120 posts tagged ambient
Airchamber3: Peripheral (Frattonove)
Airchamber3 consists of Andrea Ferraris (guitar, bass, laptop, effects, drums), Luca Serrapiglio (alto, tenor & baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, wind controller and synths, theremin, MaTiLda, effects, drums), and Andrea Serrapiglio (cello, laptop, casio sk-1, iPad, drums, vocals). For their second album, the trio is joined at various times by Vincenzo Vassi, Dominic Cramp, Barbara DeDominicis and Luminance Ratio to flesh out their ideas. Recorded over four years, these twelve tracks are built on the group’s core improvisational spirit with sprawling, expansive, and genre-defying gestures, techniques, and sounds. The micro chatter that kicks off “Recollecting Pieces of Treasured Memories” reminds me of Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals” before a low, repitched voice starts to bellow over it; the combination of skittering creatures, shifty strings, and deep lead is interesting but not one of my personal favorites. Some of the group’s more wandering moments feel the most inspired, like the ghostly float of “A Body Is a Map of Bruises” (greatly accentuated by Barbara DeDominicis’s voice) or the unusual percolating of “Dopamine Yuppie Dub.” Despite the restless sprawl of most of Peripheral, it ends on a meditative note with the two part “In the Corner of my Eye / Peripheral Vision” (and then followed with some silence and a delicate guitar ditty as a postscript). The overall aesthetic recalls the spirit of seminal New York improv artists like Glenn Branca, filtered through a slightly skewed and drowsy sensibility. There are tinges of rock and jazz alongside a heaping helping of “other” that make Airchamber3 somewhat difficult to describe and to categorize. Here’s hoping that slipperiness continues to guide them as they channel the strange sounds that reside in the outskirts of convention. The following video is for “Tunnel Vision,” the third track on Peripheral (unsure why Serrapiglio labeled it “911” on YouTube…):
Buy it: Frattonove
Orphax: De Tragedie van een Liedjesschrijver Zonder Woorden (Moving Furniture)
Sietse van Erve is the man behind the bleak sounds of Orphax. This is his first official full-length for the project, and my first exposure to his music. The album is divided into 6 tracks, starting with the shimmering, drony haze of “Onder Het Noorderlicht” (“Under the Northern Lights”). It crackles with electricity, with some tense, crackling feedback just below the surface while an undulating tide of metallic drones does its thing. These tracks take their time and are relatively shapeless; I think of them as differently shaped clouds that slowly float by. “Geluiden Van De Eerste Dag” (“Sounds of the First Day”) is the second track, even more subtle. Its taut, minimal drones and flutters of bit-crushed texture remind me of the drone music that initially hooked me on the genre in the 90s (that’s a good thing!). “Samen Aan Het Water” (“Together on the Water”) continues the trend, even more sublime and sedate, lacking the grit that provided the dark underbelly of the first couple of tracks; this sound gives Machinenfabriek a run for his money, patient and elegant. There is a subtle push and pull between the more pastoral beauty of some of these tracks, including the gorgeous glide of “Winterslaap in de Zomer” (“Hibernation in the Summer”) and the more tense layers of drones in the opening track and “Ochtengloren Boven De Ijzige Vlakte” (mangled in translation, “Jungle’s Dawn Symphony Over the Ice”). “Het Bos” (“The Forest”) brings it all down with an elegant decline in its final moments, until there’s nothing but the faint sound of nature. It’s not an easy album to describe, because its gestures and ideas are vague and more like suggestions than tracks. Fans of drone music will no doubt enjoy it, touching on familiar sounds but with a bit of its own elusive personality that reveals itself on repeat listens.
M. Geddes Gengras: Collected Works Vol. 1 – The Moog Years (Umor Rex)
M. Geddes Gengras has a sizable repertoire preceding him, even though this collection of Moog synth excursions is my first impression. Despite his broad resume, I don’t think it’s necessary to hear any of it to appreciate Collected Works Vol. 1. Amidst the whole modular synthesis craze currently, it’s easy to write off Gengras’ Moog excursions as simply jumping on the bandwagon, but I find this collection of six pieces to be engrossing and haunting. The longest track is first; “10.17.2009 (for CCG)” is a swirling, melancholic masterpiece. To make a slight diversion, one of my favorite ambient albums of all time is Maeror Tri’s Myein (ND, 1995). It’s a near-perfect nexus of shoegazing guitar, gritty texture, and patient excursions of pastoral beauty. This opening track reminds me of that same majesty, swirling and swooning and somehow both busy and vibrant while also feeling serene and calming.
While its dynamics are even throughout, the other tracks vary. “Resistor” is solitary and ponderous, gliding across its few moments of playback like a dream. That starkness also characterizes the two untitled works that follow, particularly “Untitled #4,” comprised of undulating synth patterns punctuated by stabs of decaying, filtered pink noise.
I think these explorations all converge on “Magical Writing,” the fifth track and second longest, with its layers of squirming, chirping textures and drones, ebbing with substantial grace while a chorus of tones sparkles overhead. Unlike some of the other pieces, “Magical Writing” has a more pronounced narrative arc; about three-quarters of the way through, its haze of drones dissipates into a more sedate pool while synth sounds chirp in the distance.
Closing track “Inductor” continues the denouement with higher-end drones accentuated by percolating bleeps and drips, some of the more obvious Moog sounds amidst this otherwise fairly subtle and thoughtful exploitation of the instrument as an emotive lead. It’s only with that occasional exception that Gengras plays to expectations of what it means to make music entirely with a Moog. Otherwise he rarely references the sound library aesthetic that a rock act like Stereolab has tapped into over its many years, as just one contrasting example; instead, Collected Works Vol. 1 is a thoughtful and introspective foray into emotional landscapes through vintage gear, highly recommended.
Muslimgauze: Azzazin (Staalplaat 1996)
Bryn Jones was an absurdly prolific British musician, starting off at a young age in 1982 and gradually releasing progressively more and more music until his death in 1999. Labels continue to release previously unavailable music from him as well as reissue his albums, many of which were pressed in small runs on independent labels. Jones released nearly a hundred albums in his living years, not to mention dozens that have followed posthumously. Thankfully his music lives on, and there is so much of it.
I hadn’t heard this one in its entirety before, and it strikes me as one of his more abstract releases, processing and manipulating sounds far away from the Palestinian origins he often referenced more overtly in his music. Despite that abstraction, the socio- and geopolitical undertones still are at the root of his creations.
Dead Voices on Air: “Dream Machine” (New Words Machine, 1995)
Mark Spybey, formerly of :zoviet*france:, released his first two albums as Dead Voices on Air back to back in the mid 90s. This is the first track off the 2nd album, a much noisier (and, in my opinion, better) take on the found objects and sounds of his debut.
Single Cell Orchestra: “Unleashing the Horrors of Some of Our Great Power” (From Here to Tranquility 2, Silent 1993)
I never was especially familiar with SIngle Cell Orchestra, but this one was a favorite on my industrial/experimental mixtapes in the 90s. The right balance of odd sounds, ambient atmosphere, and sinister vibe. From what I can tell, this was actually the first track SCO ever released, and it’s a great one.
Jon Hassell & Brian Eno: “Delta Rain Dream” (1980)
Dreamy perfection…. and timeless.
Donato Dozzy: Plays Bee Mask (Spectrum Spools)
Ambient and techno producer Donato Dozzy reworks Beemask’s “Vaporware” track in a variety of shapes and sizes with this 40-minute stunning collection. I’ll come clean that while I’m partially familiar with Bee Mask’s repertoire, I have not heard the EP that contains the original “Vaporware,” and so I’ve enjoyed this album as a total standalone without context. Each of these seven tracks is untitled (I’ll just follow the ID3 tags and number them off) and has a different vibe. “Vaporware 01” is lush and pretty, all based around a solo chiming arpeggio lead, backed up against field recordings of rain and some airy synth pads. It sets the tone quite well with its mistiness and wistful mood. Things get more interesting with the hazy shudder of the second treatment, forlorn and gloomy. Its shimmering textures recall the buzzing energy of wings flapping in place while a dense fog of reverb threatens to swallow the whole idea. On the third piece, he changes the game up again by sampling the sound and stuttering it in a way that feels both tense and almost menacing. Both the fourth and last cuts of the short album reprise the more clearly pronounced arpeggio lead of the opening track, but in inverted and varied ways — a nice cross-referencing of technique and style without feeling redundant. Parts five and six seem to fall the most in line with Dozzy’s own repertoire, never fully indulging in dubby techno but referencing so many of its gestures and tropes indirectly. The whirlpool of reverb around the chugging center of part six is the star of the track, while there’s a handsome lower-end groove underpinning its predecessor. It’s certainly more tame than some of the noisy sprawl that’s characterized Bee Mask’s material, but it shares that hazy, obscured surface and a rather melancholic disposition. It’s a solid listen from start to finish, highly recommended for fans of melodic, lush, beatless electronic music.
Toshimaru Nakamura + Ken Ikeda + Tomoyoshi Date: Green Heights (Baskaru)
This unlikely trio combines three very different experimental aesthetics into one strangely complementary whole. I’ll mention up front that I wouldn’t consider this music for everyone. Even with my own inclination toward unusual sounds and textures, it can test my patience. The five movements of Green Heights are rather focused on microtonal nuances in high pitched drones and tones, often incorporating near-supersonic frequencies and shrill fragments of noise and sound. But while Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing desk creations can be quite severe on their own, when complemented by Ikeda’s lighter touch and Date’s toy instruments and recordings, they take on a more playful and jubilant quality. I liken the vibe to the playfulness that might lurk in a day-lit room where children are supposed to be napping but instead are playing quietly. The five pieces that comprise Green Heights are each named “Balcony,” split into 3 movements with a couple additional sub-divisions. At its most successful, the trio work together to create rather serene stretches of pastoral ambience and texture that are more layered than they may at first seem. “Balcony II” features a variety of high-pitched tones and drones, sometimes airy and light while at others fairly raw, that hover overhead Date’s toy piano and chimes. Opener “Balcony I – alpha” starts things off rather deliberately introducing its players’ roles with clear toy piano and acoustic sounds (Date), tuneless but textured mixing board feedback (Nakamura) and a light, shimmering surface layer of sound (Ikeda). In its final moments, Nakamura’s feedback takes center stage in a way that feels assertive but not confrontational. That piece’s second half, “Balcony I – ß,” is probably the most difficult listening of the series for me, with its last half consisting of what sounds like a wheezy, detuned recorder and feedback drones all vibrating with tension. Only in the final track “Balcony III – ∂” does this set take a truly “musical” shape, with Nakamura’s squelching, high feedback complementing a rather sweet and serene lullaby from Date. That musicality subsides for its middle stretch, where high pitched frequencies and drones meander in and out of one another, but some delicate melodic piano tones resurface to bring the album to a more peaceful closure, recalling the more gentle, musical ambience of Date’s work as part of Illuha. The trio named the pieces of the album after Date’s sixth floor apartment balcony, where they spent time talking, drinking, and collaborating. The warm spirit of that collaboration comes through on Green Heights even in its more obtuse moments, providing a sometimes elusive but confident wink toward the joy that underpins this music. (Note for US customers: the mp3 release on Amazon is a steal!)
Richard Chartier: Interior Field (Line)
The most notable thing about Richard Chartier’s latest is that it starts with so many organic sounds. The naturalism is startling given his repertoire often focusing on severe, digital minimalism. For Interior Field, Chartier used field recordings from a variety of spaces both large and small around the world. The triangulation of location, focus, and experience informs the often haunting aesthetic of the album, about an hour of sound split into two halves. Fair warning that to best experience the album, I highly recommend a good set of headphones in a quiet space. I was not able to really appreciate the complexity and range of its sounds with my windows open (athough one might argue that the environment outside merely adds another layer to the listening experience) or on my open monitors, where a conspicuous fan in my amp dominated over the subtleties of Chartier’s arrangements.
Part one starts with unusual concrete sounds that at first resemble water drops on a surface… or is that the creaking of wood? The ambiguity of the source of the sound is at first curious and then fascinating. Even the sedate drones that underpin the front end of the piece feel more organic in nature, as if they are environmental or contact sounds that have been manipulated and pitched down. Fans of Chartier’s knack for sculpting minimal microtonal drones will not be disappointed, though — he delivers that in spades here, building on the more acoustic sounds that start things off and then forming a subtly undulating fabric of sonic threads. Sine waves, hums, hiss, and tiny drones all shift shape as gradually as they originally come into focus. They share the same drowsy, slow morph of his Recurrence album released last year, but the end effect and atmosphere are distinctly different. Chartier’s sleight of hand is more refined than ever here, with gradual changes in sound that seem so effortless they are almost unnoticeable at first. By the time I realize the sound has evolved, it’s in a totally different place and shape from where it started; that sort of slow motion is not easy to achieve. The earthiness of Chartier’s arrangements here reminds me at times of the grimy, post-industrial landscapes of David Lynch and Alan Splet’s Eraserhead soundtrack. The second segment of the first half has a more overt rhythm to the sound, like moving parts patiently working in tandem, before settling back into a more comfortable, continuous low hum. (I can’t fully do the music justice in writing about it here — there is something special about Chartier’s ear and abilities to finely design sound that really resonates here.)
The second half of the album picks up where the first left off, although it feels like somewhat of a corollary to the broader arc of the first part. I say this because while it shares the same combination of natural texture and drones and atmosphere, it is far more subtle and more even than the front half. Continuous, steady rain provides the texture throughout most of the track, along with quiet, low drones that come and go even more subtly than in the first track. The distinction between the two is I suppose like comparing two swatches in a greyscale: relatively different, but only on a micro level. However, they combine to form yet another stunning entry in Chartier and Line’s respective discographies. It’s nice to hear him working with field recordings in a way that feels so entirely different than a sound recordist like Chris Watson. Watson aims to preserve and emphasize the source material in as meticulous and pronounced ways as possible, whereas Chartier uses his recordings to help create a broader sound that seems more concerned with space and tone in nuanced and various ways rather than then a focused fascination on the source itself. Highly recommended.
Buy it: Line Store
Bruce Gilbert and BAW: Diluvial (Touch)
Bruce Gilbert, best known for his founding and long-time role in Wire (until departing in 2004), paired up with the Beaconsfield ArtWorks duo (David Crawforth and Naomi Siderfin) for this conceptual exploration of environmental sound design. Like all Touch releases, it sports photography by label boss Jon Wozencroft and was sequenced and mastered by Russell Haswell, whose role should not be overlooked, as sequencing is a rather successful element to this collection. Diluvial has rising sea levels at the center of its concept, with seven slowly evolving pieces that focus heavily on field recordings from the beaches in Suffolk and London. That the number of pieces loosely correlates with the mythical seven days of Biblical Creation is surely no accident, either. Quite unlike any of Gilbert’s more conventional music of his Wire repertoire, Diluvial is extremely minimal and ambient at times, with a mood that ranges from tender to desolate, moment to moment. “Dry Land,” for instance, is all gusting wind and grimy, severe electronics, perhaps a commentary on nature’s brutality. At other times, where nature leaves off and the trio’s electronic experimentations start is less obvious. “The Expanse” begins with almost living electronic chirping before a crack of thunder makes nature’s presence known. Electronic drips and blips work in and out of recordings of rainfall to layer contrasting impressions of precipitation. The chirping found at the start of that piece points toward the notion of a digital organism, simulated but often convincing life — a contrast to the nature sounds and electronic squirming of the textural layers found in “Creates of Sea and Air” or “Beasts of the Earth.” It is clear, though, as Diluvial progresses, that it has a philosophy that plays out across its tracks from start to finish, building and gaining momentum just as the water level rises and all the concerns that come with it. Despite what are often droning sounds found in these arrangements, it is the tautness of those layers that really informs the overall aesthetic of this music. And despite its occasional overt foray into field recordings, it is far from restful. Tension is the unifying thread throughout these pieces, evolving from a textural drone in opener “The Void” through to the more shrill chirps of “Beasts of the Earth” and the subsequent dark decay of “Rest/Reflection.”
Senking: Capsize Recovery (Raster-Noton)
As Senking, Jens Massel has been plumbing the depths of dark electronic music for 15 years now. Capsize Recovery continues along those lines, another almost entirely instrumental album (save for a few vocal samples and fragments) that is as informed by the general Raster-Noton digital aesthetic as it is by the annals of industrial music and more current dubstep, halfbeat, and bass music trends. What I find most appealing about the album is that Massel is unafraid to juxtapose contrasting light and dark elements freely. He did this intermittently on 2010’s Pong, but here I find it a more fully symbiotic relationship. The delicately assertive lead of “Tiefenstop,” for instance, is a really delightful counterpoint to the snarlier low-end of its arrangements, with tiny snares that lend it a militaristic flare. Often times human voices appear either in little samples or sometimes even whispers. On opener “Chainsawfish” it reminds me of the weird context-less samples of Skinny Puppy’s “Stairs & Flowers,” but otherwise instrumental and more understated. Even in its title, “Shading” denotes the grey area between light and dark, with its woozy, swirling low-end synths complemented by an airy, light lead just below the surface. “Nightbeach” is a perfect name as a track, with all of the darkness and rippling moonlight it suggests. It’s not all doom and gloom, but rather cool and dark with a glimmer of light to illuminate things now and then. Only on the last track does Massel flirt with something more overtly uptempo. “Enduro Bones” moves at a good clip with an industrial chug that is eventually reinforced by a bulbous kick, skittering snare fills, and syncopated hihats. It’s an odd choice for a closer, leaving me wondering if the album wouldn’t have benefited from a bit of tempo variety sprinkled throughout its playlist, but this is a minor complaint; it actually works well as an active final piece, sort of the culmination of all of the darkness that preceded it with added momentum. To be fair, Capsize Recovery will probably surprise any experienced fans very little in its continued explorations of the murky waters that characterize most of Senking’s discography so far. However, in its flirtations with bass music trends and its intriguing contrast between light and dark, it’s more than merely another reliable entry in his repertoire and one worth a more thoughtful and thorough listen.
Ryuichi Sakamoto + Taylor Deupree: Disappearance (12k)
Ryuichi Sakamoto has a reputation that precedes him. His time in Yellow Magic Orchestra alone makes him one of the most iconic Japanese figures in electronic music, but his repertoire is quite expansive beyond that. He’s scored films by Almodóvar, Bertolucci, Stone, and more, and has collaborated with numerous reputable artists including David Sylvian and Akiko Yano (to whom he was married for some time). Taylor Deupree may not boast as long a resume, but his reputation is impressive in its own right. After putting in time in techno outfit Prototype 909, Deupree shifted focus and started the 12k label around the turn of the century. The label’s focus has shifted from exploring the more severe, outer limits of electronic glitch music into something more organic and ambient in nature. That Sakamoto and Deupree are only just now recording an album together is surprising, because they seem like such a natural match. Sakamoto has collaborated with the 12k camp in the past, though; he has albums with Fennesz and Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai) under his belt already. So it’s interesting to hear Sakamoto’s piano improvisations juxtaposed against Deupree’s more recent airy, organic aesthetic of ambience. In sharp contrast to the digital cut-ups of Alva Noto’s collaborations, here each talent’s work intertwines less obviously with the other’s. Sakamoto’s piano ranges from introspective pianissimo improvisations to more timbral experiments with the guts of the instrument; its strings are scraped, tapped, plucked, and otherwise tinkered with to create less typical sounds. It’s some of Sakamoto’s most stark performances I’ve heard, a healthy complement to the analogue drones and found objects that Deupree contributes. The press release for Disappearance claims that the albums themes are “isolation, solitude, contemplation.” And in that, it is successful, although this is hardly placid listening. In contrast to the Sakamoto’s delicate ivories, there are plenty of taut drones and unexpected details; “This Window,” for instance, has some object recordings in it that actually made me do a double-take when listening. On “Curl To Me,” the album’s closer, the duo collaborate with up and coming Japanese singer/songwriter Ichiko Aoba. I have to admit that I was nonplussed at first to hear a human voice intruding in the serene isolation of their sounds, but she contributes not only an extra layer of fragility in her soft vocalizations but also her heartbeat, a strangely effective addition. It’s another sterling entry in the quality-controlled repertoires of 12k and both artists involved.
Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek: Do You Know Otahiti? (Faitiche)
Jan Jelinek, the keen mind behind projects such as the Exposures, Farben, Gramm, and a plethora of releases under his own name, collaborates here with Masayoshi Fujita (El Fog) on two tracks before contributing two more on his own. The two live pieces with Fujita are organized around manipulated vibraphone recordings, often looping through repetitive, unusual patterns of filtered sound (almost like water percussion) while other sounds both electronic and organic are sprinkled overhead. The first goes down smooth with an esoteric jazz tinge, but the second is my favorite in its wandering patterns, looping in on itself with expansive curiosity. By comparison, Jelinek’s solo pieces are more distilled, lacking the organic immediacy of Fujita’s playing. The title track happens in two acts, the first being more of a vocal sound collage (using German-language clips that I don’t understand) and then transitioning into a more musical second half (also built around vocal fragments). It’s only in “Toton” that Jelinek introduces more of an electronic pulse, borrowing a bit from the clicks & cuts of his repertoire and fusing them with his obvious love of early computer music and sound libraries. It gallops at a leisurely pace with blips and bloops that suggest dancing without ever overtly referencing techno. This is the third in a series of four Faitiche releases that will be compiled into a collection; it’s my only listen of the series, but it intrigues me enough to dig deeper. Fans of Jelinek’s repertoire will no doubt enjoy this material, skirting the line between something as low-key as his loop-finding-jazz-records and hinting at his more active work as Farben. It’s cool to hear the collaborative angle coming through so nicely on the first two cuts, something that sets these apart from the rest. The final installment and compilation will be released on Faitiche in early September.
Stephan Mathieu: “Remain (excerpt)” (Line, 2011)
Remain is among my very favorite ambient albums (read my original review here), and I rarely travel without it. Whether I’m hoping (however in vain) to drift off when flying or just blissing out while actively listening, it’s engrossing from start to finish.