Nikko Wolverine   CB0003

The music

Nikko Wolverine (1999) is a three-movement piece scored for various bowed and struck metal instruments in non-tempered tunings. These instruments, which were designed and built by the composer, emit tones that are rich in complex harmonics and often sound more electronic than acoustic. All three movements of this work share motivic materials, but each successive movement adds more harmonic complexity and textural density to the movement that preceded it.

Tons Tons Macoutes (1999) is a texturally dense work for Smith’s metal instruments. It is almost glacial in both its presence and its pace, and it might call to mind certain musique concrete works.

Genus, Sho-Bud and the hymn-like Near the Divide, both composed in 1999, feature the composer on pedal-steel guitar. The first of these works utilizes a highly processed sound and unfolds through series of harmonic suspensions. The second utilizes a more traditional pedal-steel sound—both in timbre and in style. Both works progress at a very leisurely pace.

[LA Weekly article on Smith, 2004]

[Dusted interview with Smith]


The composer-performer

Chas Smith, a Los Angeles-based composer and performer in the American maverick tradition of Harry Partch, creates much of his music from exotic instruments of his own design. As a performer, he regularly appears on feature film scores, playing both pedal-steel guitar and his many 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 Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman in the experimental music ensemble Tokyo 77. Smith performs his own works at new music festivals and art galleries. His work as a composer and/or as a performer may be heard on the Intone/City Hall, Arc Light, Cold Blue, Cantil, MCA, and Straw Dog labels.

Smith’s music is always engaging. As one critic put it when reviewing an earlier Smith recording: “If the house band on the Titanic sounded this gorgeous when the ship went down, you might have been tempted to stay aboard.”

bass tweed


“This disc offers musical experiences utterly out of the ordinary…. Smith’s pieces are music of experiment and discovery: a way of enabling the physical world to ‘speak’ by investigating, harnessing and organizing its sonic properties. The extraordinary sound-world of Smith’s articulately structured music captivates from the start.” —International Record Review

“Chas Smith…musician, composer, engineer, metal craftsman and inventor is a classic American original.”New Times (Los Angeles)

“With Smith’s music, the sounds are as compelling as his concepts and instruments.”The Wire magazine

“Like famed composer and instrument builder Harry Partch, whom Smith readily acknowledges as an influence, Smith creates unsettling music that is both beautiful and eerie.” —Electronic Musician magazine

“Really nice sounds here, and the resulting musical constructions are quite beautiful.”Fanfare magazine

“[M]editative alien soundscapes where time comes to a halt…a beautiful aural experience…. Definitely recommended.” —All-Music Guide

“Dark atmospheres, crepuscular metallic textures and disquieting whispers compose a landscape of eerie colors. Much of the music is icy, ghostly, static.” —Amazing Sounds

“The buzzing cloud of overtones becomes thicker as the work slowly progresses, and the harmonies take on an aching quality, and it is difficult to know whether one is calmed or disturbed by this music.” —ClassicalNet

“A vastly intriguing work, which must really be something to witness as a live performance.”Incursion Music Review (Canada)

“Smith has a penchant for long tones and drones, as well as an ear and love for magnificent sonorities. From his creations, as well as his pedal steel guitar, he elicits sounds that suggest thunder, approaching jetliners, electronics, screeching machinery, and much, much more. And he doesn’t merely string together gimmicky sounds; he integrates them into sumptuous compositions that range from delicate, lyrical vignettes to grating, sometimes horrific tone poems. —Dean Suzuki, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Chas Smith is a performer and composer who plays pedal steel guitar and designs and builds his own sculptural metal musical instruments that combine the influence of two prominent 20th-century Harrys—Partch and Bertoia…. Layers of bright, shimmering tones supported by low-pitched clouds wrought by the Adkins, Bass Tweed, Copper Box, DADO, Lockheed, Mantis, Pez Eater, SS Disc, Tio and thundersheets drift through your head with the greatest of ease…. Although the last track is played in a more traditional country slide guitar vein, the overall feeling this CD exudes is as relaxing as a gigantic marshmallow puff gently hovering in a lavender evening sky.”—Arcane Candy

“Infinitely deep and mysterious sounds. Absolutely unmissable.” —Deep Listenings (Italy)

“The music that comes out of this strange and compelling metallic menagerie is both atmospheric and abrasive, searching for a middle ground between the two. All of the instruments have a visual aside as well…. He has reached the great divide, cutting geographically America through a ridge of harmonic suspensions. I would warmly recommend this CD to anybody who is interested in innovative and daring approaches to contemporary music.” —I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)