138 posts tagged ambient
Stars of the Lid: “Down 3” (The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, Kranky 2001)
For at least a full year, my roommate at the time and I would crank SOTL’s Tired Sounds album on high volume to help fall asleep (we shared an open loft storefront near a busy street in Chicago at the time). As a result, there is indeed something drowsy about hearing these tracks now, though I no longer use it as a sleep aid but rather reveling in its ambient splendor. “Down 3” is a bit of an odd man out on the double-album, but it’s no less great. One of my favorite albums of all time.
Eliane Radigue 1978
Zoviet France: “Al ‘Ud” / “Dust Deofol” (Loh Land, 1987)
Pastoral and cinematic sounds from the always unpredictable post-industrial experimental act Zoviet France. I never heard them until much later in their career (mid-90s) but many of these old albums stand the test of time quite nicely.
Otto A. Totland: Pinô (Sonic Pieces)
Otto Totland is perhaps best known as one half of experimental outfit Deaf Center, having released two well-received albums on Type Records over the last several years. Pinô is quite different from those dark excursions. Without the menacing cello drones of his partner Erik Skovdin, Totland is free to focus on the piano as his primary instrument. Recorded at Nils Frahm’s studio, it has the same fragile quality of Frahm’s own Felt, where the guts and mechanics of the piano often come through via Totland’s extremely light touch and some amplification. Fans of Deaf Center might recall the delicate piano interlude of “Time Spent” on their last full-length album, and it’s a pretty good insight into what Totland is up to on his own here. It can be difficult to tell which pieces are improvisations versus compositions, but that is the strength of most of Pinô.
Many of these pieces feel effortless, like a dream that rolls in like fog and then just as swiftly fades. Fans of Nils Frahm’s solo music will no doubt find much to love. As a solo piano album, it contains few surprises, but occasionally something breaks the sound, like a random bird call during “Julie” (and is that Frahm rummaging around in the background? most likely an improvisation). I don’t think it’s particularly worthwhile to dive into specific pieces on Pinô as the album works best as a continuous suite of stark sketches, ideas, and polished compositions. That he shifts between more fully formed pieces and ones that are just barely there is a strength in its arc, covering a substantial amount of ground in just over 40 minutes with his axe of choice. Well worth a listen for fans of solo piano music or ambient crossover performers like Harold Budd or Dustin O’Halloran. Tragically beautiful.
Fennesz: “The Liar” (Bécs, Editions Mego 2014)
Christian Fennesz will release his first solo album in several years later this month. Bécs will be released 28 April via Editions Mego, and it’s his first solo album since the previous stunning Black Sea release in 2008. Looking forward to it!
Fennesz: “Instrument 4” (Field Recordings 1992:2002, Touch)
Black Swan: Tone Poetry (Bandcamp)
Black Swan was new to me when I first played Tone Poetry. And what a fantastic first impression the album made! I’ve played the album dozens of times, and yet I’ve found myself struggling with words to adequately describe it, despite how much I like it. “Ritual” rolls in like a thick fog, dense and shapeless and all-surrounding, and it sets the tone for the proceedings nicely. “Eden” is the longest track and a clear standout with its string harmonics and atmospheric reverb, all gliding by with glacial patience into the more harrowing sounds of “Prophecy.” It is that continuity from track to track that makes Tone Poetry go down so smoothly, all sounding like one amorphous whole rather than discrete pieces or parts.
The often disembodied, oblique chamber arrangements (often sounding like strings or organ or other traditional instruments, buried in effects) remind me of some of the weirder more recent material from Tim Hecker, though the heavy fog of Tone Poetry might ultimately place it closer to David Lynch’s Eraserhead on the sound spectrum, or perhaps the haunted sounds of The Caretaker. But Tone Poetry moves me more than any of those sounds, with a linear progression to it that is as patient as it is lush. For all of its darker moments, the final stretch of the album is, for lack of more eloquent words, fucking gorgeous. “Departed” and “Elegy” both unfold with a tragic beauty, elegant and patient. It’s an album that rises above comparisons by virtue of just how exquisite it is. Highly recommended for fans of ambient drone music, easily one of my favorites of the year so far.
Buy it: Bandcamp
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.