'Ritual ambient' music tends to evoke only a limited range of rituals. Very often, it honours its roots in dark ambient by producing atmospheres suggestive of mysterious, perhaps forbidden occult gatherings; group or solo chanting, throat singing, thick drones reverberating as if from concealed, underground chambers and sluggish, primitive percussion. There need not be a sinister tone to these kinds of evocations, but one is often richly executed, the music revelling in ominous invocation or worship. It can make for excellent music. However, doesn't sticking to these tropes greatly oversimplify the complexity and diversity (and musical potential) of ritual as a cultural phenomenon? Must we always represent the sinister in the same way? As for benign ritual, one might suggest it is already covered by familiar styles of ambient and new age music. Yet, it seems to me there's a very diverse and fertile gap waiting to be filled.
This live recording by Czech outfit AutopsiA makes use of elements from the darker, more standard interpretation of ritual ambient. However, while the same aesthetic prevails throughout, it isn't particularly loyal to the cliches of this sub-genre. Opener 'Gate' elicits the dark rituals as described above with chants, coarse brass drones and a dense overall murk. Yet from this point, it begins finding other ways to articulate this theme. The second track 'Archipelag' begins with a post-climactic quietness, restlessly populated with hiss and a muffled trombone motif, but culminates in dramatic brass swells that remind more of the Mt. Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble than Herbst9 et al. 'Weltuntergang' enlists brazen orchestral loops as its centrepiece. There is still a familiar climactic grimness here. Then 'IV Essays (1)' turns things positively psychedelic, with meandering organ and synth melodies that seem to recall the wacky intoxication and disorientation of low-budget 60s and 70s horror films. Finally, in contrast to the first piece, the sound sources of 'Radical Machine 3.0' are altogether synthetic: drum machine, spacey pads and a few bleeps for good measure. Equally mysterious and uneasy, but more equivocal; not as unscrupulously grim.
Whether this is the complete live performance or a collection of excerpts, Live at Divus Prague follows a clear path across different ways of conveying similar circumstances. While most of the tracks themselves fail to develop a great deal, they are individually brief. Particularly when heard as a whole, they don't disappoint.