Posts Tagged ‘Sky Burial’

Opa Loka Records – OL2004

Christopher Nosnibor

Just over two years on from The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance, and Michael Page delivers another instalment of Sky Burial music.

According to the accompanying text, ‘Stations of the Sun was composed in the spring of 2020 after returning from travels through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa’, and ‘the five tracks form a ritual soundtrack to a journey which became an inadvertent pilgrimage to view the rising and setting sun from ancient sites of historical significance’.

As is often the case with ambient works, while intended to be evocative, its evocations remain secret, hidden from the listener and locked inside the creator’s mind and separated by process. The sense of journey, the sense of location, isn’t particularly apparent here, and as is so common, to the genre where there’s a concept and an inspiration deriving from some specific experience or place, that sense of place, space, and inspiration is largely lost in vague mists. That said, there are some rich textures and nice tones here, and while the idea of ‘journey’ may not be readily conveyed, there is a definite trajectory and evolution across the album’s five tracks.

The expansive opener drifts and washes broad strokes, with little detail, but over its sixteen-minute duration becomes increasingly calm and soothing. As you let it wash over you, you become more attuned not to the location in Michael Page’s mind, but your own immediate surroundings. As ever, I’m in a small, tunnel-like rectilinear room, but at the same time, I am drifting beyond it in my mind due to the transportative effects of music on the mind.

‘Stations of the Sun 2’ is sparse, fleeting notes that glide in and out through tweets and trills of sounds that imitate birdsong without being actual birdsong, as n erratically-pulsing beat throbs and glitches at its heart, like a muted Kraftwerk, or an ultra-muted take on Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’. As the album progresses, distant samples and incidental interventions creep in, changing the tone, and the rhythms become more pronounced and the atmosphere grows darker, although by ‘Stations of the Sun 5’ – a sixteen-minute megalith to bookend the album with a counterpart to the opener, the beats have evaporated, replaced by random, clanks and scrapes that echo dolorously through eternal caverns of gloom. Whirs, bleeps and whooshes like shooting stars occasionally flicker and flash through the dense, dark space.

And so it ends more or less as it begins, and we find ourselves, having been led onwards and through a succession of sonic spaces, that the terminus resembles – at least in memory – the origin. So where have we been? For each of us, the answer will be different. From the comfort of our own spaces, Stations of the Sun leads the listener on a journey of the mind.

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OL2004_front

Opa Loka Records OL1904 – 14th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Seeking a vehicle by means of which to explore the more ambient and experimental aspects of industrial music, Fire in the Head’s Michael Page began recording as Sky Burial in 2006. Thirteen years on, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is his sixteenth album under this guise. Owing more to the gnarly noise of Throbbing Gristle than the mellow sonic swathes of Royksopp, The Forcing Season isn’t what many fans of more populist contemporary ambient would consider ambient. The subgenre classification of dark ambient, with its industrial connotations is perhaps a closer demarcation, but it’s still not entirely accurate, as there are extensive passages of levity and tranquillity within the album’s ten tracks, simply titled I through X.

Progenitor of the ambient music, Brian Eno said that ‘Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting,’ and The Forcing Season certainly meets this criteria: its strength lies very much in the exploration of contrasts. There are stretches where it is extremely easy to zone out, and the lack of clear structure accentuate the drifting, amorphous nature of the compositions. ‘VII’ and ‘VII’ are exemplary, as slow-turning crystalline drones eddy in a rarefied air form smooth, soothing sonic expanses that somewhere along the way build levels of turbulence or otherwise jolt the listener out of that fugue-like state with jarring tonal incongruities. In short, it’s also interesting, imbued with a sort of suspense over when the next unexpected turn will come, when next there will be a sudden switch from background to foreground, from comfortable to uncomfortable and challenging.

‘I’ opens the album gently with soft waves of sound, but soon takes a turn for the more attacking, with smooth, chilly synths layering down over abstract washes and muted beats consumed by juddering bass undulations and wailing mid-tone pulsations that rub against one another at differing frequencies and echo in different times to disorientating effect.

‘II’ moves into more murky atmospherics, with a low, throb providing the backdrop of incidentals that scrape and scatter like breaking glass. There are flickers of discernible melody in the conventional sense for a brief moment on ‘IV’, as tinkling keys ripple tunefully and offer a certain relief. But this isn’t about relief, at least not sustained relief: The Forcing Season is an album built on turmoil.

The final track is the definition of ‘sprawling epic’: twenty-seven minutes of dissonance, as flickers and whistles of bat-pitch feedback and twitters flutter around dank low-end drones, clunks and a mid-range hum that hovers like mist in a graveyard. Over time, a grating, grinding swell of sound grows in volume and density and immense thunderous crashes punctuate the sustained surge… before it too tapers away to be replaced by an ominous hum rent with thumps and crashes. And from hereon it gets darker, denser, more unsettling as difficult drones with serrated edges eddy around beneath dungeon door thuds and whip-crack explosions of noise. And gradually the tempest abates, simmering down gradually to spacey waves of cinematic spaciousness that ebb and flow.

Because it’s truly ever-shifting, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is difficult to place and difficult to digest – which ultimately renders it an artistic success.

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