Upset The Rhythm presents…
Wednesday 7 November
Redon, Railway Arches, 289 Cambridge Heath Rd, London, E2 9HA
7.30pm | £8 | http://www.wegottickets.com/event/451432
During the summer of 1997, Mark Nelson started recording a full length album for kranky at home and at Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, Virginia. Mark Nelson had been playing guitar and singing in Labradford, but wanted to explore the possibilities of sampling and computer technology as well as his interests in dub and techno. The self-titled, debut Pan American album came out on kranky in early 1998.
Nelson continued to work on Pan American material as he worked with Labradford, learning to play pedal steel guitar, releasing singles on European labels and getting some studio time in with engineer Casey Rice. Rob Mazurek from Chicago Underground Trio and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low contributed cornet and vocals, respectively. The resulting album, 360 Business / 360 Bypass, was released by kranky in North America (and Blast First in Europe) in early 2000.
More singles and compilation tracks followed, along with the odd live performance. Nelson’s placement behind a synthesizer and mixing desk belied the improvisational nature of the live mix. Between sternum-rattling bass rhythms and Nelson’s willingness to challenge an audience of with outbursts of static, Pan American shows were more than the usual knob-twiddling and smooth noodle maps.
The third record was entitled The River Made No Sound and was released by kranky in North American and Vertical Form in Europe in April 2002. Mark Nelson told Eyemagazine in October 2002 that “When I started I really had it in mind to make a more rhythmic record influenced by house music. I did the whole thing at home by myself, so I guess by the end my natural inclination towards ambience and peaceful textures won out.” Stripped back compared to previous albums, The River Made No Sound, traded dub undertow for percussive points, field recordings and an ominous hum.
Quiet City (Kranky 2004) combines the computer-centric approach of The River Made No Sound with the organic instrumentation that marked Nelson’s work in Labradford and the first two Pan American albums. Three of the eight tracks were recorded with Charles Kim (Sinister Luck Ensemble) and feature upright bass, drums, trumpet and flugelhorn. Nelson even sings a bit. The rippling electronics and muffled beats of the first three Pan American albums are still there; distended into elegiac, resonant, wavering, and ambient song craft. The CD edition of Quiet City comes with a DVD that contains a video essay shot and edited by Mark Nelson and Chicago visual artist Annie Feldmeier.
In 2011, Mark Nelson finally returns with a new album under the Pan American moniker – and it’s another triumph of sublime understatement. “For Waiting, For Chasing” (on MOSZ) is underpinned by delicately caressed and manipulated Flugelhorns, Tibetan Singing Bowls and Chinese Cymbals, processed, weaved and loved into a throbbing mass of neon loveliness. Opening ‘Love Song’ unfolds with a gentle cacophony of whirrs – like crickets trapped in a jar – juxtaposed with the most ethereal layers of ambience tripping over each other to create a cloud of harmony; this is absolutely classic Pan American territory. Nelson never confines his music to simple ambience, moulding in noisier elements which work as a counterpoint to the warm tones of the Tibetan Singing Bowls and synthesized whisps – a conceit which manages to keep his work ever-contemporary when so many of his past peers have been stuck in an endless loop of repetition. A work of calming restraint, it’s really impossible to fault this musician and his ability, with this album, to craft another perfectly-formed microcosm of bliss. Essential purchase.
With Cloud Room, Glass Room (Kranky 2013) Pan American quietly slip back into our consciousness as a band proper, now adding the estimable talents of Steven Hess (Cleared/Haptic) and Nelson’s former Labradford bandmate, Robert Donne to the project. While Nelson assuredly handles all production, the live feel is definitely more prominent, folding in the patter of Hess’s percussion and Bobby Donne’s languid bass at the centre of seven beautifully diffuse soundscapes bordering on the frontier lands of post-rock, dub techno and ambient electronica, yet never clearly falling within any one sector. Every element is given ample room to breathe thanks to Nelson’s typically intricate production render, allowing Hess’s hi-hats and cymbal strokes to really shimmer and Donne’s bass to ring out wide and sag purposefully low, but you’re never really focussed on either, the emphasis is on the whole ecology of sound and the way it’s all in fragile and comfortingly sublime equilibrium; a cats cradle of ambient lushness intended to suspend the listener, pensile in its womb-like amniotic fluidity.
In these days Nelson is working on his new project Anjou (2 albums on Kranky) and the next Pan American album.