Music Reviews

Orchard: Serendipity

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 12 2017
Artist: Orchard
Title: Serendipity
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Ici d’ailleurs
Orchard are the experimental, avantgarde equivalent of a manufactured boy band. Stéphane Grégoire arranged to bring together four musicians who didn’t know each other either personally or professionally, given the theme of ‘the orchard’, and left in a room to improvise. And yet the result is a piece of confident, assured, leisurely, mellow instrumental soundscaping that sounds like it’s been generated either by one mind or by performers who’ve been working together for many years.

Rich, slow string notes meander gently. Soft drum patterns drift in and out of audibility. Gentle and organic grooves with an unfamiliar quietness form and then disperse almost absent-mindedly. A clarinet toys with melodic ideas, repeating short note patterns then abandoning them, sometimes working alongside the drums and forming something faintly Eastern-sounding. The third track introduces an approach that then gentle infuses the rest of the work- an electronic processing and re-processing openness which sprinkles extra details onto the performance. With some short echoing samples there’s just a very subtle hint of early 1990’s ambient chillout flavour, as though it’s a natural progression from that to this ‘properly’ instrumented work two and a half decades later.

After the especially mellow four-part piece “A Day Staring At Eternity”, second work “Drawn With The Wind”, again in four parts, has a more cinematic and tension feeling to it, thanks predominantly to the rumbling drums towards the start, and the more electronic-sounding slow kicks towards the end. If this is a musical representation of an orchard, then somewhere outside the orchard is a distant threat, it seems.

Third piece “After All The Sun Is Awakening” is a single-part 21-minute work which starts with shades of trip-hop before broadening out into an expansive and open landscape. This isn’t so much an orchard as an invocation of the Great Plains of the US, largely barren yet beautiful.

The album is wrapped up by two shorter pieces, “Fructification” which is a simple and laidback jazzy groove that deteriorates into some kind of rabid bird attack, and “We Host You” which is a gently pulsing affair of string and soft bass with a calming clockwork feel that wraps up proceedings warmly.

It’s hard to believe from “Serendipity” that the performers had only just met. The level of accomplished and assured performance in this smooth work is exemplary, and it really stands out as one of the highest quality downtempo listening experiences I’ve encountered recently.

Monty Adkins: Shadows And Reflections

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 12 2017
Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: Shadows And Reflections
Format: Tape
Label: Cronica
“Shadows And Reflections” aims for ‘a sense of meditation, contemplation and relaxation’ as it develops sonic ideas originally created for an audiovisual exhibit at Bradford Cathedral in 2016 that drew inspiration from the restored altarpiece and stained glass windows of the cathedral. Designed for the cassette format, it’s two twenty-minute pieces of warm, comforting, eventless drone soundscape with a decidedly ‘empty church’ feel.

This is simple, floating ambience that can’t help but induce a sense of steady calm. The evolution of the tones is imperceptibly glacial. The second piece “Sounds Of The Sun” has an ever so slightly more tubular, metallic resonance to it, but I may only think that because my brain started to adapt to the noise level as its new normal.

Thankfully it’s available digitally too, as the often soft and subtle soundscape can’t really benefit from tape hiss- it’s a very purist bit of soundscaping that’s pleasantly soporific and attention-avoiding.

Chronotope Project: Ovum

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 10 2017
Artist: Chronotope Project
Title: Ovum
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Chronotope Project is the music of Oregonian composer, cellist and electronic music producer Jeffrey Ericson Allen, and 'Ovum' is his seventh album under this name, and third on the Spotted Peccary label. And of course, the first time I'm hearing anything by Chronotope Project. "Chronotope" refers to the essential unity of time and space, a concept with numerous expressions in literature, physics and the arts. According to the artist, "Ovum is a concept album that poetically reflects on the nature of beginnings, seeds, and primordial states of being. As an archetypal symbol in art, literature and mythology, the Ovum represents pure potentiality and possibility, the indwelling and self-organizing élan vital that gives rise to life in its manifold forms." Yes, yes, all well and good you say, but how does it actually sound?

'Ovum' has the ambience of a lazy Sunday afternoon occasionally infused with mild percussion. There is a fair amount of flute in some of these gentle synthetic atmospheres giving it a more natural sound. Sequencing, when utilized, is subtle, and enhances rather than dominates. Over the seven tracks on this serene album the music is delicate without falling into stereotypical "New Age". I understand that Jeffrey employs the Haken Continuum Fingerboard which can effect a smooth glissando technique you just can't get from ordinary keyboard synthesizers, so elongated sustained guitar/pedal steel sounds are easy to emulate, as well as other instruments requiring lengthy sustain and slidey notes. He also incorporates subtle Javanese (gamelan) elements giving the music a placid world music flavor at times.

'Ovum' is an album I've played many times in my book & record store, usually in the morning when I'm in the mood for a laid back and peaceful atmosphere. 'Ovum' can be perfect for contemplation, doing yoga or tai chi, reading, or just chilling. Melodic without putting melodies in your head you'd rather not have stick around, Chronotope Project has come up with the antidote to over-stimulation in a world that is just full of it. Relaxing, enjoyable and a wonderful addition to the mellower side of ambient in your collection.

Ager Sonus: Book of the Black Earth

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 10 2017
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Artist: Ager Sonus
Title: Book of the Black Earth
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
Ager Sonus is a German project which is moving his first steps and now has his first album on Cryo Chamber, openly inspired by the imaginary of ancient Egypt. From a musical perspective his music is something at the crossroad between the canonical form of dark ambient which is the unifying feature of all label releases and a more personal form based on small melodies which appear in particular moments of this release.
Above the usual long tones typical of the genre, "Through the Desert" is full of various small detail which drawn the sounds into a concrète environment instead of a void without background noises. The construction of an atmosphere in "The Dead City" is achieved by the small duration of the drones so there's a sequence of them instead of a work on nuances as if there's a narrative behind the work. The use of voices in "Discoveries" is a functional element to the description of am Egyptian place. "Inner Sanctum" is a canonical piece and "Osiris's Courtroom" continues in this path until the final piano melody in the last seconds of the track. "Apophis" shows some good sound effects and "Awakening" closes this release with a remarkable work of writing as the track starts as an atmospheric ambient track, develops with a proper melody for a guitar synth that is reprised, after an ambient break, by the piano to end this release.
Alternating canonical pieces with more courageous ones, even if this could be considered as an average release, Ager Sonus develops a release which could be well received by fans of the genre and has some cue that something interesting could come with next releases. Only for fans of the genre.

Kassel Jaeger: Aster

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 05 2017
Artist: Kassel Jaeger
Title: Aster
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Editions Mego
“Aster” is an hour-long collection of dark, sonorous ambient alien soundscapes replete with flitting electronic waspy noises, strangely warm and glacially symphonic bass tones, throbs and washes.

While some tracks such as the title track are rich with noisy layers, much of the time, such as on second track “Tenebrae” or “Ner”, the drones and more frantic elements fade away for sustained periods, leaving just odd-sounding ambiences with a liquidy, organic feeling. Pieces like “Rose Poussière” and closer “L'étoile du matin” are mellower, more chilled-out affairs, with faintly glitched sine wave hums that morph into something akin to church organs. The scientifically inaccurately-named “Set the planet on fire, you'll get a star” is reminiscent of some of the musical settings that have been built around sonic interpretations of NASA’s deep space telescope data, to personify the emptiness of space. “Uminari”, by contrast, has a harsher, sawtooth-waved tone to its lead tones that’s positively uncomfortable.

It’s a diverse journey of an album with an above-average level of dynamics and twists, yet a firm rooting in texture rather than rhythm. With a slightly soporific aspect, this is mostly spaced-out chill-out with a lot of depth and just a dash of razor’s edge.

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