Nous Alpha – A Walk In The Woods

Nous Alpha is a duo of Christopher Bono and Gareth Jones. A Walk In The Woods is their second album together and was released on May 7 2021, just ahead of Gareth’s third album in less than a year, his collaboration with Daniel Miller as Sunroof. I was asked to write liner notes for the release, which have been re-produced below with the kind permission of Our Silent Canvas.

A Walk In The Woods is the second album by Nous Alpha, a collaboration between multiinstrumentalist Christopher Bono (Ghost Against Ghost, Bardo, Nous) and noisemaker Gareth Jones (Spiritual Friendship, Grizzly Bear, Depeche Mode). Like the immersive Without Falsehood, their 2019 debut album, A Walk In The Woods was created at Our Silent Canvas’ converted barn studio in the Catskill mountains during Fall 2019.

Nous Alpha is a partnership almost five years in the making, beginning when Christopher asked Gareth to help mix two tracks for his project Ghost Against Ghost, which appeared on the 2017 album still love. “It was a huge task,” recalls Gareth, “but out of that intense experience Chris and I forged a spiritual bond and a musical relationship.”

Nous Alpha emerged through Christopher and Gareth’s desire to work together on a project that would exist as a parallel to NOUS, Christopher’s loose collective of diverse players with improvisation as its cornerstone. From the beginning, it was agreed that they would always work together in person, eschewing the obvious convenience of distance collaboration between New York and London. Without Falsehood was formed from a series of ‘duet improvisations’, governed by a constraint that any further contribution needed to be a second duet improvisation, resulting in a suite of layered, and yet uncluttered, tracks.

For A Walk In The Woods, they set themselves different constraints. “We had some specific ideas about this second album,” says Christopher. “We decided we’d work on a tempo grid this time around, rather than being so very freeform in our approach, and that we’d limit the length of the songs.” Working this way made the sessions for ‘A Walk In The Woods’ more electronic than its predecessor. Where Without Falsehood used acoustic textures and familiar instrumentation, A Walk In The Woods abandons those elements and adds synth passages, evolving melodies and skeletal, hypnotic rhythms.

Naturalistic elements, used as the basis of what could be called organic improvisation, were created by performing with found objects in the dense woods of the nearby Catskill Mountains, and the outbuildings around the studio. These foraged fragments form the seeds from which each track grew: stones and rocks are the foundation of beats across the whole record; a tranquil pond provides the sonic jumping-off point for the noisy ‘Blackwater’; ‘Bike Wheels’ uses the distinctive mechanical sounds of a bicycle as its base layer.

If their walks in the nearby woods provided the impetus for the tracks, the trees surrounding the studio also supplied the duo with a means of escape from cabin fever. “We developed a ritual,” remembers Gareth. “We had a gong hanging up in the studio, and when either of us felt it was necessary we would go and bang the gong. That meant we’d either sit and meditate or go on a circular walking meditation through the trees around the studio building. We would walk, stop, contemplate and breathe. It was the most positive and creative way to reconnect.”

This sense of spirituality is another critical ingredient in how A Walk In The Woods evolved. “I see it as our own version of shamanism,” says Christopher. “There was a definite trance state that happened within the studio space while we were creating, and this offered an opportunity for transformation. Channeling that energy became critical to what happened on this album.”

The result of their constraints, discipline and ritualistic approach to the creative process is a body of work steeped in harmony and balance – of beauty and melancholy, of technology and nature, and of two like-minded spiritual beings in creative lockstep with each other. It is an album that is utterly unpredictable, where a track like ‘Fox Hollow’ can be graceful, yet also showcase a dizzying back-and-forth exchange of ideas.

A Walk In The Woods feels like a contemporary Walden-esque rumination, evoking a sense of selfdiscovery and unity with one’s surroundings, but one where modern technology is added to Thoreau’s concept of simple living. On ‘Fibonacci Failure’ we hear rippling sequences and turbulent, constantlyevolving rhythmic passages that sound like a sudden rainstorm heard from inside a cabin. The watery tones and chanting we hear on ‘Golden Lemon’ has the euphoric, hopeful quality of a Fall sunrise. And on ‘Virtues’, we hear Christopher and Gareth calling out a list of affirmations set to stirring melodies and washes of gathering electronic clouds.

From the sampled field recordings that it began with, to its many, often turbulent, sonic juxtapositions, the nine electronic tracks on A Walk In The Woods delicately reflect back the stillness and drama of the natural world.

– Mat Smith, Electronic Sound

Listen to A Walk In The Woods here. Watch the videos for tracks from the album at YouTube below.

A Walk In The Woods by Nous Alpha was released May 7 2021 by Our Silent Canvas

(c) 2021 Our Silent Canvas

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