Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Misanthropic Agenda – MAR057 – 7th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Dave Phillips’ new album is quite explicit: it’s an album dedicated to death. He explains this in the liner notes, ‘not death the spectre that installs horror and fear in many (in the western world), nor death the enemy of the (western) for-profit medical system, but death as part of a cycle, like birth. death the only certainty in life. dying, like living, as something that can be done well – or not. death also something that can be a release, a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom.’

The album, which he directs the listener to play as one continuous session, was inspired by his father’s illness, deterioration and death, and being his carer for the 15 last months of his life, and was, poignantly, sent off to press in early June 2021, when his father died. This clearly makes To Death an incredibly personal work.

Perhaps predictably, To Death is a dark album. Predictably, not primarily because of the subject matter, but because my last encounter with Phillips’ work – 2014’s Homo Animalis – was pretty dark, too, although he’s done a hell of a lot since then. And for Phillips’ observation that death can be ‘a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom’, death is rarely seen as a cause for elation or celebration in the human psyche, particularly in the west, where there is a deep-rooted fear of death, and a culture that promotes prolonging and preserving life at all costs, regardless of quality. Death is perceived as a loss, something devastating, and to be avoided at all costs, and I’m forever presented with news items and comments on social media about people who have died in their 70s or 80s – particularly during the pandemic – having been ‘taken before their time’. But when is their time? Everyone has a time, and everyone has to die of something, and the state of denial about the inevitability of death is psychologically detrimental.

But as the title of the album’s second track says it so succinctly, ‘fear of death = fear of life’. A life lived in fear of death is no life at all. Of course, an awareness of death is something else entirely. You have to take some risks to know you’re actually alive. How many people say on their death bed that they were glad they did nothing in case it killed them? There’s a clear theme to this album, both sonically and in the tiles: ‘everyone dies, not everyone lives’ is the perfect encapsulation of Phillips’ ethos. It also manifests as a dolorous booming drone like a ship’s horn juxtaposed with maniacal shouting, distorted and raw, and very much in the vein of Prurient. As such, Phillips articulates beyond words and reaches into the very core of the psyche.

Ominous drones that hum and buzz hover unsettlingly and uncomfortably, eddying around whispered words, barely audible during the ten-minute first track, ‘a cycle completed’. What is it about whispers in darkness that we find so unnerving? Gradually, ponderous bass notes and dubious creaking sounds enter the mix as the drones become more tense and eerie.

The third piece, ‘to death we all go, the sooner the better’ is filled with agonised shrieks and howls and pain and anguish – and the title conveys a sentiment I can truly buy into. Humanity is a scourge, and the worst of all plagues on the planet.

Listening to the album in a single sitting is certainly a powerful experience, and there is some dense, challenging noise, and things grow darker and doomier as the album progresses: a stark piano note chinks out and is quickly submerged in a wheezing drone and more muttered narrative on ‘real catastrophe’ which plunges deep into underground rumblings. ‘We are the virus…’ he whispers amidst a soup of spectral voices. ‘The real catastrophe is that humanity continues.’ Phillips’ apparent misanthropy is hardly unjustified: in the scheme of all eternity, it’s taken us but the blink of an eye to render countless species extinct and decimate countless ecosystems. In nature, other species don’t destroy their own habitat. Even viruses and parasites evolve to achieve maximum replication without destroying their hosts. It’s simply not in their interests. The common cold is the most successful virus of all time because it’s highly contagious but rarely kills its host, other than by complications. The more hosts available, the times it can reinfect, the less work it has to do to propagate itself.

Siren-wailing undulations lead us to ‘the other side’, a groaning, wheezing croak of a composition built on repetition before finally, the title track crawls to the finish – and having made it, I can die happy.

Some speculate that death is not the end, but the likelihood is that it is, and regardless of spiritual belief, physically, it is. And why should that be such a bad thing? All things must end, and it’s a matter of when, rather than if. Live life: accept death.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO305 – 28th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.

The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’

I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.

Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.

There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.

As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.

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Panurus Productions – 4th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Fading Tapes: a moniker that casts allusions to degradation, the wear and fade through the passage of time, the notion of impermanence and the significance of medium – because the medium isn’t only the message, it’s the determining factor in the lifespan of a record, whereby digital is supposedly forever, but analogue corrodes, deteriorates, and ultimately becomes unusable.

A Cartographer is one who draws or makes maps, and Fading Tapes’ latest work is, ins ways, both map and territory. The titles of the four tracks sketch out the features of the locations in the most minimal of forms – and these aren’t necessarily natural geographical landforms or biomes, but remains of human activity left marking the landscape.

The sequencing of the four compositions, each of which span around fifteen minutes apiece, very much create the sensation that the listener is being guided on a journey, and there is a clear linearity to Cartographer.

Opener ‘East Valley’ calls us to the ritual with an insistent tribal drumming and wailing pipe before… actually, before what the fuck? It’s not so much a building of layers of sound as it is a jet plane flying overhead, devastating the image of a hidden tribe enacting an ancient, esoteric ritual. And this is the dynamic of the piece – ancient collides with modern, and as immense gongs and cymbals crash, ringing out into an expansive desert, unchanged for centuries, hidden from the march of technology and evoking a deep-seated spirituality, the disruptions are deep incisions that disrupt without care for the existing habitat. But over time it’s the soft, supple droning ambience and wordless vocal tones that ring out into a spacious echo that come to dominate. For once, nature, and the old world, wins out as so-called progress falls by the wayside: the valley remains unconquered.

‘Bones’ is a more contemporary-sounding drone work, with conventional western percussion propelling a deep, dark surge of slow-burning desert rock that’s slowed to a the pace of drifting dunes, and the sound is dense. The snare rings out into a cavern of reverb – it’s almost dubby, but it’s accompanied by wailing feedback, that does on, and on, and endless mid-range drones. We learn little, if anything, of the bones themselves, or their origins, but there is a sense that there is little interest in the real detail of the past, and that a sketched narrative is all that there is an appetite for. Instead, to the present, and the future.

The cymbals grow in dominance on the tempestuous ‘Boats’, but again, echoes and shadows dominate, and this very much feels like a window on an historical event, the soundtrack to a battle or other catastrophe at sea where boats were lost beneath the waves. To all intents and purposes, this is a spacious post-rock piece, but it possesses a richness, a level of detail, and a degree of ambience, that is so much more.

The final track, ‘Red Dry Land’ is a hypnotic piece that drifts without real movement, a nagging motif backed by a thrum that simply thumps on unchanging for what feels like an eternity. There’s a scratchy guitar that’s reminiscent of Andy Moor, and mines a more avant-jazz seam, but retains that expansive post-rock vibe, too.

The map charts a route, and as it progresses, it leads the listener back to themselves. This all feels highly evocative, and conjures images in the mind’s eye – but every perception is different. Perhaps that difference ultimately does come down to the map, and one’s experience of the territory – for while the former is fixed, factual, the latter is not, and will always be coloured by individual realities, the eye of the explorer. You may know exactly where you are, and still be lost. With Cartographer, Fading Tapes point the way but provide no real answers. But perhaps that’s ok: the enjoyment is in the journey rather than the destination.

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Dret Skivor – 18th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Swedish cassette label Dret Skivor continue to expand their catalogue at pace with another made-for-tape two-tracker in the shape of Hammarö Stickning Kubb’s Storbror Ser Dig. As is customary, biographical information for the label’s seventh release is nil, and technical information is sparse, the accompanying notes simply stating ‘Six oscillators, reverbs, psychoacoustics, voices in your head, chance methods.’

Methodologically, this evokes the spirit of John Cage – substitute eight or twelve radios with six oscillators, retain the random, and, well, there you have it. The fascination of the random – particularly where there are multiple operatives or machines involved – is the way it can yield moments of unanticipated interplay. It’s not just about the overlaps and intersections, either, but the spaces where one or more of those elements is not participating or contributing. It’s here where the potentials of permutation present themselves. Maths, I‘ll freely admit, isn’t one of my greatest strengths, but the permutations of six clearly offer significant numbers of variations. And on the one hand, while it is mathematical, there is also a strong musical and literary lineage of permutational work, with Brion Gysin’s permutational poems being a strong example of how a simple phrase consisting of maybe four, five, or six words can yield a substantial array of variants through the process of permutation. Then, of course, there is Dret label founder Dave Procter’s own Fibonacci Drone Organ project, which is – as the name suggests – mathematically based.

The permutational aspect of Storbror Ser Dig – split across two twenty-minute pieces, ‘Storbror.’ (side one) and ‘…Ser Dig’(side two) aren’t really apparent, but on the former, a minimalist drone swells to a filler drone that continues to expand in density over time.

‘…Ser Dig’ occupies a lower mid-range register and subtly wavers through slow oscillations. Not a lot happens, but this is a work that demands a certain level of focus – or otherwise, no attention whatsoever, by which I mean that close listening will reveal minute details, and that intent, alert state of scrutinising the sound brings with it a different state of mind, a certain clarity. Contrastingly, allowing oneself to become one with the drone is a deeply relaxing experience: headphones, dark room and candle, a smoky scotch all contrive to a certain slow fade in and out of the continuum, which is different altogether. It encourages you to empty your mind and instead of reflecting on any sense of trajectory, simply immersing oneself in the slow, subtle ripples of sound that reveal themselves over time. No drone is ever just a drone: there is always movement, shapes, undulations, ripples, waves. They are all present in this subtly-shifting, rippling dronescape that evolves over the course of its forty-minute duration. And the details are nice, but nicer still is just to sit back and let it play out, because life is stressful and demanding enough and sometimes, details simply don’t matter. With this, it’s time to go with the flow.

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Kranky Records – 28th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Over the course of two decades and fourteen albums, Scott Morgan, under his Loscil moniker, has created a body of work which has probed myriad different directions within the electronic / ambient field. While his previous works have explored minimal arrangements and the application of difference source materials such as field recordings, none has been so intently focused on rendering a limited range of course materials in the most varied ways possible – which is precisely what Clara does, taking the same source material and seeing just how far it can be taken in different directions.

The accompanying text explains the process in detail, describing the album as ‘a stunning meditation on light, shade, and decay, sourced from a single three-minute composition performed by a 22-piece string orchestra in Budapest. The subsequent recording was lathe-cut on to a 7-inch, then “scratched and abused to add texture and colour,” from which the entirety of Clara was sampled, shape-shifted, and sculpted. Despite their limited palette, the compositions summon a sense of the infinite, swelling and swimming through luminous depths. Certain tracks percolate over narcoleptic metronomes while others slowdive in shimmering shadowplay, sounding at times like some noir music of the spheres’.

In some respects, then, Clara is a remix album, in the sense that some remix albums stretch and deviate so far from the original material that the song being remixes becomes unrecognisable, and one begins to question the extent to which the track is the work of the original artist and the extent to which the credit for its creation belongs more to the remixer. This may all be Morgan’s ‘own’ work but at what point does the source material become buries beneath the reworking? Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the album, considering its origins, is just how…. Normal, how smooth it sounds, as opposed to being a fucked-up mess of crackle and pop, hiss and static. I had anticipated scratches, abrasion, mangled noise, clicks, pops, something approximating the sound of a Brillo pad being applied directly to the microphone. But no.

‘Lux’ introduces the album in what feels like familiar territory: long, slow swells of strings flattened out into partial abstraction, smudging the definitions that stand between orchestral and ambience to forge sounds that have become almost the standard form in contemporary ambient. And this indeed the form for the album as a whole.

It’s no criticism to observe that Clara sounds like Loscil: Morgan is a master in the field of contemporary ambient, and has a supreme ability to sculpt slow-shifting soundscapes that are eternally intangible, unreachable, yet immersive in their soft clouds and vaporous drifts. ‘Lumina’ has some softly bouncing bubbles rising and eddying around in a soothing sonic foam that’s slow and gentle, while the ten-minute ‘Stella’ floats past almost imperceptibly.

Nothing about Clara is going to raise the blood pressure.

The track titles all refer to light and luminosity, and instead of scouring the ears and the soul, Clara recreates the warm glow of a log fire burning down to embers, or a dimmed bulb late on a summer’s evening after the sun has faded from the sky, leaving a purple-hued sky in its wake. ‘Sol’ slows and dissolves down to a low, pulped-down pulsation, from which in its mist emerges a rippling loop of rippling mellowness that hints at the abstracted ambience of Tangerine Dream.

Even in the face of the most broken, damaged of source sounds, Loscil smooths the edges and renders them something else, and something other, by a process of softening, of melting into abstraction. Clara is a magnificent work of transformation, of distancing, whereby the end product emerges in an entirely different sphere from that which begat it.

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Box Records – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Gavin Miller’s hardly been slacking of late: in fact, it turns out I’ve been struggling to keep pace with his output this last year or so. While for many, time seems to have stalled since the sequence of lockdowns began some fourteen months ago, Miller’s had his foot firmly on the accelerator, expanding the already extensive worriedaboutsatan catalogue with five new releases, including an archival excavation (appropriately titled The Vault) and an expanded reissue of the Europa EP, and a split release with Capac, all of which followed a brand-new LP, in the form of Time Lapse.

This latest effort, releases on Box Records, run by Matt Beatty of Pigs x7, arrives almost a year to the day after Time Lapse, and is in many respects of the period since its predecessor was recorded, a period which has been both eventful and uneventful at the same time.

The liner notes detail Miller’s objective in piecing together the album as follows: ‘Resisting the urge to simply turn in more longform experiments in expansive post-rock informed electronica, Providence seeks to capture several different elements of the ‘satan sound, whilst attempting to thread it together into one cohesive whole.’

There has been a certain sense of linearity to the majority of previous ‘satan releases, although that sense of trajectory has, for me, always been most defined in the live sets, and the challenge here is very much how does one provide a sense of flow, of linearity, or narrative, of continuity; to what is, in many ways, a drifting desert of time, punctuated by so very little?

Since the departure of Thomas Ragsdale, at which point worriedaboutsatan again became Gain solo, the beat and bass elements of the sound have much more subdued, and sonically, Providence is very much classic Miller: rich ambient tones with subtle undercurrents that allude to post-rock and glitchtronica, and on paper, it probably doesn’t sound all that remarkable – although perhaps what is remarkable is that worrriedaboutstan started carving this nice back in 2006, before it became commonplace, making was trailblazers the world has gradually caught up with.

‘Stück Für Stück’ shimmers, rippling notes cascading delicately down like droplets of spring rain while a subdued, almost subliminal beat and bassline pule in the background, and ‘Für Immer’ finds Miller return to German for the track’s title – and perhaps some clues as to the narrative lie in the titles of the tracks. ‘Für Immer’ shares no obvious connections to the 1982 DAF album of the same title, but perhaps hints at the sense of eternity that pervades Miller’s work, not least of all as reflected in the name of his label, This is it Forever. It may be creative reading, it may be the enactment of reception theory or even projection on my part, but some of the track’s resonance lies in the sense that the soft ambience, directionless, lacking overt form, encapsulates the drifting emptiness of this span of disconnection, of aimlessness, of there being no end in sight, and the weak, powerless, listless, feeling is engenders, a sense reinforced by ‘On Your Own’, and all of the connotations of isolation and loneliness it carries.

Waves washing onto the shore splash through soft chimes on the short interlude that is ‘Everything is Fine’ (which I can’t help as read by turns as sarcastic and self-affirmation, but neither of which suggest that things truly are fine), while ‘Stop Calling My Phone’ is its antithetical scenario, and it’s a jabbing, petulant synth that dominates this track All or nothing: the desolate silence, or the bombardment of contact are both equally difficult to manage, and there rarely seems to be a happy medium.

If the nine-minute trance-inducing haze of ‘Stórar Franskar’ articulates the expansive drift of time and that sea of emptiness, then closer ‘Just to Feel Something’ is perhaps the companion to ‘Everything is Fine’, in that the numbness manifests as façade. Because everything is so empty, and so numb, and so absent, it’s difficult to retain focus, a sense of space, a sense of perspective.

Providence is the perfect soundtrack to those protracted spells of ponderance, that discomfort and dissatisfaction, the introspective reflection and self-doubt. It stands as a magnificent blank canvas into which to project and reflect. It’s also another strong addition to the worriedaboutsatan catalogue.

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Not Applicable – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chris Sharkey’s first album released under his own name is what I suppose one might call an ‘environmental’ album. Not an album about the environment in the broader sense, or the ecological sense, but in the sense of having been inspired by the artist’s surroundings, and the music herein is a direct response to that in many ways. While so many releases from the last year have been environmental in the context of creative responses to lockdown and a shrunken vista consisting of four walls and the view from the window, paired with a pervading anxiety on account of the 24/7 news media and social media doomscrolling, Presets comes from a very different perspective. First and foremost, its inspiration is travel.

“I had been touring and travelling a lot. Lots of long car journeys, the M1, driving between shows in Europe. Long waits in airports. The occasional long-haul flight to play farther field. Throughout this period my relationship to music changed. I found that listening to songs or short pieces would leave me agitated and frustrated. I’d been listening a lot to Actress, particularly ‘Ghettoville’ and ‘Hazyville’ which really worked for me on the road. I wanted a music that develops slowly over time, drawing you in, making you forget about the clock. Music that has so much grain and texture that you could almost pick it up and turn it around in your hands, examining from all sides. Like a physical object. Music that resembles something you might see out of the window of a plane, high above the clouds, a meteorological event or a storm on distant mountains from the back seat of a car.”

I can certainly relate to the agitational effects of listening to certain musical forms while in transit: I always had to stop music and be on full sensory alert on arriving at a train station and walking through an unfamiliar city, for example, and since lockdown, I’ve not been able to listen to my MP3 player at all while walking around anywhere.

The physical setup for the album’s production was minimal, and Presets is the product of two months’ intensive recording, producing hours of material. But this was only the start of a protracted second stage, which Sharkey details as follows: “As the process continued, I would select my favourite parts and create playlists just for myself. By the end I had over 4 hours of music that lived on my phone and whenever I would travel, I’d listen. Over the course of the next 5 years: touring, travelling, listening, I slowly whittled it down to what you hear on Presets.”

In short, Presets is the product of many years’ work – not just the five years in post-recording evolution, but the years of experience and observation that preceded its creation also. It was, unquestionably, time well spent: while many of the individual segments are quite short – mere fragments – the album as a whole sees them sequenced and segued so as to feel like one continuous piece that gradually transitions between tones and shades. It’s also an immense work, clocking in around the eighty-five minute mark. It’s very much a good thing that it’s intended as a background work, because it’s practically impossible to sustain focus for that kind of time. But Presets is about not focusing, about disruptions and interruptions, about life.

It begins with quavering, key-ranging notes that do, at least vaguely, sound like guitar, before layers of processing build, before the source instrument becomes lost, evolving to conjure organ -like drones and entirely abstract washes. Before long, particularly over the course of the eighteen-minute second track, ‘the sharecropper’s daughter’, you find yourself not so much listening as floating along with the sounds as they slowly creep and shift.

The titles are sparsely descriptive and evocative at the same time: from ‘blue cloud, red fog’, to ‘scorpion bowl’ via ‘detained at the border’, there are hints of mini-narratives attached to each piece, and the sense of travel and movement does come across through the difficult drones and scrapes of feedback that build and buzz through the foggy murk.

It’s an epic work, and a major achievement.

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SN Variations – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Did downloading really kill physical formats and the music industry? If you believe the media and the major labels, yes, and again, when it comes to non-major artists, it’s clear that the current industry model is not one that benefits them kindly. Then again, streaming services probably did more damage than downloading – or home taping – ever did. But there is also a very definite flipside, in that the cost of producing physical releases on a small scale is phenomenally expensive on a per-unit basis, to the point that it’s often prohibitive, and that’s before one factors in issues of distribution and postage.

There’s also a matter of purpose: conventionally, singles were released to promote albums, and in order to achieve that aim, tended to be the most commercially viable song(s) from said album that radio stations (and, later, blogs and the like) may play and draw potential buyers in. But artists like Adrian Coker don’t make music that has that kind of marketability. You won’t find his music being played on commercial radio, and a single is probably likely to sell a bunch of albums.

No artist makes music for it not to be heard. And so it is that SN Variations release Adrian Corker’s ‘9 Spaces’ single as a download only, and it makes sense, particularly in context, as a musical work that was only possible via digital means, as Corker explains: ‘This piece started quite a while ago in a room with me, Chris Watson and an electro magnetic receiver made in Russia. It ended with the processing of these parts by Takuma Watanabe and a percussive improvisation by Tatsuhisa Yamamoto that left my original demo in his recording worldising my track in Japan. In between over the last year musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva, the Ligeti Quartet and Pascal Wyse sent me parts remotely from London and various places around Europe. A track that was made in 9 spaces of which I was in 3’.

It’s in this context that the title makes sense also. And the roll-call of contributors is quite something:

Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – percussion

Takuma Watanabe – max

Chris Watson – field recordings

Aisha Orazbayeva – violin

Pascal Wyse – trombone

Ligeti Quartet:

Mandhira de Saram – violin

Patrick Dawkins – violin

Richard Jones – viola

Val Welbanks – cello

The first version, a quite punishing nine-and-a-half-minutes in duration, begins with grating drones and serrated buzzes, somewhere between an electric hair clipper and a palm-sander, before transitioning into trepidatious territory, with skittering fleeting buzzes and swarming sounds creating an unsettling tension atop a sparse, hesitant bass that stops and starts, single notes echoing and halting, And ultimately, it’s quite challenging – but to be clear, that’s no criticism. Art that isn’t challenging isn’t really art, but entertainment.

‘V2’ is subtler, quieter, stealthier, the drones trimmed, more mid-range, cleaner, manifesting as more like organ notes that quiver and quaver into space, disturbed only by the occasional extraneous disruption. As such, it’s more ambient and less upfront. It’s also everything a single should be: a snapshot of the artist, showcasing different aspects of their sound in contrasting and complimentary fashion.

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24 April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title is pretty much a summary of this release: a collection – or compilation – of works by dark ambient act In The Absence Of Words. It’s the first of two volumes, and draws on their seventeen previous releases (discounting the 2020 ‘reworked’ version of III (originally 2017).

There are a lot of numerals to assimilate here – which is a point of interest given that the man behind In The Absence Of Words is a copywriter by day, a person who spends the majority of their time immersed in the formation of words in order to convey specific information. The craving for some time away from words is one I can personally relate to, and is one of the reasons for my pursuit of a musical project centred around noise and abstraction. We all need a break from the dayjob, and for a writer, that headspace comes not from time out of the office in the gym, but from something not only devoid of words, but which blanks out words completely, and covers over the internal monologue and that inner voice, whatever it’s saying, to wash away and cleanse the mind of words, if only for a short while.

A Collection I may assemble six compositions from a vast and swiftly-built catalogue, but it’s explicitly not a ‘best of’ intended to shift units of back-catalogue: instead, it’s a carefully-curated project where the pieces have been, as the liner notes explain, ‘carefully selected to complement each other and to create a single immersive listening experience. Each track was originally released individually on Bandcamp between 2017 and 2019 and each has been remastered and assembled specifically for this compilation.

As such, it’s less about singling out individual pieces and immersing oneself in the holistic experience, allowing oneself to simply take the journey and observe the landscape, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents. That said, there are clear distinctions between the tracks, and these very much signpost the route from beginning to end.

As such, some notes on the passage seem appropriate, in the same way one may jot down observations from any other journey, and ‘The Meeting Point’ undulates slowly, and I’m reminded of the tranquil ripples of Prurient when they’re not devastating the ambience with a blitzkrieg of white noise and distorted vocals.

The seventeen-and-a-half minute ‘Suspension of Belief’, originally featured on debut I back in 2017 isn’t discernibly different, but swells and groans out a textural rinse that rumbles and rolls on and on, its churning grind becoming quite uncomfortable over time.

Much of the album is soft, cloud-like, with sonorous, billowing drones changing shape and form often but subtly over time, and while the second half of the album feels less varied in terms of both texture and tone, the way the individual pieces melt into one another to create a extended sonic space in which it’s possible to relax and empty your mind is credit to the artist for his selection and sequencing of the material to render such an experience.

AA

A Collection I

Editions Mego – EMEGO298 – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As the title perhaps suggests, Cylene Suisse Redux is a document of the tour of Switzerland undertaken by François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley in December 2019, following the release of their first album, Cylene. That said, it’s no straight live recording, as the two longform tracks – naturally corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette each – were edited and manipulated respectively by Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, ‘giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach’.

The two musicians chose to entrust sound material recorded on the tour to the expert ears of two friends and great musicians Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach.

For Ryoji Ikeda, it was a question of finding a moment, circumscribing a fragment of time through his listening, with minimal intervention. For Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, the live recordings became material to be deconstructed and reassembled, to tell, according to his musical sensibility, a path of metamorphosis for Bonnet and O’Malley’s music.

According to the press release, ‘Cylene Suisse Redux is a prismatic substrate of a series of concerts surrounded by friendship, lakes, mountains, and by nightfall’. But how does that translate as a listening experience?

O’Rourke conjures an ominous sci-fi soundscape, abrim with other-worldly odyssey, as spooky-sounding mid—range drones hover and twist in a haze of reverb. This is the sinister soundtrack to a sinister movie set in a barren wasteland in an alien climate, as clouds of red dust drift through the thin, inhospitable atmosphere. Something is awry: danger is omnipresent, and anything could happen at any moment. Sonorous tones echo out into the emptiness, accentuating the bleakness of the sonic expanse in which we find ourselves. There is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing solid or familiar, only an ever-shifting drift of layer upon layer of sound without and signposts or markers, nothing to orientate oneself with. You feel isolated, alone, exposed, vulnerable, as you advance, with trepidation, onwards through this nerve-jangling eighteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda’s approach is quite different, and so is the end result, which starts out like a distant freight trail screeching to a halt with the scrape of metal upon metal, and it continues far off in the background as insistent drones, broad and bulbous, hover and turn, twist and whine, evolving over time. This is more what you might consider ‘typical’ ambient drone, favouring neither lightness nor darkness, and with neither a leaning toward bass not treble, and therefore not challenging and sensory aspect too hard. It’s still ominous in places, but not overtly unsettling or uncomfortable. Because there’s some sense of linear trajectory, it growls louder and darker as it progresses, swelling in volume and intensity, while the soft-edged drones develop sharper edges and become increasingly shrill, howling dissonance and pain before gradually tapering down, albeit with some afterburn.

You’re left wandering, aimless, vacant, in no-man’s land, wondering precisely how you should feel and how you should react to what you’ve just heard – and that’s as it should be. François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley create music without boundaries or definition, and that indistiction is further accentuated by O’Rourke and Ikeda. It’s for the listener to do the work, to explore and to find the points of resonance. There is much space to explore. Go forth.