Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Canadian composer Scott Morgan’s 12th long-player as Loscil takes its title from an influential series of early 20th century photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, abstracting clouds into miasmic, painterly canvases of smoke and shadowplay. It’s a deeply fitting analog for Morgan’s own musical process across the past two decades, fraying forms and tones into widescreen mirages of opaque texture and negative space. The name Equivalents referred to Stieglitz’s notion of the photographs as being equivalent to his “philosophical or emotional states of mind;” the same could be said of these eight weighty, shivering chiaroscuros of sound. Each piece unfolds and evolves enigmatically, adrift in low oxygen atmospheres, shifting dramatically from pockets of density to dissipated streaks of moonlit vapour.

The entirety of the record was created specifically for the album with the exception of ‘Equivalent 7,; which began as a dance score for frequent collaborator Vanessa Goodman. The album version of this track was reworked with Vancouver musician Amir Abbey aka Secret Pyramid.

Listen to ‘Equivalent 7’ here:

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Panurus Productions – 21st June 2019

Inspector Fogg is Newcastle filmmaker Wayne Lancaster, and his eponymous album threatens ‘ten tracks of warm synth-based stuff.’ For some reason, this makes me think about pissing down my own leg.

The slow, soft wash of sound that marks the album’s arrival in the form of ‘Fuyu’ isn’t nearly as embarrassing or as uncomfortable, the drones swelling and rising in and out of step to forge fluidly fluctuating rhythmic ebbs and flows. Although very much of the album is ambient to the point that structures are lost in the drift, each composition has a distinct identity and mood.

‘The View Across the River’ begins as a delicate strum before yielding to polyrthymic bleepery, while ‘Strange Tales’ is dark and vaguely sinister. If ‘ominous’ sounds like a similar descriptor, it’s different enough to mark the subtle shift in atmosphere as ‘A Year From Now’ casts reflective shadows between held breaths.

There’s more substance to ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, an insistent beat and pulsating synth behind a rolling piano creating a groove that evokes an action sequence in a film. But its erratic stops and starts are jarring, and it’s almost an act of self-sabotage as the one piece that seems to be going somewhere is simply gone in just over two minutes.

The pieces become shorter and seemingly less evolved towards the end of the album, with ‘Oil on the Road’ and ‘Case Closed’ being sketches of around a minute each. The former is driven by a grimy, buzzing synth bass overlaid with 80s-sounding electronic keys that threatens to go all Harold Faltermeyer before an abrupt ending, while the latter is a piano-based outline that has infinite scope for expansion.

Assuming this gradual diminishment of development is all part of a plan of sorts, the logical analysis would be to attempt to unravel its purpose or meaning. But this is art, and art so often defies logic. And while the snippety pieces are vaguely frustrating, the album as a whole is satisfying in its balance of variety and cohesion, and its infinitely preferable to pissing down your own leg.

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Inspector Fogg

Kranky – 7th June 2019

James Wells

The press release informs us that ‘Jacob Long’s reductionist rhythmic ambient vessel, Earthen Sea, ebbs towards a more purely elemental state on his second excursion for Kranky, Grass and Trees’. But what does this mean?

Long’s approach to the album involved “simplifying things as much as possible,” and the result is an album that’s so simplified as to be almost intangible in its minimalism.

Rhythms are mere ripples, echoes of soft pulsations and clicking microtones. ‘Tidal’ as a descriptor carries connotations of immense, powerful surges and propulsive currents, but here, I’m referring more to the soft lapping of lazy foam on a soft, sandy shore on a still, warm day. The steady flow induces an almost hypnotic tranquillity as the sea remains still and the earth moves almost imperceptibly.

The track titles are less contradictory than self-negating and suggest a sense of uncertainty as their central premise: ‘Existing Closer or Deeper in Space’ and ‘Spatial Ambiguity’ are representative, and are also indicative of the sonic vagueness of Grass and Trees. For all of the pastoral imagery the title invokes, the music (and individual tracks) present more of a preoccupation with space: not just outer, but inner, the infinite space of the mind.

Its effect is to soothe the aching labyrinths of that inflamed infinite space with soft, organic tones, resulting in a work that feels like it’s been sculpted from nature. Not natural, but the natural world re-ordered to mirror the internal flows of the mind and body.

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Earthen Sea – Grass and Trees

20th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

5 guitars follows very quickly the eponymous debut by n, which is Nathan Lyons (concept, guitars) and Neil Physick (software, field recording, processing, arrangements, production, artwork). Its predecessor was the result of musical free association inspired by ‘random’ words: 5 Guitars is less determined by creative process and emerges from more of a conceptual space, in that, according to the accompanying text, it ‘explores the idea of the instruments having their own spirits, benign or malignant, and of a guitar maturing over time then slowly completing its natural life, remembering the past in distant tones’.

This is a work which is very much geared towards the evocative, the listener finding their own place within abstract works and finding the meaning. Only, the listener doesn’t so much find the meaning as project it from their own experience. Does the universal lie in the personal? Most definitely, although 5 guitars isn’t an album that has any grounding in the personal, as much as a space between.

The spirits of the different guitars float into the air, the concept not so much lost in translation as dissolving into vague sonic nebulousness.

Warm, distant drones define the first piece, ‘Red Kay’, which hovers and hums in a mid-range swell which ebbs and flows in a calm, natural way. It bleeds into ‘Effector’, which almost disappears at times, dissolving into the most vaporous, background of ambient.

The narrative and concept isn’t overtly discernible from the music itself: the tracks don’t demark a clear linear progression from mellow tones to decay.

Picked notes are discernible on ‘Tiesco’, but they’re carried in trembling washes that approximate chords but are much vaguer, less defined…. And definition dissipates to nothing amidst the undulating drones which surge beneath the tempered ripples of notes that drift gently over the indistinct, hazy backdrop.

5 guitars is vague, undefined, indirect and unfocused from a listening perspective. And that’s all fine. The concept may not be clear, but has no bearing on the listening experience, and certainly has no impact on the reception side of the project, which is a pleasurable wash of soft tones that more than fulfils its purpose in terms of background.

https://nsound.bandcamp.com/album/5-guitars

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n - 5 guitars

A ‘stripped back electronic companion to Omertà and Fermi’, Reconstructed Memories features just Paul Kirkpatrick and cellist Rachel Dawson. Kirkpatrick describes it as ‘quite different, more ambient but hopefully still engaging and melodic’, and frames it as ‘the story of life in an hour’.

Omertà and The Fermi Paradox were very different albums, with the latter (link) being an ambitiously expansive work, pushing outwards in all directions, not least in its exploration of time and space. Reconstructed Memories is much more inwardly-focused, and while it’s far from claustrophobic or suffocating, its minimal approach is, in itself, enough to redirect the energy and create a very different atmosphere.

As opening piece, the atmospheric, piano-led ‘A Beginning’ suggests, this is a linear, chronological work. The spoken-word intro, presumably delivered by Dawson, is instructive and creates the space for Reconstructed Memories to unfurl. ‘What should I write and tell? Big stories, big memories are always there… Let’s talk about some small, beautiful memories… Life is full of small memories…’ And it’s so very true. Life is not about the events, but the everyday details. It’s is easy to miss those details, too, caught up in simply existing, and waiting for the events, But you won’t move house, get married, have a child, or otherwise experience something momentous daily, or even often. Landmarks are rare and infrequent, and are relative in the context of the trajectory of a life. But life goes on, and is defined by those fleeting interactions. It’s not just the devil who exists in the detail, but life itself which occupies the cracks and recesses, the spaces in between.

And so it moves, in an evolutionary trajectory, gradually unfurling, expanding, revealing new vistas through a series of memories, reflections, and reconstructions. And it’s beautifully executed, each piece a perfectly-formed vignette delicately spun from soft, rolling piano and graceful strings. The moods are varied, at times light and lilting, others more melancholic and pensive, but ever-shifting and ever-evocative.

‘Regression One’ takes a step into darker territories, with a whispered spoken word narrative and connotations of the awkward, disturbing plunderance of the recesses of memory picked psychotherapy. How real and accurate are those memories? Memories are unreliable, coloured by perspective and faded by time. The effect, is, as the title of the next piece intimates, a blurring. Picked guitar echoes hesitantly, decaying into the mist among atmospheric, ambient strings. The arrangements make optimal use of the minimal instrumentation to create music that’s spacious and contemplative.

The artistic success of Reconstructed Memories lies in its vagueness. Such non-specificity places the process of input onto the listener, and it is they who find themselves reflecting on their experiences, their own hazy and tainted memories, prompted by abstract reminders to turn their gaze inwards. It’s the complete absence of context or meaning which renders the album simultaneously universal and personal.

Screenshot_2019-05-16 Reconstructed Memories Pre-Release Listening Masters

Treading that line between elevated art and unnecessarily loftiness and pretension… It’s a challenge. It’s not always easy to differentiate parody and sincerity, not least of all because we exist in a world in which real-life news resembles Brasseye and The Day Today. Irony is dead, and belief is the enemy in a post-truth society.

So when a press release reads half like a sample from a William Burroughs cut-up whereby Lemegeton Party is described as ‘the narcotic and occluded industrial-ambient debut for the Junkie Flamingos,’ it’s difficult to rate its level of seriousness. And, according to the accompanying text, the album is inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion, [and] is gilded with a neoclassical sheen that alludes to both the divine and the diabolical. Kundalini’s whispered invocations which have so creepily effective in addressing psychosexually abject conditions in She Spread Sorrow are immediately recognizable here. Yet, she shifts the content towards messages of power and strength, even if cast in the shadows of desolation and solitude’.

The chances are – no criticism – that this will go over the heads of many, and returns us to the question of the extent to which understanding the theory behind any work of art should have a bearing on one’s capacity to appreciate it. I don’t believe that it should even one iota. But then again, my own background draws me to note that in their naming, Junkie Flamingos allude to surrealist juxtapositions built on incongruity, something which defined Dada and indicates a strong Surrealist bent.

The detail is that Junkie Flamingos is ‘a project conceived in 2017 by Luca Sigurtà, Alice Kundalini, and Daniele Delogu’, and that ‘Each of these musicians has their distinctive sounds: Sigurtà with his vertiginous electronica, Kundalini best known as the author behind the death industrial project She Spread Sorrow, and Delogu in the bombastic folk of the Barbarian Pipe and. Their collective amalgamation shifts but does not denude each of these aesthetics in the construction of this oblique, sidereal album.’

It’s clear Junkie Flamingos have high artistic ambitions, and ‘Evening of Our Days’, the first of the albums five expansive tracks sounds pretty serious: even a line like ‘you are a small man’ sounds menacing, threatening, dangerous when whispered, serpentine, from the mouth of Alice Kundalini against a rising tide of electronic manging. The backdrop is sparse, but ugly. ‘Shape of Men’, the album’s eight-and-a-half minute centrepiece is dolorous, sparse, and funereal as a single bell chime rings out over a low, thudding bass beat.

‘Restless Youth’ rumbles, grinds and glitches amidst flickering beats, ominous rumbles, hushes, barely audible vocals, and a general radiance of discomfort and disquiet. The lower, slower, and quieter they take it, the more you feel your skin crawl and your nerves jangle. Sitting between ambient and sparse electronica, it’s darkly atmospheric not in the ambient sense, but in the most chilling, semi-human, psychotic sense. ‘The Language of Slaves’ continues on the same path, the semi-robotic, processed vocals creating a distance between event and emotion. There’s no obvious entry point, and this is music of detachment and cognitive dissonance. These are the album’s positives. It isn’t easy to get into, but why should it be? But where Lemegeton Party stands out is in its subtlety, something chronically underrated right now. With Lemegeton Party, Junkie Flamingos steel in by stealth… and then fuck with your psyche. And that’s why I love it.

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Junkie Flamingos – Lemegeton Party

Opa Loka Records – OL1902 – 10th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Monsta is a solo project by Boaz Bentur, bass player and producer from north of Israel combining elements from psychedelic music, electronic and experimental.

III is Bentur’s second release as Monsta, and comprises two (very) long tracks, ‘A3’ (28:00) and ‘B3’ (36:54). According to the accompanying text, ‘This album is a part from a series of live psychedelic/meditative sessions performed in special locations and atmospheres when people are lying down on the floor with eyes closed’.

At first, there is nothing, and I forgot I’d even started the thing playing. Then, after a minute or so, a vague sound, barely audible… then something resembling the sound of a distant plane…. The continuous hum swells in volume, but changes barely, if at all. Over time, echoic rumbles and soft, nebulous drones spread to fill the air. Besides this, not a lot happens. But one senses the purpose behind the music here is about anything but events, what happens or doesn’t happen, but about the sensations it inspires. And that sensation is incredibly soothing, as the sounds somehow render time an irrelevance and lift the mind out of the body into a state of great calm. You don’t step out of time, as much as slowly float above it, the bonds of corporeal existence gradually loosening as you slide into another dimension.

Around 18 minutes into ‘A3’, you realise it’s still going and that the echoing notes and vespers that tinge the air have changed, although it’s impossible to describe how or why. There just seems to be more… space. More echo. This feels more controlled somehow, more composed, note consciously layered, the reverberations more formulated, but it still feels and sounds fluid, and every layer of vaporous drone seamlessly transitions into the next. And consequently, you’re actually feeling relaxed, ok.

Yes, by you, I mean me. I’m not really listening: because Monsta III is ambient to the max. I’m pottering about doing other things, reading news items and Facebook comments, but as ‘A3’ tapers into the turning contrails of ‘B3’, I’m vaguely aware that this is ‘background’ music at its best. My heart rate is normal, I’m not twitchy or anxietised, and without my doing breathing exercises. I’m light, at ease. Vaguely bewildered, uncommonly separated and approaching a certain contentment.

And even now, the title remains a mystery.

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