AMN Reviews: Nat Evans – The Tortoise [Bandcamp]

The Tortoise is the record of Seattle composer/sound artist Nat Evans’ five-month-long walk up the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2600 mile north-south track that runs the length of the US west coast from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Starting at the southern end and finishing at the northern end, Evans took field recordings during the journey and sent the files to eight composer/performers along the route. These latter in turn used the recordings as basis for their own compositions, which they then recorded and sent to Evans. This release is the collection of their pieces as well as Evans’ own work.

Five of the thirteen tracks are Evans’, performed by Neil Welch on saxophone, John Teske on double bass, Evan Smith on bass clarinet, and Evans himself on percussion and shruti box. For the most part, Evans’ compositions seem to imagine the music as an integral component of the landscape’s ambient sounds. His choice of sparse textures and restricted pitch material, often presented as long tones interspersed with long pauses, preserves open spaces for the field recordings to sound through. The musicians’ judicious use of dynamics and of microtones and multiphonics helps situate the music within the world of raw, untempered sounds as well.

The other tracks present diverse interpretations of the interrelationships between the field recordings and the individual composers’ own sensibilities. These range from Andrew Tholl’s serene, discreetly droning piece to Brenna Noonan’s aggressive work for saxophone and electronics. Also notable are Scott Worthington’s bowed open strings and harmonics for double basses in slow harmonic motion, Carolyn Chen’s piece in which zither and birdsong meet on equal terms, John Teske’s well-spaced drone notes for double bass and Hanna Benn’s tone poem for intermittently Satiesque piano.

Daniel Barbiero