Around a decade ago, the sound artist Asher was a rising star among creators and composers working in the nebulous zone among electronic improvisation, ambient music, and isolationist noise. Also known as Asher Thal-Nir, he released a steady stream of distinguished recordings, earning recognition and support from some of the scene’s major artistic forces and tastemakers, among them William Basinski, Richard Chartier, and Taylor Deupree.
Only a few years later, that stream dwindled to a trickle, and then finally seemed to stop entirely. At a time when artists like Dave Chappelle and D’Angelo effectively walked away from their careers, Asher’s disappearance wasn’t unprecedented — just disappointing to peers and admirers who’d watched his rise.
But quietly and without fanfare, Asher returned to action this fall with a new last name, Tuil, adopted from his paternal grandfather, a Tunisian Jew who was employed by the government of Israel, who assisted other Jews forced to emigrate from Tunisia. He launched a Bandcamp page (www.ashertuil.bandcamp.com), which included new recordings as well as updated, sometimes expanded versions of old albums.
“Launching the Bandcamp site was just a way to have all my work in one place,” Tuil says, chatting over coffee at a Somerville cafe. “It’s free, which is nice, although they take a percentage of the sales. I don’t have to maintain a website of my own — I’m not a big web-design person, so it was always a lot of work for me to update stuff. I’ve been pretty busy for the last few months, but I’ve been trying to get as much of my back catalog on there as I can.”
That he stopped making music for a time had nothing to do with artistic indecision or lack of opportunity. Busy by day doing installment work in museums and galleries, including the ICA, the deCordova Museum, and New York’s P.S. 1 during his fecund early years, Tuil shifted between weeks of intense labor and long stretches of free time in which to create. By the end of his New York stint, he was working as a visual artist’s assistant.
He also developed a working relationship with Basinski, who remembers Tuil attending one of the first concerts he played in Boston, more than a decade ago. “Asher came and talked to me and we stayed in touch,” Basinski related in an e-mail.
On hearing Tuil’s allusive, emotionally potent take on electronic music, Basinski provided vital encouragement. “His music is incredibly delicate and discrete. Very fragile...very human,” Basinski wrote.
Eventually, Tuil simply became overextended. “Things got to a point where I just said, I can’t do it all.”
He stopped working almost entirely and concentrated on raising his children, including twin sons now 8 years old and a daughter who has just started preschool. Just over a year ago, Tuil and the mother of his children separated. He moved back to Newton for a year to regroup — and to rethink his art.
“I had a tape recorder with me all the time, and I would record music that I was listening to, or if I was watching a film, I would record part of that,” he says. “I have a shoebox full of 150 cassettes that I just filled up, just to say that I was doing something, just to feel that I was making recordings. There was a tipping point where I said, OK, I want to make my own sounds.”
Returning to Somerville in September to be near his children, he found work in the kitchen of a Cambridge cafe, and re-established his creative flow. “Every day when I get home from work, I go out with my camera and my recorder, making recordings, and working with my synthesizer again, building up material,” he says.
Asked about live performances, Tuil says that the right time and place will come. For now, just making music is satisfying, reconnecting to the world, more so.
“When you take a break, you have time to reflect on not just the work, but why you’re doing it, and what it all means,” he says. “It’s great to say that you’re an artist and you make art for art’s sake, you do it for yourself and you do it because you just need to get a release for the work – which is definitely true for me at times. But it adds meaning when people are engaged with the work.”
On the record(s)
Newer Music, the monthly column that I started without preamble or explanation in November, is meant to provide a space for examining and exposing the work of artists whose music isn’t easily compartmentalized with conventional genre labels. Since a ranked list of the year’s “10 best” albums thus would amount to comparing apples and anvils, I prefer to characterize what follows as a tally of 10 recordings without which 2014 would have been less rich.
1. ANNE GUTHRIE
‘When you take a break, you have time to reflect on not just the work, but why you’re doing it, and what it all means.’
“Codiaeum variegatum” French-horn player, composer, and acoustician Guthrie leads a richly teeming, infinitely detailed imaginary journey through the secret lives of plants.
2. MICHAEL PISARO
“Continuum Unbound” Working with close collaborators across a span of three discs, Pisaro frames an untamed expanse of nature sounds, then proceeds to interject and interact deftly.
3. IAN WILLIAM CRAIG
“A Turn of Breath” Looping and layering strands of fragile voice, instruments, and ambient sounds, Craig fashions heart-rending one-man litanies.
4. KATE SOPER
“Voices From the Killing Jar” Soper’s dramatic song cycle intertwines the tales of eight entrapped women from fiction and myth, voiced by the composer with lithe assurance and mordant bite.
5. PETER HAMMILL
“. . . All That Might Have Been . . . ” At 66, the Van der Graaf Generator frontman issued what might be his most ambitious project, cutting and pasting songs into a seamless cinematic flow that’s disorienting yet strangely alluring.
6. CHRIS CERRONE
“Invisible Cities” Eloquently performed by young LA opera company the Industry, Cerrone’s gorgeous, dreamlike setting of Italo Calvino’s novel comes in an appropriately opulent package.
7. ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR
“Aerial” Among the most exciting talents to emerge in recent years, Iceland’s Thorvaldsdottir found a new home for her elemental works on the venerable Deutsche Grammophon label.
8. BILL SEAMAN & JOHN SUPKO
“s_traits” Seaman, Supko, and their circuitry transform more than 100 hours of old tapes and aural detritus into a suite of perky, jittery miniatures, confounding and intoxicating at once.
9. DAVID SYLVIAN
“There’s a Light That Enters Houses With No Other House in Sight” Sylvian’s enigmatic sculpted improvisations align hauntingly with reflections on mortality from poet Franz Wright’s “Kindertotenwald,” read by Wright with plainspoken finality.
10. KEIR NEURINGER
“Ceremonies Out of the Air” One man, one saxophone — and still, a whole world of fine detail and dramatic sweep emerges in this imaginative, well-balanced solo set.Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.