Nat Evans pays personal homage to a formative influence on his life and music through enchanting soundscapes with a new and unique instrumental work this week. The Seattle-area experimental composer’s new and transcendental endeavour Say Those Words is a vivid, deeply stirring sonic tribute, dedicated to Evans’ long time teacher in Zen Buddhism, Ryuzen Robby Pellett, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 63 in August of last year.
Ryuzen Robby Pellett (1956-2019) was a Soto Zen priest and teacher based in the Pacific Northwest. A student in the Suzuki Roshi lineage, he founded One Pine Hall in Seattle in 1994 and led the sangha until his death. At the time of Ryuzens passing he was compiling poems about his experience in Zen, to be published in the near future. Florida Cassette label Circuit Church, home to Model Plane (an artist we covered here at Revel a while back), has recently released these inspiring ambient works, beautifully pairing Pallett’s wisdom with Evans’ compositions.
An accompanying chapbook, Moon Climbing The Temple Roof, is drawn from journals that span 40 years. Pellett’s haikus offer a compelling companion to Nat’s deeply personal, soulful soundscape.
Say Those Words For Me is in two parts. Side A is a reverberating kaleidoscope of sound that slowly unfolds for the listener over time. Evans evokes a gorgeous bright, illuminated atmosphere, with the sound of temple bells he inherited from his teacher carried at the heart of the mix.
A long, stunningly composed improvisation with these bells forms the framework of the soundscape, and their presence in the recording is a theme Evans is passionate about, as he explains in this recent video. Side A ends with nine bells that represent the nine bows one makes to show respect for a deceased loved one. This sonic expression by Evans is a stunning appreciation, and no doubt cathartic for him to create.
The first side is composed of vibrations, with sampled low frequencies that drift in out like ghostly apparitions. Echoes, pops and clicks, punctuated with the rattling of prayer beads. At other times, clusters of sounds enter; textures sampled from Evans’ archives of cassette tapes, flitting in between the tolling bells and whispering field recordings, as he describes in another recent video.
He conjures a mesmerizing atmosphere in such an accessible manner, enrapturing the listener as he draws on ethereal, otherworldly, yet always earthy and organic natural resonances. It’s a poignant piece of sonic exploration, and a moving evocation of a life lived by the Zen philosophy.
Side B, entitled Hanamatsuri, is a field recording made on Hanamatsuri, a holiday celebrating the Buddha’s birth. Evans’ teacher would often have tea under a blooming cherry tree on this day to celebrate.
In his absence, Evans had tea under a blooming cherry tree in his stead, and made his recording. The natural sounds of birdsong, the breeze, and even distant traffic strongly evoke a vision of this heartfelt remembrance.
There is an absoluteness, a truth to these recordings, at once haunting, yet teeming with energy and life. These works are a fine representation of transformation and change, of how the process of death’s release carries energy forward.
Even if a person is not spiritually inclined, it is difficult not to connect with the sonic content that Evans captures in his field recording. With hardly any interference, the purity of those moments captured are nothing short of magic. The consciousness-awakening chimes of those very special temple bells can’t help but strike true presence and alertness into the heart of anyone who listens.
Say Those Words For Me is out 14 August on digital and limited edition cassette.