Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Soundtracking the Void – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Collectively and individually, Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale (worriedaboutsatan, Ghosting Season) have produced an impressive volume of work – although perhaps even more impressive than its quantity is the consistency of the quality. They’ve always been something of a yin/yang pairing, and the individual differences are integral to their collaborative works. So, while Ragsdale tends to bring the beats and beefy bass, Miller is the man who contributes wistful soundscapes and delicate atmospherics. The fact they’ve released solo efforts within a few short weeks of one another not only highlights their productivity, but affords the opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their musical approaches.

Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 marks not only the first in a prospective series, but something of a departure, being almost entirely beat-free (there’s a distant clattering on ‘Pick Up Sticks’ but it’s almost buried by the sonar bass frequencies), and adopting from the outset a soft, piano-led sound and an elegiac tone.

In contrast to Gavin Miller’s near-simultaneous solo release, Shimmer, Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is a much more overtly ambient work: the electroacoustic elements are filtered by synthesis, so while Miller’s ambience contains elements of shoegaze right at the fore, Ragsdale takes abstraction as his form, and runs with it. Many of his signature elements are in evidence: layered electronics, strings, and field recordings are all carefully interlaced to forge a sonic cloth as delicate and intricate as lace. However, the vocal samples lifted from film and radio which can be found in abundance on other recordings and in his live set, are as conspicuous by their absence as the beats.

In abstraction lies evocation: with so little overt or explicit signposting, the listener’s mind wanders free through the intangible forms. Without any temporal location in sonic terms, it’s left to the lister to fill in the gaps of space and time. But the titles of the compositions are referential, with several making direct reference to nursery rhymes – ‘Pick Up Sticks’ and ‘Four and Twenty’, for example. They remind us that so many of these rhymes have a darker undercurrent. Elsewhere, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ lifts its title directly from The Shirelles’ 1960s hit. Sonically, there’s no relation, but again, the sentiment of the title connotes a certain sadness, even anxiety: vintage pop lyrics, too, often cast shades of darkness when you scratch the surface and wipe away the bubblegum delivery. And it’s creeping darkness that pervades the slow, deliberate sonic expanses of the more dolorous passages of this album, of which there are many.

And so Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 provides the conduit for the listener to engage with their own interiority, exploring at leisure and from a distance, the images and scenes conjured by the mind’s eye in response to the sonic provocations. There’s something disquieting and disorientating about Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 – an album you feel first, and hear some time later.

AA

Thomas Ragsdale - Honley

Advertisements

Sound in Silence – 30th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Collectively and individually, Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale (worriedaboutsatan, Ghosting Season) have produced an impressive volume of work – although perhaps even more impressive than its quantity is the consistency of the quality. They’ve always been something of a yin/yang pairing, and the individual differences are integral to their collaborative works. So, while Ragsdale brings the beats and beefy bass, Miller is the man who contributes wistful soundscapes and delicate atmospherics. The fact they’ve released solo efforts within a few short weeks of one another not only highlights their productivity, but affords the opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their musical approaches.

Shimmer comprises six tracks, simply titled parts one through six. The tones are soft, the textures deep. It begins with vaporous drones, soft-focused, broad in spectrum, providing a backdrop to delicately picked, reverby guitar and a hesitant bass, bringing hints of the instrumentation of Julee Cruise’s ‘Falling’.

Piano notes reverberate and organs trill and wheeze. There’s a lot of air and a lot of space: this is music which breathes, drifting, an organic ebb and flow providing the irregular patterns of ever-shifting form. The pieces don’t so much segue as melt into one another, while the individual instrumental sounds blur together, a gauzy halo surrounding each note which ultimately creates a sense of vaporousness.

With Shimmer, Miller trades in intangibles. That isn’t to say the pieces are without form or structure, but that the forms are ever-shifting and impossible to pin down, the structures possessed of an opacity which renders them indistinct. So while the successive passages are interesting in their own right, Miller doesn’t resort to repetition or motifs to hold them together, instead allowing them to flow freely. It’s the kind of ambience that fades in and out of the foreground of consciousness: as such, it’s not completely background, but it is ideal for after a mentally strenuous day at the office or equivalent.

AA

Gavin Miller - Shimmer

Kranky – 28th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Total immersion. This is what I get from Tim Hecker, both recorded and live. Responding critically to such a sensation is a major challenge.

My first attempt to review Konoyo redefined ‘failure’, as I sat, vacant and staring for the duration without typing a word. Yes, other things happened around me: emails continued to ping into my inbox, text messages, Facebook notifications, and so on. So much peripheral shit. But while pushing all of this noise to the peripheries, I struggled – nay, found it impossible – to get a firm grasp on the drifting soundscapes of Hecker’s latest album. My second stab proved no different. I can no longer blame the distractions: I’m reminded of ‘seeing’ Hecker’s performance at the Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds a few years ag. Purple smoke filled the room. It was so dense I couldn’t see my friend standing next to me: I felt as if I was in an isolation tank or a sleeping bag. With my surroundings completely removed, I found myself alone with the music, and in an almost trance-like state, swaying on my feet, in my own world. When things like this happen, I immediately assume I must have drunk more than I should or that I’m tired or something. But music at its most potent is like a drug, and Hecker has the capacity to transform the mental state and one’s relationship with one’s surroundings. And this is certainly true of Konoyo.

Inspired by conversations with a recently-deceased friend about ‘negative space’ and the banal density of contemporary music, Konoyo was largely recorded in a temple on the outskirts of Tokyo with a view to creating something that has room to breathe, rather more cerebral than physical, drawing back from sonic force to invite a different kind of engagement.

The first composition, ‘This Life’ wails eerily, resonant low notes hanging ponderously beneath escalating layers of discord that bow and shriek, before oriental motifs chime a certain note of freshness and innocence… but the notes are bent, the underlying washes of sound begin to twist, scrapes of extraneous noise swell to shrieks of metallic feedback.

As is Hecker’s signature, Konoyo, is very much about shifting textures and juxtaposed tonalities, but more than anything, the incidentals, the way layers fade in and out, and extraneous knocks and clatters suddenly appear from nowhere, and then disappear just as quickly. There are murky pulsations and hazy echoes that resonate through spatial densities that range from the subaquatic to the zero-gravity. Hecker conjures space outside of space, spaces which transcend both time and space to exist in another realm entirely, suspending time in the process. It’s ambience with edge.

An abrupt halt in the soothe drones just 20 seconds into ‘Keyed Out’ provides the album’s first real indication of just how difficult Hecker can – and will – make this. Jolting discord and jarring dissonance rupture the smooth, vaporous backdrop as thigs become overtly challenging around three minutes into this ten-minute journey through dissonance and sonic difficulty, across which a lacey cloak of accessibility slowly settles. The fifteen-minute finale, ‘Across to Anoyo’ is a slow-evolving epic which mutates from quiet mellowness into a warped, woozy discord, which twists Japanese motifs into funnelling electronic abstractions.

Piano tones which should offer tranquillity and comfort are rendered with an edge of attack and amidst a metallic edge of reverb, and nothing is quite as it seems or should be on Konoyo. It bends the brain and pushes the listener to explore unexpected spatial experiences, challenging connections to concrete orientation. The physical world disappears, and time evaporates. Konoyo delivers a path to transcendence.

AA

Hecker

Southern Lord – 24th August 2018

James Wells

According to their biography, Jesus Piece ‘have left craters in their path over recent years, quickly developing a reputation as one of the heaviest, most uncompromising acts both on record and on the stage. With the brutal grooves of Y2K-era metallic hardcore at the core, the band also incorporates elements of noise, ominous tones, and haunting atmospheres into their dynamic songwriting.’

‘Lucid’ batters its way out to herald the album’s arrival: rapid pedal-work on the kick drum powers the cutty, hard-edged guitar. Its brutal, regimented, industrial, grinding like early Godflesh, but with snarled, guttural vocals spitting and howling nihilistic dismantlements of personal struggle and loss, racism, police brutality, and social and political injustice.

They distil all of these violent emotions and unspeakabe rage into short explosive packages: the majority of the songs on here are under three minutes. ‘Punish’ brings a sinewy, spectral lead guitar to twist its way over the grinding churn of the rhythm section, hinting at the dynamics of early Pitchshifter.

When they do slow things down, as on the stripped-back ‘In the Silence’ where the bass wanders and weaves a murky path and haunting chorused guitar notes rise from the swamp quite unexpectedly to create an unsettling atmosphere, the impact remains undiminished, and for the most part, it’s the heavy pummelling that defines Only Self.

The album concludes with an immense shift in style and sound in the form of a pair of contrasting but complimentary atmospheric pieces titled by number only: ‘I’ something of a monastic, ritual ambience to it, as voices echo in the mist before the doomy guitars break through in a slow landslide on ‘II’.

With such variations and deviations from the template of howling aggression and blind fury, Only Self stands apart from so many albums of its ilk, and reveal Jesus Piece to be capable of more than just endless anger – although they’ve got the rage in spades, and bring it to devastating effect on what is one hell of a debut.

AA

Jesus Piece – Only Self

Gizeh Records – 31st August 2018

The Great Lake Swallows is a collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. The former came to my attention some time ago, and her nuanced style of playing had yielded some compelling works. Jean DL, however is an unknown quantity to me, and I came to approach the release without any real preconceptions. I leave it with none either. It’s ambient and droney, but offers infinite layers. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t really fit anywhere in terms of genre, and this is very much a positive. Sometimes, music simply is.

The Great Lake Swallows is a graceful and co-ordinated suite in four parts, and finds the duo creating sonic interplay that displays a certain musical connection, even telepathy. Collaborations of this type, which find musicians with such different approaches (and modes of instrumentation) requires a certain intuition to achieve coherence.

Its brevity contrasts with its scale and scope. The four tracks have a total running time of a shade over 25 minutes, but the aching cello bends and melts over hushed, brooding atmospherics to create compositions of great atmospheric depth and imbued with great significance. At times manifesting as dark portent, others seeping sadness without words to describe it, the layers build and pull at the senses almost subliminally.

The press release informs us the album was recorded in Charleroi, Belgium in 2015 during a video installation with Sandrine Verstraete, and that the music was created using field recordings, processed guitar and cello and serves as a soundtrack to the video of the same name. And the soundtrack qualities of the compositions are very much evident: the parts bleed together to forge a single, continuous piece, which slowly and subtly transition between place and mood.

On ‘Part 3’, a low throb slowly oscillates beneath the ebb and flow of strings that weft and warp, before ‘Part Four’ forges an expansive vista of surge and swell, as ghostly voices echo in the shadowy background. The effect is haunting, but also beautiful and as a whole, the work is deeply evocative. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t just occupy space, but creates it.

AA

GZH84DP-Sleeve

Constellations – 24th August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Automatisme is the moniker of reclusive glitch artist and electronic music producer William Jourdain. Transit is the follow-up to 2016 debut Momentform Accumulations, and has been formulated using modular synth racks and a vast library of field recordings.

As the title suggests, Transit is an album of movement. In transit are not only the creators, but the listener, who finds themselves being taken – often at pace – to unexpected destinations. But there is no stopping – each port of call is no more than a glance and a wave out of the window, perhaps a quick photo, before you’re on the move again.

The first suite – ‘Bureau’, a work in four movements, combines ambience and rhythm to often disorientating effect, and explores brooding expanses of sound and juxtaposes them with often jolting beats. ‘Bureau 0’ rapidly shifts from softly swirling cloudlike ambience to snarling, grating overloading noise – and back again. Blast of distorted beats and speaker-crackling overdrive create some disturbing kind of Dalek disco. ‘Bureau 1’ casts shades of gloopy glitchtronica which crackles and hisses, before bleeding into the more overtly groove-orientated ‘Bureau 2’. Groove is all relative, of course, and there are natural non-beat-orientated rhythms, too: shuddering oscillations swell like thunder on ‘Bureau 3’.

‘Registrariat’ stands alone between the ‘Bureau’ and ‘Bateau’ suites, and forges a more overtly dance beat. Only, the tempos shift erratically and sampled voices echo in the swirling sonic mists, and it gets too fast and before long, you feel your heart race increasing and instead of wanting to get down, you’re on the edge of panic.

The two-part ‘Bateau’ builds tonal intensity and volume, culminating in a dense eddying swell of noise that fills the cranium and creates an all-encompassing throb.

And it’s only at the final destination – a roar that abruptly leaves silence – that the album’s overall route becomes clear, a deleterious course from A to B via Z, Q and an unexpected assortment of curious places. You cast your eyes back over the map but it by no means conveys the experience of the territory. And after a pause, a moment of quiet reflection, you can’t quite recall the sequence of events that brought you here. You turn, and start to retrace your steps…

AA

cover_1528731707797039