CD Reviews

Wednesday 28th July

July 28, 2010

sns09_250When I last wrote about the music of Seth Nehil, he kindly left a comment beautifully describing his working methods as “the back and forth between intention and chaos”. Seth wrote this as I had mentioned how fully formed his music sounded on his excellent Flock and Tumble album- for me, the music there had real character. Somehow, despite me being completely unable to find any description of the music to set it apart from many other electroacoustic compositions, it had felt like a thoroughly well defined and original set of recordings. This lead me to assume it had been the result of careful planning towards a specific end, but Seth’s words pointed out that this was not really the case.

Well the follow up to Flock and Tumble, a new release on the Sonoris label named Furl sounds just as original and just as individual to me, and again sounds like it has been planned carefully. Doubtless this is not the case again, but its how it sounds to me. Furl is just as infuriatingly hard to describe as F&T was as well. There are certainly a number of reference points in here, early tape music, a lot of mid-eighties musique concrete, but once again I struggle to think of anyone making music that sounds quite like this right now. Certainly Nehil takes an assortment of small sounds, percussive samples, bells, a piano, all kinds of human voices and who knows what else and collages it all together on a computer, but somehow the end result doesn’t like we might expect it to.

Tellingly, there are no drones here, or any strong sense of layered sounds. The sounds that we hear seem to come as strings of events, each clear and bold, the titles of the five tracks; Pluck, Hiss, Swarm, Whoosh and Rattle giving a good clue to their nature. The music doesn’t descend into any kind of textural soup, as these things often can, and there is a real feeling of clarity and definition in the music, which each sound firmly placed wherever it lays. The sounds themselves often throw me completely. The use of human voices on a few of the tracks sound almost corny in places, stifled whoops and half-laughs seem to rise out of clouds of bell tones and various hisses and rumbles, but while they might sound a bit out of place they certainly give the music a richness and variety that renders the music quite different to much else around today.

Despite the quirkiness of some sections the music across all of Furl rarely strays far from a deep sense of real beauty. From the opening backward rushes of percussion to the wonderfully hushed closing moments of the final piece Nehil’s palette is as beautifully textured and coloured as it is varied. There a lot of bell-like tones, softly rolling drum sounds and percussive crashes of varying intensities, all placed beside one another so the music rolls along at a slowish pace. Certain sounds seem to reappear in places throughout the disc as well, what sounds like a coarsely vibrating snare in particular jumping out at me in varying locations.

Furl sounds like a really mature piece of music to me. It feels like the work of an artist fully in control of his working tools, seeking out new ways of presenting sounds, matching unusual elements together, not worrying about many of the usual aesthetic stylisations that usually rise out of this kind of composition. Nehil really sounds like he is pushing his own envelope rather than consolidating his past experiences. There is an awkwardness to the music, a constant feeling of uncertainty- should he have included that sound? do the voices work? how does this bit link to the last bit? that makes this a thoroughly intriguing listen, as much of a puzzle to unravel at is something to sit back and relax with.

Something of a tough nut to crack then, more so than Flock and Tumble was, but this is to Furl’s credit. I have written before about how a lot of music that sits in this vague area of composition all sounds very similar. Computer sequencing of samples and pre-recorded material should in theory offer a wide range of possibilities for music, but too often so much of it ends up sounding very much the same. Through his often unusual choice of sounds, his acute, confident sense of placement, avoidance of drones and overall will to produce something personal and original Seth Nehil is, for me leading the way in this area of composition. I’m standing by my assertion that this sounds like carefully considered, well thought through music, even if it isn’t!  I await the next disc impatiently.

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