Nat Evans – Flyover Country

Nat Evans - Flyover Country, ghostly image of 19th-Century lady superimposed over a modern grassland plain.

‘Flyover Country’ is a name often given to the middle of the United States of America, the parts that most Americans only ever see from a plane as they fly over it on their way to and from the much more populous East and West coasts. But many coastal inhabitants, composer Nat Evans among them, can trace their family roots back to the middle states, and it was this tracing of family history across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, South Dakota, and New Mexico that led Evans to reconsider not only his own heritage, but the histories, landscapes, and meanings of the various places in which his family settled. From these discoveries emerged a live performance mixing images, music, and spoken word, as well as this short 5-track EP of music featuring Will Hayes on guitar.

The soft, fluffy ambient chords of opening track ‘September’ do indeed create the sensation of flying through the clouds, the slow rate of change evoking their drifting. Low volume, gentle attack, and the use of reverb all help to create a sense of distance, contrasted by the ambiguous but very present background sounds from field recordings. In ‘Dream Time I’ e-bowed guitar picks out a lonely tune, lost in the vast quiet buzzing and humming of insects. It’s interesting to think that the insects Evans recorded for this piece could be descendants of those that buzzed and hummed as his own ancestors listened on an evening a century or more ago. This hints at the many ways landscape connects us to those who are no longer physically present with us.

The title of ‘Grasshoppers Devouring A Corpse In The Tallgrass Prairie’ is a literal descriptive one, the corpse being that of a snake recently trampled by bison. Again insect hum, a vague thrumming and billowing, rattling and creaking. ‘Dream Time II’ follows the pattern established by its earlier part, and final track ‘Ancestors’ is very similar to ‘September’, creating a v-like structure to the release that travels inwards to a centre point before moving outwards again. Across these five tracks, time and history are mediated by landscape in a moving way, though I suspect the effect is even stronger in the audio-visual performance. Even setting aside the contextual information, “Flyover Country” is an absorbing work of ambient music.

Nat Evans

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