131 posts tagged ambient
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement: Black Magic Cannot Cross Water (Hospital Productions/Blackest Ever Black)
This 2012 work by Hospital honcho Dominick Furnow might be my favorite of his that I’ve heard. It’s a stark, ambient album split into 2 concise halves (under 30 minutes total running time), and based on how it sounds I’d refer to the first half as the “dry side” and the other as the “wet side.” The dry side begins with a faint descent into the void, minimal electronics immersed in deep reverb; its 15 minutes are divvied up into thirds, with the first being the most minimal, before some synths a tinge darker than John Carpenter enter the mix. There’s an ebb and flow to the ambience of this music that makes it feel like a dark, buoyant sea, appropriate for a track called “Homes Built Over the Sea.” So there is a dryness implied by its title as well as its sound, eventually shifting focus toward punctuated synth tones and oscillating drones.
The “wet side,” “Refuges From Black Magic,” begins where the first left off only to introduce a steady stream of rainfall which never relents. It shares a similar arc with the other half, shifting between murky, almost opaque atmosphere and touches of sub-bass rumble. It’s a far cry from Furnow’s more confrontational sounds as Prurient or Exploring Jezebel, but extremely effective. It’s both pitch black and somehow non-threatening, the peaceful center of a brutal storm.
Blackest Ever Black reissued the album on vinyl in 2013, but you’ll have a much easier time finding the digital version at the links below.
Matthew Barlow: Sun Showers (Preservation)
The Australian Preservation label, “dedicated to unearthing and uniting underground artists,” has expanded on Matthew Barlow’s self-released Sun Showers cassette as a full album. Its four tracks have a focus on subtle, reflective beauty, with contrasting light and dark elements scattered across and within its foggy drones and delicate touches. The title track is the obvious highlight, with a real narrative arc about it. It flows like the patient rising and falling of the sun, casting different shadows as it slowly shifts.
"Halflight" is a gorgeous, delicate piano piece that recalls the soft touch of classic Harold Budd, conjuring up images of hazy light cutting through a forest. "Warm Air" and "Breathing Space" both rely heavily on Barlow’s delicate guitar picking, while a quiet chorus of birds chirps thinly overhead. It’s a real work of pastoral beauty, drawing inspiration from what might be considered cliches in lesser hands. Its signature sounds of nature, juxtaposed with Barlow’s sleight of hand and knack for atmosphere, are what make Sun Showers a surprisingly lush and rich experience greater than the sum of its parts.
Buy it: Preservation
K’an: Anima (Onyudo)
This is an absolutely stunning collection of tracks from artist Paolo Bellipanni. Don’t let the harrowing choral loops of the opener mislead you too much… while it begins with an unsettling tone, much of Anima is quite gorgeous. With a little patience, those introductory loops begin to shudder and shake as “The Tree in the Garden of Limbs” reveals just one facet of Anima's beguiling beauty.
This beauty isn’t always so pretty, either, but just as striking when it feels tragic as it does when it’s fragile and warm. “Arsons Beneath Eclipsed Waters” reflects this oscillation from light to dark and everything in between with its patient but intense crescendo of tremolo guitar, drones, and feedback. At the core of Anima is Bellipanni’s use of guitar, electronics, voice, and effects in ways where it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins. I suppose what’s also refreshing about K’an is that while there are so many touchpoints that feel familiar (Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Grouper, SunnO)))), The Haxan Cloak), it still sounds unique and unto itself. “In a River of Light You Carve Intersections of Darkness” brings a techno pulse into the mix, sounding not unlike the gloomy, hazy throb of Fennesz’s Hotel Paral.lel, but otherwise Anima is mostly a textural, visceral, languid affair. “Altars” is a slithering beast that clocks in at nearly 15 minutes, shifting shape several times before it breaks through with a cathartic power drone of voices, guitar, and electronics. It’s a moving precursor to the tightly wound title track that closes the album with a sublime swoon (plus an epilogue that surprises me every time). Though I’ve done my best, describing K’an’s music here doesn’t do justice to its power.
It’s tragic that I nearly overlooked this altogether — cheers to Onyudo for promoting this gorgeous gem. Highly, highly recommended!
Tim Hecker: “Music For Tundra” (Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, Alien8 2002)
Considering the unusual level of snow in Portland this evening, this icy chill from Tim Hecker’s debut seems entirely appropriate.
BJ Nilsen: Eye of the Microphone (Touch)
I first heard BJ Nilsen’s music as Morthound, a deadly serious ambient project that was an early highlight of Sweden’s death-ambient Cold Meat Industry label in the early 90s. Nilsen was only a teenager when he worked on those albums, followed by a more sublime, less horror-tinged minimal drone project, Hazard. Since working under his own name, I haven’t kept up with Nilsen’s output, but the Eye of the Microphone seems as good a place as any to start. There is still an emphasis on environment, but rather than the desolate dronescapes of Hazard, Eye of the Microphone falls closer in line with Chris Watson’s hyperrealism field recordings, letting his microphone document his travels through England. “A city without sound does not exist,” writes Nilsen in the press release for the album. His goal was to tirelessly document its streets, sights, and sounds using his reliable microphone, with no real emphasis on route or destination. Rather, Nilsen aims to simply log the aural experience of his surroundings, wherever they may take him. As a result, the three pieces on Eye of the Microphone vary, though they have that unifying tactical thread. My favorite track might be the first one. “Londonium” consists largely of ambient street sounds, the mundane drone of everyday urban life. That I first really listened to this album while out and about walking on the street greatly enhanced the experience. What an odd pairing of the sounds of daytime urban Portland paired with the sounds Nilsen’s captured abroad. Nilsen juxtaposes the drones of modern living — river boats, a far-off chainsaw — with natural sounds of the Thames and Canary Wharf. It ends with a disorienting blitz of manipulated sound before proceeding into the other tracks.
On second track “Coins and Bones,” Nilsen blends field recordings with more manipulated, tense drones, evolving the music into something much greater a role than composite observer.
The third and final piece, “Twenty Four Seven,” where the amplified sounds of natural wildlife are key elements. “A microphone is both a lark and a night owl,” writes Nilsen. In this final piece, urban life resounds faintly in the distance, and his high-pitched drones add an otherworldliness to the otherwise quite earthly sounds of his recordings. Like his labelmate Watson, Nilsen’s interest in the tiny sounds of natural and urban life shines through these startlingly clear recordings and assemblages. It’s an engaging document of particular places at particular times in which found and created sounds intertwine in ways that complement and enhance one another.
Pole: “Fahren” (2, Kiff 1999)
I may have posted this old track from Stefan Betke before, but if so, it’s worth a repost. His second release under the Pole moniker is my favorite by far… This first track is sublime.
FIS: Preparations (Tri Angle)
I recently reviewed FIS’s Humologous EP, and this newer one on Tri Angle had already come out. These tracks push further into the fringes of downtempo and dance music, with “Magister Nunns” eschewing convention altogether and instead twitching and shuddering for four minutes while a whistle wails overhead. “DMT Usher” is a repress of one of his older tracks, shivering similarly but is anchored by a jerky downtempo groove. Its quivering leads build in strength until it finally all stops while the groove does its thing with some well-deserved clarity. It’s the most conservative of the bunch and not surprisingly the oldest of the set. “Mildew Swoosh” has an FM synthy lurch about it that is as close to a hook as you might get here; meanwhile phased pads swirl overhead like storm clouds. I like that it has all the makings of a more conventional bass music track but with all of the punch desaturated, coming off more like it’s slightly out of focus. “CE Visions” finishes the EP off with an almost maddening stop/start stumble that is relentless. Saturated, fuzzy bass and skittering sounds percolate in the periphery while a looming fog of reverb obscures the view.
I like that FIS defies expectations by not being afraid to deviate in tempo, manipulate and abstract sounds, or throw the beat out altogether. Recommended listening for leftfield electronic fans.
Susumu Yokota: “Azukirro No Kaori” (Sakura, Leaf 2000)
Typically gorgeous, and worth a revisit.
Hammock: Oblivion Hymns (Hammock/Bandcamp)
First, I can’t believe that Hammock isn’t on a label and is just releasing this gorgeous music on their own via Bandcamp. This was my first exposure to them, despite that they’ve been recording and releasing music for nearly ten years already. Anyone who is a fan of gorgeous instrumental music should immediately order this from the band directly. It really is phenomenal. I feel inarticulate merely gushing and not describing, but it is that good. For some context, when I first fired up this album, admittedly it was on a day that I received some especially tragic personal news — the loss of someone in my life. I certainly don’t want to exploit that turn of events on here, but it did lend an extra heavy gravitas to Oblivion Hymns, which swells with the big catharsis I really needed at that very moment. I wondered if it was merely a case of timing, that this album resonated for me so, but repeated listens have wowed and moved me equally. Each piece on Oblivion Hymns feels like its own catharsis, including opener “My Mind Was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb.” Surely there’s some drama in these track titles alone, and they’re reflected in the big, swooning arrangements of the music itself. It would run the risk of all feeling too sentimental or cloying if it weren’t so damn perfect. They really get it right here, nary a note out of place.
"Then the Quiet Explosion" uses a children’s choir to great effect, sounding chilling and touching on something so vulnerable all at once.
There’s something so familiar about the strident refrain of “Turning Into Tiny Particles… Floating Through Empty Space” that feels comforting even while its title denotes such a vulnerability and smallness, contrasting its big, soaring arrangement of guitar and strings. A similar dreamy arrangement works to great effect on “Holding Your Absence,” another sentiment that resonates for me personally, the notion of holding space and longing for someone.
The choir returns on “I Could Hear the Water at the Edge of All Things,” giving it a ghostly innocence that is as sweet as it is haunting. Only on closing track “Tres Dominé” does an adult voice lead the way, and it’s so clear and in the foreground as to be startling. I originally didn’t care much for this epilogue of sorts, but came around to deciding that it’s somehow totally appropriate after 9 tracks of weeping strings and reverb. Tim Showalter’s guest vocal is strong and clear, a reminder that for all of the forlorn melancholy of the album (art imitating life?) that all is not lost. It’s a resonating, final human touch on an album that practically aches with beauty. Surely one of the strongest albums of the year.
Buy it: Hammock Music
Antti Rannisto: “Ääniesineitä 3 Live” (Untitled, Sleeparchive 2007)
Chilly sounds from Rannisto, released as part of a split album with Sleeparchive on his own label a few years ago. It’s a nice complement to Sleeparchive’s sounds on the album, and recalls the icy space of Pan Sonic in their prime.
Tim Hecker: Virgins (Kranky)
The first thing by which I’m struck on Tim Hecker’s latest outing is how much his real-time collaborations with Daniel Lopatin seemed to have affected his process. Virgins is certainly his most performance-oriented album to date, his sound having shifted shape considerably from the faint cirrus clouds of his 2001 debut. At the core of that distinction is Hecker’s invitation to several players to join him in executing the music on Virgins, including talent from Iceland’s Bedroom Community roster such as Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigur∂sson. There is a stop-start quality (in many instances swiftly crossfaded) to some of these tracks that makes them feel like fragments or stream of consciousness ideas. They don’t necessarily glide into one another as suites like on his Harmony in Ultraviolet or Ravedeath, 1972 albums, but instead seem to often simply start and then, just as abruptly, disappear. Even the two-part “Stigmata” that falls toward the end of the album is broken into 2 completely separate halves. Opening track “Prism” is not only appropriately named, but it also sets the tone quite well in distinguishing Virgins from Hecker’s prior repertoire. Its swirl of sound comes in like an overture, segueing into “Virginal I,” a rhythmic pattern of fortissimo piano chords that feels like a clever diversion from his previous Dropped Pianos release in 2011 (with a welcome reprise as “Virginal II” later in the album). As it dissipates into something more atmospheric, like the residual images from waking from a strange dream, it also sets the tone even more that this is an ensemble and not just Mr. Hecker alone.
The electric dissonance of “Live Room” sounds very much like players improvising off one another, again recalling Hecker’s collaborations with Daniel Lopatin last year; it shares the same combination of melancholy and otherworldliness. Thankfully it’s not all boundless sprawl. “Black Refraction” provides some tender respite in the center of the playlist, again mainly piano but quieter, more introspective. The final stretch of Virgins, consisting of the aforementioned two-part “Stigmata” and closing track “Stab Variation,” is an abstract sort of denouement, hazier and more elusive than the front half of the album. It doesn’t end with a murmur, but rather an oblique reflection of the swirl that kicks off the album. It’s a fairly different beast from the rest of Hecker’s discography, reeling more dynamic and more taut than ever before. The juxtaposition of more chaotic improvisation and layering of recorded sessions with his collaborators lends Virgins a more ambitious slant, feeling spatially informed by process rather than so intimate or small as his earlier output… it also feels less obviously manipulated compared to, say, the sputtering effects of Haunt Me or the crinkly patterns of Mirages. Instead, Virgins feels more vibrant and alive, unpredictable and flawed and undeniably human.
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.