Essential New Music: Bill Nace’s “Through A Room”

Across a couple of decades, Bill Nace has filled his dance card with a who’s-who of noise liberators. If you had to sum up what he does in a couple words, they’d almost certainly be “improvising guitarist.” But the LPs he has made in recent times for Drag City profoundly abstract both terms.

Through A Room, like 2020 predecessor Both, is a collaboration with engineer/producer Cooper Crane. Crane is adept at occult analog practices, and his talents would be wasted on an endeavor that only required that the mics be set up right. He and Nace spent much more time mixing, editing and processing the music heard on Through A Room than they did recording it. The spontaneous impulses that initially generated the sounds transmitted to tape were considered and reconsidered during a week of chopping and screwing. Thus, even when said sounds were made by a guitar— Nace also played hurdy-gurdy, bird call and taishogoto (a cross between a typewriter and a zither that is sometimes also referred to as a Japan banjo)—what you end up hearing are ribbons and loops of exactingly blurred sound.

So, while you might suppose that “E:E” started out as a bit of feedback, in finished form, it’s a map of concentric satellite orbits translated into sound. The handful of notes that make up “When Orange” have been filtered, like the text of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room, into a confabulated memory of their original selves. And “Ann” sounds like a dub treatment of an ape-house field recording. Nothing is what it once was, and after a close listen, you probably won’t be the same, either.

—Bill Meyer