An ambient music blog, with additional references to techno and experimental / field.
Ambient music is perhaps the most subjective of all musical genres. For me, it provides the listener with an opportunity to switch off the distractions of the outside world and create an almost meditative bubble, where the only things that exist are the sounds (and ideas) behind the composition. The majority of articles here highlight recent releases that have really struck a chord, but may also provide a deeper focus on particular ambient artists and labels.
The six installment from french experimental label Laaps comes in the form of ‘Freedom Is Its Own Kind Of Salary’, an eight track album from London based artist Valance Drakes, whose prolificness in the studio over the last ten years has seen him release on a multitude of notable labels including; Detroit Underground, Cut N Paste Records and Kaer’Uiks.
Drake’s production style seems to effortlessly skirt a multitude of genres, with ‘FIIOKOS’ offering sections of experimental, ambient, breakbeat, and IDM. Playing with an array of different textures and soundscapes, ‘FIIOKOS’ succeeds in exemplifying Drakes’ craft as an experimental artist. It sounds considered and mature; the work of an artist who has really found their groove and can call upon years of technical expertise when putting production pen to paper. I could listen to this album all day.
Laaps is certainly a label to keep an eye on, with half a dozen top quality physical releases in their catalogue, despite having only been conceived in January of this year – each output is fronted by a 200 limited edition vinyl run, with a CD-R run of the same number (some going considering the obstacles 2020 has presented them!). All extremely strong concepts and well worth a couple of hours of your time, with the recent ‘Literature’ by Tomotsugu Nakamura being one of the highlights for me.
The same team behind Laaps are also behind the project Ikki Books; a fine art concept which brings together visual and aural artists to produce a published book and accompanying soundtrack. Wonderfully creative and again, well worth checking out.
Having recently completed twelve volumes of their ‘Songs for Solitude’ series, Brazil based La Chambre Records turn to Japanese (Sao Paulo based) ambient artist Tatsuro Murakami for their latest release, scheduled to drop in digital and physical form (more on this later) on the 9th September.
‘Between’ is a seven-track ambient offering, highlighting Murakami’s craft as sound artist and guitarist. The work of local multi-disciplinary artist Anais-karenin is cited as the main influence behind the first four tracks, with Murakami seemingly caressing the listeners ears with gentle soundscapes and soothing field recordings. Soft guitar plucks punctuate layered drones, with sporadic introductions of synths adding further interest.
As we reach track five, Murakami looks inward for the next three tracks and uses the pieces to offer an introspective view. ‘Reflection’, ‘My Favourite Hideout’ and ‘Inevitable Silence’ create a somewhat solemn crescendo – a notable contrast to the first half of the record which felt lighter. Nevertheless, ‘Between’ ends strongly, the closing trio of productions providing a beautiful finish.
The physical side of the release comes in a special edition of 50; a handmade package contains a risograph printed poster and a postcard with download code, accompanying the CD release.
Available for pre-order via the La Petite Chambre Bandcamp page.
As May draws to a close it’s time to reflect on a busy month of new releases. Global lockdown, for the most part, continues to be upheld. Here’s a short edit of some of the best music released in May (disclaimer – there could have been another ten posts!)
‘Mist Coming Down’ – Rime Trails (Self-Released)
Little can be found online about Rime Trails, an elusive ambient producer from Denmark. Over the past few years, a handful of releases across Shimmering Mood Records and Afterlife Ltd (plus some self-released works) have led to clusters of fans across the globe. ‘Mist Coming Down’ is Rime Trail’s latest offering – a delicate and considered 5-track ambient E.P. which traverses through sections of blissful piano tones and powerful, atmospheric synthscapes.
‘Of memories and hopes’ – Fallen (Lontano Series)
A Lontano Series release was the first ever feature on Kaninhal and as label head Andrea Procu continues to deliver treats for the ears, a recent offering from Fallen (AKA Lorenzo Bracaloni) once again stands out. ‘Of memories of hopes’ is an eight track album, soundtracking the story of a man who sets about attempting to understand his life and confirm whether the life he has fought for is really what he wants. He decides to take an eight day break, to reconnect with himself and what makes him human. Powerful stuff, especially when considering current circumstances and a story i’m sure many of us can draw parallels with.
Bracaloni impresses with his ability to convey emotions throughout each of the compositions. For example, ‘The Man I Am’ projects feelings of melancholy and reflection, whereas ‘Room with a View’ feels hopeful and uplifting. A real class act of a release.
‘Abstraction’ – Ralph Kinsella (Self-Released)
Debut release from Scotland based Ralph Kinsella displays a production maturity of an artist with years of experience under their belt and long discography to boot. Currently living in a remote location, Kinsella cites detachment as the thread linking the ‘Abstraction’ together. For me , the release is tactile and soothing – feather-like guitar chords are the highlight throughout, contrasted against a backdrop of manipulated (somewhat industrial) synths and otherworldly sounds. Available as a free download and one to watch for sure.
‘Rituals’ – Arnaud Le Texier (Affin)
I first saw Le Texier play in Newcastle, a little over ten years ago. It’s fair to say he leaned towards a slightly lighter sound back then, but over the years he has developed into one of the most prolific producers in the modern techno circuit. His three-track E.P. ‘Rituals’ marks a return to Joachim Spieth’s Affin imprint, responsible for releasing some of the best techno of recent years (stand out releases from Ukranian Svarog are jewels in my vinyl collection). In ‘Rituals’, non-compromising peak time techno is the order of the day – the tracks almost growl. Punchy, hard, fast. Brilliant.
Le Texier co-runs the Children of Tomorrow label, which seems to mirror the artists impressive production rate. Their podcast series is now over 50 editions old and the perfect opportunity to hear Le Texier at full throttle. I also often revisit his set recorded for the Erratic podcast in 2016, which you can find here.
‘The Abuse of Hypnosis in Dance Environments’ – Notzing (Edit Select)
Another label synonymous with shaping the contemporary techno sound is Edit Select, a project founded in 2007 by electronic artist Tony Scott, who also djs and produces under the same moniker. Fast approaching 100 releases, the ES discography presents itself as a lip-smacking smorgasbord of contemporary techno, featuring industry figureheads (including Mike Parker, Mark Broom and Antonio Ruscito) plus pushing the earlier careers of some of today’s most prominent DJs and producers (SNTS and Alfredo Mazzili for example).
Notzing is a sound artist from Madrid and returns to the label for his second release in quick succession. ‘The Abuse of Hypnosis in Dance Environments’ is a hard-hitting dance-floor-ready five tracker, with remixes / interpretations from Mod21 and the inimitable Oscar Mulero.
Volunteer Coroner (aka Preston Weippart) continues his search for the strange with his latest release ‘Black Plastic’, a four track E.P. featuring a collection of boundary pushing noises and spoken word. Something of a master in creating music that sets the listener on edge, this is sound experimentation at its finest.
A plethora of good music has been released in May and the majority of which will be covered in a full newsletter, landing this weekend. The last few weeks have been an extremely busy time personally, which means I haven’t had as much time as I usually would have to dedicate to listening and writing. That being said, i’ve managed to catch up on a lot over the past few days and the long list of albums, artists and labels I have earmarked for the inaugural newsletter should make up for it.
Today I’ve listened to some interesting curations coming from UK based ambient label Neotantra. ‘tʌntrə VII’, is, as the name suggests, the seventh in the ‘tantra’ series, with each release offering up a smorgasbord of experimental sounds from some established and rising ambient producers.
Pick of the bunch from the label’s latest compilation comes in the form of ‘April 10th’ – a near nine minute sketch-based composition from Venetian artist ‘Focus on the breath’. I would offer further information on the artist and any past releases, but can’t seem to find any – a mightily impressive debut if so.
Prior to beginning the ‘tantra’ series, the label had a string of well received releases from solo artists, with personal highlights being ‘Pleochroism’ – a long form synth-bliss ambient four tracker from Juta Takahashi, as well as ‘Cosmonaut’ by ikjoyce, an album which dips a toe into the world of warpy electronica.
‘tʌntrə VII’ is available digitally via the Neotantra Bandcamp page as a free / pwyl download.
Last month also saw an E.P. release from Phil Tomsett (aka The Inventors of Aircraft). ‘The West Country’ consists of four powerful ambient tracks.
The release begins with ‘Calling out my Goodnights’, where sombre synths take centre stage, amid crackles of samples / field recordings. Similar reaching synths are heard within ‘Flatland and Wires’, where Tomsett intersperses more abstract samples and the composition feels more reflective. ‘Matter and Vacuum’ is beautiful – almost evoking the feeling of quiet calm, as if a heavy rainstorm has just finished, and the clear sky is slowly emerging. Finishing the release with ‘Black Mountain Choir’, Tomsett takes it up an atmospheric notch, with layer upon layer of robust synth bliss, leaving the listener in a weightless, almost zen like state.
Tomsett recently announced a full length album is soon to drop on Wist Rec (an experimental label run by an Irish-based Canadian and a German-based Lichtenstinian) and also promises more music throughout the year. His discography is a stream of consistent quality, with a notable collaboration with Ian Hawgood (a culmination of sharing noisy synth patterns for over six years) really standing out – track ‘Haven Returns’ is superb.
Another jewel in the Northern England ambient / experimental crown – more information on Tomsett and his moniker The Inventors of Aircraft can be found here.
Ambient Duo epic45 return to Wayside & Woodland Recordings with ‘We were never here’, a 14-track LP complete with an accompanying 48 page photo book, with all original photography. Set for release in two days time, the album is available on pre-order digitally or physically in the form of CD.
Three teaser tracks are currently available for listening; the opener ‘Moss Laden’ is a gentle beginning, which sees hazy guitars gently caressed by fleeting synths. ‘Old Light’ sees meditative piano keys introduced, layered upon gritty (almost ‘crunchy’) percussive exploration, with the track culminating with atmospheric synthscapes. Penultimate track ‘Your life is a faded spire’ feels slightly more erratic, with samples and noises being intermittently introduced throughout. Again, the synths are the stars, and the track finishes with the listener enveloped in an almost dreamlike state.
The accompanying photo book documents ‘nowhere places’ – the dystopian patches of suburbia between rural areas and conurbations, seemingly springing up overnight – a familiar site for a lot of people from the U.K.
Interesting release and looking forward to the full album.
Manchester based ambient artist Ben Rath releases ‘Be Well’ on Unknown Tone Records, an eight-track digital LP which will be the last musical output from Rath for ‘the foreseeable future’.
This gives the feeling of being a very personal release for Rath. Not much detail is given on his decision to stop making music, but track titles such as ‘Please don’t be afraid’ and ‘A safer place’ underpin the sentiment of a farewell. The former is the opening track, and ‘Be well’ begins with robust ambient soundscapes. Light-as-a-feather synths float effortlessly, interspersed with introspective samples. ‘Dear Enemies and Friends’ sets a slightly more sombre tone, as Rath continues experimenting with field recordings and samples.
Gentle acoustic guitar is introduced in the third track, ‘I Never Recovered’, set against a backdrop of earthy field recordings. Emotive and reflective, it is here that the listener is reminded of Rath’s abundant skill with more traditional instruments. Guitar makes way for piano in ‘Sympathetic Joy’ as beefy, arpeggio-esque compositions ring out, almost akin to church bells. ‘Deliverance’ is more conceptual, with more abstract / experimental sounds explored and ‘Chimes’ offers a musical entremet, with soft bells the only sound for over a minute.
These bells continue briefly within the first section of ‘A Safer Place’, before atmospheric drone is ushered in – elongated synths create a dream-like state. Rath saves his longest piece for the finale; ‘Holy Mother Drone’ is a ten minute ode to textured ethereal ambient.
A truly beautiful album, showcasing Rath’s clear talent as a multidisciplinary musician and a shame that this appears to be his last work for the short-mid term future. Available digitally via the Unknown Tone Records Bandcamp page.
Métron Records is the creative project of visual designer Jack Hardwicke, originally from the UK, but now based in Berlin. Since 2015, Métron has been providing ambient fans with mixtapes and podcasts and in 2018, they began releasing records. Their latest offering comes in the form of a re-issue – the 1987 solo album ‘Resonance’ from Yumiko Morioka, originally released on Akira Ito’s ‘Green + Water’ imprint.
Hardwicke finally tracked down Morioka mid-way through 2017, months after listening to ‘Resonance’ for the first time. Unfortunately, contact was made at a difficult time for the pianist, as she had recently lost her house (along with all of her possessions) in the California wildfires. Hearing the album had generated a wave of new followers through blog posts and YouTube was apparently met with some surprise, as the original release had mostly been used across different Japanese medical centres and commercials, before fading into relative obscurity.
The tracks themselves are beautifully delicate, with Morioka’s solo piano compositions taking centre stage, sometimes complemented with other orchestral instruments (the sweeping strings, joyful percussion and choral esque vocals on ‘Round and Round (I believe) are a personal favourite).
Re-issues tend to divide opinion (not necessarily equally). Some ultra-diggers see a negative side to picking out a relatively obscure EP / LP from history, and marketing it to a wider, modern audience. I have respect for said diggers, who spend hours and hours in dusty rooms unearthing forgotten gems. However, more credit, in my opinion, should be given to the music fan who invests not only his time in finding these pieces, but also energy, money and everything in between to ensure that this music can be shared with as many people as possible.
This story is particularly warming, in light of the events that Morioka had experienced – contacted by a stranger, thousands of miles away, informing her that people were itching for this album to be re-released – amazing.
Available via the Métron Records bandcamp page both digitally and on re-mastered 12” (be quick – there was only 72 out of 500 remaining when I placed my order)!
Since 2013, Hypnus records has released some of the most forward thinking techno within the genre, curated under the watchful eye of Michel, who also plays live (and formerly djed) under the moniker of Ntogn.
During their first year, Hypnus debutised emerging (now established) artists Luigi Tozzi, Korridor and BLNDR, whilst rounding things off with a remix album featuring tracks from Mike Parker, Cio D’or, Cassegrain and Orphx. The years following has seen Hypnus reach nearly fifty releases, with a roster reading like the who’s who of contemporary techno, including; Feral, SKYM, Primal Code and Birds ov Paradise.
The latest release calls again on a label mainstay, italian producer and live act Feral. ‘Ultraviolet Radiation’ is a four track E.P which perfectly embodies the sound that Hypnus has become synonymous with. ‘Polar Sun’ is dark and driving, with acid-esque warps layered perfectly over throbbing, dubby drum loops. ‘Ice Tunnel’ is more stripped back with rasping highs and syncopated toms taking centre stage, under pinned once more by a dubby kick.
Title Track ‘Ultraviolet Radiation’ transitions to break beat and the warped cosmic soundscape certainly shows signs of a Donato Dozzy-esque influence. Ending things with ‘Solar’ Feral shifts again, removing rhythmic kicks and paving the way for dark, powerful drone.
The vision for the label is clear and considered, with Michel citing intrinsic links to nature and its frequencies, stretching our conscious limits and connecting with each other through creativity and imagination. Vinyl releases occur with each new moon and whilst the visual identity has always been beautifully crafted, the recent use of artwork created by Michel’s partner seems to have taken it to another level – appearing to be another important step in the organic development of the imprint.
Michel also curates The Memoir, a podcast series in which friends and affiliates of the Hypnus label are invited to deliver an hour (sometimes more) of all their own material. A perfect opportunity for artists to lay their creative souls bare and for listeners to delve deeper into a producer’s personal output. Feral’s recent contribution can be found here.
Following the recent Spring equinox, we look forward to a new season of boundary pushing sounds from Hypnus.
Berlin-based ambient / drone label VAAGNER releases ‘Solitary Hymns’, a nine-track digital compilation. Nine different countries are represented and whilst VAAGNER highlight that some of the pieces were made very recently, some of the tracks were unreleased material ‘that take on an entirely different context in the current, unprecedented situation we all see ourselves in’.
There are some familiar faces; øjeRum’s ‘Your Chest, your hands, your mouth’ offers up beautiful melancholic tape loops, whilst Anthene’s ‘Light Years’ is peaceful, yet hopeful, providing light at the end of a long tunnel.
However, there are also some new (to me at least), which piqued my interest. Japanese ambient artist Hakobune provides the seventh track ‘March 28th’, and takes the release in a somewhat doom-filled direction. Vast soundscapes provoke a feeling of emptiness – really powerful and interesting composition. Following this is ‘(Windowpane) Nowhere Nearer’, a reflective, peaceful piece by Zen Zsigo – whom, until further research, I was unaware is an alias of UK producer Cremation Lily (his release ‘In England now, underwater’ was one of my stand out releases of 2018’).
The compilation offers up a journey of emotions, with each artist seeming to encapsulate what these times mean to them. We are all in this together, but all of us have our own journey, and our own story to tell.