Measure by measure

The many facets of Asher Thal-nir
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  January 29, 2008


The last couple of years have been busy ones for Asher Thal-nir. Since moving back to Somerville after a stint in Brooklyn, he’s been releasing material at a furious pace — ironic given how calm, measured, and spare the music is. He’ll use relatively simple materials (grainy field recordings, looping melodic fragments, tones from a cheap synthesizer) to create his enveloping melancholic compositions. Steeped in delicate gauzy hiss, his music is evocative and abstract, with warbling melodic fragments and soft crackles that unfold and decay, intersecting and intertwining to mesmerizing effect.

This month, in addition to an on-line EP, Study for Autumn (take a listen here), Asher is releasing a new full-length CD called Intervals on the small the Land Of label. As he explains to me over Thai food and tea, this latest is a bit of a departure, though its basic ingredients — piano, field recordings, and soft, pixelated haze — are familiar staples. “It’s almost like a documentary, which is not something I’ve done before,” he says of the album, which was made during an extended stay near the University of Vermont while his wife was doing a residency there. “There are 39 pieces, and each one is simply a live recording that I processed a little bit — it sounds like what it is. If I made a recording of a piano, it sounds like a recording of a piano to the best ability of the device that I was using to capture that sound. If I was walking through the woods . . . well, all the sounds are very recognizable as what they are.” Yet whether through lo-fi recording techniques or Asher’s use of filters and effects, they’re transformed into something uncanny and almost dreamlike.

As we talk, Asher has just received copies of Graceful Degradation: Variations, a collection of remixes of a 2005 Asher album, and the first release on his new Sourdine label. But it’s not a typical remix disc. Asher had continued to tinker with the material, samples of a thrift-store piano in serious disrepair and old, worn cassette tapes. It was five of these reworked — in a sense pre-remixed — pieces that he sent out to his remixers, who include LA’s Steve Roden and Switzerland’s Jason Kahn as well as younger kindred spirits like Spain’s Miguel Tolosa and New York’s Kenneth Kirschner. (Asher’s five tracks are available for download here.) The results vary: Tolosa has created Asheresque works of melodic murk and hiss, whereas Roden has added banjo and vocals, much to Asher’s initial amusement.

Asher releases in the pipeline include a collaborative disc with percussionist Jason Kahn that’s due out on the and/OAR label in early summer. Beyond that, he’s begun to work with artist Aaron Luckman on a video and sound installation focusing on the cinematic nature of sound that’s slated to open this spring at the Distillery Gallery. At the show’s opening, he hopes to take his work to the streets of South Boston. Well, sort of. He and Luckman plan to take gallery visitors for a series of short mobile concerts with a car as theater and Asher providing the live soundtrack.

“We’ve still got to work it out,” he says with a laugh. “but I think it will work. I think people have a really static idea of what a performance is, and I don’t think that the kind of stuff that I’m doing fits all that easily into a normal mode of presenting music, where people sit quietly and clap at the end. It’s not that I’m interested in subverting anything, but I’m curious about other ways of presenting my work.”

  Topics: Music Features , Steve Roden, University of Vermont
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