BRENDAN MURRAY : Commonwealth
23five013, Compact Disc
published in 2008
out of print

In recent years, Brendan Murray has become a central figure in Boston’s sound art vanguard through a reputation of exceptional live performances and a growing catalogue of slow-shifting compositions for rarified drones. He sets himself apart from the conventional wisdom that drone-based music is an open-ended exercise into the "realm of the infinite." Murray specifically shapes his repetitions and sinewy tonalities within the rigors of compositional frameworks and temporal restraints. This process does not lend itself to speed, as previous albums required up to four years to complete and Commonwealth endured over fifteen drafts before Murray perfected the album.

A single crescendo terminating at the end of 49 minutes, Commonwealth is an epic investigation into subtle harmonics and overtones expressed through layered slippages of pure sound. Conceived through guitar, analog synthesis, and plenty of digital manipulation, Commonwealth expresses a rare confidence in Murray's finely tuned detailing of sinewy tonalities and sculpted megalithic surfaces. Murray himself has qualified this album as a "sincere bow to 'classic' minimalism," and Commonwealth is a worthy parallel to the work of Phill Niblock, Eliane Radigue, and Iannis Xenakis


The Wire
Issue 293, June 2008 

Unlike the four previous albums that Boston based drone artist Brendan Murray has issued on various US and European labels, Commonwealth makes no use of field recordings. Instead, electric guitar is his principal sound source. But because he's disguised the instrument's strums, twangs and finger slides, all that remains are variegated hums and a tightly packed halo of harmonics. Murray is noted for his meticulousness; his compositions are usually several years in the making and often they undergo several major developmental stages. Commonwealth is no exception. He originally thought to make an album of short pieces that had a rock drone feel, but that didn't work to his satisfaction. What we have here is the third version of Commonwealth, derived mainly from performance material dating back to 2005, which was subjected to more than 15 drafts before he was happy with the results. Murray applies digital and analogue treatments to his source material, accentuating different textures at various times, drawing out harmonic material to play with, constantly changing the contours of the piece. What distinguishes him from most other drone makers is the deft way that blocks of harmonically rich material are manipulated, sliding over and under one another like tectonic plates, subtly changing shape like wind driven clouds, trickling like rivulets of meltwater over sheets of glacial ice. It's a music that requires the listener's close attention, but the rewards are ample. -- Brian Marley

July 2007

Even though the association to Phill Niblock, Eliane Radigue and Iannis Xenakis on the press release sounds a little disproportionate, there's no doubt that Commonwealth stands among the finest drone-based records landed on this desk in recent times. Brendan Murray has been active in Boston's sound art scene for a long time now, also as a partner of renowned individuals in the same field (Sillage, with Seth Nehil on Sedimental, a quasi-milestone in that logic). His creativity orbits around the meticulous modification of various sorts of instrumental radiation until the matter becomes just about unrecognizable, a process whose perfection can require years (in this particular occasion more than fifteen drafts were created before Murray OK'd the definitive version). Basic factors in this hymn to pseudo-stillness were guitars, analog synthesis and "plenty of digital manipulation": what emerges is an outright cycle of unplumbed depths, gravelly frequencies and wobbly tremors determining hundreds of subtle shifts. A sonic craft made of slow progress, overlaid sources, buried hues.

After a few seconds of silence, an awe-inspiring mass of almost motionless waves arises, soon reaching a next-to-saturation pinnacle, like a thousand shortwave radios tuned to a single frequency. The ominous-yet-harmonious growl lying beneath signifies the impending disaster suggested by the music, as well as a much-desired refuge against marginal noises and voices. Little by little the whole stabilizes into a rather regular flow of inconspicuous events, the unremitting gradualness of the original wall of spurious resonance inexorably wrapping us, preventing our concentration from focussing elsewhere; distraction is not even contemplated. It goes on and on without dramatic changes, the piece finally reaching its natural demise, slowly, inescapably. Not once we're able to determine the existence of a truly affirmed "chord", despite clear-cut compositional attitude and painstaking care for the accurate setting up of what, in point of fact, is entirely incogitable. Rare qualities in today's analogous offerings. I'd be delighted of listening to an orchestral ensemble - Zeitkratzer, anyone? - extrapolating additional energy from this material.

A great album and, despite the substantial consequences on the psyche, a lesson in restraint for the innumerable drone-concocting, Zen-ish phonies populating the globe. By giving it a rigorous try at night, maybe with the windows open, one hopes to get in synch with this moribund earth's pulse at last. –– Massimo Ricci
April 20, 2008

An established New England artist, Murray has worked in the framework of "drone" for quite a while now. Before it was the trendy thing to do, I might add. In that respect, it is no surprise that his work transcends the "let's see how long we can sustain this note for" school, but more of the pure, dissonant minimalism akin to the old masters like Niblock and Xenakis. What comprises this album then is therefore dissonant and difficult, yet compelling and hypnotic in its brutish subtlety.

Indexed as a single 49 minute piece, Commonwealth is apparently based on a combination of guitar and analog synthesis, all of which was subject to heavy digital processing and manipulation. It is hard to discern the actual instrumentation, however, because the sound resembles a consistent, never-ending machinery hum. The mechanized din never relents throughout, yet it becomes hypnotic in its superficial simplicity. Listening closer, the subtle shifts and changes in tonality become more and more apparent. The fact that the piece has that constant mechanical quality lends greatly to the listener developing their own interpretation of the sound. At times the track reminded me of a well used, contact mic'd air conditioner, and at other times it could have been the last remaining echos of a symphonic orchestra, held and repeated for infinity. It is the sonic equivalent of staring up at the clouds and finding various shapes that other cannot see.
The style of the disc stays pretty consistent throughout the duration: the rumble never really lets up, though the shifts in pitch and tone are drastic enough that it never feels overly repetitive or dull. Instead, it becomes entirely captivating in its ceasing to relent. The most dramatic shift is towards the final half of the piece in which the volume slowly begins to drop, and the rattle becomes more of a hum, going from machinery clanks to the peaks and valleys of a sine wave. Murray's meticulous attention to detail is what makes this disc such a compelling work. Although it has that seeming level of simplicity, a close inspection reveals so much more to the work, and a level of structure and composition that puts him squarely in league with the likes of Francisco Lopez and Achim Wollscheid and other big names on the scene. -- Creaig Dunton

The Phoenix
April 1, 2008

For Brendan Murray, heaven often lies in the smallest of details. Commonwealth, which comes out this month on the San Francisco experimental music imprint 23five, is a single 49-minute drone that unfolds at a leisurely pace. It's devoid of the sharp bursts of noise and rapid accelerations of tempo that characterized his previous full-length, 2006's Wonders Never Cease (Intransitive), and yet a drama emerges in subtle slow motion through extended, tension-filled shifts in texture and harmonics. Murray has always labored over his releases, often working on individual pieces for months, if not years. Even so, Commonwealth took an unusually long time to come together. As he explains over the phone, the album went through numerous drafts, and the finished product bears little resemblance to his initial experiments — "It was the first album where I completely threw everything out." He says that what ended up as one massive drone began as a series of short, guitar-based pieces inspired by bands like Labradford and Flying Saucer Attack. It was an attempt to pay tribute to the music that had inspired him early in his career, but he came to see this experiment as "a side street that maybe I didn't need to follow. . . . I took about a third of the material that was in that first draft, and I started taking it apart and stripping it down to its basic elements until I had about 78 minutes of material." After Jim Haynes of 23five (a label that Murray describes with typical self-depreciation as "way too classy for me") expressed an interest in releasing the finished album, work began in earnest. "From there I continued distilling and expanding and distilling and expanding until I came up with the final version, which took an additional six months to finish."
 marks a departure for Murray in its use of traditional instruments like guitar and organ as opposed to the electronics and field recordings of earlier albums. "I'm kind of going backwards," he says with a laugh. "I've been dealing exclusively with electronics, processed sound, non-musical sound. Now I'm sort of pushing back toward the instrument world." This impulse has manifested itself in some of his collaborative projects as well, among them his post-rock band Paper Summer (who open for Mystery Palace at the Middle East upstairs on April 15) and his slo-mo improv trio Ouest with Howard Stelzer and Jay Sullivan. Whatever the project, however, he continues to tinker and experiment and sweat over the minutiae. And he says of Commonwealth that "it's my most personal record, although there's no extra-musical structure. I think I'm going to continue trying to find myself in all of this, but I don't want it to become something that I feel that the listener has to decode. It should be something that you can just listen to and appreciate for its musical qualities." -- Susanne Bolle

The Sound Projector (print edition: TSP 17)
Winter 2008

A single 49-minute piece by this young American fellow from Boston, where he's been creating quite a stir with his live performances. He's bveen associated with Seth Nehil, the Sedimental and Intransitive labels, and is also a member of Ouest with Howard Stelzer and Jay Sullivan. Commonwealth consists of a long and gradually accreting drone, suffocating in its many-layere richness. He intends it as a tribute to the monumentality and genius of the American minimalism school. Murray is coming to the field of composition by way of his laptop, and all his work to date (he's been at it since 1999) consists of reworked and reprocessed recordings. Within astonishing single-mindedness he manages to efface all of the rough edges and all traces of recognisability from the finished product. Commonwealth does undergo a series of gradual changes, but they are mostly based on very slight timbral shifts; rather than move the composition forward dynamically, they do little more than change the mood. However, we're assured that he works 'within the rigours of compositional frameworks and temporal restraints.' -- Ed Pinsent

The Sound Projector (website)
May 2008

[Here] we have Boston-based Brendan Murray and his Commonwealth (23FIVE CDP 801673901324), a studio-based many-layered recording. He intends this mighty, monolithic sonic structure as a gesture of respect towards ‘classic [American] minimalism’. Again, 49 minutes in duration, this slow-moving epic is filled with many gradual changes, which I suspect will reveal fine-grained detail if played at excessive volumes. Golden-hued cover art could be a close-up of the fin of a fish or other marine life from the ocean floor. Very deep! -- Ed Pinsent

Bad Alchemy
May 2008

Ein unscheinbarer Brillenträger in Somerville, MA, mit dem Charisma eines PowerBook-Angestellten, einer Vorliebe für das Grosse Drähnen und entsprechenden Releases auf Sedimental, Intransitive, Twonicorn etc. Mit Jay Sullivan & Howard Stelzer bildet er Ouest. Was da auf dem Covre zu sehen ist, kännte ein Goldfisch in extremer Nahaufnahme sein. Aber was da aus den Boxen drähn, klingt nach etwas Grässeren in goldnem Schuppenkleid. Eine Gitarre wird als Klangquelle angedeutet, von der Analogsynthese und Digitalmanipulation ein prächtig schimmerndes Frequenzspektrum abschäpfen. Es gibt nur einen Track von 49 Min. Aber was da sich unaufhärlich windet, bebt und mit an- und abschwellender Intensität strahlt, scheint aus Myriaden von Klangmolekülen, von 'Schuppen' zu bestehen. Phill Niblock und Eliane Radigue werden als drähnminimalistische Paten genannt, vor denen sich Murray verbeugt und den Hut zieht. Ihr Legat ist bei ihm in guten Händen. 

Issue 124, July / August 2008 

Nie wurden Sehnen mehr gedehnt als über Murrays 49 Minute Commonwealth. Nur Phill Niblock, Eliane Radigue oder Jean-Francois Laporte erzeugen solch sture Dronegebilde, in denen schüchterne Obertäne zu gigantischen Kolossen mutieren und Langatmigkeit den klaren Ton angibt. Harmonieansätze tauchen in diesem Wall aus Gitarre und analogen / digitalen Soundmanipulationen nur ganz spärlich auf und enblässen sich rasch als hilflose Wegweiser vergangener Genres. Nostalgie spielt allerdings keine Rolle, Commonwealth schabt nach vorne, dezentriert Zeit und vermag sogar den Bewegungsapparat zu blockieren. Liest sich eventuelle zu statisch, wirkt unter der Oberfläche aber äusserst drastisch. -- ED

September 2008

En anden dronemusiker er Brendan Murray, der er aktuel med albummet Commonwealth. Ligesom Chop Shop udkommer Murray på det fine selskab 23five, der har gjort en massiv indsats for den stærkt eksperimenterende avantgarde. Commonwealth og Oxide udkommer i små 500 eksemplarer, og det siger en del om salgbarheden af denne musik. Som sædvanligt med dronemusik er der tale om én lang komposition. I modsætning til Chop Shops varme er der her en mere skærende, metallisk summen, der ganske vist udvikler sig, ja tak, men det er lidt som at bide i et surt æble og få et andet æble, der er også surt, men blot på en anden måde. Når dronemusikkens lyd ikke formår at fascinere, så står man virkelig tilbage med en ikke-menneskelig komposition. Det kan godt være, at Murray er en central kunstner på scenen i Boston, men hans eksperimenter går mit øre forbi. Måske vil større kendere af dronegenren finde noget af værdi. -- Jakob Bækgaard

July 2008

Depuis quelques temps déjà, une frange des musiques dites expérimentales est sous l'emprise (ou devrait-on dire la dictature ?) d'une chapelle stylistique que l'on dénomme "drone". Bien sér, l'utilisation du son continu n'est pas un phénomne nouveau dans de nombreuses pratiques musicales mais sa récente et inconditionnelle glorification ainsi que le refuge confortable qu'elle constitue pour certains ont contribué à une multiplication de formules creuses et conventionnelles au possible. Que ceux qui désespéraient d'entendre quelque chose de neuf, d'élaboré et de multidimensionnel dans cette veine se rassurent, car leur messie est arrivé et il s'appelle Brendan Murray. Une annonce qui devrait éveiller la curiosité de tous ceux qui grincent des dents devant le succs de groupes comme SunnO))) ! Evidemment, comme tout bon prophte, Murray a jusqu'à présent essentiellement prché dans le désert sans trop recevoir l'attention qu'il mérite : quelques disques sous le manteau, pour des labels comme Sedimental ou Intransitive Recordings (ce dernier étant dirigé par son ami et collaborateur Howard Stelzer), comme autant de fondations annonant l'édifice à venir. Et celui-ci pourrait bien d'ailleurs ressembler àCommonwealth, un bloc de 49 minutes qui, si le son était matire, serait fait d'un bronze massif et iridescent. Guitare, synthse analogique et manipulations digitales sont les éléments à la base de cette construction multi-stratifiée, faite d'innombrables répétitions de motifs imbriqués et dont les subtils changements de timbre et de texture s'inscrivent sur une échelle temporelle ne permettant pas de les discerner en temps réel : attention Phill Niblock n'est jamais loin ! Une Ïuvre immersive donc, dont on croit ressentir comme une chaleur vitale, une respiration organique qui la rend si subtilement intime. -- Jean-Claude Gevrey 

May 2008

Chiunque abbia a cuore le sorti della drone music così come descritta nei dischi di Pauline Oliveros, Eliane Radigue e Phill Niblock non tarderà ad interessarsi all'arte del giovane sound artist americano Brendan Murray. Il Suo quarto lavoro, Commonwealth, è un'epica interpretazione del drone attraverso la sintesi digiale. Sono irriconoscibili le fonti sonore originarie (chitarre elettriche, sintetizzatori analogici, effetti digitali di orgni tipo) coperte come sono dai crescendo e dagli armonici che prendono corpo durante i cinquanta minute del brano. Un suono che ricopre ogni superficie che incontra, avvolgendo l'ascoltatore a trescentosessanta gradi. -- Roberto Mandolini

Musique Machine
August 2008

Commonwealth is a single long form piece of hypnotic, captivating and dense drone craft by US sound artist Brendan Murray - this is his forth full length release. The piece last in all just shy of the 50 minutes mark and spends most of it's running time building and building on it's self again and again to give this very tight and quite airless harmonic field which I guess is best described as almost air craft motor or sustained vacuum cleaner like drone but with of course with a more harmonic edge. There's no hint as to what Murray is using to make the sound here but to me it sounds like a mass of sustained organ or synth tones, but it could equally be sustained string or piano tone. Over time you become almost one with the tight dense pitchers of sound and the subtle sonic 'notching up'. But the most rewarding and brain scrambling moments come when you think Murray is starting to fade the piece out as it seems to dip down smaller and thinner you, mind convinced it will stop altogether soon but Murray skilful keeps this thinning down up for what seems like hours but must only be about 20 minutes or so. An intriguing and mind altering piece of drone build up then stripping down that will get you caught like a rabbit in the headlights locked into it's growing then debilitating sonic state. -- Roger Batty

December 2008

Though all of Murray's previous albums have been superb, "Commonwealth" is his most successful to date. The reason for this is that it contains one long unbroken track. Murray makes digital drone music that is both heavy and delicate. He explores this limited palette in ways that suggest an impressive sensitivity to the nuances of sound and a great ear for layering. His previous CDs have contained multiple tracks, each one evoking a slightly different sonic world. On "Commonwealth," Murray combines all his ideas into one track. Each section effortlessly melts into the next, allowing the listener the privilege of hearing the in-between moments, the slow developmental periods of "getting there" as opposed to just "being there." -- William Hutson