|an hour out of desert center CB0013|
An Hour Out of Desert Center is scored for pedal steel guitars, composer-designed-and-built crotales and sound sculptures, zithers, and a 1948 Bigsby lap guitar (a one-of-a-kind instrument that was owned by famed steel player Joaquin Murphey, who played with Spade Cooley, Tex Williams, Sons of the Pioneer, and other classic country artists). Here, Smiths musical texture, evolving slowly and continuously over the course of the piece, is without dramatic flourishes. Like the spare landscapes around Desert Center, California, it simply exists in its muted beauty.
Absence of Redemption and Albuquerque 5402 are scored for the same instruments as the first work, but with the addition of Smiths self-designed-and-built three-neck steel guitar, "guitarzilla," which he prepares (a la John Cages prepared piano) with metal rods and plays with hammered dulcimer hammers. Absence develops in the linear fashion of the first piece. Albuquerque 5402 is a large-scale, two-movement piece constructed from dense, shifting textures that slowly taper away in the first movement and interweave in the next.
Chas Smith is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer, and instrument designer and builder who, in the spirit of Harry Partch, creates much of his music for his own exotic instruments. His compositions, which always display his dualistic fascination with the scientific and the sensual, might owe their split personalities to the diverse collection of composers he studied with in the 1970s: Morton Subotnick, Mel Powell, James Tenney, and Harold Budd.
As a performer, Smith regularly appears on feature film scores, playing both pedal steel guitar and his personally designed instruments. (He may be heard on such popular film scores as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty.) Smith has also been featured on recordings by composer Harold Budd and with Rick Cox and film composer Thomas Newman in the experimental music ensemble Tokyo 77 (recorded on Intone Records). Smith has performed his own works at various new music festivals and art galleries. In addition to his two earlier CDs for Cold Blue, Nikko Wolverine and Aluminum Overcast, his music has been recorded on the Arc Light, Cold Blue, Cantil, MCA, and Straw Dog labels.
Although Smiths music is sometimes somewhat dissonant, the manner in which it presents itself is extremely engaging. As one critic put it when reviewing one of Smiths earlier recordings: "If the house band on the Titanic sounded this gorgeous when the ship went down, you might have been tempted to stay aboard."
"A metal instrument builder and pedal-steel player, Chas Smith belongs to the Brotherhood of Hardware and Scrap Metal Dealers, of which Harry Partch is the Patron Saint. Significantly less harsh than on his previous efforts, his instrumentarium is here put to use in long pieces made of loose strands and wisps, threatening to evaporate. Smith is inventing something like post-industrial ambient, the missing link between John Cages sound mobiles and Godspeeds looser tracks." Richard Robert, Les Inrockuptibles (France)
"On this new CD Smith focuses on his pedal steel guitar playing . . . The overwhelming effect of the music is space, with an underlying despair or misery suggested by the title of the second long track, Absence of Redemption. This is music which makes space for an unearthly beautyone found in scrub and sand and dirt and distant horizon linesrather than trying to create it. It invokes rather than declaims, intimates rather than preaches, and I for one find it obsessive listening." Rupert Loydell, Tangents (UK)
"We are almost always used to hearing a pedal steel guitar used in the same way, as accompanying country mostly. We could almost forget the instrument is also an instrument on its own, with its own sound ready to be rediscovered. Chas Smith gives it a new destiny. . . . This is great music, and recommended to those who want ambient music with a real musical content, and with a musical structural drive that has a natural inner movement which goes far beyond coincidence." Gerald Van Waes, Psyche Van Het Folk (Belgium)
"Chas Smith, a unique instrument-builder, the improbable heir of Harry Partch, whose instruments are as beautiful to admire as to listen to." Philippe Robert, Coda (France)
"He coaxes such smoothly wafting layers from a guitar the sound is both soothing and meditative, yet rich in textural hues in a way that reveals the limitations of synthesizers." Exposé
|READ Chris Blackford's interview with CHAS SMITH|