95 posts tagged ambient
Atom™: Cold Memories (Sähkö)
Uwe Schmidt recorded Cold Memories as Atom Heart way back in 1994, when it was nearly impossible to avoid some kind of project of his. This was before the schtick of Señor Coconut, but during his initial prolificacy that included projects Lassigue Bendthaus, n+, Midisport, Fonosandwich, HAT, and more. It’s a testament to Schmidt’s ingenuity and originality that nearly 20 years later, this still sounds fresh as ever. The double album is comprised of two long halves, each one nearly an hour. “Slow motion,” utters a time-stretched voice in the opening seconds of Cold Memories, and it’s a sign of what’s to follow. Most of the first half is beatless and sublime, with passages that all blend together like vapors mingling in the air. Only in the final moments of the first half does a rhythm section really come into play, and it’s in this final movement that it sounds mildly dated (with a chugging broken beat that recalls the mid 90s trip hop of Delerium, complete with disembodied chanting). The second half begins with a chill as well, mostly beatless though with some rhythmic undertones that especially take shape about a quarter of the way through with undulating sounds and reverberation. The beat kicks in with a slower but steady drive, but it’s a series of strange, squeaky noises and woodwinds (like strangled bird calls) that set the tone periodically, even with a touch of acid in its final stretch. All in all, it’s just another installment in Schmidt’s massive backcatalogue of interesting, quality music. But I’m thankful for Sähko giving it the royal treatment and making it more readily available after all this time. It’s both a time capsule as well as more evidence that Schmidt is a true innovator, both in touch with what’s happening in electronic music as well as unafraid to wander wherever his inspiration takes him. The vague shifts between ideas and sounds, blended over the span of two single long tracks here, feels like dream logic, sometimes taking unexpected turns but always leading the way confidently, regardless of what strange path it might be taking you down.
Lee Gamble was new to me when he released these two albums on the esteemed PAN label. Each release is unique and quite different from the other, but both are quite excellent and have earned him a rightful amount of respect.
Diversions 1994-1996 has such a simple concept that it’s disarming; Gamble deconstructed old jungle mixtapes and pieced together various ambient breakdowns, interludes, dropouts and passages into a sublime mini-album that is both beguiling and so damn smooth. Lest you think this might come off like an LTJ Bukem soaring piece of nostalgia, it’s far murkier and more subtle than that. It’s this mutation into something entirely other that makes Diversions feel so startlingly new in spite of its source material. There are a few clearer glimmers of the past it references, such as the jazzy tones of “Razor,” the melodic tinge of interlude “3, 4 Synthetics” or the straightforward breakbeat lurking in the distance on “Dollis Hill,” but most of the time he takes us down darker, less nostalgic corridors with sounds that are ambient but slightly “off.”
Dutch Tvashar Plumes is a different beast entirely. It’s more of a proper album (Diversions is something between a mixtape and a mini-album), running a full 40 minutes and chock full of strange ideas. It’s perhaps a more accurate representation of Gamble’s skills and strengths, each track with its own weird personality. It’s glitchy and computerized, particularly on a track like “Skorokhodz” that sounds more like the software experiments of Florian Hecker than anything you’d hear on a dancefloor. But there is also a surprising accessibility despite the playful and experimental nature of the album; Gamble is unafraid to let a beat tie it all together. I find that combination of tinkering and accessibility to be not so far off from what Actress has been exploring in the last few years. However, I think that Gamble does it differently and far better. The weird glitchy groove of “Coma Skank” is infectious against all odds, and the mutant house of “Nowhen Hooks” is oddly irresistible. I think it works best as a full album start to finish, though; the progression as Gamble starts far out and reins it in, only to go back back out there all over again, is what makes it so appealing to me.
Both releases show off Gamble’s talent for the unusual and unexpected, but Dutch Tvashar Plumes is perhaps my favorite of the two. Both are highly recommended though… two sides of a musical personality that will no doubt continue to only get more interesting.
Main: Ablation (Editions Mego)
Mego continues its winning streak releasing quality new music. They’ve managed to resurrect Robert Hampson’s Main project for this new album, his first under the name in seven years. Ever since Main became a solo project for Hampson, following the departure of his former Loop cohort Scott Dawson, the focus on non-traditional music using guitars shifted into something more sublime and cerebral. Field recordings play a role in most of Main’s output, and Ablation is no exception. To create these four extended pieces, Hampson collaborated with Stephan Mathieu, and it’s a very exciting meeting of the minds as far as this listener is concerned. Stephan Mathieu consistently creates compelling textural ambient music, and so having his creative voice as part of Ablation only helps things. The album is broken into four movements. “I” is sufficiently dark, starting with field recordings before the low hammer of a piano resonates and decays. Unusual sounds sourced from instruments and objects (piano, tapped surfaces, field recordings) work in counterpoint to tense, high pitched drones. It may be minimal and not without some drones, but this is far from relaxing music — it’s taut and tense until its final trail-off. “II” is more purely electronic in nature, beginning with a slow crescendo of electronic chirps, like a chorus of cicadas that swells in loudness. Stephan Mathieu’s influence seems to creep to the surface a bit more with each successive track, often in the form of a wash of microtonal drones and overtones. However, the tone is significantly darker and more unsettling than most of Mathieu’s solo material lately. While his albums Remain and A Static Place are quite serene, this is all unresolved tension. Even on “IV,” where more atmospheric drones take center stage, there are disorienting elements including bright morse code-like blips that pan from one channel to the other or swelling, layered bleeps that comprise its final crescendo. Only in the final moments of playback does Ablation feel resolved and at peace. In this sense the album is also fairly different from Main’s more minimal previous output (the mid-90s Hz EP collection, for example). It has a unique sensibility and a restless disposition relative to Hampson’s previous œuvre, and this is no doubt a result of a significant passage of time as well as working with a new collaborator. It’s an outstanding addition to both Mego and Hampson’s repertoires — highly recommended listening.
Rosy Parlane: Willow (Touch)
New Zealand ambient veteran Rosy Parlane makes a welcome appearance on Touch with these two concise cuts recorded in Auckland in 2008-09. It’s been some time since I’ve heard anything new from him, but these pieces remind me that I should pay more attention, as both tracks are excellent. “Willow” is a hazy glimmer, four and a half minutes of droning harmonics and textural crackle. Like its cover art (as usual, a gorgeous photograph by Jon Wozencroft), it suggests the vibrant and unpredictable color of nature reflecting on the surface of water, subtly and constantly changing, never entirely faithful to the scene it reflects. “Morning” is more serene. It conjures images of the sun rising above the horizon, starting with a glow before revealing a beacon of light. It’s a steady crescendo-to-decrescendo swell of smooth drones, something of which Rosy Parlane is a sure master. It’s a bite-sized piece of ambient bliss.
Raime: Quarter Turns Over A Living Line (Blackest Ever Black)
Raime’s debut full-length is even darker and more brooding than I’d anticipated. Somehow feeling aligned with Blackest Ever Black’s approach to conciseness, the album is but seven tracks and under 38 minutes long. However, for Raime’s gloomy aesthetic, the brevity works in their favor. It starts with a beatless haunter that is surprisingly similar to Forest Swords — waves of feedback and noise that work in tandem to create a mysterious atmosphere. Slow rhythm plays a more noticeable role in other tracks on the album, though. “The Last Foundry” is a dirge punctuated by bass and slow drums, all kept alive with a persistent, reverberated creepy percussive pattern that cycles round and round. This formula is essentially the basis for all of the remaining tracks. Hammered, drawn out bass guitar stabs, repetitive high-end percussion patterns anchored by dirge-like slow low-end kicks and reverberated thuds. It’s all pretty grim stuff, funereal and morose. This is not to say that the album is monotonous, at least not anymore than by design. The unresolved, droning overtones of “The Walker in Blast and Bottle,” for example, accompanied by decayed, disembodied shrieks in the distance, amp up the tension considerably. What the album lacks in variety it makes up for in intensity. This music feels pure, incredibly focused, and is flawlessly executed. For those interested in the darker side of leftfield music, Raime certainly delivers.
William Basinski & Richard Chartier: Aurora Liminalis (Line)
Aurora Liminalis is one long collaboration between two rather different but somehow kindred musical spirits. William Basinski made a splash with his captivating Disintegration Loops series several years ago (which featured looping electronics on deteriorating tape, documenting a literal disintegration process of the original recordings), and his aesthetic is fragile and warm and usually feels more analogue. Richard Chartier has been helming the Line imprint for some time now, and his œuvre tends to focus on pure digital signal processing and severe minimalism as well as spatial sound installations. Both artists tend to create finished works that are quite ambient, but the tone of each’s work is substantially different. Hearing this collaboration, it somehow makes perfect sense. The push and pull between something organic and warm against a more methodical and clean instinct permeates throughout Aurora Liminalis. The dynamics of the piece ebb and flow, but most of the time I get the impression of shimmering and refracted light, not unlike the stark cover image by James Elaine. The final stretch of decay that comprises the last several minutes of the piece is pure Basinski — a pronounced, analogue tape hiss that grows in intensity before not just rising to the surface, but becoming the surface itself. It’s a subtle piece that is equally soothing and engaging, quietly enveloping like the light its title references.
Milton Bradley: Reality Is Wrong (Prologue)
The title track of this EP from Milton Bradley is a slow burner for late nights and headphones. It’s not beatless, but it never throws down any predictable dancefloor groove, a sharp contrast to the other two cuts that accompany it. Instead, it’s elusive and vague, with crinkly loops and delicate, delayed plucky synths that flit around the mix. With its over-ten-minute duration, it’s an odd choice to lead off this EP, existing somewhere in a limbo between ambient and something other. The other two cuts will make DJs happier, with more traditional dancefloor techno grooves, albeit no less dark than the first track. “The Unbearable Lightness” seems a bit snarky in its title, as the track itself feels like a headlong race into darkness. Its kick is clear and high in the mix, surrounded by looming drones and thin white noise hihats. “Trapped In Eternity” is as paradoxically claustrophobic and expansive as its title suggests, continuing the theme of bending, creepy drones, but this time over a squiggly, fat bassline pattern. All three cuts are outstanding, with varying amount of versatility for DJs, but all compelling for at-home listening. I’d be interested in hearing more of these dark excursions from him — they would likely lend themselves well to a full-length effort.
Robert Curgenven + Richard Chartier: Built Through (Line)
Much like Richard Chartier’s Recurrence, the first couple of attempts I made to listen to Built Through, I was thwarted by just how minimal it is. The combination of my power amp’s fan and the purr of my CPU and backup drive made the first three minutes or so of Built Through seem like dead air. It’s actually a reworking of Chartier’s own incredibly minimal “Of Surfaces (Variance)” from ten years ago, processed through a series of pipe organ improvisations. It sounds less like organ and more like a tense, taut layer of drones. “Displacement” progresses as a slow crescendo of surface noise, a macro zoom on a turntable stylus playing on a dubplate — all texture, starting faint and becoming more and more emphasized. The low-end that appears about halfway through is tremendous — on headphones, it’s an intense experience. it causes some crazy sensations in my skull as it undulates so deeply while the surface noise increases in intensity to complement it. The longest piece of the four, “Built Through Both Sides,” is built around recordings of Chartier’s live performance along with additional field recordings and manipulations. Curgenven’s signature sound of cyclical surface noise is also a key player in the arrangement, with a keen sense of balance between the two artists’ respective contributions. The front end is grounded perhaps most deliberately by the cyclical pattern of what I presume is one of Curgenven’s turntable plates, a looping circular rhythm that becomes meditative over time. Through deliberate pacing, the tone shifts from this rhythmic pulse to a much more tense series of tones. A few unexpected field recordings rush in here and there, but otherwise it’s this unreleased tension of Chartier’s drones combined with Curgenven’s techniques at the heart of the piece and the album. The final piece is Chartier’s own “Series 6” (from the 2000 release Series, which Chartier also used as inspiration and source material for Recurrence), reused and manipulated through Curgenven’s own rig of nine turntables. It’s far less severe than the original, sharing the deep bass hum of the rest of this release along with the reliable added layer of surface noise and texture. It’s difficult to fully articulate what makes the release so satisfying, but it ranks high for me even based on Line’s usual excellent quality control. The contrast of minimalism to thoughtful detail in each of its segments, particularly on headphones with the volume raised, makes Built Through an impressive body of work from two already reputable artists. Highly recommended!
Lussuria: The Truth Begins in Lies (Hospital Productions)
Lussuria is one of the dark horses running with the Hospital Productions label. His/her/their sound is dark and severe, with a cold impression that recalls the dark ambient heyday of Roger Karmanik’s Cold Meat Industry label. I used to listen to a lot of that stuff back in the day, so there’s a certain sense of nostalgia for me personally when I hear Lussuria’s productions. The Truth Begins in Lies was originally issued on cassette in 2012, but it’s seen a new digital issue that makes the music more readily available. This version is still split into two sides, so to speak, with a few pieces that blend together in each main track. The sound conjures up images of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, hazy with fog and decay. But it’s not all bleak: “La Verita Comincia Dalle Bugie” has a long passage of airy, repetitive pads that suggest renewal. “Pray at the Tomb of Blessed Mother Cabiria” is an extended assortment of dismal drones over an almost maddening pattern of telephone touch tones. This pattern persists even after a thick layer of post-industrial grime coats it, giving it an uncomfortable edge. The repetition of “Pray at the Tomb” is simultaneously fascinating and unnerving; that balance of unpleasantness and something almost serenely bleak is at the core of this music.
Richard Chartier: Recurrence (Line)
Line’s first release in 2000 was Richard Chartier’s own Series album. Recently Chartier has been revisiting this early material, considering ways to rethink, reuse and reinvent it. His latest minimal take on the concepts and sounds is split into two unequal halves. The first, “Recurrence (Room/Crosstones),” is over twenty minutes of quiet, deep low-end tones, while the second, “Recurrence (Series),” is more varied and runs closer to an hour. The first thing I noticed about this one was that I pretty much had to listen on headphones. The sound of my amp’s fan drowned out the music, even at a loud volume. (Bear in mind, while my amp’s fan is not faint, it’s certainly not loud!) And perhaps what made that so competitive is that Recurrence is very much like the hum of idle machinery or amplification, magnified. “Recurrence (Series)” is definitely the more active of the two segments, with sounds ranging from small hiccups to crazy oscillating near-supersonic tones, mid-range drones panning from channel to channel, and more. But it’s the supreme low-end that dominates the first track that I find most compelling, vibrating intensely and reaching in toward something more primal in the process. By revisiting some of his earlier material, material that perhaps defines Chartier’s aesthetic and artistic intent, Chartier continues his legacy as a key player in minimalism and spatial sound, reinterpreting his own ideas and sonic shapes into new equally engaging and uncompromising forms. As his first solo material in years, it’s not to be missed for anyone interested in the more severe outer limits of conceptual ambient sound.
Fieldhead: A Correction (Gizeh)
Achingly gorgeous instrumental interplay between Paul Elam’s electronic arrangements and violinists Elaine Reynolds and Sarah Kemp. The cover art shows a bleak, snowed in landscape, hazy with diffused light and a chilly cold, and the music somehow follows suit — except that rather than feeling bleak, there’s something warm and centered in these pieces. As each track unfolds, it reveals its own personal tragic beauty in a different way. “812 Keefer” threatens to unravel completely, tense with what sounds like disintegrating decay, while “A Correction” has a more regular groove within which every sound seems tentative and fragile. “Stolen” is a shivering cycle of looped strings and effects, creating a haze not unlike that of the stark cover art. “Northern Canada” is a fitting end to the release, combining Elam’s knack for crinkly, subtle electronics and beats with his players’ strings, lending it an aching, yearning feeling as it comes to a close. It has the starkness of folk music without words, but still getting across something so completely human in its electronic assemblage. Winter listening at its best.
Various Artists: Stellate 4 (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy’s Stroboscopic Artefacts compiles yet another (pardon the pun) stellar collection of tracks from reputable artists. As usual, the quality control is exceptionally high here. L.B. Dub Corp is a new alias of Luke Slater (aka Planetary Assault Systems) and finds him working in murkier territory, with a bit of a dub influence as well as an emphasis on deep space. It’s not so far off from the more recent PAS material he’s released, but decidedly aimed away from the dancefloor and toward outer space instead. DSCRD (aka Discordance) presents their own take on leftfield techno, focusing on rhythm and noise in a way that perhaps recalls Pan Sonic and their ilk, rumbling with low end pulse and busy details and pops and clicks, particularly on “Interitum,” one of my favorites of the entire collection. It has the spirit of techno without the obvious dancefloor utility, keeping in spirit with the collective’s manifesto. Sendai pushes further to the outskirts with the two-part “Without the Written Word,” starting off as a beatless sci-fi soundtrack that focus in tense drones and punctuated stabs of noise before evolving into something irregularly rhythmic and sufficiently menacing. James Ruskin is the most surprising contributor here. I’ve never really heard this side of him before; both of his tracks are lush, beatless, melodic lullabies. “Cast Down” is especially gorgeous, swelling with lovely pads and tinkling melodic patterns, a fitting comedown to the release. With the latest Stellate installment, this small label continues to grow its reputation for quality electronic music that both serves convention as well as transcends it by being unafraid to color outside the proverbial lines.
Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm: Stare (Erased Tapes)
This EP puts the various talents of performers Arnalds & Frahm together. It’s nicely understated compared to the melodrama of some of their respective releases in the past… closer to the subtlety of Frahm’s Felt album last year, but with a distinctly different vibe. There’s a bubbling undercurrent to “A1” that propels it forward, even as it’s quite understated on the whole. 7 minutes of delicate arpeggio synth and swelling chords move things along nicely, recalling just how graceful each artist’s touch can be. The other two tracks are lush and slowly-evolving as well. “A2” has patient lilt in its largo chords, tragically beautiful in its patient grace. “B1” is the longest track, built primarily around a repetitious pattern of synths and reverberated bass thuds, with some nice string playing over it. The synth patterns persist and provide momentum over a much slower, gloomier lament on the strings that is truly gorgeous. It’s a short and sweet reminder of the raw talent involved, and how powerful they are as a duo.
Loscil: Sketches From New Brighton (Kranky)
The latest from Loscil is another gorgeous slab of warm ice. I say that because his music tends to be so warm yet so chilly at the same time. He’s been wandering around perhaps the same central core of musical ideas over the span of numerous albums, but each one tends to have its own particular sensibility. If his previous outing Endless Falls was one of his more elegant, gliding statements, Sketches From New Brighton carries with it an insistent pulse. It’s not in the form of the undulating bass kick that’s characterized some of his earliest albums, because most of Sketches is beatless, but there is a keen sense of rhythm nonetheless, with filters and details affecting his delicate synth chords on tracks like “Hastings Sunrise” or the buoyant patterns of “Second Narrows.” Only in the final stretch of the album, starting with “Collision of the Pacific Carrier,” a nervous, twitchy undercurrent about it. Two of my favorites follow; “Cascadia Terminal” shimmers like water in moonlight, while “Fifth Anchor Span” is perhaps the most pronounced and elegant track of the bunch, culminating in a quietly grand swell of low-end bass, vibraphone and reverberated guitar. It is largely this rhythmic filtering of sound that shapes the flow of the album, which is decidedly different from the patient lushness of Endless Falls (I can’t help the comparison, because Endless Falls remains my favorite of his repertoire), but still quite compelling.
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin: Instrumental Tourist (Software)
It’s perhaps an unlikely pairing, but I was immediately excited by the prospect of a hands-on collaboration between Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never). Hecker’s œuvre leans toward expansive, hazy and dense ambient abstractions, while Oneohtrix Point Never is more of a restless spirit, though he’s also no stranger to wandering landscapes of sound. The sounds of Instrumental Tourist were created by the duo together in the room — perhaps notable only because correspondance collaborations are so commonplace these days — and it sounds to me as though Hecker’s knack for organ drones has rubbed off on Lopatin, reining in his usually varied and unpredictable aesthetic. If nothing else this makes for a fairly consistent affair from start to finish, leaning more on the ambient, synthesized side of things with a few surprises along the way. My personal favorite is “Intrusions,” in which the collaboration seems balanced, starting off with distorted noise and evolving into something psychedelic and amorphous. Lopatin’s influence comes through clearly in the use of more overt synth sounds, synthesized voices, monophonic synth warbles and solos — it’s a palette of sounds that is a clear departure from Hecker’s usual style, but executed in a way that feels gracious and patient, not restless. “GRM Blue I” and “GRM Blue II” showcase Lopatin’s unusual knack for non-melodic musicality, a nice counterpoint to the gloomy opening block of tracks that fall more in line with Hecker’s Ravedeath album aesthetic. The collaboration does not necessarily transcend each artist’s own repertoire, but it is something of an earworm nonetheless. I find myself coming back to it time and time again, drawn to its hazy magic.