With his latest album, Fell, Seth Horvitz (AKA Sutekh) integrates rich electronic textures with fluid mobiles of instrumental sound to create a work of considerable stature.
The usage of the word "mobile" here is meant to explain visually what Fell tends to sound like. Picture a mobile; some central structure (a single sound, arranged melody, or rhythm) holds the rest of the device together, linking each dangling piece in some manner. The branches of the main structure hold various ideological or aesthetic ideas in place. When the mobile is put into motion, each element twists and turns, not in chaos, but in a carefully orchestrated pattern.
Conceptual or narrative work has long been one of the more common forms by which artistic endeavors delineate the creator's particular experiences, meanings, or ideas. Often, this communication between author and audience can be divided into realms of aesthetic, emotional, or ideological transference. Aesthetic creations attempt to evince ideas of form, placement, and representation; emotional transference conveys the spectrum of feelings and senses the artist is concerned with evoking; ideological means are concerned with the premise of thoughts and beliefs that, as a whole, coalesce into some doctrine the creator wishes to convey. Typically, these rather formal distinctions often blur together into a complex palette, with most works having a bit of each think of a three-way, intersecting Venn diagram.
Fell is like this, taking elements of aesthetics such as white noise juxtaposition, musique concrete stylings, and raw emotion, then blending them together into a narrative about metaphorically "falling." This concept of falling, whether dropping the innocence of hope and realizing crushing defeat, or descending from moral heights with a heavy dose of hypocrisy, seems to be the record's recurring theme.
"Gospel Train" starts out strong-willed and self-righteous, full of assurance for its sound-as-holy-object mission. However, a murky cloud of musical over-accumulation arises, which could symbolize some sort of moral/musical lapse in judgment. The agglutination of sonic sources could indicate a fall from the grace of whatever "gospel train" one was on.
"Privacy," with its pensive, echoing keyboards, presents the image of a fall from naïvete, such as finding one's parents reading an exposed diary, or overhearing an ex-lover divulging ugly romantic details to unknown others.
"Coma Waiting" seems to warn of an imminent fall into mental inactivity, the decline of our abilities to function into one heaping mess, as symbolized by the stop-and-start digital noises meshed with constantly fading torrents of traditional drum sounds. "Recession Clouds" could very well signify the darkness and symbolic torrential rains of emotion that economic devastation produces. What once gave an individual purpose, or at least a paycheck, has now rejected him, leaving him one less bastion of security in a world already difficult to make sense of. The majority of the album has an emotionally dark, slightly oppressive feel, which works in its favor, tending to create a singular mood throughout that's conducive to increased emotional resonance for the listener.
Structurally, Fell represents both a continuation and a new beginning for Sutekh. Horvitz continues to refine the minimal-techno roots that he perfected on Force Inc.'s Miasma EP and Periods.Make.Sense album with tracks like "Fire Weather" and "Recession Clouds." However, there are some new sounds within the old structure Sutekh finds the hums and textures of white noise and embraces them, along with some tape hiss and pop similar to Pole records. Diverse sounds from both digitally rendered and traditional sources add depth to the work.
Fell should not be described as "noise collage" or "layered," since it is neither. While there are many levels of sound, "layering" is not quite the correct description; "intertwining" is more appropriate, since it often seems that Horvitz is able to construct his sounds so that each one becomes part of something larger. The difficulty in picking apart layers of sound is immense, and serves to further exemplify the previous statement. For example, "Gospel Train," one of Sutekh's more epic pieces on Fell, begins with a low, mechanical bass repetition every few seconds. Quickly, an arrangement of light, bell-like tones joins in. Somewhere in the background, a train is heard advancing along the tracks. Over the course of 10 minutes, Horvitz intertwines dozens of other sounds and rhythms into one complex song a mobile of sound. "Recession Clouds" is built upon patches of heavy, noisy static that recede back and forth. However, Sutekh turns these on and off with the precision of a true artist, and with time, the listener begins to accept them, even find them necessary in the piece. Even more interesting, though, is the abrupt shutoff of the static we appreciate the silence even more, as odd as its temporary appearance may seem to us.
While the album is often ideologically interesting and musically rich, there are some pedestrian moments. "Slow Toy Medley," while generally keeping the mildly dark mood of the album, tends to sound a bit cliché in terms of contemporary electronic/digital music trends with its use of "toy" instruments and bursts of discordance. "Rustle the Bush Rat" fares even worse, as it fails to further develop Fell's musical "feel," and strays into musical banality with its penchant for interweaving shocks of white noise. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said of existentialism, when it was in vogue, "...the word has been stretched and taken on so broad a meaning that it no longer means anything at all." The same could be said of the possibilities of pure sonic dissonance in music.
The forms of communication between the artist and the receiving audience are immensely complex, and Fell demonstrates this fully. Sutekh's ability to use minimal-techno structures as a launching point for other sonic studies in white noise and traditional sound usage in otherwise electronic/digital soundscapes involves a strong ability to convey meaning, no matter what the medium. Using methods of aesthetic, emotional, and ideological transference, Seth Horvitz is able to create an album full of internal context and metaphor that nearly works in all regards.