“These tracks should be enjoyed with headphones, preferably in the evening hours with as little light as possible.” These instructions from Steven R. Hess (Pan American, Locrian, Cleared, Haptic) are wise, because Non-Distinction, his new project with Shay Nassi (mise_en_scene) is a calming affair whose subtleties can be lost in the bustle and brightness of noon.
Non-Distinction is, as its title implies, intentionally non-distinct. One intuits the presence of traffic behind the drone, but the drone also operates as traffic, traveling from speaker to speaker while other drones enter the freeway. This effect is most apparent on “E.g. 2”, which is dominated by a dark recurring bass motif, sinister without being immediately dangerous. The blurring of sound sources is the result of the album’s inception: recorded by Hess on a “$20 GE desktop cassette player”, the album was then sent to Nassi for deconstruction and released on cassette. Home-dubbed themselves, and graced with complimentary artwork, these cassettes exemplify the DIY ethic. This production treatment runs in direct opposition to a recent guest editorial claim in The Wire suggesting that the ability to make and release music might be out of the price range of many artists. Frugality and creativity make strange but fitting bedfellows, and Non-Distinction is the proof.
Hess’ work with other bands is known for being much louder, and mise_en_scene’s work is often much quieter, particularly his work for Dragon’s Eye Recordings. The new set splits the difference, presenting a clear middle ground. It takes great humility to allow another person to deconstruct one’s work, which in turn inspires great care; when one is given such a task, one works hard to preserve the spirit, if not the form of the work. This is what Nassi appears to do, sculpting sound sources (guitar, electronics, percussion) before adding touches of his own. While it’s no longer clear which artist has recorded what, it is clear that the two visions mesh. The result is half an hour of smooth sonics that sound sometimes like waves (“E.g. 4”) and other times like starbursts (“E.g. 5”). The last of the six tracks (go on, guess the title) may be the finest, because it’s the least there, which ironically means it’s the most present; the ear labors to catch its intricacies. Once again: headphones, evening, dark. (Richard Allen)