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Curious Music Announces Digital Release of

Smudges One: Virga by Tim Story


January 1, 2019


Contact: Russ Curry,

Title: Smudges One: Virga

Artist: Tim Story

Catalog: curio 12

Format: All digital formats

Release Date: January 1, 2019


Welcome to the Smudges.

The given story-line, perhaps most practically, should be that we are beyond thrilled to present Tim Story’s first new solo “album” in over 17 years. Or, more so, that these new pieces represent an unexpected, tantalizing bridge across nearly 40 years, back to the initial tape experiments of the late 70s which led to Story's first album, Threads. All true, yet this would somehow be missing the point.

In actuality, those who know Story’s work are well aware that he has been quietly and brilliantly deconstructing the “musician/composer” paradigm for which he is known. Story’s efforts of the last 10 plus years, not unlike Steve Reich’s early tape-phasing experiments or the Bomb Squad’s meticulously constructed waves of concrète noise, have increasingly focused on the plastic, malleable nature of sound, listening and presentation, exploring the relationship between organic and inorganic sources. This is most clearly, and most recently, exemplified by the immersive nature of his successful The Roedelius Cells multi-channel audio installation which extends the creative process to the point of inviting the listener into the continually changing environment as a kind of “co-composer” via choice of physical proximity. Thus, the idea of memorializing Story’s work as an “album” or an otherwise fixed, finite form of presentation becomes somewhat restrictive and increasingly irrelevant given his ongoing quest for the essence of that intransitive, possibly fleeting, moment where the artist meets, and creatively engages his audience.

Which brings us to the Smudges.

Elusive, rich, organic yet ultimately artificial, Story’s Smudges are a series of harmonic tone poems, originally created simply for the composer’s own enjoyment. Built essentially by submitting other people’s music to a process that freezes and ‘smudges’ small samples of harmonically-rich, looped phrases, these pieces cycle through a constantly evolving landscape that is both enigmatically abstract and warmly familiar.  A kind of graceful, slow-motion half-sister to The Roedelius CellsSmudges finds Story fusing the Cellsrestless search for unique forms of recontextualization with his unabashed love of harmony.  

Using mostly orchestral and acoustic sources for their variety, complexity and emotional resonance, Story experimented with hundreds of sounds and configurations.  By trial and error he made the surprising discovery that, with careful construction, the resulting progressions could become profoundly more evocative and harmonically complex than the original source material.  Never entirely shedding their organic beginnings nor their electronic evolutions, the Smudges generate an immersive illusion of orchestral sonorities, sometimes grand, sometimes ghostly and ominous. 

Sharing the best of these pieces with a few friends and colleagues who responded with extraordinary enthusiasm, Story was eventually convinced to release them.  Smudges One represents 16 of the artist’s favorites from this growing collection of suggestive evocations.  In the subtitle of this first volume Virga—rain which evaporates before it reaches the ground—Story found an image particularly suited to these ephemeral, ambiguous cycles which progress but never quite resolve. 


Those who know my work have probably come to expect a couple of things from me: one, that I’m always a little restless, looking for new or interesting ways to forge compelling music from unlikely sources; and two, that I’m an absolute sucker for harmony—rich, thin, epic, odd, sometimes ambiguous combinations of all of the above.  By accident, last summer, I discovered something that satisfied both these itches.  

Beginning some sketches for the soundtrack of a documentary on Cuban dissident art, I was a little stuck.  Unwilling to impose ‘my’ music on a film about a culture with its own amazing musical traditions, I had the bright idea of making a kind of “Cuban Cells”, weaving small samples of dozens of Cuban recordings into new compositions, much as I had done with Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ piano in The Roedelius Cells. I was having trouble, though, and spending way too much time, tracking down rights. A bigger problem that I only realized later: I was begging to use these music samples in a film that could ultimately prove politically dangerous to the very Cuban musicians I was inviting to participate.   So I began experimenting with ways to process these Cuban sources, to generate something with Cuban ‘DNA’ but which would not be recognizable enough to be troublesome for me, or the artists involved.  

 Well, I stumbled on a way of creating what I was looking for, and in the end became so seduced that I began constructing dozens of these ‘smudges’ simply for my own pleasure.  Unlike other music I’d created, made so meticulously that I’d rarely listen to it afterwards, I found myself listening to these tracks regularly.  Though I’ve never considered myself a creator of ‘ambient music’, these smudges seemed to satisfy that elusive balance of being as passively or as actively listenable as I needed them to be.  

 In a nutshell, the audio process involves a taking a relatively small sample of audio, generally a short musical phrase from one source or another, looping it repeatedly into a longer section, and then submitting it to another process.  That second system essentially takes ‘snapshots’ of the passing audio, then smudges and sustains just that moment of sound for a number of seconds, until the next snapshot is taken and smudged, and so on. None of the original unprocessed sound between the snapshots is audible, only the frozen, smudged moments.  Since the two cycles (the length of the audio loops, and the length between the snapshots) are not the same, the snapshots are continually selecting moments from a different part of the audio loop, so the cycles that result evolve in ways that are unexpected (always) and beautiful (if you do it right.)  

 So creating the smudges was less ‘composing’ in the traditional sense, than making a snowball to push from the top of a hill.  Curating the sounds and cycles that would form the snowball, I was then powerless to control it as it grew, fell apart and regrew in infinitely unpredictable ways.  It made me into a listener (a role that I love), no different really from the audience that will hopefully enjoy these.  Setting the process in motion, I simply sat back, listened to the results, tweaked the methods, listened again, and chose the ones that resonated most.

If this all sounds a little unpromising, dry and technical, the results, at least to me, were anything but.  Grand, slow-motion apparitions of orchestral-music-that-isn’t, they grow and fall away in slippery washes of harmony and timbre.  The patterns rhyme but they don’t repeat.  As in all my work, much care was taken to make the technology disappear for the listener (of which I of course was one).  Aside from a shadow of electronic stutter that opens and closes each piece —an artifact of the process that I considered important to preserve—the intent here was to forge a totally convincing, musical organism—the process itself clearly visible but no nuts and bolts showing.  

So, more than a little smitten, through the summer and fall I continued submitting all sorts of music, predominantly orchestral and acoustic (even my brother Mike’s concert band compositions, which turned out particularly fertile results) to the process, discovering that, when selected well, the resulting sounds and patterns were vastly more intriguing to me than the original samples. This went on for months, my little secret, until I began cautiously handing out small compilations of them to friends and colleagues.  Pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response, I continued adding to the collection until Russ Curry of Curious Music eventually demanded I release a group of them.  Virga, the first volume of what I hope will become a series of Smudgesis a word that means rain which falls, but evaporates before it hits the ground.  A fitting image I thought for these 16 cycles of sound which push forward in subtle, unpredictable waves, but which never quite ‘land’.  


Tim Story, a "master of electronic chamber music" (CD Review, USA) , and "a true artist in the electronic medium" (Victory Review, USA)  has received global acclaim for a career that has spanned 40 years and counting.  His haunting compositions often blend acoustic orchestral instruments, spiky electronica, and a pioneering sense of sound design.  Story’s constantly evolving work has appeared on dozens of solo and collaborative albums, in television and film soundtracks, live performances and gallery installations around the world. 

Tim's intensely personal style as a composer, synthesist and pianist evolved from years of experimentation in his home studio, and a deep respect for composition. Along with his self-taught, idiosyncratic approach to the piano, Story saw the great potential of the new breed of electronic music instruments that were appearing in the early 70's.  The careful juxtaposition of acoustic instruments with electronic textures, and an inventive approach to composition are common threads running through most of Story's art.

" ...A goal of mine is to get listeners to put something of themselves into the music. To encourage a real interaction, even if the feelings one exposes are sometimes uncomfortable. As Charles Ives said, 'Beauty in music is too often confused with something that lets the ears lie back in an easy chair.' I like to think of good music as a kind of sculpture, where you can never experience the whole from any one point. You must move through it, live with it for a while, before it yields its secrets." As Philadelphia's City Paper described it, Story’s music “conjures without explaining. His instrumental music comes at the listener subtly yet subversively...." 

This fascination with blurring the line between composer and listener also spurred Story to further broaden his medium in 2016 with The Roedelius Cells an immersive, enigmatic multi-channel audio installation.  Meticulously crafted from thousands of short edits of the piano recordings of his friend and colleague Hans-Joachim Roedelius, the “Cells” has enjoyed successful exhibitions in museums in Europe and the US, with more appearances to come. 

Story’s elaboration on issues of authorship and recontextualization are also explored to great effect in his latest work Smudges, a series of evocative tone poems built essentially by submitting other people’s music to a process that freezes and ‘smudges’ small samples of harmonically-rich, looped phrases. Cycling through a constantly evolving landscape that is both enigmatically abstract and warmly familiar, the Smudges generate an insinuating illusion of orchestral sonorities, sometimes grand, sometimes ghostly and unsettling.  

In addition to over 20 solo and collaborative albums, and dozens of compilation appearances, Story's work has appeared on numerous television and film soundtracks, including the original score for the NPR documentary In Search of Angels (1994), and Caravan (2005), a feature-length documentary from the production company of acclaimed Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Recent production credits include the influential duo Cluster's 2009 swan song Qua.  Story has also contributed liner notes for releases by the German Bureau B label, and audio mastering projects for the US-based audiophile/art label Curious Music, who is also working with Story on limited edition vinyl releases of old and new work.

 Story's music was nominated for a Grammy award (for 1988's Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a children's recording with actress/narrator Glenn Close), and a NAIRD "Best Album" award (for Beguiled). Notable collaborations include four acclaimed releases with Hans-Joachim Roedelius, three with Dwight Ashley, and two with Dieter Moebius and Jon Leidecker. Tim's music has consistently landed on critics' annual "Best Of" lists, and his 3 most recent solo releases were called "one of the finest trilogies in contemporary instrumental music" (Wind and Wire, USA)

Tim Story was born in 1957 in Philadelphia, and currently lives in the small river town of Maumee, in northwest Ohio.


Curious Music was founded in 1988 by Russ Curry, releasing numerous CDs and records, promoting tours and administering licensing and publishing agreements. After a period of dormancy lasting nearly 16 years, Curry rebooted the label in 2017, with a focus on creating unique, high-quality limited-edition vinyl packages and digital releases. Current and upcoming releases include the work of Harold Budd, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Tim Story, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, and Kate St. John. Objective Objects by Dwight Ashley and Dieter Moebius will be released in 2019.

Our mission is to inspire and nurture the curious spirit – one curiosity at a time.

Photo: Ingo Pertramer

Photo: Ingo Pertramer