| Ultre | The Nest and The Skull
Time: March 09
Media: CD & Digital Download
Info: Crafted from guitar, piano, electronics and
homemade beats, each track is set within a frame of
flourishing musical activity. Ultre’s second album is an
elegant, bold & extravagant example of modern
.Artist site: www.ultre.co.uk
PDF Press Release: Download
|QUESTIONS | Ultre
Who are you?
Why do you write music?
I've always written music. I do it because it feels really
honest, non-destructive thing for a person to do. Its like
speaking but without the layer of words to hinder what
you know. I'm a disaster at remembering facts. Its a
lovely thing to spend your life honing, making new ways
of moving air, feeling the world etc.
How would you describe your music?
I'd describe what it intends to be, the result of how I
make it. If my music was a person I hope it would be
someone interesting, not particularly cool or intelligent
but someone with a character. A person that doesn't
really get involved with the real world, would rather
listen to buddy holly than listen to dogstep or drone-
pop or whatever. Someone that says things you
don't really understand but you know what they mean
A bit clumsy but very ambitious.
What does this album mean to you?
I looked at the music I had made over the last year or so
and how it reflected the place I had made it in physically
and mentally. I realised that making music every day and
what it meant to spend time with it was like building
some sort of nest out of thoughts, influences etc. I was
living and working in a room that I would joke with
friends was "as big as a human skull". The nest has
associations with building your own surroundings. The
skull is like a brain nest. Its also a bit of a nod to the fact
that people live in their heads a lot, I like the idea that you
make your own thoughts like nests. How you choose to
make them determines the way you look at everything.
Can you elaborate on some of your creative
Its Lo-fi when I'm working quickly its complicated when
I'm focused, its about catching a sound and being true
to it. I always lean towards creating recordings within
their own world, like when you hear piano and you can
hear the history not just the notes or the arrangement. I
can't imagine using samples of other stuff, I'm not sure
where the enjoyment would be. It would maybe be like
the difference between making a chair out of a tree
compared to putting together a sofa from a shop. I feel
like the creative process and experimenting is about
the enjoyment of the making, getting really involved,
physically and mentally. Playing the instruments,
listening to them, complimenting them, recording and
arranging them, then making the decision whether or
not people should hear it or not.
What are your future plans?
I'm doing more live shows with video and my friend
who is a drummer in 2009. Doing more albums, I have a
very funny idea for a new one I'm making now that
needs to be followed up. Going to do more composition
for other players, strings next time, more stuff for films.
Tour more with my favourite band "Everybody is going
to die". Meet more people, eat some delicious food,
make music and stay alive.
|PROMO VIDEO | Ultre
|REVIEWS | The Nest and The Skull
ITUNES INDIE SPOTLIGHT
Anyone who follows electronic music knows that the true innovators, the hottest producers, and the best DJs are
all working on the independent level. Electronic music, as well as the history of dance music, has always sprung
up from the underground. The innovations tend to become standard practice in the mainstream, but it all starts here
- with the music put out on independent labels. We'll be using this space to track the latest releases and
developments in electronic music as well as giving a little extra love to one album we think stands out.
Ultre is the alter-ego of Finn McNicholas, A UK based experimentalist who works in the electro-acoustic realm of
composition. That might sound a bit to left-field in theory, but Ultre's The Nest & The Skull is a twisted and joyful
journey with layers of stuttering electronics and finger plucked melodies. Sublime and yet consistently engaging,
Ultre is the right combination of Boards of Canada's blissful sides and Mouse on Mars jumpy eclecticism.
Organic and painstakingly original, Ultre's new album The Nest and the Skull is a fantastic and engaging album that
plays like nothing you've ever heard before. Imagine an Aphex Twin record made from guitar, piano, hitting
random things, finger snaps, and even beating on your chest. This doesn't feel like a cyber-apocalypse or what
robots should be listening too; Ultre's album still feels like humans rather than computers made it.
To say that the Audiobulb label is eclectic would be the mother of all understatements, with a bewildering array of
releases that pretty much cover all of the leftfield sub-categories, and then some – the label is garnering interest
from all corners of the globe. Ultre is a name totally unfamiliar to me, and on presentation of this collection entitled
“The Nest & The Skull”, I am plunged into their strange, eerily oblique sound world.
Opening piece, Favourite Mammal, comes across like Boards of Canada with an acoustic guitarist, a gristly, grainy
sedimental affair, with melodies and rhythms poised amongst gently picked guitars. I must confess to you now -
this is unfamiliar territory for me, but I like this... I love the delightfully obscure, and surreal titling, (Museum of Air,
Peace Corpse, A House Under Your Head) and I love the energetic, pulsating rhythms, that don’t quite seem at
home with the music, yet somehow meet and fuse in unlikely locations, and on occasion, are epic and spiritually
uplifting. This collection doesn’t quite fit the “ambient” tag, nor minimalism, nor modern composition, or anything
else I’ve come across, so references and similarities here are pretty unworthy. All I will say is that Ultre have
carved themselves a unique position on a unique label..this is good... and with 13 tracks to choose from, there is
barely a duffer or filler here..so what are you waiting for?
Check this out now.
THE MILK FACTORY
It would be easy to dismiss Finn McNicholas, the man being Ultre, as just another soldier of the folktronica army.
While his music certainly feeds on acoustic, electric and electronic instrumentation, McNicholas is something of
an all-rounder, busying himself with making music not just for himself, but also to serve as soundtrack for films,
and regularly ventures into various visual art forms.
The Nest And The Skull follows a first album, All The Darkness Has Gone To Details, released in 2006 on the
excellent Sheffiled-based Audiobulb, a record which quietly established Ultre as an artist to watch. Combining
delicate brushes of acoustic guitar, piano and violin with electronics into hearty patchwork of sounds laid over
organic beats, McNicholas create here a series of rich textural pieces which, despite their often chaotic
appearance, often harbour wonderful moments where melodies sprout out of complex formations to surf the
crest of deconstructed rhythmic waves or rise high above the thick clouds of sounds to take on altogether lighter
shades. All along the thirteen tracks of this album, McNicholas appears in playful mood and constantly defies
expectation to pull out unexpected rabbits out of his hat. How he does it is not entirely original: rhythms stutter
and hiccup, sounds are distressed and erased in parts, overexposed and magnified in others, melodies fail to
take shape or become recurring little volutes… The way it all hangs precariously together is no mean feat though.
There is an undeniable touch of elegance and finesse running through the forty three minutes that this album
lasts, and when it all comes to an end, it feels as if the story has only been partly told.
The Smirks or Ridicule Or Self Ridicule evoke the better moments of Four Tet, while Peace Corpse or Ties could
almost pass for some weird post-electronic Aphex experiment and the delicate folk hues of Museum Of Air or
Struggle And Nothing show McNicholas at his most refined. The album concludes with a salvo of three rather
beautiful pieces. With Takas, To All The Laughing You Will Never Do and A House Under Your Head, McNicholas
crafts some truly exquisite moments where his soundscapes take on a whole new, much more ambitious,
With his second album as Ultre, Finn McNicholas expands his sonic palette and finds his way through more
complex and expressionist compositions to give his delicate sonic textures the sheen they deserve.
Audiobulb seems to get progressively stronger with every release and certainly The Nest and the Skull does
nothing to reverse the trend. Finn McNicholas's sophomore release under the Ultre name is a fresh fusion of
acoustic folk elements and crisp boom-bap, rather like a much more perfectly realized version of the Prefuse
73 Reads The Books E.P. that surfaced in 2005 (speaking of which, one alternately could hear Ultre's work
as a carefully-handled fusion of Savath Y Savalas and Prefuse 73). If there's a difference between the new
release and its predecessor, All The Darkness Has Gone To Details, it's a shift in emphasis from piano to guitar
but what impresses most is Ultre's arresting fusion of electronic elements and acoustic instruments.
What begins in “Favourite Moment” as an exercise in acoustic head-nod quickly morphs into a master class in
electronic shredding. Handclaps keep time as dizzying swirls of violins, cellos, and acoustic guitars collide and
hammering percussive treatments stutter. “Dead Words” and “To All the Laughing You Will Never Do,” head-
spinning forays into electro-acoustic funk powered by thrumming beats, may be even better, while the equally
funky “Peace Corpse” merges Spanish guitar filigrees with splashes of sparkling acoustic strums and snapping
beats. A dust-covered piano and violin are juxtaposed with more contemporary electronic materials during “Tics”
and “Takas” respectively while the closer “A House Under Your Head” appears to bring an entire string orchestra
An occasional beatless setting (e.g., the organ-heavy meditation “Lingers”) offers respite from the bold beat-
based cuts but, in truth, it's the latter that make the strongest impression. Accompanying info intimates that Ultre
creates his beats by hitting objects around his home, and by clapping, finger-clicking, and chest-beating, and
furthermore the music eschews Digital Signal Processing for sounds created live during the recording and often
using a homemade microphone (McNicholas himself asserts that's he's never used a single sample or preset).
Regardless of the production methodology adopted, Ultre packs a remarkable amount of detail and activity into
tracks that are rarely more than four minutes long (“Struggle and Nothing” even makes its mark in little more than
two minutes) and the album weighs in at an attractively svelte forty-four minutes.
Album of Finn McNicholas released recently on Audiobulb Records became the second one in his solo creative
work after All The Darkness Has Gone To Details in 2006. Of no doubt, the new work is the continuation of
creative line started in the first album. Even not just continuation but development of the own musician's theme.
Acoustic guitar, strings, piano, electronic drums and mosaics of "home percussion" - claps, rustles, some other
clanking recorded at home. Bright and sappy IDM, lively, streaming to all sides sound. Guitar plays simple and
beautiful melodious loops or its samples are cut into parts coming deep into drums' parts. In the middle of the
album one can absolutely unexpectedly meet the ambient track "Lingers" which suddenly gives a respite and
understanding of the fact that previous six tracks were heard tracks were heard without a pause as if we
were travelling somewhere on an electric train deepening into thoughts, pondering and it suddenly made a
stop. After the next part of the album started I caught myself at the thought that tracks a little bit pad out the
impression from each of them. Sometimes they are very similar to each other and that's why I compare The
Nest And The Skull to a trip on electric train with a stop in the middle of the way. And it's unimportant that
landscapes-melodies change themselves and their mood changes too. All the same the sound of banging
wheels as the rhythmical component of music seems to be similar and boring. At the same time the album
doesn't go without true pearls such as track "Takas". It's peculiar thanks to its mood, it's a little bit more sad
than the rest of the tracks and it perfectly widens the emotional musical spectrum.
One of the main shortcomings of the album is that music is very much spoiled by post-production. I would like
many moments to be more intimate and mysterious and there are enough details in Utre's creative work,
though in The Nest And The Skull each of these details thrust out to the foreground sets against the ceiling of
the sound section. May be some people will like it, though as for me, such attitude spoils the impression a little
bit. While listening to this "ultra-brightness" you get tired though nevertheless this CD still remains for me one
of the interesting discoveries of this year.
Finn McNicholas is the man behind Ultre, whom we met in Vital Weekly 550, when we reviewed his 'All The
Darkness Has Gone To Details', which I believe was his debut as Ultre. Now he returns with 'The Nest And
The Skull' and again he returns to the piano and the guitar to start his electronic songs in which beats play
an all important role. Not as a dominant feature, banging away, but they are the cement that hold these pieces
together. Broken up, torn down, but always rhythmic, in the way of IDM, of Expanding Records or Highpoint
Lowlife, but what makes Ultre different and thus quite nice is what he does on top of those beats. His guitar
playing is quite nice. Creating odd combinations, real time playing versus chopped up collage like sounds, such
as exemplified in 'Peace Corpse'. I think this album is quite a step forward from its predecessor, because its
more balanced with the beats and the real time instruments. Apparently this was recorded mostly live with a
'homemade' microphone and whether that is true I don't know, but the whole album indeed has a nice somewhat
raw character. Maybe all thirteen tracks are a bit much and the lack of variation starts to notice, but at forty-
three minutes it makes a nice pop length album. Fine one.
Electro-acoustic composition is a very hard genre to get into. The songs are filled with an abundance of complex
layers and rhythms that make your brain hurt. Take Autechre and Aphex twin as an example. Songs such as
'Window Licker' and 'Acroyear2' have a silly amount of complexity and rhythm, yet a few listens on and they are
very gripping. Finn McNicholas' (Ultre) album 'The Nest and the Skull' is no exception. With guitars, pianos,
electronics and homemade beats, each track is full of musical activity that tantalizes the ears. His composition is
something else, haunting guitar's, distant piano's and some very strange percussion, of which Finn samples hitting
objects round his home, clapping, finger clicking and in a gorrila'esq style of beating on his chest! The album is
definitely a grower, upon listening each time you find a new layer or new cool sample hidden within the tracks.
Ultre is brought to you by the Audiobulb label, a label that promotes some of the most underground sub genres in
the music industry. By selling out the first release 'All the darkness has gone to details' it's obvious that Ultre are
here to stay. The records is very good, although the quality doesn't outweigh the fact that this type of eccentric
music does not appeal to a mass audience.
Track's such as 'Dead Words', 'Memory Lies', 'Ties', 'Peace Corpse' and 'Ridicule And Self Ridicule' have a heavy
similarity to New York electronic music duo Ratatat's work. They are full of harmony and chord cycles overlapping
one another into long drawn out synthesized samples. For a full audio exciting experience, the album should be
listened too in headphones, this enhances the stereo panning used on beats, individual guitar picks and crazy
Opening track 'Favourite Mammal' features a beat box style of beat enhanced by what sounds like a guitar
strumming sample repeated over and over. Just like a CD skipping. There is more to follow as individual plucks are
repeated. The production on the record is something to die for, the levels are perfect and everything sounds
brilliant. Other influences could be the likes of Boards of Canada and Thom Yorke, especially on the third track
'The Smirks'. Although there is a hell of alot of diversity in all the songs, you can still pin point Ultre's "sound". A
glitch-guitar-harmonic-boxy-distant sound. The room acoustics sound mighty fine, sometimes with an old school
feel, a sort of grainy effect that works brilliantly. Surprisingly the whole album features no vocals, a purely
Is that a good thing in this day? .......... I say yes.
The Nest and the Skull is definitely for fans of glitch artist such as Aphex Twin, Autechre & Mouse On Mars and
other artists such as Thom Yorke, Bjork and Boards Of Canada.
Ultre - The Nest And The Skull is released on March 9th 2009.
THE SILENT BALLET
Thanks to countless technological advancement since the early 1990s, the electro-acoustic movement has
moved from an underground bedroom programming by the few, to a widely regarded musical genre practiced
by many. In essence, it is still the work of bedroom producers, but free programming software, file-sharing,
and of course, the internet, have left the market oversaturated with copyists and sub-standard products.
While this effect dilutes any genre, ridding it of its original essence and uniqueness, it also allows those artists
who truly master the genre to stand out of the crowd; it is at this point that we say hello to Ultre.
The Nest and the Skull is the second album from Finn McNicholas, a producer and musician who fuses together
visual art, piano, guitar, electronics and anything else (normally homemade) he can use to make a sound, mainly,
but not exclusively, within the electro-acoustic environment. After his critically acclaimed debut focused on a
more piano-based approach, McNicholas has added more strings to his bow (literally in some cases) this time
around, with guitar as the central focus and a more organic composition is the result.
Regardless of what instrument is being used, McNicholas is able to fuse various beats, glitches and clicks
together so that they both exist in mutual harmony, rather than as a disjointed, unnecessary mixture. Nothing
is overplayed or overstated, and both elements of the electro-acoustic composition are allowed to breathe and
have their own space, especially the guitar. Tracks like “Dead Words” and “Peace Corpse” exhibit this approach
quite wonderfully, with the processed beats and acoustic melodies acting first as a compliment to each other,
and then as a dual aural experience.
Probably the biggest compliment that can be given to The Nest and the Skull is that it wouldn’t look out of place on
the early 90s Warp Records roster. The philosophy of music as an art form in itself, particularly within the more
experimental and exploratory genres, fits just as perfectly to Warp as it does with Ultre, and essentially
McNicholas is making intelligent dance music, just with slight variations from the early forces of IDM. The fractured
beats and filtered guitar harmonies of “Ridicule and Self-Ridicule” are reminiscent of Prefuse 73 while the slow
methodically stomp of “Ties” could easily be mistaken for Plaid. These comparisons may seem to hint at Ultre
sounding dated, but the matured production and appreciation of timbral space creates a fresh sound, with more
futurist than retro tendencies, and it is left to the ever excellent Audiobulb label to gain from this.
The only stumbling block with The Nest and the Skull is that over the course of thirteen tracks, the beats, glitches,
clicks, and acoustic instruments begin to become slightly tiresome and overused. During the latter stages of the
album there are moments where the sounds seem to almost repeat themselves. After moving from (mainly) piano
to guitar in the space of two albums, it would be interesting to see McNicholas develop his sound further to add in
more than just one main acoustic element, expanding the sound to a wider range. However, the answer on that
can wait, as for now we can enjoy the seamless production, crafted melodies, and bright futures that Ultre has
bestowed upon us.
Ultre is Finn McNicholas, UK experimental homespun electro-acoustic po-mo B-boy, and The Nest & The Skull is a
heady sound-trip on which grainy swirls of manipulated acoustic guitars consort with violins and cellos over
stuttering beats. Sheffield's Audiobulb label is nothing if not eclectic, and in this respect Ultre could be seen as its
flagship act, drawing as it does on the strategies of diversification patented by the likes of MoM and Fourtet.
McNicholas, self-proclaimed abstainer from samples and presets, eschews DSP for live recording captures,
preferring to use homemade means to achieve ends similar to laptop-toting brothers, the result coming out with
a filmy scuzzed-up patina suggesting a vintage recording.
"Favourite Mammal" sets the tone with a Mush-y kind of post-BoC folk-tinged hiphop-tronica (or is that hiphop-
tinged folk-tronica?), guitar taking a funky-strummer lead, asissted by a scrunched up array of percussives
and beat boxisms. Thereafter the likes of "Dead Words" and "To All the Laughing You Will Never Do" are similarly
whirling dervish electro-acoustic funk simulacra with thrumming beat-assists. A number of tracks, not least
"Ridicule and Self-Ridicule," suggest that the fractured beats and filtered guitar harmonies of Prefuse 73 as the
main influencing blueprint for Ultre's expansions, though the album takes something of a divergent turn with
some late-appearing grandiose compressed orchestrations ("To All The Laughing You Will Never Do" and the
closing "A House Under Your Head").
This all works well enough in sequences of two or three tracks, especially on individual songs like "Peace
Corpse," with its flurry of half-erased melodies and visceral drums, Spanish guitar flourishes meshing with the
fizz of his string-strums. Rhythms stagger and lurch, gather momentum, only to falter. Sounds are pre-stressed
and etiolated, bleached out here, over-amplified, zoomed-in there. Melodies appear to take shape then dissolve
or morph into recursive tropes. So while each track in isolation offers a distracting enough freeplay of gristly
acoustics and fluid electronics, the overall effect of the album's progression is somewhat cloying. With a parade
of largely similar sound sets, the combo of fractured-beats+treated-acoustics begins to sound over-familiar, and
the ear gets jaded. That said, McNicholas does create a series of fresh-sounding textural pieces which
interestingly juggle chaos and order, squeezing out diverting melodies from heaving texture weaves and kinetic
Sophomore release for Finn McNicholas Ultre project – The Nest And The Skull is a busy electro-acoustic album.
Favourite Mammal kicks off proceedings well with McNicholas’ guitar controlling the proceedings, surrounded by
a cacophony of spliced and diced percussive sounds. Apparently, clapping, finger-clicking and even chest-
beating are all used by McNicholas as sample sources to accompany his mutant guitar foundations.
The problem with The Nest And The Skull is that whilst each track on its own provides an interesting combination
of acoustic and electronic compositional play, as a whole the record is starkly repetitive. Practically every track
features the same combination of sounds and furthermore there’s a lack of evolution within the tracks.
The Nest And The Skull is not a particularly long album, at around 40 minutes, but it tends to drag on because of
the lack of variety mentioned above – and having listened to the record something like four times I can still barely
distinguish one track from another. The only exception to that rule being Memory Tics, and probably because it
employs humming male vocals throughout.
Takas also stands out, as the production is stripped bare to modulated string guitars and violin, with an earthy,
granulated soup of percussive clangs in the background. Oddly effective it has to be said.
Overall, however, The Nest And The Skull is what I would consider a fairly avant-garde record that employs a
clever yet extravagant use of organic and electronic sound samples. However, had McNicholas allowed the
emotive capabilities of his acoustic instruments to guide rather than the intricate technicalities of the production
to dominate, the album might have been far more consuming.
Audiobulb Is an exploratory music label designed to support the work of innovative artists.
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