Aluminum Overcast   CB0007

The music

The six-movement set of variations that comprise Aluminum Overcast play with the listener’s sense of time—the perceived pace and the clock pace at which musical events take place—as they slowly progress, the spare advancing to the dense.

The first five sections/variations are built from shared/recurrent phrases—melodic phrases (for bowed and struck metal), rhythmic phrases derived from geometric and Fibonacci structures, and phrases of “harmonic noise” that vary in density. The sixth movement, something of a coda to the whole work, steps aside from the variations structure and into a purely textural, Ligeti-like soundworld.

Aluminum Overcast is scored for metal instruments of the composer’s design—resonators that sprout rods, which are bowed and struck; large, clangorous sculptures of titanium; metal strings strung across multiple resonators; and vibraphone-like arrays of metal plates—along with an understated touch of pedal steel guitar and electronically processed flute and woman’s voice.


The composer/performer

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. Smith has performed his own works at various new music festivals and art galleries. His music has been recorded on the Cold Blue, Cantil, Arc Light, MCA, and Straw Dog labels.

Although Smith’s music is often somewhat dissonant, the manner in which it presents itself is extremely engaging. As one critic put it when reviewing one of Smith’s 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.”



The sounds seem to go on to the brink of forever…. Aluminum Overcast is practically tactile as it presents its edges, both dull and razor-sharp, to the listene…. Smith’s instruments were born, I gather, in the welder’s flame and under the blows of a hammer . . . and the music they make, which can become Wagnerian in intensity, bears witness to their violent birth. And yet, like heated metal, there is a softer, more yielding side to Smith’s music…. Aluminum Overcast is a buzz that becomes a burr, and a burr that becomes a shower of sparks. The density of the music fluctuates, but it remains consistently involving.” —Fanfare magazine

“The reverberations, harmonics and strikes on these instruments create rich tapestries of intoxicating sound, implying a deep void that exists just beyond the audible. The choral textures of the final piece Nachthexen recall Ligeti’s choral works, a bewitching sound soon consumed by the characteristically deep and swirling metallic drones and echoes that make for an unforgettable finale. For those unfamiliar with the works of Chas Smith, I cannot think of a better place to start.” —Incursion Music Review

“Some artists have a signature sound. Then again some inhabit a sonic realm that is their own. Visiting Chas Smith’s realm tends to be an unforgettable experience that engulfs the listener softly yet firmly…. Smith hears beautiful overtones in his creations and he communicates them wonderfully. His soundscapes are engaging, shifting slowly, gaining ever more richness…haunting like Ligeti’s best works…. Careful listening reveals worlds within worlds of sounds where metal becomes an organic entity…. Strongly recommended.” — François Couture, All-Music Guide

“Like one of Ligeti’s impenetrable clouds of clustered vibrating particles.”The Wire magazine

“Inhabits a sonic dimension of unbroken radiance…an original and quite mesmerizing sound-world.”International Record Review (UK)

“It’s been almost permanently on the stereo recently…. The music is kind of organic-drone based, tough and clearly revealing the nature of what’s being played (i.e., its metallic!), yet beautiful and subtly abstract.” —Rupert Loydell, Tangents (UK)

“A world charted in a galactic spread of sound: slow, impervious and imperious…. [Smith] creates pieces of chilling ethereality, by turns somber, spooky or impending. Something of seeing the universe in a single drop invests Aluminum Overcast. You cannot help but feel that, accompanied by Chas Smith, you enter on an exploration, a cautious safari where the best is revealed to the silent watchers and patient waiters…. Smith’s abstract soundscapes open and people the imagination…. [T]his is music conceived on the grand scale. Music of epic proportions, hinting at distances inconceivable, sizes unimaginable, powers inescapable. On a disc this small is a universe laid open. Here detail and the mundane are left far behind. The gates into an infinite land open at this magician’s bidding. —Misfit City (UK)

Aluminium Overcoat is a revelation, demonstrating Chas Smith’s ability to create a unique world of sound. Composing music for these strangely-crafted instruments gives him the freedom of opportunity to explore truly unusual areas…. Composing music for specially created instruments also necessitates the creation of a completely new musical language. In the case of Chas Smith, this means that the physical space of sound is formed from superimposed and suspended layers, which intersect and change shape to support each moment and sequence.” —Il Manifesto (Italy)

“I was reminded on Bertoia and Ligeti in equal measure: the same poetry, the same vision, the same search for the “Sound of the Universe.” A superlative artist.” —Deep Listenings (Italy)

“The kind of music that you can hear resounding through the vast reaches of interplanetary void. If the thousands of the floating metal remnants from former space missions could be made to touch one another it would sound like this. Chas Smith and his armory of auto-designed instruments is once more engagingly covering new ground.”—I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)

“A hazy, floating atmosphere permeates this music wrought by Los Angeles-based, Harry Partch-inspired composer Chas Smith and his arsenal of self-built metal instruments (resonators that sprout rods, which are bowed and struck; large, clangorous sculptures of titanium; metal strings strung across multiple resonators; and vibraphone-like arrays of metal plates), including the Adkins, Bass Tweed, Copper Box, Guitarzilla, Junior Blue, DADO, Majestic and Mantis; plus a little flute, cello, choir and wind ensemble thrown in here and there. Yay, verily! Get this into thy head: vigorously bowed single notes with ultra-long sustain, heavily reverberated knocks, and deep, echoing, metallic ambience. All aboard! All of the above abounds. Indeed, Aluminum Overcast is the perfect title for this ever-glimmerin’ Mammoth Cave o’ vastness. Fans of Harry Bertoia and the Baschet Brothers would do well to investigate this little platter of perpetual pleasure. Way recommended.”—Arcane Candy

“Turn out the lights, put in this disc, and let your consciousness be purged of this-worldly vicissitudes.”Exposé magazine