n5MD – MD248 – 16th September 2016
The arrival of Collapsing Horizons piqued my interest considerably: the cover art gives away little, but the write-up for the Netherlands-based duo describes their sound as ‘deep ambient’. I’m more than familiar with dark ambient, but just what constitutes deep ambient? On the basis of this album, the depth refers to both the emphasis on the lower ranges, as billowing winds funnel beneath the upper tones and bassy beats resonate low in the mix, and also the contemplative nature of the music. The sounds in themselves do not create dark, foreboding atmospheres, and the broad sonic brushstrokes are, in the main, light, gentle, delicate and soothing. And yet there is detail: a lot of detail. Microbeats and subtle, but fuller, beats pulse in the background, while crackles and scratches bring texture.
Occasionally, as on ‘Gravitational Singularity’, rumbling bass and immense rhythms drive what one might call abstract drum ‘n’ bass grooves at a low BPM. Elsewhere, the dulcimer chime and stuttering rhythm of ‘Fracture’ also alludes to the trappings of drum ‘n’ bass, dissected and deconstructed to its sparsest of forms. And yet there are juxtaposing sensations of light and dark, with shadows moving cloud-like across the surface. There’s a definite sense of movement within each of the compositions (as the title suggests: these horizons are in the process of collapsing: they are not yet fully collapsed: this is not a past-tense work), and while the pace is at times tectonic, there are some nice, dainty oscillations and some soft, descending chimes that intimate more progressive leanings, as well as sharing ground with the likes of Tangerine Dream. Then again, ‘Hyperbolic Motion’ incorporates static and space-age bleeps over a heavy, stuttering kick beat that resembles a palpating heart, creating a subtle tension and a sound more closely related to minimal techno.
Because the individual tracks are comparatively short – only two extend beyond the five-minute mark – and are mastered separately instead of running together to forge a large, single body of sound, Collapsing Horizons feels much more focused than many ambient works. The individual tracks are distinct sonically, too, with clear identities, and the structures therefore are more self-contained and do not require the listener to absorb and assimilate the album as a whole. The effect of this is that Collapsing Horizons succeeds in holding the attention, and feels quite concise despite its forty-eight minute running time.