“Sound artist” can be an unattractive description to those wary of music created more by concept than by emotion, suggesting sterile exercises in studio trickery that can only be admired from a distance. It’s rare to discover experimental composers presented outside a daunting academic frame, and Swedish electronic artist BJ Nilsen’s Fade to White may seem better suited for multi-media installations than late-night headphone study. It’s an album that requires some patience and an interest in the technological processes involved, but it also forms an expertly organized abstraction.
Better known by his ambient alter-ego, Hazard, Nilsen has worked under the broad theme of a union between nature and technology. Some of his better-known tracks were built from sound recordings of local wind patterns first made for environmental study. The body of Fade to White is a series of slow altered drones, often arranged in wave formation: a persistent rise from slight hum to swaying, metallic cloud. Nilsen’s sources never reveal themselves, and dramatic shifts in his established pattern are rare, but the shrill “Grappa Polar” approaches the beginnings of melody, and the album’s final peak, “Nine Ways Till Sunday,” forms an ominous plateau before collapsing into shuffled units of fuzz.
Nilsen’s noise is not confrontational in the style of Japanese legend Merzbow, and he occasionally resembles a more abrasive version of ambient artists such as Tim Hecker, managing to create delicate structure from near atonality. Fade to White is far from an easy listen, but given time it can lead to an intense curiosity about Nilsen’s methods. He works in a field that’s very difficult to approach, making the personal affectations of this album an even clearer sign of his technical mastery.