Herzog: First Summer and the Running Dream
Resting Bell

Nest: Retold

Retold is a startlingly sophisticated outing for both the Wales-based Serein label and Nest itself, a collaborative project involving Deaf Center member Otto Totland and the label owner Huw Roberts. In simplest terms, the fifty-five-minute collection is classical-electronic in genre and brooding, meditative, and serene in mood. Assembling their elegant material using electronic production methods, Totland and Roberts wrap dulcet sprinkles of the core instrument, piano, in swathes of harp plucks, woodwinds, horns, and strings (‘Eleanor' receives a special thank you for her violin) such that electronic chamber settings of powerfully pensive character result. An occasional field recording or ambient texture extends the sonic template (the train that roars through “Trans Siberian,” for example, and the campfire crackle that remains after its passing) beyond conventional instrumentation. While one setting will juxtapose the sunlit cascade of a hushed piano alongside the moan and sigh of a violin (“Wheatstone”), another will exude a melodramatic aura reminiscent of a brooding soundtrack (“Cad Goddeu (Revised)”) or convey Asian elegance via pensive piano patterns and plucked instruments (“Kyoto”). The deep string clusters that blanket “The Helwick” align it to the dark ambient drone style one associates with a Miasmah artist such as Deaf Center; likewise, “The Twelve” presents a brooding meditation of piano chords, violin shadings, and swells of horns and strings. The album's eleven settings are more mood pieces than conventionally composed melodic pieces—which isn't to suggest that the album's bereft of melody but more that wisps of melodic fragments are threaded suspendedly throughout the pieces to form a web-like drift of rich instrumental sound. Regardless of whether the mood in question is funereal or uplifting, Retold proves arresting.

The info accompanying Herzog's First Summer and the Running Dream likens it to “(w)atching raindrops on the window” and that's a pretty accurate characterization of the music's tone. This first Herzog EP by Bill Bawden, which follows upon prior releases on Serein and 12rec, features five settings filled with streams of blurry piano clusters and ambient washes that are soothing by design even if their harmonious character is leavened by layers of granular noises that bleed across the material's becalmed core and in so doing inject an unsettled air into it. In “Congratulations, Here's Your Mountain,” tiny droplets of a delicate piano motif cascade alongside serenading electronic atmospheres, while the natural go-to track on the half-hour EP is the eleven-minute closer, “Lately I've Been Dreaming of Drinking Sound from a Fountain,” wherein faint humming sounds seemingly intone in front of a fireplace. Blanketed by gently surging smears of digital interference, the track plays like a musical excerpt from a radio program that transmitted fifty years ago but which somehow has managed to be exhumed from its dusty past.

February 2010