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.
Experimental musician Yosuke Tokunaga’s latest output comes in the form of ‘13 Monotonousness’, a 13 track limited edition cassette run on Antwerp-based label AVA (Audio Visual Atmosphere). In the release notes, Tokunaga states that close attention to the ‘sounds, clear isms and perspectives that AVA has presented to date’, resulting in my opinion, as one of the most interesting experimental albums that have come out in 2020.
The album drifts through different moods, with some presenting a somewhat harsh, industrial listening experience (e.g track 6 – Monoto nousness’) and some offering up gentler ambient soundscapes (e.g. track 13 – Monotonousnes s’).
Tokunaga’s back catalogue is full to the brim of all round creative cohesion. More often than not, the music pushes the boundaries of electronic experimentalism and the media format (CD or cassette) is presented in a hand made package, with some nod to the title of the album (for example, 11 buttons contains a small bag of buttons affixed to the outside of the DIY sleeve). Small runs, little details and amazing tangible representations of an artists dedication (and love) of their art. Well worth exploring.
Nine tracks of modular synth exploration come together to create ‘Fairchild + Borderland EP’, the latest release from Jordan Reyes on Whited Sepulchre Records. To begin with, the album was conceived as two separate projects (hence the name), but as the production developed, Reyes states that ‘it was clear that they were cut from the same spiritual cloth), resulting in a beautifully considered piece of work.
‘Spacelessness’ is what Reyes cites as the main influence in Border Land (three of the nine tracks within the LP), a feeling that regularly greeted him whilst on the road touring alone. Motel rooms and cities blend into each other and the idea behind ‘temporary existence’ is really quite something. An artist spends their life devoted to their craft, and some (especially musicians) work towards sharing their art in tangible form or live in front of a room full of people. Achieving this, whilst also having days interspersed with hours of drifting really is an interesting perspective.
‘Border Land’ is a short film recently created by close friend Kali Khan, and the accompanying six tracks make up Reyes’ first soundtrack output. As Border Land focuses very much on solitary thoughts and processes, the soundtrack moves in an opposite direction, in collaboration. I always find such a body of work extremely interesting – two (or more) artists with a very distinct vision of what emotions they want to portray across sight and sound and ultimately, how they both come together successfully. Note to self – must watch film.
The album itself is really well composed, with Reyes clearly able to manipulate / control a modular synth impressively. It drifts from an often optimistic, cosmic feel (Touching Down), to somewhat melancholic (notably the final two tracks – ‘Broken Crown’ and ‘All Things End’). Perhaps equally as impressive however, is the story behind the two bodies of work and how they come together to complement each other as one.
Vierzig Skizzen, AKA Daniel Stuhr, self releases ‘Forgetting’, a seven track album available for digital download or on limited run (20) cassette. Recorded between December 2017 and October 2019, ‘Forgetting’ is Stuhr’s first release since August of last year, when ‘II’ dropped.
The album begins with ‘fall song (quiet)’, a peaceful acoustic affair, where gentle guitar plucks are underpinned by a low recording hiss. ‘from windows’ presents itself with long, powerful drone soundscapes, which are complemented by muffled spoken word recordings.
‘In erwartung’ pushes the album in a slightly more abstract direction, with guitar based loops, sporadically interspersed with distorted mechanical notes. The album’s mid point ‘snow at the bottom of the well’ actually evokes a feeling of cold as Stuhr plays with more grainy and industrial sound layers. A soft 4×4 kick is warmly welcomed in the title track ‘Forgetting’, arguably the most ‘pop’ sounding track on the release, as dreamy, effect-laden guitars return as the most prominent element.
Ending on a much darker tone, ‘Gate Opens’ and ‘(security)’ round things off with twenty minutes of harsh sound experimentation. The former literally sounds like the gates of hell are opening, and all manner of nightmares are spilling out (I’d love to know where the quiet spoken word recording / effect is sampled from / produced). After five and a half minutes of blistering noise, it’s almost as if the gates shut, peace returns and a contemplative ambience ensues. The latter again uses quiet guitar strums to contrast against heavy distortion.
Another great find and some really interesting work coming out on tape from Stuhr.
Kaninhal (Kaninhål) translates into ‘rabbit hole’ and this name was chosen for the blog due to the nature in which I enjoy finding new music the most. Whether it be online, in stores, or discussing music with friends, I’ve made some of my most notable discoveries by following my nose and ‘venturing down the rabbit hole’. I stumbled across a great find yesterday – Adversary Electronics, an experimental tape label based out of Georgia (USA), who have put together a fine discography over the last five years.
Over the last few years, the label has predominantly been an outlet for two artists; Grant Evans and Motion Sickness of Time Travel, but have confirmed that 2020 will see the label will open up for releases from friends and like-minded artists.
The start of February saw the label push out three new releases; ‘Antemortem’ by Volunteer Coroner, ‘Fake Spells’ by Sparkling Wide Pressure and ‘The Pessimist’ by Grant Evans. Volunteer Coroner AKA Preston Weippart has been releasing experimental / drone on a handful of labels over the past 18 months and four-track ‘Antemortem’ marks his first appearance on Adversary. It’s a really well balanced release, with Weippaert blending an interesting mix of field recordings atop of noisey droney soundscapes. Favourite track goes to ‘Carved Into Wood, a Test of Time’ – nicely composed and slightly less industrial than the other three tracks.
I find myself being drawn more and more to cassette labels (particularly those with a more DIY feel). Keeping physical editions limited (and number quite low) and having full autonomy over artist collaboration, design and production is ensuring that these imprints are doing a great job in carving out niches within the Ambient / Experimental genre. I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store for Adversary.
Carefully crafted, peaceful percussion is the order of the day here as Berlin-based Inner Space Travels welcome rising producer Luis Miehlich for his label debut, ‘Currents’. Miehlich is continuing to garner fans rapidly and following releases on Whitelabrecs (Timecuts) and Archives (Silences), ‘Currents’ further cements his status as a ‘one-to-watch’ within the Ambient genre.
Across the seven track E.P. Miehlich shows composition knowledge beyond his years. Gentle guitar tones pepper the release throughout and glimpses of glockenspiel-esque synth add particular layers of interest (notably in ‘Klock’). In opener ‘Flows’ a soothing stream trickle (is there any greater sound?!) forms the foundation and exemplifies the producers clear talent in the use of field recordings.
Slightly heavier, sombre tones are used in ‘1405’, the E.P.’s mid point, but by ‘Shizuka’ (track following), dreamy soundscapes return aplenty with Miehlich offering up abstract instrumental sections once more. The release finishes with the contemplative ‘Yukkuri’ and over thirty minutes of audible pleasure come to a close. A sublime addition to Miehlich’s discography and the IST catalogue.
With the help of designer Bettina Gackstatter (who oversees all artwork and design), label head Tiago de Almedia has delivered 8 releases on IST since 2018, each available digitally and on limited run cassette (the back catalogue is now available on made-to-order). The cassettes are beautifully produced, with the music, design and accompanying release notes consistently marrying in harmony to deliver Almeida’s clear vision for the imprint.
Swedish ambient producer Purl, releases two two-track E.P.s in conjunction with Dewtone recordings, a label he credits for being instrumental in both his development as an artist and for connecting him with other revered labels such as Silent Season and ASIP.
The atmospheric ‘Emissary’ transports you to a different land, one where nature reigns and the soft sound of a rustling breeze is heard above all, with subtle piano notes complementing the sweeping sounds perfectly. Equally uplifting ‘Seraphine Tears’ ushers in different elements. Padded kicks are introduced gradually and provide the perfect foundation for Purl to add layer upon layer of emotive sounds atop. By the mid point, the kicks form a steady 4×4 rhythm, providing notably more energy, which remains until near close, where the layers begin to shed and the track is distilled back to its minimalist beginnings. Nature’s influence is also evident on ‘Shards’, with echoing bird calls and trickling stream effects present from the get-go.
It’s hard to determine where the release ‘begins’, and consequently ‘ends’, but for me, ‘Seraphine Wings’ rounds things off perfectly. Just shy of four minutes long, it’s the shortest track on the release, but is deeply contemplative and perfectly eases the listener back to reality.
The swede is prolific in the studio, with solo and collaborative works released on a number of the genre’s leading labels over the last few years; ‘Stillpoint’ and ‘A State of Becoming’ on the aforementioned Silent Season and ASIP, plus in February of last year, a debut on ROHS Records (sister label to Lontano Series), with ‘Poems’.
Release notes included within ‘Emissary’ also confirms a full length LP is set to arrive later in the year, marking his return to Warmth’s label, Archives.
Slow Clinic, AKA James Armstrong, cites his latest work ‘Become Nothing’ as “an uncomfortable listening experience”. Track titles such as ‘My god, these vivid nightmares!’ and ‘Relapse’ do nothing to quell the feeling that his opinion may be a tad extreme. However, a few full listens of this six track album and a read of Armstrong’s beautifully honest accompanying release notes, confirms that this is a true piece of artist self-reflection, complete with a strong message regarding an important social issue.
Work on ‘Become Nothing’ began in early 2018, in response to the multiple side effects Armstrong was experiencing during changes in antidepressant prescriptions, including; vivid nightmares, auditory hallucinations and withdrawal. The album actually opens with ‘Possible side effects include’, a four minute spoken word offering which lists out all known side effects to Mirtazapine, a common antidepressant used widely by the NHS.
The result is powerful, with almost sixty minutes of music offering a stark representation of the impact of depression, with effects pedals and field recordings saying more than any spoken word could. The album was shelved in 2019 after what Armstrong describes as an ‘unforgiving relapse’, but has fortunately made it to release in the form of limited edition cassette and CD, available via the Slow Clinic Bandcamp page.
Armstrongs’ output through his Slow Clinic moniker is a journey of compelling experimentation and consistently strong productions. ‘Salt’ for example, is an improvised long form track, the result of a morning of experimenting with adding small amounts of Himalayn rock salt to his guitar strings. ‘Fără o Frelungire a Sunetului – Without the prolongation of sound’ is the result of him producing without the assistance of reverb, an effect he had confessed to have become reliant on.
Amstrong understands sound, and he understands the feeling(s) it can evoke – an evening scrolling through his varied discography was an evening well spent.
Sleeplaboratory2.0, a 16-track ambient compilation, is the latest addition to the discography of Lincolnshire (UK) based label, Whitelabrecs (an experimental / acoustic / ambient offering helmed by Harry Towell – AKASpheruleus) and follows the widely acclaimed Sleeplaboratory1.0 (released in 2019).
This release has a beautiful back story. Whilst he and his partner were awaiting the arrival of their new born daughter, Towell compiled 1.0, a series of tracks specifically curated to help soothe babies. After welcoming Isla to their family, the series developed and 2.0 was consequently born, focusing this time on ‘sleep, rest and personal reflection’. The result is over an hour of peaceful dreamscapes, wonderfully sculpted by some of the most interesting ambient artists currently active, including Warmth, Jens Pauly and øjeRum.
I’ve listened to the full release three times now, once through speakers and twice through headphones and each time, Towell’s vision for the release appears to have been realised. I rest, I self-reflect and whilst I’ve not fallen asleep mid-listen yet, it certainly sets me up for a decent slumber.
Whitelabrecs begin the decade in strong form and continue to be one of the leading lights in modern ambient music (especially labels coming out of the U.K). Notable releases in 2019 include two albums from the mysterious Glåsbird, a four track E.P. from Manchester based Ben Rath and a label debut for sound artist Jack Hyde. Feb 2018 also saw them release ‘Almost There’ a brilliant drone / piano 9-track full length from Robert Farrugia.
After surpassing 50 releases (all of exceptional quality) some time ago, it’s well worth booking out a cold Sunday, meandering through the WLR back catalogue and enjoying a full day of Ambient goodness.
Berlin-Based imprint Lontano Series strengthens an already impressive discography with their first release of the new decade; ‘Worn’ by Robert Farrugia. The Maltese artist is probably best known for his three releases on Archives (the independent label run by Agustin Mena AKA Warmth), but marks his debut on LS with some of his finest work yet.
Recorded in the summer of 2019, ‘Worn’ is beautifully constructed and flows seamlessly from start to finish. The opener ‘Routing’ is deep and powerful and sets the tone of the release perfectly, with sweeping ethereal sounds taking centre stage. Subtle instrumental additions; warm kicks on ‘Cicada’ and gentle piano keys on ‘Wading’ sound even better against the sketches when played loud.
The considered composition of the mid section of ‘Puddles’ gives the feeling of watching rain lightly fall and disturb the stillness of a small pool of water, and the release reaches its climax with ‘Segments’, a slightly more sombre track that uses the last 90 seconds to slowly ease you back to reality. For almost 40 minutes, you are lost in Farrugia’s world, surrounded by nature and seeing the world turn slightly slower than usual.
On the release page, he adds these notes; ‘In many ways, this album has been turning in my head since 2015, when my studies took me to Finland. During this period, my roommate and I found this dead fox in the snow, taking this photograph. Since then I’ve found myself thinking about the grass and the fox, and the dead fox and the grass, and how beautiful their colours both were. Sometimes it seems to me that life’s a process of wearing and of being worn, and, just like the tape, in many ways my process began back then, with the fox and its colours.’