BEN SERETAN, the New York composer whose song-based and folksy album from last year, Youth Pastoral, made massive waves Stateside – earning itself a spot in Pitchfork’s 35 Best Rock Albums of the Year list – and whose 2018 My Life’s Work was 24 hours long, recorded over three consecutive nights from sunset to sunrise, is releasing his first album for NNA Tapes, Cicada Waves, at the end of the next month; and on the evidence of the first single drop, “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap”, is pretty much the definition of beautifully and thoughtfully ambient.
You can watch the video for that – which is chilled in both senses as Ben, as the Scots might get say, gets his tap af for some slow dance grace in the snow. A slight juxtaposition, but really bloody sweet.
Over the course of the next seven weeks leading up to release, Ben will be sharing a new track alongside accompanying videos and essays via his newsletter. And “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap” is the incredibly enticing first of these.
During the heights of the pandemic Ben decided to squirrel himself away at an artist’s residency at the base of the Appalachians in Rabun Gap, Georgia, to lay down the piano recordings he’d always wanted to: bright, crisp, evocative, clean. He spent a fortnight, just him and an antique Steinway in contemplation, far removed from it all.
And what he encountered in that far-removed dance studio was the actual sounds of the environmental silence – the sound of a living wood, the creaks, the birdsong, the rain and – making their way to the album title and guesting on several tracks – enormous swarms of cicadas.
“It was clear the moment I hit ‘record’ that any sound I captured from the piano would always carry some other sound with it,” Ben says.
“There would be no silence whatsoever. So I gave in—I threw open the windows and let the world in.”
Cicada Waves fully embraces the happy accident, the environment of the recordings, and warmly welcomes them across the threshold; it’s more often than not the sound of a piano not being played; it’s the sound of wings or wind or water doing what they will. And as you can here from the deep serenity and perfect capture of the track herein, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
We’re told that these recordings are shared with as little artifice as possible; there are no edits or comped parts, no mixing, no second takes. The album is, more or less, simply and exactly the sounds that happened in the world at that moment.
Ben Seretan’s Cicada Waves will be released by NNA Tapes digitally and on limited edition cassette on April 30th; you can order a copy from Ben’s Bandcamp page.