Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Crónica – 9th April 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Useful points worth noting by way of a preface: Unwritten Rules for a Ceaseless Journey

documents three pieces composed for dance, commissioned by Ballet Teatro for the play Revoluções (Revolutions) by choreographer Né Barros. The in three parts are designed to embody formal idealisations of the three decisive layers of time — past, present, and future.

The three tracks each span around fifteen minutes, and the first, ‘Something’s Missing (Utopian) begins with elongated, scraping drones… and continues onwards with ominous hums that swirl and eddy around a barely-audible hissing buzz. A rolling organ while emerges from a clamour of shuffling intangibility to provide a vague semblance of form and instrumental musicality, but the it’s sad and sinister in equal parts, conveying a sense of loss while reminding us that the past is dark. The muttering voices, inextricable individually: are those the voices of the dead?

It seems entirely fitting that the pieces should melt into one another: time always transitions seamlessly, and in terms of life lived, it’s difficult to appreciate the fact that every passing second is stacking up the record of time past as the present slips away instantaneously. It’s also fitting that the present, as represented by ‘The Pulsating Waves (Reality)’ flattens into an indistinguishable mid-range hum that groans and sighs and whispers. Metallic sparks hiss way off on the horizon, forever out of reach. There’s a sense of emptiness and despondency about this inhospitably bleak sonic wasteland, even as it swells into an altogether smoother, denser, broader droning hum. It’s the sound of absence, a dulled absence that lacks dynamism or detail. So much positive, pro-mindful life-coaching material and contemporary self-help verbiage tells us that we should live in the moment; but the fact of the matter is that the moment is invariably empty, bleak, depressing.

‘Don’t Look Back, Run (Trauma)’ is solid advice: it’s impossible to retreat to the past, or to recreate it, despite the booming nostalgia industry’s suggestion otherwise. To commit too much time to reflection is to lose oneself to the past and deny the possibility of progress; but, to run to the future without due attention to history is to be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. There is a balance to be found. The album’s final track suggests a certain degree of balance: it’s slow, its form emerging from dragging pulsations drawn out in bowed strings – or ersatz assimilations thereof – which gradually diminish into a rumbling gust of wind, blowing grey, blurred particles into a formless mass. The future is, and will forever be indistinct, unclear, as unpredictable as the weather, fashion, and our fragile emotions. And in the dying minutes, it crumbles to a cloud of grey obscurity, lacking shape, form, and tonality, a vaporous viscosity of… what? Uncertainty. Murky, messy, abstraction. What the future holds, we know not: the present is unsettled, dangerous, turbulent. The present is well out of hand, and the future yet more so.

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Kranky – 10th May 2019

Cristopher Nosnibor

As with its predecessor, Konoyo, Anoyo draws its inspiration from traditional Japanese music, but very much reconfigures it not only through an ambient lens, but through Hecker’s own unique musicality.

Anoyo is very much a sequential, linear work, to the extent that the song titles create poem, and also a form of micronarrative:

That world / is but a simulated blur

Step away from Konoyo / into the void

Not alone / you never were

This sense of narrative also extends to the overall listening experience. ‘That World’ begins tentatively, tightly-wound strings picked, twanging. Washes of sound, reversed, flit like will-o-the-wisps as the tapers run the wrong way and slow, warm pulses flesh out the immense spaces between the notes. It’s ambient, and it’s (superficially) background, and quite hypnotic, but not without points of interest: in fact, while it’s easy to simply allow it to drift past, turning up the volume a way and concentrating reveals almost infinite details and ever-shifting forms. This is where Tim Hecker stands out in his field.

‘Is but a simulated blur’ presents a very different dynamic, dominated by irregular percussion. The arrythmia contrasts with the soft wave forms which drape, mist-like around the beats, which evaporate into the air, and the tracks bleed into one another. Things become fuzzier, less distinct, less clearly focused on ‘Into the void’, as piano notes stutter and glitch, warp and bend in the most disorientating ways.

‘Not alone’ brings bold, thunderous drums, but again the beats are erratic and ever-changing in pattern, before melting into the static-rumbling ‘You never were,’ which fractures and stammers like something’s damaged in the playback mechanism, like something in the process is broken, and the effect is disconcerting, discomfiting.

And so it is that Anoyo subtly transitions from delicate and mellow to something altogether more fragmented and more difficult. The subtlety is the key here: it creeps up on you, barely noticeable… and then, by the end, you find yourself wondering how you got here from there.

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Houndstooth -15th March 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

And We Are Passing Through Silently is pitched as ‘a collection of songs reworked by Abul Mogard between 2015 – 2018’, with the press blurb describing it as ‘the sublime first survey of reworks by [the] cult synthesist’. It’s also keen to point out that while there may only be five tracks on offer, here, the stature of the artists with whom Mogard has had involvement, noting ‘divine renderings’ of songs by Aïsha Devi, Penelope Trappes (The Golden Filter) and nick nicely (heralded by luminaries of the US underground Ariel Pink & John Maus), with the album culminating with Brian Eno’s collaboration with Irish avant-folk band Fovea Hex.

The 2LP, CD and digital editions also feature Abul’s brand new rework of Becoming Animal’s ‘The Sky Is Ever Falling’ which features vocals from Cinder (This Mortal Coil/Cindytalk) and Massimo Pupillo on bass (Zu/Thurston Moore/Stephen O’ Malley),

The album opens with Mogard’s reworking of Aïsha Devi’s ‘O.M.A.’ The minimalism of the original, as well as its woozy atmospherics are substituted for a mellow sonic wash, and while it’s eminently listenable, there is a certain sense of loss. The darker, more disturbing aspects are stripped out in favour of something less psychologically traumatic, but… I’m torn between the function of a remix bringing something different, and it taking out the essence, and this very much feels like a stylised dilution.

In contrast, his rendition of Penelope Trappes’ ‘Carry Me’ distils that essence and concentrates it, while also drawing out three mellow minutes into twelve and a half of droning organ abstraction, and Mogard’s reworking of nick nicely’s ‘London South’ follows the same trajectory, stretching out four minutes of soft, wistful psychedelia into a fifteen-minute drift, with long, sonorous drones expanding to cinematic proportions. The vocals are preserved, but spaced out, pushed to the back, partially submerged in reverb.

Everything reaches a perfect coalescence on ‘The Sky Is Ever Falling’. Which combines cinematic and operatic, minimalism and maximalism, as the sparse yet full, widescreen instrumentation comes to crate the backdrop for a soaring vocal performance that lifts and soars. The piece warps and wefts on a solar wind for almost a quarter of an hour, before the contrails bleed into an eternal scraping drone that creates a soporific calm that flows from foreground to background in an imperceptible transition.

On the one hand, there isn’t much to it, and Mogard’s method is simple – but it’s not only effective, but has ‘signature’ stamped all over it: his style is distinctive, to the point that his reworkings relegate the original artist and their work to a secondary placing while his own sound and style dominate. On occasion such an approach to remixing may appear ‘insensitive’ or even ‘selfish’, but Mogard seems to have established himself as a re-creator more than a remixer, with artists lining up to submit their work to his reworkings, he’s clearly got some leverage in the musical community, and fair play.

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Abul Mogard – And We Are Passing Through Silently

The accompanying text records that ‘n is a collaboration between close friends Nathan (London) and Neil (Devon). The first album is a collection of seven words which were sent by text and used to inspire and direct the playing and production’. And so, we have insight into the title and the process, but what matters is the end result.

Delicate notes, distanced apart in time, hang in the air, dripping slowly like drops of water from an icicle. And so ‘Trust’ forms, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, a ringing note at a time; the mood is optimistic, but tentative, fragile. Deeper, fuller, piano notes creep in, but remain at a distance.

‘Subtle’ certainly fulfils its title’s promise, and while there is a gradual growth of an ebb-and-flow, the form is very much forged from soft, rippling notes from beneath which incidental bumps and scratches occasionally emerge.

The power of music like this is the infinite room given for the listener to interpret, ad to project: to fill the vast expanses of space with their own emotional response. I’m as guilty as the next music critic of describing music as ‘haunting’, but what does tat actually mean? For me, it’s about a personal resonance, the way a single note, hanging in a suspension of reverb, evokes memories and feelings, likely completely unconnected in any way to the music itself. But, when the mind is given subtle stimuli which encourages introspective wandering, sensations buried and locked away suddenly rise to the surface, free of the constrictions of linguistic association.

Minimalist is the word: n is sparse both compositionally and sonically, with a hushed ambience rendering the sparing works in a way which accentuates their quietness. One wouldn’t listen to a work like this and highlight a standout track, although ‘Awe’ marks something of a departure from the barely-there spatiality with a fuller sound comprising long, turning, drifts of sonic mist and chirruping birdsong – something which returns in the final track, ‘Truth’, which is uplifting in its tranquillity as I’m reminded of the sounds of early spring, the trilling chatter a confirmation that winter’s gloom is finally losing its grip and light and life can blossom once more.

N is a wonderfully simple, yet meticulously considered and exquisitely executed work, which contains and emanates everything and anything you want it to.

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Front & Follow – 3rd May 2019

I genuinely had no idea that this would be landing with me just days after my review of the split release on worriedaboutsatan’s This is it Forever records, featuring Gavin Miller and Polypores. Not that knowing would have altered my decision to mention the outstanding contribution to the split release format of Front and Follow vie their ‘The Blow’ series, but still. Serendipitous is most definitely the word.

The same is perhaps an apt description for this release, on which Polypores (Stephen James Buckley) and Field Lines Cartographer (Lancaster-based electronic musician Mark Burford – aka techno producer Impulse Array) contrived to create an album about ‘alternate realities and altered states of consciousness.

They write: “We’d both been reading books relating to this, and after a few weeks of book-swaps and numerous Youtube wormholes (some valid science, some pure conspiracy theory madness) we each started writing music with this in mind. The idea was to see what would happen if we both wrote from the same starting point, and came up with alternative interpretations of the same subject matter.”

According to the accompanying text, ‘specific inspirations included the life and works of Philip K Dick, MK Ultra experiments, Shamanic drumming, Migraines, the work of Anthony Peake, Neuroplasticity, Aldous Huxley, Hinduism & reincarnation, Superstring & Brane Theory, alien abductions.’

And so it is that, once again, serendipitously, I’ve spent recent weeks sifting through material relating to The MK Ultra project while researching the novel I’m working on, as well as migraines, and while not especially well-versed in the works of Philip K. Dick, I’m more than acquainted both with classic sci-fi and its particular tropes, and Huxley, and what the pair proffer here is a quintessential work of retro-futurism, espousing the spatiality of early electronica and krautrock, with the soft, supple but simple beats of Kraftwerk and the ebb-and-flow of sonic washes underlying textured layers of broad brushstrokes and noodly doodles reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

It’s the kind of spacey trip that evokes kaleidoscopic visuals, and the rippling synth waves pull the listener into another dimension: listened to intently – and believe me, I listened intently with my newly-positioned speakers that seem to inject music directly into my brain ad in perfectly but sometimes dizzying stereo – the gauzey granularity of the tones becomes apparent.

And it’s with intent listening that Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer‘s collaboration really reveals itself and takes life. The differences which separate the two artists’ work are subtle, as they strive toward the same objective, and clearly cross-pollinate one another’s ideas. With heavy, pulsating repetitions dominating and surging and swelling throughout the duration of the album, but equally countered by sonorous drones and rippling solar winds, it’s apparent just how much attention to detail both artists pay to the construction of their music.

Ultimately, this proves to be the strength of this collaboration: while the concept remains fuzzy, the execution is superlative in its field.

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Blow Vol 6

Gizeh Records – 26th April 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Aidan Baker has done it again: pulling together a brace of collaborators to form a perfect triangle, See Through is a magnificent sum that’s greater than the parts, showcasing the way relinquishing individuality in favour of collectivism can yield something… other. And See Through is decidedly other. The press release describes the process, an evolution and layering: ‘The project was brought to life through Baker exploring textural rhythms created by sampling small, sharp and abrupt sounds on the electric guitar and then sequencing them in a drum machine to form the bedrock of the tracks. Mueller then added his particular, signature brand of intricate, hypnotic percussion to the mix and the compositions began to grow and take shape. The pair agreed that the pieces needed a more human touch and Coloccia was invited onboard, contributing processed vocals via looping, tape manipulation and microphone feedback.

To describe it as ‘ambient with beats’ – a phrase I’ve used to describe worriedbaoutsatan, who sound nothing like this – may be vague, but it’s accurate. It’s all about the slow build… and the percussion. Starting with higher-pitched finger drums, it evolves to a polyrhythmic experience. Insistent tribal drumming hammers a martial beat that underscores wraith-like vocal echoes and soft, supple surges of abstract ambience… the effect is mesmerising, hypnotic. Snaking hints of the exotic twist through the hazy infusions of the sprawling eight-and-a-half-minute ‘Repeat’, which finds the percussion dampened, dulled, yet no less insistent as it clumps and clatters along in the swirling sonic mists.

See Through is an album of evolution, and the tracks seep into one another to form a cohesive but ever-shifting sequence. As is the case in respect the album as a whole, the percussion is key, and changes between each piece, backing off and rising to the fore once more.

‘Summer’ takes a more ambient direction, the beats subdued and submerged, muffled and distant and pulsing through a viscous, subaquatic density, before the title track ventures deeper into darker territory, an unsettling, shifting rumble that shudders and shuffles, suffused with incidental scrapes and vaporous drones which creep in and out of the frame like ghosts, like drifting mists, like so many intangibles. It’s dark, uncomfortable, disorientating, and extremely difficult to pin down -which is precisely its indefinable source of both its appeal and its artistic success. It builds to a scraping crescendo around the 8-9minute mark.

The final track, ‘Harmony in Distance’ wafts drifting ambience over a soft rhythm that builds in intensity, until the soft sonic washes and drifting vocals give way to a rising thunder of drums that drive the album to a tidal climax.

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Baker et al

This is it Forever – 15th March 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It would be perhaps too obvious to quip that worriedaboutsatan / related releases are like busses, what with Gavin Miller’s latest solo offering appearing just weeks after the arrival of the duo’s fourth full-length album, Revenant. It would also be somewhat inaccurate, as both Gavin and Thomas Ragsdale have maintained a steady flow of solo releases in recent years, and, indeed, for much of the band’s lifespan to date.

I’ve variously sung the praises of split singles, and increasingly, split albums are a thing which well-suits the resurgence of both vinyl and cassette releases. Front & Follow’s The Blow series is a clear standout in the field of the split release, with some well-considered (or otherwise wonderfully random) curation resulting in some truly inspired pairings: sometimes, contrasting is every bit as satisfying as complimentary.

This release, according to the label, is ‘the first in a series of splits for the label’, which ‘sees Polypores and Gavin Miller explore their more dreamy, ambient sounds by taking a side of cassette each’.

Miller’s ten-and-a-half minute ‘Dragon Lily’ is a work of delicacy. There is movement, slow, sweeping, the tones soft and warm. There is progression: barely perceptible in the moment, as the listener is carried on the long drift, but definite, as picked notes begin to chime and the sound gradually swells with the scraping drone of an ebowed guitar drenched in reverberating echo.

Polypores’ ‘Those Infinite Spaces’ is more overtly structured, with distinguishable note sequences and sounds that are more ‘synthy’ in comparison to Miller’s abstract washes of sound. This gives the piece a certain sense of solidity, and although mellow and soporific, it’s the repetition the soothes and lulls – until around the mid-point, when everything flattens to an elongated, wavering multi-tonal drone, which quite changes the tone, if not the mood, as the trajectory moves towards a long, slow wind-down.

Individually, and side-by-side, the two compositions work well, and I suspect it’ll be worth keeping an ear out for future split releases from TIIF.

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Gavin Miller & Polyspores