Asher Tuil’s Automatism is a celebration of audio technology’s sound and texture. Across the album’s ten tracks Tuil questions the relationship between the noise of audio technology and its signals. The basis of each track are field recordings Tuil made in and around Providence, Rhode Island. Upon returning to the studio Tuil processed the original recordings through resonant filters resulting in a flat, soft, intimate sonic timbre he interrupts with snippets of sound from broadcast radio, field recordings, and electronic production.
Where the first track explores a variety of sound sources, the second track returns again and again to a two-note refrain, its dramatic ascent continually and abruptly cut off. A number of the tracks feature this sort of key note sound, a sound that repeatedly cuts through the surface crackle, hiss, and buzz. In the third track it’s a gentler drone and a voice that sounds like it might be calling to a friend. On other tracks, such as “Automatism V,” droning melodies occupy more of the aural space.
There are only a few places on the record—the voice on the third track being one, the sound of running water on “V” another—in which the sources of the composition’s sound are clearly specific places and times. For the most part the filters Tuil uses to process his recordings distort natural sound beyond easy recognizability. The predominance of processed sound across the record makes some of the later compositions and the prominence of the chirping of birds all the more surprising.
The unnaturalness of Tuil’s sonic aesthetic might make Automatism a difficult listen, especially clocking in as it does at nearly an hour and a half. Although across the album the contrast between different audio textures—metallic and soft, organic and non—becomes more interesting, it may be easier to digest in pieces, the fragmentary nature of that listening experience affording an opportunity to respond to the occasional eruption of music and signal out of the density of Tuil’s processed ambience. Taken in pieces the listener is able to attend more intently to the constancy of noise and distortion, the way in which the emergence of voices or the distant lushness of string instruments on “VII,” has a tendency to rewrite the experience of the last five minutes of sound entirely.
In the record’s play with noise and signal, Automatism is like a digital age response to John Cage’s reminder that there is no such thing as silence: In the 21st century there is no such thing as unmediated sound. The sound or noise of audio technology is as much a part of our sonic landscape as the signals it transmits. That sound is also, as its sometimes oppressive presence on Automatism might be interpreted to beg, something to celebrate as the uncannily pristine sound of high definition technology seeks to eliminate it. Noise is part of sound, all recorded sound, and Automatism’s conversion of audio technology’s noise into ambience rewrites how we hear it and listen for it in an age in which it threatens to disappear entirely. (Jennifer Smart)