Still Life is a series of recordings created as a response to the extreme pace of modern life. Acoustic instruments both modern and ancient, household/found objects and environmental sounds are seamlessly blended together using modern recording techniques into extended pieces which gradually reveal themselves over time. The intent is to create panoramic aural landscapes that blur the line between natural and man-made, providing the listener with a unique sonic space in which to dream or simply float.
Its creators, Nelson Foltz and Tom Lynn, have been collaborating for nearly twenty years since they first met while studying music in college. With Still Life, Tom and Nelson's goal is to remove the demands of their individual egos and allow the music to develop organically. The music is created without any agenda or specific plan. Citing the influence of musical innovators such as Jon Hassell, Gil Evans and Sheila Chandra as well as the conceptual work of artists Andrew Goldsworthy, Frank Gehry and Paul Klee, Foltz and Lynn draw inspiration from their everyday sonic environment and expand upon it utilizing exclusively acoustic sources.
Each volume of the series is designed to stand alone but certain stylistic elements unify the body of work. Influences as varied as West African drumming, American minimalist music, sacred devotional music and ancient drones and tuning systems all combine into a coherent whole. The use of tibetan temple bowls, armenian doudouk, trombone, and bass clarinet alongside a half-filled bath tub, poster tubes, wine glasses, and the sounds of children playing weaves a unique and hypnotic sonic tapestry.
Although only the most common studio tools are used to record and shape the sounds, the recording process is an integral part of the music, creating sometimes dense multi-layered textures through the use of a "potter's wheel" approach - always refining the elements to mold the final form. Repetition is a key element in the musical fabric as are the use of improvisation and a willingness to embrace randomness. Varying the length of repeated phrases ensures that the interaction of the parts is constantly changing as the piece evolves. New layers are then improvised in response to the ever-developing textures.
"This allows us to constantly react to the music as it is being recorded and not get stuck trying to realize a prefabricated plan. We don't go in knowing how a piece will sound, and [we] try to maintain a sort of 'child's eye' perspective throughout the process. The importance of spontaneity probably comes from the training and experience we both have playing jazz," Nelson commented.
Since it utilizes instruments from India, Africa, Tibet, and Eastern Europe, it is tempting to label the Still Life series as world music. A more apt term might be "earth music." As Tom explains, "World music is from the point of view of a particular cultural tradition. Our music is more like looking at the Earth from space. The history and geography are all there, but blended together and passed through a filter of subtlety — as if seen from a distance. There is a profound beauty that emerges when things are viewed with a wider lens. We just do our best to try and capture that beauty in musical form."