greek, but, if that is the intended meaning, this is the slow-motion replay of the last gasp of a terminally-ill tuberculosis patient. Lohme, the other tour de force, begins with a clangor of percussions that immediately brings to mind Terry Riley’s ‘In C’, but the main flow of discrete noises is altered by a underlying drone, that acts almost like a guiding signal. Soon, this refined vibration takes over and establishes a much less playful mood, as the entire universe seems to be shaking in unison inside this colossal mantra while drifting at the speed of light towards a black hole (whose deadly sountrack in fact occupies the last eight minutes). These sound scultures (both composed by John Grzinich) are vivid and poignant. The brief ‘The Distant Edge’ gathers a great many buzzing voices and traffic noises. This could have been a ‘Hymnen’ (Stockhausen’s classic collage of voices) for the 21st century. Unfortunately, the duo only toys with the idea but doesn’t pursue it with the required expressionistic pathos.
– Piero Scaruffi | (Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

Qusto CD fa parte della categoria “File under: uneasy-no guts no glory-listening”, quindi se avete nervi saldi, non fate uso di sostanze psicotrope troppo potenti e vi va di provare qualcosa di “indigeribile”, proseguite nella lettura. Seth Nehil & Jgrzinich non sono due “matti scocciati” (come li definirebbe qualche vostro amico capitolino), ma fanno parte di quel circuito artistico delle installazioni e della sperimentazione elettroacustica che rimanda a Cage ed al suo manipolo di “sciagurati senza Dio”. Rumore che non è rumore, musica che non è musicale e che comunque dovrebbe sempre essere accompagnata dalla lettura “dei come e dei perchè” di ogni singola “piece”, proprio perchè il suo valore, prima ancora che musicale, è concettuale. Per chi di voi ha masticato un po’ isolazionismo, Koner ,Soviet*France ,Main potrebbero a grandi (grandissime) linee fornire un qualche inquadramento per poter immaginare un suono che non è facile descrivere.
Partendo da Confluence si “affrontano” subito i venti minuti di Pneuma , che, a dispetto della durata, cullano fra rielaborazioni di field-recording e suoni acustici persi fra le maglie di un tappeto di “drones”. La successiva The Distant Edge espone immediatamente uno dei temi cari ai nostri due autori: i concetti di “interazione fra gruppi” e di “partecipazione nel contesto sociale della attività di generazione del suono”. Oltre alla decina di partecipazioni individuali (fra cui svetta uno Stephen Austin che a qualcuno potrebbe ricordare qualcosa), gran parte del materiale proviene da un riadattamento di una manifestazione registrata a Belgrado. Il risultato è una sorta di amalgama uniforme di voci e di rumore intrecciati magistralmente, questa volta non così distanti da alcuni studi classico-contemporanei del caro e vecchio Morricone . ‘Lohme’ , per onor di cronaca, è stata registrata alla Stazione Topolo in Italia (non chiedetemi dove), in questo caso Grzinich e Nehil presentano un intero Resonance Ensemble risultato leggermente meno efficace rispetto a ‘The Distant Edge’ , ma comunque efficace.
Seguendo le indicazioni degli autori, l’ascolto di Confluence deve essere assolutamente accompagnato da quello di Stria , edito dalla belga Erewhon. Anche in Stria si parte con i venti minuti di Tome Gather , per cui viene utilizzata una nuova decina di individui mescolati ad elementi sonori creati da Nehil e Jgrzinich medesimi. Tinte fosche, sfondi poco luminosi e qualche rumore post-industriale; se solo Marinetti avesse potuto musicare la depressione del nuovo millennio, forse avrebbe avuto questo suono: un cupo “drone” dal cui fondo emerge faticosamente qualche suono. ‘Arboreal’ (alcune delle fonti provengono nuovamente dalla Stazione Topolo), coerentemente con ciò che suggerisce il titolo, ritorna alla forma più familiare della “field-recording”. Il CD si chiude con i sedici minuti di The Mirrored Corner , dove i “drones” sono estratti dalla Biotope Installation effettuata in un museo di Ljubijana. Suoni meccanici lontani che si avvicinano timidamente per poi scomparire in vecchie costruzioni abbandonate, “Ormai essere lontani…il tempo del nostro amore un mare lucente e morto… Nella luce la tua parte è finita, non ho buio nel petto per tenere la tua ombra”. Inutile mentire: l’impegno richiesto all’ascoltatore è molto, ma Neihil e Jgrzinich “significano” là dove le parole non servono più a nulla.

Uva

uva

mini-CD, 20 min.
20City 20-9
Composed 2001, released 2003

Sequential transformations, the slow revealing of hidden sonic events, linking of sonic layers, re-recording inside resonant objects and room tone. Sound as invention through disorientation (uva / grape / wine / disorientation / mutation = ova / fertility / emergence of form).  Sources include ceramic rods, bowed autoharp, metal chain, small glasses suspended in water, and recordings of wind in the Columbia River Gorge, WA.

Umbra

umbra

 CD, 42 min.
edition… xxv
Composed 1999 – 2001, released 2003.

Continuous pitched sounds with an undercurrent of white noise. Air on the edges of tone, amplified through a compositional process of massing and layering, the incorporation of room tone and re-recording of environments. Sonic shadows – sound as a casting of color or dark, the slowly unfolding shade of space within a field of time, “night music”.  Sources include blown bottles, pump organ, voice, bowed autoharp, piano, recorder, sagbut, and field recordings of fireworks, crickets, caves on the Oregon coast, a rotating electric sign in the cobblestone streets of Maribor, Slovenia, boiling water.

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Sunder, Unite (with Olivia Block)

sunder

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.

Reviews

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

From Cloud to Seed

cloudseed

LP, 37 min.
Alluvial Recordings ALL004
Numbered limited edition of 300
Composed 1998 – 99, released 2000

Organic and synthetic materials in collision, the layering of divergent acoustic spaces, condensed structures, jumbled sounds and dynamic swells. Basic materials are infinitely transformable, evolving and rearranging through cycles of growth and decay.  Sources include bowed wire, harmonica, cello, dry leaves, glass shards, ceramic rods, paper, hand cymbals, small bells, rocks in a wooden box, metal rods, cardboard tubes, tuned cowbells, mechanical viola, seeds on tin foil, bowed glass, recordings in a resonant stairwell.

Tracing the Skins of Clouds

tracing

CD, 53 min.
Kaon ao98
Composed 1997 – 98, released 1998
Cover image by Derek Pollard

Rubbed, dragged and scraped sounds of friction, with micro-pitch artifacts, acoustic reverberations and massed tones. Sources include large-diameter glass tubes, wood, large sheets of tempered-glass, bricks, plastic bucket, wine glass, metal bowl, chimes, air organ.  Objects are molecular clouds of varying densities.  Abrasion is a method of activating resonant qualities of objects, instigating a porosity between the surface and the ‘inside’ of materials, the intermingling of molecular and acoustic “clouds”.

Continue reading “Tracing the Skins of Clouds”