Review: Nowhere Found by Sean Hayward


Nowhere Found
by Sean Hayward
Buy or listen to samples on Bandcamp
Artist Website:

Sean Hayward – guitars
Zephyr Culbertson Adee – bass
Jan Purat, Lorna Saxton, Zachary Ragent – violins
Ittai Rosenbaum – piano

Sean Hayward is a composer, guitarist, and recording engineer out of Los Angeles area. This album, as he describes, contains “selections of music I composed between 2009 and 2013. The album contains chamber and solo works, mostly for standard, prepared, and fretless nylon string guitars.” As his bio explains: “He holds a B.M. Summa Cum Laude from the University of California Santa Cruz where he studied guitar with Mesut Özgen, composition with David Evan Jones and Larry Polansky, orchestration with Hi Kyung Kim, Sundanese gamelan with Pak Undang Sumarna, and electronics with Peter Elsea. Sean is currently pursuing his MFA in the Performer-Composer program at the California Institute of the Arts where he studies guitar with Miroslav Tadic and Stuart Fox, composition with Michael Jon Fink and Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Javanese gamelan with Djoko Walujo, and Balinese gamelan with Nyoman Wenten.”

The music on the album is wide ranging but immediately captured my attention. There are aspects of minimalism – no one really likes that word – but has a certain degree of organic transformation to many of the works. This sometimes reminded be of John Adams among others. The first track, From a Distance, which I suspect is mostly prepared guitar, is reminiscent of gamelan music meets something you’d hear on a Bjork album. It’s well composed but also curious, intriguing, and catchy too. The sonic landscape is super pleasing and recording quality well suited too. The second track for guitar and violin is a gem. The roaming guitar lines and shifting patterns mixed with the melodic violin is like a nice glass of red wine (smooth, dark, with a hint of spice). I’m guessing there is more than one guitar part but can’t be certain, nor does it matter as the composition flows very naturally. This track hit the spot.

There are also solo tracks such as Conatus which highlight mixes of modern textural expressions to more direct guitar work.

Exploration #1 in Ptolemy’s Equable Diatonic was great to hear as I’ve been very interested in the works of Mamoru Fujieda and these reminded me in part of some of the textures I’ve been drawn to as of late. I believe these use alternate tuning and a fretless guitar. The spaciousness of these works work very well on the guitar and the motivic exploration comes off nice as improvisatory and interesting.

The title track Nowhere Found has a very improvised feel with a Indian classical music vibe. This track is well done and sounds very natural. However, it caught me slightly off guard as I’ll discuss below.

The recording quality is generally fantastic for the chamber music, very well balanced. Violin and guitar works so well on this recording. Some of the solo guitar tracks seemed a bit more dry by comparison but we all know how difficult it is to recording solo classical guitar and I’m being super picky. I think most people will agree that this very good recording quality. It’s the contrast between the chamber music and solos that spurred that comment because the solo tracks do sound good overall.

As a collection of works by a composer over a series of years this album is great. It is filled with many ideas, textures, and explorations. As a listening experience the coming and going of chamber music versus solos can be a nice contrast but also a let down at times. I was wishing the guitar and strings would continue or the prepared guitar, having such an interesting and clear sound compared to the regular plucked guitar, made the regular tracks seem a tad dull. Also, the differences in compositional style were interesting but sometimes I felt I’d been transported to very different places. That is both a compliment to the composer but a bit of a critique to the album overall. One thought that came to mind is that a large-scale chamber work such as a cycle would make a very complete and unified album, maybe for guitar and strings? That would be an album that would really strike a mood and hit the spot for me. Just guitar and violin for 50 mins. I also just personally really enjoyed the sound of the strings and guitar. I say this mainly because I would really support a full length conceptually unified album due to how much I enjoyed those works.

In summary:

Sean Hayward has recorded an album of engaging works filled with melodic beauty and interesting sonic landscapes. He explores a wide range of textures and ideas and all the playing is well accomplished. It’s rare to see a composer who can also play and record, even more rare to find one that can nail a work for classical guitar and other instruments. I look forward to hearing more from this young artist who is sure to make big waves in the long run.

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