Henry Birdsey is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and audio engineer based in New Haven, CT, working primarily with the pedal steel, lap steel, microtonal organ, violin, and homemade instruments. Educated by microtonal theorist and composer Kyle Gann, among others, Birdsey has emerged as a prominent voice in the avant-garde music scene over the last several years. Touring extensively in the United States and abroad as a solo act and as half of Tongue Depressor with Zach Rowden, Birdsey has developed a musical language that utilizes sensuous usages of just intonation tunings, musical drones, and inventive recording and amplification techniques.
In his debut OM release, Half-Dragged, Birdsey uses a bowed lap steel guitar tuned to a system of his own design, prepared with various metal objects, to create a work that is environmental in scope. Birdsey’s recording process involves placing amplifiers and microphones throughout a space, in different rooms with unique acoustic properties, to create a complex field of phasing, standing waves, and oscillating sound layers. The material on the album was developed while on tour on the West Coast in early 2020 and recorded in his isolated home town of Ripton, Vermont.
Half-Dragged opens with a hollow metal drone of murky origin, accented by strong buzzing down bows across the steel wound strings. Over the course of the first two movements, Birdsey flirts with the tonal possibilities of the lap steel, expanding and contracting the interval sizes by bowing only choice strings and open harmonics. By the third movement, the work becomes much less restrained allowing the listener to appreciate the dark complexity of the tuning and amplification of the work. Half-Dragged ends approximately where it started, but this time with a much more zealous recapitulation of the opening drone.
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