Seth Nehil & jgrzinich

cdwhon008, released in may 2002, 3 tracks, 44'49".

Seth Nehil and John Grzinich have been sound collaborators since 1994 when they began the electroacoustic ensemble Alial Straa. In 1998 they initiated a process of recording and experimentation that would result in a pair of full-length cds. The seed of the project originated in Austin, Texas with location specific recordings of found objects played by groups of people.. In the end, it had expanded into a three-year, transcontinental exchange of intensive interaction, questioning and dialogue.

The exploratory focus of stria/confluence is the idea of resonance; the phenomenon of natural vibrations that give rise to intensified or stable structures within sound bodies and fields. In the production of these works, the composers' approached resonance in both the acoustic sound behavior and the social phenomenon in group interaction and/or participation within the context of sound generating activities. It was again applied to the studio in the use of massive multiplications and layerings, resulting in deeply transforming, evolutionary sound fields.

These records extend the perspective elaborated by both artists through their previous solo and collaborative work (as can be heard on Seth's releases on Kaon, Alluvial and 20 City, or John's duet with mnortham on Staalplaat and Orogenetics). These works further an interest in physical materials and natural acoustics which are consequently composed into imbedded, altered and engaging structures. Taking form with the integrity of a living organism, these pieces invite the listener to find his way through the reticulated and stratified development of a subtly unfolding, organic sound-body.

stria and confluence are being released concurrently on erewhon (Belgium) and Intransitive Recordings (US).



With the proliferation of amazing software packages and ever more powerful machines, making electronic music today is, in theory, easier than it ever has been, and the recent slew of unimpressive (to say the least) remix albums seems to be depressing proof that increased sophistication of resources has not always led to a corresponding raising of the stakes when it comes to quality. It's comparatively rare to find composers of electronic music who are prepared to really take their time in working and reworking their sonic material, which makes these two exceptional companion albums by Seth Nehil and John Grzinich, one on the Belgian label Erewhon, the other on Howard Stelzer's Boston-based Intransitive imprint even more worthy of your attention.

(...) Rather than trying to fit their material into a pre-conceived architecture, Nehil and Grzinich "allow the sounds to dictate the overall form," and the end-product manages to combine a naturally breathing sense of form (in a manner not dissimilar to much electroacoustic improvisation) with a sound surface of extraordinary precision and complexity ("anywhere from one to over a thousand layers may coexist in any one moment"). Listening through headphones - recommended unless you happen to have a state-of-the-art stereo system and a listening space large enough to enjoy the music at the necessary volume - reveals the extraordinary lengths to which the composers go to interleave, crossmix and develop their sound material. At times the source sounds seem easily identifiable, but once the layers of crackles, rustles and clanging pots and dishes have been superimposed and set back into the middle distance of the mix through masterly and subtle panning, they assume different, multiple identities. What could start out as a gentle tap on a piece of wood ends up as distant thunder - or is it gunfire?

The steady accumulation of sonic events inevitably recalls the stochastic pile-ups of Xenakis. (...) Works such as Nehil and Grzinich's "Pneuma" (on "Confluence") and "Arboreal" (on "Stria") are the authentic descendents of "Bohor" and "Concret PH".

(...) If Xenakis comes to mind (...), so at times does mid-period Ligeti (specifically a piece like "Clocks and Clouds") - the music appears to drift by slowly until you focus your attention in on the detail and find it to be teeming with activity like a beehive. Simply put, these two albums contain some of the most technically accomplished and awesomely beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard, as infinitely complex and infinitely simple as light. Any self-respecting new music enthusiast can't afford to pass them by.

Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic Magazine, april 2003 - [The complete review]

Belle musique de ces deux poètes du sonore qui vont faire résonner leurs drones organiques aux lisières d'un temps immobile. Les mouvements lents de ces sons, comme des coulées épaisses de matières offrent des paysages tendus et étrangement sereins, faits de grincements, de frottements, d'ondes vastes, de résonnances scintillantes, révélant majestueusement dans le temps leurs contours gracieux. On pénètre dans ces flots lourds comme un animal géant, prenant nos aises en se laissant porter par le courant, quittant une certaine pasanteur pour une autre, plus subtile. Le courant nous entraîne dans des cavités obscures, dans des cirques ouverts et gigantesques, d'autres échos apparaissent, habités de fantômes. Dense-musique de déplacement de masses titanesques, on s'y arrête timide et observateur, et au final on n'est pas déçu du voyage.

Manu Holterbach, revue&corrigée no 54, december 2002

English translation (by Meta Stular):

Beautiful music from these two sound poets who will make their organic drones resonate at the margins of an immobile time. Like thick currents of matter slow motions of these sounds offer strained and strangely serene landscapes made from creaking, gratings, broad waves and sparkling resonance majestically uncovering their gracious surroundings in the time. You penetrate into this heavy flow like a gigantic animal, taking its ease, letting yourself being taken away by the current, leaving a certain heaviness for another, more subtle. The current takes us into obscure cavities, in the open gigantic pools other echoes appear, inhabited by the phantoms. With this dense music of shifting the titanic masses you stop shy, observe and in the end you are not deceived by the voyage.

(...) (note of the webmaster: review about stria and confluence) Beide cd's staan borg voor kwalitatief hoogstaande en gevarieerde organische drones die ten huize (pv) zelfs de ranunculaceae tot rust brachten. Heerlijk vruchtbare muzikale meststof voor liefhebbers van het werk van mnortham of The Hafler Trio.

pv, Gonzo Circus #57, august 2003

(...) Con estos dos trabajos, Seth Nehil y John Grzinich quieren dejar bien claro que el fenómeno de las vibraciones naturales crea una densidad en la que las texturas se forman a través de capas de sonidos superpuestos. En definitiva, dos obras (note of the webmaster: stria and confluence) altamente recomendables a los que buscan una inmersión profunda para dejar volar la imaginación.

Rogelio Pereira, margen Magazine #27, december 2003

This release is not really very fresh, but only arrived after I reviewed it's counterpart 'Confluence' on Intransitive Recordings, which was reviewed in Vital Weekly 353. Grzinich and Nehil work together since 1994 as Alial Straa, with various people, like Olivia Block (apart from collaborations with others and solo work). Like 'Confluence' we are offered three lenghty pieces of drone music. In the first two pieces they work together with a large group of people producing resonating sounds, which were afterwards retransformed in the studio. There the final work was conceived, by transformating and layering of the sounds. The results are thick masses of music, which in 'Tome Gather' reminded me of Cornelius Cardew's 'The Great Learning' (less the whispering voices). A massive choir of sounds, rich of humming sounds of a hard to define nature - voices, sounds, electronics? Who knows? The second group piece 'Arboreal' is more crackling, of sounds being played by rubbing them, scratching etc. The use of reverb on the individual sounds, gives a droning effect. 'The Mirrored Corner' is a strict drone piece, which include wire drones from 'the biotope installation'. Here the pure drones work best, and remind me of the best Alan Lamb work. Together with 'Confluence' this makes a fine overview of their joint work.

Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly 360, february 2003

Stria - layers, the overplaced sounds that make up these compositions; strings, the connections and movements that work through them. In 'Tome gather' for example, both these aspects are heard as the piece elides from: burring tones, modulated tonal metals with longer tones and pulses in there as a hidden music; the burring becomes less pronounced, emergent long drones, dense and gorgeous with a percussive note; becoming more voicelike, edgy high tones; the drones start to diverge, becoming more pulsing and noisey; to an atonal conflict of purer tones that interfere-pulse, disturbed voices. There are no points of change on this journey, more gradual modulations, and layer lays on layer.

Building percussive clicks and clatter in 'Arboreal' are rhythmic, slow washes through, sounds separate and rejoin (stringed together), a rapid flowing, then fluttering to the end.

Finally 'The mirrored corner' is buzzing metallic with a clicky click, shimmering and pulsing; a resonant echo deep emerges and is a dark hollow voice that becomes more voice-like; the middle section simples-out, more clicks. A dominant tone develops, shimmering with a sine pulse and a sequence of melodic ringing tones ebb and flow before a brief climax and fade.

The line notes suggest Nehil and Grzinich take recordings of large groups (playing who knows what) in the first two tracks, and wire drones in the third, and then 'compose' them. Interestingly Nehil is the credited composer of the first two, Grzinich of the last (with additions by Nehil), and the pieces have taken a number of years to create. There are some liner notes that may help understand their process - there are hints in terms of 'unfocus' and an overseas collaboration - but it is very trendily obscure. Anyway, irrespective of their methods, the results are dramatic e(in)volving minimalist works.

&etc 2002_20, Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera, december 2002

John Grzinich and Seth Nehil have been asking a lot of questions about the nature of sound, about patterns in their groupings, about the dynamics of listening, about the resonance which hangs in the air. In 1998 they made a series of recordings involving a group of people making a great many sounds, all at once, with a variety of found objects. Perhaps they found in the behaviours of sounds, when grouped and performed in this way, an analogy with the behaviours of people, in a social environment, when grouped with others of dissenting opinion, or of common cause, in any given situation, commonplace or pivotal, artistic or political, professional or casual. In any case, they continued to work on their ideas over the years, developing methods of experimentation and exploration, all the while exchanging questions and findings about their work, corresponding across continents. Stria and Confluence are companion discs that have been released simultaneously on the Erewhon and Intransitive labels, respectively, and represent the culmination of their collaborations from 1998 through 2002. Stria is perhaps the more 'ambient' of the two records, with three long pieces of deep resonances, multilayered drones and long, gradual progressions. These drones push their way through any distractions and come face to face with the listener who attempts to discern patterns in the waves, in the layers, in the long and droning resonance plates. Confluence is a very different sort of record, and for me is much more demanding as an immediate and commanding presence. 'Pneuma' climaxes in a din of metallic scrapings, multilayered, high-pitched and shrieking sounds, only to be carried suddenly on the momentum of its own resonance, as a bird which, frantically beating its wings against the current of the wind, finally finds flight and is able to course through the air with ease, wings reaching out steadily on either side, gliding on the surface of the winds in a gesture at once beautiful and serene. 'The Distant Edge' captures the tension of a gathering of dissonant elements, and if the previous track directs the listener's gaze skyward, this one returns him to the unceasing activity on the ground. Recordings from a demonstration in Belgrade were used for this piece, dominated by a feeling of claustrophobia, of chaos, of being lost in the noise, in the movements, the tensions, in the anger of one's surroundings. 'Lohme,' the third and final piece, takes a step back from the madding crowd, yet maintains a sense of urgency, of cluttered spaces, of conflict and agreement, but finally finds a place to rest, to slow down and drift slowly away, back into a recess of silence, from which all this beautiful noise was born.

Richard di Santo, incursion music review, issue 064, february 2003

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.

T. J. Norris, SoundVision, july 2002