Posts Tagged ‘Gavin Miller’

Sound In Silence – 9th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Fifteen years on from initiating worriedaboutsatan, Gavin Miller resumes work under the moniker as a solo performer once more. During that time, there have been lengthy breaks, solo releases and side projects, and five albums along the way, all of which featured Thomas Ragsdale. As a duo, it was always apparent that each of them brought something very different to the table, and on paper, the differences probably just shouldn’t work, with Ragsdale’s more beat-centric style seemingly at odds with Miller’s introspective post-rock / ambient stylings. But work it did, and incredibly well. The sound evolved over time, too, from the stuttering microbeats that characterised Arrivals to the up-front booming dance grooves particularly prominent in their later live sets, worriedaboutsatan developed, but remained distinctive.

So what impact Ragsdale’s departure to focus on his solo endeavours?

Pleasingly, Crystalline still has that je ne sais quoi that’s uniquely worriedaboutsatan, despite the contrasts being less pronounced, as Miller pursues the more ambient direction that defined Revenant and Blank Tape. The eight pieces coalesce as a whole to create an album that’s mellow and subtle, with reverby guitar notes chiming out into soft washes of ambient synth. It is predominantly background in its positioning: Crystalline isn’t an album where anything leaps out and grabs the attention, there are no peaks or troughs, and the whole thing more or les drifts by on a certain level that registers low on the concentration meter. That’s not a criticism, but a personal observation on its function as a musical work: it supplements the mood and occupies a space in an understated fashion, and is something that can be played while you’re working or reading. By the same token, that doesn’t make it ‘forgettable’ or mean it isn’t worthy of attentive listening: Miller has constructed some magnificently layered compositions, and while the overall sensation emanates from broad washes of sound that could be described as impressionistic, there is considerable detail beneath the surface.

The forms are vague and vaporous, the individual instruments indistinct, but this changes on penultimate track, ‘Secretly’, where the guitar becomes clearer and more ‘guitary’, and judders as the echoes take over the notes, creating a doubling effect as the picked strings stop and stutter against a heartbeat pulse of a beat.

The album closes with the mournful drones of ‘Switching Off’: sparse, spaced out, blank in their connotations before a swell of overloaded feedback begins to rise in the loudest, most abrasive moment on the album, before it’s suddenly cut dead. Thank you, and good night.

The suddenness of this ending is unexpected, and breaks the suspension of time that the preceding half hour of amorphous sound punctuated by barely-there beats has created. It’s a jolt, and you’re back in the room.

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worriedaboutsatan – Crystalline

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

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

Burning Witches Records – 20th February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

No, it’s not a reference to the movie. A revenant is ‘a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.’ It’s a fitting title for the Yorkshire duo’s fourth full-length album: having disappeared, mutating into Ghosting Season and perusing solo projects following their initial flurry of EPs and debut album. It was six years before they would return with Even Temper in 2015, and since then, they’ve maintained a pretty strong work-rate. But, not so healthy as to feel like their output is a constant spate, and as such, a new album still feels like an event.

The write-up says that Revenant ‘marks a slight departure from their previous album, the critically acclaimed Blank Tape, by venturing into more synthesiser heavy pieces, based around dark, brooding atmospheres and switching from the bouncing arpeggios and slow, hypnotic rhythms of 10 minute album opener ‘Skylon’, to the jittering, cinematic rush of ‘Making Your Masks’’.

Revenant in fact begins with a brief introductory passage in the form of the soft-focus, minimal, and haunting ‘Hawk’ with muffled, distant voices echoing over almost subliminally-hushed droning notes, before the aforementioned ‘Skylon’, which inches its way in discreetly with subtle rippling rhythms and slowly building layers and textures. It’s a semi-ambient opus that carries heavy shades of Krautrock: the beats are s backed off as to be non-existent, but the pulsating notes coalesce to a steady, insistent rhythm.

Both the shoegazey, post-rock guitars and glitchy, flickering beats that characterise so much of their work, are largely left in the background and are sometimes virtually absent. Revenant is extremely subtle, low-key, and favours muted hues and abstract shades.

‘Strax’ is propelled by a flickering heartbeat, while the wispy contrails of ‘Making Your Masks’ are underpinned with a slow, deliberate beat and definite notes, and it marks the beginning of a closing sequence which sees a growing solidity of form, segueing into closer ‘Wasteland’, which is more overtly structured, beat-driven. The effect is like swirling mists solidifying, a phantom taking corporeal form.

Revenant is very much an album: a beginning-to-end experience. What it lacks in immediacy, it more than delivers in detail: the attention to subtle forms and also the overarching structure is impressive, but, one also feels somehow intuitive. There’s something special and unique about the interplay between Thomas Ragsdale and Gavin Miller, and it’s this which has always made worriedaboutsatan an act without peers, an act who effortlessly amalgamate styles and forms to create a space outside of time-frame and genre. Rarefied and refined, Revenant represents another step in the evolution of worriedaboutsatan, without denting the arc of their developmental trajectory.

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WAS - Revenant

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.

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Gavin Miller - Shimmer