artist: MICHAEL NORTHAM
title: Automnal 2003
catalog number: and/23
release year: 2006
status: sold out
Highly indicative of the nomadic life that international sound artist Michael
Northam has come to know over the past 5 or so years, this release represents a
sonic recollection of his life dispersed across a vast geography, pinpointing three
specific locations and moments from his long journey:
- Glacier du Trient, Switzerland / France
- Eagle Creek, Indianapolis
- Ils Grosbois, Montreal
At times, this hypnotic release presents meditative, invigorating, and eerie
translations of places and experiences in ways that only Northam can poetically
Originally dispersed among friends in 2003 as a limited edition "spontaneous
document" CDR, this work is now re-issued on CD so it can finally be enjoyed by
more people. And deservedly so.
SMALLFISH (AUGUST 2006)
Automnal 2003 is an audio document capturing 3 moments / locations in time.
Glacier Du Trient in Switzerland, Eagle Creek in Indianapolis and Ils Grosbois in
Montreal. The artist travelled and moved studio 13 times in 3 years and these
locations formed part of the journey. Initially released as a limited edition of 50
copies, and/OAR has seem fit to give them a new life with this beautifully
packaged release. The three tracks are deep, incredibly hypnotic soundscapes
that bear comparisons with the works of Gas, Kenneth Kirschner and, perhaps more
pertinently, William Basinski. There's a deep sense of melody throughout each
piece coupled with background sounds that add a little aural punctuation but
essentially it's all about the ambient tones that are conjured up. A magical
selection of tracks that place and/OAR and Mnortham firmly at the top of the tree
as regard to this form of minimalist music. Quite simply a wonderful release that's
recommended most highly. (Mike Oliver)
EARLABS (OCTOBER 2006)
My first (and somehow positive) impression was, that I didn't hear the expected
field-recordings of the stated locations, instead there are clusters of long lasting
tones, gently sweeping in space. I would not call it a drone-thing, because it is so
airy and fragile. Northam carefully adds some metallic sounds which could be
derived from field-recordings but I cannot say what kind of. Later I recognize the
sound of ringing church bells in the distance. The end of this 32 minutes lasting
first track "weave (glacier test)" is a fine highpass filtered part.
The second and shortest track "creek (at nan´s)" deals with deeper frequencies
than before and again it sounds like field-recordings which I cannot associate.
Under the thick wall of the deep frequencies there are some short metallic crashes
and sizzles. Again Northam blends out with a highpass filtered version of the sound
"ils grosbois (montréal)" the last of the three tracks is a very subtle, gleaming
piece. It starts with a field-recording, which could derive from walking through the
woods. Then there are more and more layers of long lasting bell-like tones, which
are falling on me like breaking through sun rays. Somehow I associate here a very
sunny, overwhelming beautiful place in the woods.
All in all I cannot complain about anything in this release, which is for me one of
the best at and/OAR. It doesn't matter that this recording has been re-issued after 3
years, as it is a so ageless sonic pleasure. (Sascha Renner)
REMOTE THOUGHTS (OCTOBER 2006)
and/OAR continues to impress me as a label with its varied, original and extremely
high quality release and it’s clear that owner Dale Lloyd takes a great deal of care
over every single release.
As such it’s always a pleasure to hear a new CD from such a quality imprint and
this release from Mnortham is absolutely sublime.
The three tracks that make up the 55 minute CD are audio snapshots of three
different locations in time and reflect the ideas and feelings the artist had whilst
relocating around the globe thirteen times in the just two years, culminating in his
arrival back home in Autumn 2003.
Prepare to be soothed and engaged by the work on offer here as there’s a tangible
sense of difference between the pieces, even though the approach is roughly the
same each time with processing of location recordings and found sounds forming
the main structures.
‘Glacier Du Trient, Switzerland/France’ is a light, breezy, yet discordant piece that
lifts you up with its high end drone sounds and insistent clicks in the background
which force you to pay attention. It’s hard tune it out and you’ll find yourself
listening to it in depth and discovering more and more resonant frequencies
existing than you imagined at first.
‘Eagle Creek, Indianapolis’ has a heavier, more oppressive tone and bears a
similarity at times to some of the work of Wolfgang Voigt under his Gas moniker.
Combined with the sound of cicadas in the background the organic tone that
drives the track forward gives you a palpable sense of a wide open space
inhabited by creatures of the night.
The final piece ‘Ils Grosbois, Montreal’ is the most haunting of the works here.
A mid/high-frequency drone that works with discordant layers resonates at just the
right level to create a sense of dislocation, gradually adding in subtle static
sounds and scratchy, gritty tones into the background. Again this give the track a
real sense of movement, driving it ever forward.
And it’s this sense of moving and never settling in one place that permeates the
whole CD… a feeling of transience captured for eternity on a piece of encoded
That’s the magic of music and it’s certainly where the magic of this CD comes
A delightful, beautiful and very personal piece of work.
TOUCHING EXTREMES (DECEMBER 2006)
Constantly working on the borders between nature and unconscious, Michael
Northam is one of those artists who is almost impossible not to appreciate.
"Automnal 2003" consists of three long haunting tracks that, according to the
composer, are "taken from three moments/locations" during the "re-collection of
my life dispersed across North America and Europe" (Northam relocated 13 times
between 2001 and 2003; and I thought that my own four moves in five years were
a sort of record...). The album is full of magnificently sounding faint
luminescences, carriers of barely defined frequencies which contribute to a state
of perturbed serenity. Pseudo-aquatic emissions and environmental subtleties
mesh with what sounds like misshapen aural documentaries of life in a
termitarium; ghostly undulations and uncatchable harmonic constellations put
your head into their huge, yet impalpable hands to caress it until acceptance
becomes mandatory. At the end of the first movement I seemed to perceive
joyously tolling bells, filtered and processed to sound like they were underwater,
but maybe it was just an acoustic mirage. Yet, I felt such a warmth in my heart at
that very moment that I wished it would never stop. (Massimo Ricci)
AQUARIUS RECORDS (APRIL 2007)
As of spring 2007, the nomadic lifestyle of Michael Northam may land the
American born sound artist in New Delhi where he might manage a media arts
facility or he might take up the humble calling of a gardener in the south of
France, where he could find plenty of inspiration for his ecologically tinged
compositions. The excitement, fear, and instability of not really knowing where
housing might come from has been the existence for Mr. Northam for many years
now, and he's always managed to build an impressively cohesive body of work
through composition, performance, and exhibition. The Automnal 2003 disc was
originally a self-published CD-R which Northam gave to his friends and colleagues
as a testament to the benefits, joys, trials, and failures to his chosen lifestyle.
During the 24 months between August 2001 and the autumn of 2003, Northam
picked up and moved his studio 13 times across Europe and North America; and
the three extended tracks on Automnal represent three particular places along that
journey. The first track opens with a glassy drone of sustained string vibration
which sound remarkably like the more pastoral tones of Phill Niblock. Aquatic
rumblings and fluttering patterns emerge as complementary elements to the
Northam's droning infinitude that aptly fits Northam's geographical subject, a
glacier on the Switzerland / France border. The second track is my favorite piece
that Northam has created to date. With a gaping low-end drone beautifully stacked
with what seem to be choral harmonics built from the environmental recordings of
crickets near a stream, Northam offers a breathtaking, nocturnal piece of activated
ambience much like Zoviet France's Shadow Thief Of The Sun or Gas' Konigsforst
minus the motorik rhythm, of course. For the finale of Automnal 2003, Northam
presents a sinewy vibrational hypnosis that's quite similar in frequency to the first
track, yet he manages to dislocate the bleary ambience with a subcutaneous
stream of crackle and static. A wonderful record!
E / I (SEPTEMBER 2007)
Automnal 2003 is a testimony of Michael Northam’s nomadic life, which has seen
to it that he relocate thirteen times between the moments bookending 2001 and
2003. The three extended tracks that surface here represent three distinct
junctures along that journey, a glacier along the Switzerland/ France border,
crickets captured from Eagle Creek in IIndianapolis, and an assortment of sounds
taken from what sounds like a walk in the woods of Ils Grosbois, Montreal,
respectively. With the first selection, plangent notes and long string resonance
evoke both a peaceful meditation and an underlying restlessness that is indicative
of the work on a whole. Successive pieces, though marked by long stretches of
slowly evolving sounds, are thereby of a more questing rather than simply soothing
disposition. From the beginning, compositions are texturally sophisticated and
diverse in mood, but as the album ages, it continuously moves away from
lengthier passages of slow-moving, more or less constant sounds, towards pieces
that are stringent and rigid. Along the way, the switching of angles and
perspectives are significant yet ingenuous, dynamic yet immediately involving.
Accordingly, pleasure is had in witnessing so many percolating details get
swamped in the low swelling of the pieces, a certain pleasure in being taken over
and giving into absence. Indeed, the relentlessness of Northam’s approach all but
ensures that one will give in, be it immediately or over a certain period of time.
The final work, for instance, being characterized by intense internal arguments
and clashing directions, encourages quick submission, and the varying degrees to
which this is the case in other works only adds to the album’s appeal. It’s a venture
that the mind enjoys, then, but of which the body eventually grows tired. A
challenge, certainly, yet this document exhibits an impressive variety of states—
both of the garden-variety and those of a more specific nature—which no doubt
colored Northam’s time over the course of his travels. (Max Schaefer)