Nick Gill: Blasted
It's well-nigh impossible to scan Nick Gill's bio without the label ‘Renaissance man' springing to mind. Not only is he a composer and musician, he's a playwright, letterpress printer, and type founder, too. As a musician, his instrumental outfit, The Monroe Transfer, has issued a number of albums and has a new one targeted for 2015; he's also working with experimental violist Dave Curry on an album of ambient guitar and viola instrumentals and preparing both an electronic score for the unfinished Debussy opera La chute de la maison Usher and In metal, a musical project scored for band and letterpress printing machines. His plays include Sand (Royal Court, 2013), fiji land (Southwark Playhouse, 2014), and mirror teeth (Finborough, 2011), and he's currently adapting a classic modernist novel for the Young Vic Theatre for a 2015 staging.
Gill's follow-up to last year's excellent Grey Season album is Blasted, his score for a new production of the Sarah Kane play, whose unsparing examination of the realities of war apparently caused quite a stir when it premiered at The Royal Court in 1995. It's important to note that Gill's recording differs somewhat in its presentation from the music as it appears in the actual production. In this particular case, the play's director Kate Wasserberg commissioned him to compose and record music inspired by Kane's text, after which sound designer Dyfan Jones worked Gill's music into the stage presentation.
The material is not only unusual in itself but, scored as it is for piano, marimba, ondes Martenot, tape, and electronics, draws upon unusual sounds, too. Further to that, the voices that surface within the work were lifted from ‘70s and ‘80s public information films by the British Government concerning the kind of civil defence that could be implemented in the face of a UK attack. Blasted's structure is also noteworthy in that it follows five “Before” sections ranging between three and ten minutes with a single “After” setting of thirty-minutes duration.
Artists such as Max Richter and Brian Eno could be cited as reference points for Gill's ambient-classical material, but the one that looms largest in this case is Scanner, so much so that pieces such as “Before I,” “Before II,” and “Before IV” could be taken for veritable homages by Gill to Robin Rimbaud. When male and female voices softly ripple across piano-laden soundfields and sirens wail alongside gentle marimba patterns, it's difficult not to be reminded of an early Scanner collage, and the blurry layers of male voices overlapping within “Before IV,” for instance, are almost identical in effect to the treatment of Derek Jarman's voice on Rimbaud's 1997 release The Garden is Full of Metal. That such a similarity exists doesn't undermine the integrity of Gill's creation; it's more simply an acknowledgement of an undeniable overlap between the artists' respective soundworlds. The long-form “After,” on the other hand, seems to have more in common with the kind of generative music that can be programmed to last for durations of multiple hours, and in its subdued, even-tempered design also has more to with Eno-styled ambient music than something Scanner-related. Blasted isn't explosive in the way its title might suggest, but it is provocative.