Heather Leigh brings the noise on this limited LP release on Golden Lab. The last few live Leigh performances I’ve seen were quite vocal-focused, but here she doubles down on the pedal steel with serious intensity. We’ve not heard pedal steel played like this since Leigh’s own Jailbreak sessions with Chris Corsano.
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- Nightingale by Heather Leigh
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‘Nightingale’ is a hastily recorded and unfussy improvisation that captures Heather Leigh at her most conceptually minimal; abandoning her voice, she uses this particular work to explore the capabilities of the pedal steel guitar, attempting to scrape the same kind of noises out of it that you might get from dragging a chair across the floor or sawing into a piece of polystyrene. Despite their gruesome processing, the noises created are raw and particular; where an electronic noise production might fill the room in every corner, the sounds Leigh produces are singular, replicating the harshness of sound in the everyday. Any chance of respite -- whether it comes from the pretty abstractions that seep through or the percussive sounds that come from hearing Leigh press down on her instrument too hard -- is purely coincidental. Leigh’s vision is one of totality: she hopes to be able to manoeuvre the pedal until every one of its potentialities has been realised, which makes her music as uncomfortable and forthright as the most investigative noise artists, including Ashley Paul, Matana Roberts and even Skullflower.
The steel pedal is predominantly an American instrument. You’ll hear it most commonly in country rock, and often find it responsible for the emotive riffs that filter into the work of most plaintive crooners. In interviews, Leigh has claimed she considers herself to make rock music rather than just noise, and there are moments on ‘Nightingale’ where her music shows a more conventional understanding for the genre’s history; in the outro of “Asenath Mirigard”, she squeaks out pedal sounds that convey the Southern drawl of Americana, realising its use as an instrument with pure emotional force.
Overall, ‘Nightingale’ is a dissonant sprawl that shows off the different intonations of the pedal steel: it can wail and stutter, it can drone and fixate, and it can create the same great chasms feedback can. But there’s also hints of an inescapable past here: both sides of the record show Leigh playing the pedal in ways that refer to the instrument for its use as a melodic supplement. By juxtaposing these moments with some of the harshest noise you’ll ever hear at 9.30 in the morning when you’ve barely had time to brush your teeth, she suggests there’s no right or wrong way to play this instrument: there’s just two different ways to fill your ears.
4/10 thechief Customer review, 30th January 2015
Not sure what the dude in The Wire was listening to when he wrote the review that made me buy this. Solo Pedal steel records should be great, what a lovely instrument in the right hands. I was hoping for something beautiful like Susan Alcorn's and I await the resurrection of the pedal steel, but what i got instead was something i could knock out having never ever played a Pedal Steel. I am not sure why anyone would bother releasing this. Two sides of noise that you would never listen to... great. Lucky I am a nerd and have filed it away in my library. Maybe one day when I am deaf I will give it another go.
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