The somewhat oxymoronic title of this debut album from guitarist and composer Sean Hayward makes more sense after a first listen. The nine pieces on Nowhere Found transport the listener across much of the globe, in a far-reaching sonic exploration of chamber and rhythmic music. The key word is exploration. Until something is discovered, therefore witnessed, it does not register for you – Descartes would have even doubted its very existence. Yet discovery of this erstwhile nothingness brings it into being; nowhere is found. Hayward searches for sounds in places where many would not even think to tread. In capturing these on record, his exploration becomes ours.
LA-based Hayward is a university-trained musician with a penchant for worldly collaborations. While his studies have included composition, orchestration and gamelan, what he presents here are predominantly short, guitar-based pieces. If that sounds predictable, think again. A cornucopia of styles and moods sweeps the listener from the folksy blues bombast of “Conatus”, punctuated by raucous guitar body percussion, through traditional classical pieces such as “Chronos” to the more contemporary composition of the two-part “Motions”, which in fact omits guitars entirely. These two tracks both present violin, cello and piano, with string lines that swell to piercing heights beneath plodding, sombre ivories. Although the parts’ identical development is perhaps surprising given their contrary subtitles (“Grow” and “Collapse”), their instrumentation and sobriety still stand out pleasingly amidst the surrounding guitar pieces, whose variety and playfulness exhibit a sense of levity overall. This is especially true in the delightful “Abiogenesis”, whose guitar phrase lengthens with each repetition – as though in mimicry of the life once believed to have uncoiled from nothingness.
Propping these predominantly succinct and direct pieces are bookends of lengthier, meandering experimentation. The use of gamelan in opener “From a Distance” plants the listener firmly in the East, with gong-like percussion and fretless stringed instruments seemingly of Indonesian origin. At the other end, “Nowhere Found” returns West, its droney backdrop and padded percussion guiding a fretless guitar whose melodies sail with faintly Celtic winds. ‘Bookends’ is an appropriate metaphor, as these pieces feel somewhat detached from rather than intrinsic to the main material. With them, however, does Hayward substantiate the exceedingly broad musical styles his biography lists; in some places, echoes of the country virtuosity of Tommy Emmanuel sound faintly, while other pieces are more akin to the likes of percussive avant-folk duo, Clorinde.
Exploration permeates this record, from its myriad styles and experimentation with musical form to the intellectual probings suggested by its track titles. References to Greco-Egyptian mathematicians, scientific theories and metaphysical philosophies may sound intimidating, but are perhaps simply reflecting this budding artist’s approach to music. The basic explanation of one such reference – conatus – is the innate desire of things for self perpetuation and betterment. Hayward has likely realised a great ambition in releasing an LP, but that will not stop him – he continues to study music, improve his composition and playing, and will (hopefully) reward us with a successor that shows betterment from an already impressive debut. (Chris Redfearn)