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 then relocated to Portland, Oregon. His music for tapes and instruments is a descendant of the tape-music experiments of the 1950s.
The three quiet confused pieces of Tracing the Skins of Clouds (Kaon, 1998) were the manifesto of his chamber music for found objects and instruments.
Alial Straa is the live electro-acoustic ensemble that Nehil and
formed in 1994, documented on Tunnels/Stairwell (Orogenetics, 1997 - Alluvial, 2000) that also featured Olivia Block.
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' 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 bean 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.
Sunder Unite (Sedimental, 2004) is a collaboration with Olivia Block.
Gyre (Cut, 2008), another collaboration with John Grzinich, manipulated
field recordings from Eastern Europe.
Ecllipses (And/OAR, 2008) was a collaboration with Matt Marble.
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