CNVR07 | 15.01.2006
format: CDR | packaging: discbox slider
duration: 56 minutes, 3 tracks
limited to 50 numbered copies
These works started their lives as recordings of my piano onto an old, beat up tape using an old tape recorder. the piano I bought on the street in brooklyn for seventy five dollars. I was told it had been the piano in a local bar and was in quite a state of disrepair. over the year or so that I lived in my apartment I grew quite attached to the black spinet with gold stickers spelling "steinwa" on its face. the cassette I found while cleaning out old offices in queens. it was among an abandoned collection of cassettes that someone left behind. I adopted them, giving them new life by layering field recordings and piano over led zeppelin and the police which i found on them. the tape recorder I found in a storeroom at work. no one cared when I took it home and it always sat next to the piano with a cassette ready. one of the cassettes I ended up using had been recorded onto so many times that it became worn out and never played back my recordings the same way. after working with this cassette for a while i had filled it up, even recording over some of my own recordings. at this point I started creating compositions using this material, with ?samples of various lengths looped and played against each other, yielding unexpected results. I came across the concept of graceful degradation while reading a book by richard restak. I realized that the idea fit in very well with the work I was doing. memories are recorded in our brains and surface whenever they are triggered; but each memory is blurred through the process of recollection. This blurring process occurs as memories are recalled and observed in the present, altering the original version. There are many references to this concept within the compositional process and final results, and perhaps more which I haven't discovered. The first layer I encountered was within the cassette. Each time I played a section of the tape the sounds were altered and placed in a new context. The next layer was in the studio working with the sounds, sampling sections of the tape and creating the compositions. as each sample plays its part in the piece, it is altered through its relationship with the sounds of the other samples. Another layer exists while listening, as each person develops an individual relationship with the piece, and the sounds are placed in the context of their experience
liner notes by Asher Thal-Nir
Very aptly the concept of ‘graceful degradation’ has its origins in the field of engineering, where it refers – in contrast to a ‘catastrophic degradation’ - to “the ideal that if a system fails, if at all possible it should fail gently...” This seems surely to be the case here, a very gentle and soothing failure it is indeed.
With mp3-releases on term, Con_v and most recently on Earlabs, Asher Thal-nir has since a few months debuted on the physical format of the cdr (already sold-out). Arguably a format well suited to the concept behind the release, given the imminent demise of the cdr (in comparison to the cd, and maybe even more so in comparison to the digital format of his net-releases), although in the end the format of Edison’s original Phonograph would have been even more suited, considering the notion of ‘graceful degradation’ as borrowed by the artist from a book on the neuropsychological transmutations of the human brain under the pressure of the technological resources so central to our modern information-age. This basic notion of ‘graceful degradation’ is specifically of interest to Asher on the plain of memory-functions:
"...memories are recorded in our brains and surface whenever they are triggered; but each memory is blurred through the process of recollection. This blurring process occurs as memories are recalled and observed in the present, altering the original version." (from Asher's liner notes to the release)
The memories in question apparently being the ‘reminiscences’ of the previous recordings on old cassettes which like a palimpsest retain the traces of former contents, whereby the intrinsically connected strata constitute a multidimensional symbolic structure. In this instance there are, besides the palimpsest cassettes also the additional dimensions of the physical medium of the cassettes being worn by extended usage causing an unstability upon playback of the sound emiting therefrom; in addition, the prime source of the recordings is an old clearly untuned (and probably untunable) piano, doubling the instability of the resultant soundproduction. Now a slight paradox comes to the fore upon regarding the matter of the finalisation of these recordings on a cdr, whereby - not taking the limited lifespan of the cdr-medium into account – this whole unstable sound-system in the end does become finalised in a definite form (a paradox which actually arises with the recording of many other musics, from Roland Kayn’s cybernetic systems to Alvin Luciers ‘I am Sitting in A Room’ to William Basinski’s ‘Desintegration Loops’ up to so many recordings of improvised music). Wherein this distinguishes itself most from Basinski’s work (with which it is probably most due to be compared, although in the end the reference to this release by Asher which comes most prominently to my mind is actually Budd & Eno’s ‘Pavilion Of Dreams’) is that rather than being a lament over and a testament of entropy as is the case with the greater part of Basinski’s oeuvre, Asher’s art seems to point more in the direction of the creation of a new musical medium which arises from these aural remnants, sounding like a hybrid of tape, vinyl and digital synthesis. How an apparatus like this one which is evoked by this release would come to look like i am not sure of in detail; but it could well be reminiscent in design of the semi-organic hybrid that is ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ in the animation film of the same name, a truly wonderful structure containing elements of rural architecture, Jules Verne-like science fiction and disneyesque animism. Very aptly then the concept of ‘graceful degradation’ has its origins in the field of engineering, where it refers – in contrast to a ‘catastrophic degradation’ - to “the ideal that if a system fails, if at all possible it should fail gently...” This seems surely to be the case here, a very gentle and soothing failure it is indeed.
[ Mark Pauwen ]
Memories are needed in our brains and surface whenever they are triggered, but each memory is blurred through the process of recollection. This blurring process occurs as memories are recalled and observed in the present, altering the original version.
Richard Restak wrote a book about this and Asher Thal-Nir found this idea a good reference to the concept of his compositional process.
He worked with an old piano and recorded his playing on an old, worn-out cassette that never played back his recordings the same way. Asher used this process in the studio, which resulted in this original album. Several vague minimal piano tunes keep repeating themselves in such a way that a blurred, ghostly atmosphere starts to occur. It's surrealistic, as if existing partly in another dimension. Three long pieces full of degradation can be found here, each slightly different from the other, but creating the same, melancholic state of being. Something one does not hear often.
[ --- ]
Conv is a net and CDr label with a number of interesting releases, who were so kind as to send me a copy of Graceful Degradation , a CDr with work composed and produced by Asher Thal-Nir (now living and working in the city of Sommerville, Massachusetts) during the summer and autumn of last year in Brooklyn, NYC.
Some day Asher bought an old piano on the street in Brooklyn, it reads in his liner notes to this release. For seventy five dollars. "I was told it had been the piano in a local bar, and was in quite a state of disrepair," he writes.
The material used for Graceful Degradation are recordings Asher made of this piano, on an old cassette recorder that he found in a store room at work. "No one cared when I took it home," he writes. It always sat next to the piano with a cassette ready."
(Some of) these cassettes came from an abandoned collection of tapes Asher found while cleaning out offices in Queens ... "One of the cassettes I ended up working with had been recorded onto so many times that it became worn out and never played back my recordings the same way ..."
I was fascinated by this narrative and the music it evoked for me, which at least partly has to be due to my interest in the intricate wavering sonic textures brought about by multifold degrees of 'degradation' and 'mutilation' of the recordings on magnetic tape that I come across among the cassettes I pick up for the Found Tapes Exhibition . They are one of the main reasons for my again and again stubbornly spending long days of unknotting and remounting 'degraded' tapes.
And indeed many a composer and sound artist over the past decade or so discovered (and subsequently used) this potential of 'aleatoric intervention' by the '(graceful) degradation' so characteristic of the 'old' analog media - be it on vinyl disc, or on magnetic tape. It was through another short on-line review of this Asher CDr that, for example, I learned of the 'Disintegration loops' series, by William Basinski , that - or so it seems - use the 'real time' gradual destruction brought about by the 'now' playing back of some tape loops made in, and kept since, the early 1980s. Also that struck me as being a fine metaphor ... a wonderful image ... and a great compositional idea ...
Anyone that from time to time plays back thirty year old reel-to-reel tapes will be familiar with the sprays of brownish dust that in many cases accompany what is a tape-self-destruction but ever so slightly less thorough than the 'spontaneous combustive' ones occurring at the beginning of the episodes of the 'Mission Impossible' television series ... (Maybe you remember : ... "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds ..." ...) I have not been able yet (except for a couple of 30 sec extracts) to listen to this Basinski work (and actually - though for the moment that's mere intuition - am somewhat repelled by the strong link that he seems to be invoking cq. exploiting, between his 'disintegrating loops' and the 'NY 9/11' events), but I did manage to catch (on last.fm ) some of the tracks of Basinski's Melancholia release, made up of 14 short piano tape-loops - also dating from the early 1980's.
Understandable [ ... old piano, tape, degradation ... ] that in texture and atmosphere these Basinski loops come pretty close to the three Asher tracks that make up 'Graceful Degradation'. Also for Asher's work melancholia would be an appropriate 'tag' . Memory is a second one they'd have in common. ( "Memories are recorded in our brains and surface whenever they are triggered; but each memory is observed in the present, altering the original version," Asher writes, linking his recordings to Richard Restak's writings on our brain's 'graceful degradation'.)
Both are foremost works of a melancholic slowness, and evasiveness.
Which, as said, may be understandable; but is far from necessary ... I myself for example, upon just reading the liner notes, had imagined a work of a quite different character. I had thought it to be something coarser , something denser , with remnants of 'base recordings' (like those of the Led Zeppelin and Police songs that apparently were originally on the cassettes that Asher found) still audibly 'leaking' through ... But they are not. At least not recognizably so.
Yeah, Asher's CDr is different from what I had expected. And I do think that the 'melancholically flowing' and 'evasive' angle is somewhat of an 'easy way out' ... Graceful Degradation is a very slow, minimal - ambient/micro - work, consisting in three longish tracks (lasting, respectively about 21, 12 and 21 minutes). Asher took parts from his ol' piano, ol' cassette, ol' recorder recordings to then compose these pieces by long-loop and layer in the studio. (The relatively short middle one, entitled "Untitled #305", is my favorite among the three, sounding, as if it were a blow-up of some rugged splinters from a Satie Gymnopédie ...) But, though staying only ever so slightly away from the 'kitschy' side of the line, it is a work of undeniable beauty ... Deeper also, and more 'honest' (that is a dangerous 'tag', I know :-) ...), imo , than is Basinski's 'superficially comparable' Melancholia (which too often does end up on the wrong - the sentimental - side, as far as I am concerned). Thanks - mainly - to a certain roughness and the many melodic and harmonic irregularities in Asher's piano parts ...
Embedded in an all-pervading sonic fog made out of tape hiss and multicolored reverberation, these longish loops of a fluttering piano, shaky like the hands of an alcoholic, do seem to insist on wanting to tell us something. They almost do. But there's too much already forgotten, there's too many holes, there's too much that got lost ... These are strange melodies. Or rather trembling fragments of what maybe once were such ... And which now - de-contextualized to the extreme, and ever-repeating - breathe but estrangement, melancholy and decay ... ; as do these here winter grey and rainy days.
[ Harold Schellinx ]
The title of this CD from Asher gives you a hint at what the contents involve. A 3-track investigation of processed environmental sound that has a surprisingly melodic edge yet retains a decayed and grimey feel. Comparisons with Basinksi's 'Disintegration Loops' are inevitable, I guess, but this work easily stands up on its own terms. Hypnotically deep and extremely pleasing to the ear, even when it reaches the outer edges of experimentation. Lovely.
[ Mike Oliver ]
Following his MP3 release for the same label (see Vital Weekly 503), Asher now comes with a CDR release. An old piano, some old cassettes and an old tape-recorder: these are the ingredients used by Asher Thal-nir on his new release 'Graceful Degradation'. The piano is recorded onto these ancient cassettes (which used to hold music by Led Zeppelin and The Police), but have been re-recorded some many tapes that the magnetic does no longer the information in a proper way. Asher sampled various portions of these degraded sounds and places them in a new context. Sounds are looped, but they are very long loops. Very slow music of majestically strumming chords, with the hiss and static slightly emphasized. Asher listened carefully to the work of William Basinski (of course this is an assumption), as it bears the similar qualities and notions: that of sounds slowly decaying, but just in time they are preserved by storing them on CD - well saved for another limited time of course. When in a few years CDRs start to fall apart, the no doubt fascinating journey of the piano, old cassettes and an old CDR can start again. A fine example of micro ambient sound.
[ Frans de Waard ]
CON-V EDITION | 2015