Posts Tagged ‘ambient’

Chris Russell – Bloom

“Bloom” is Chris Russell’s third solo album on the Relaxed Machinery label, although he collaborated with Disturbed Earth on one of the label’s earlier releases, “The Approaching Armada“. Chris explains that for “Bloom” he was inspired by nature, and used field recordings and electronic atmospheres to evoke its beauty. Indeed, all of the tracks are named after flowers.

The first track, “Dahlia”, is truly gorgeous. Gentle ambient synths are overlaid with a periodic rotating motif which draws a wonderful picture of a bud struggling to open to a flower. “Orchid” places reluctant piano notes over minor pads, with organic sounds adding to the feeling of something truly beautiful and very tangible: a process unfolding in the natural world.

On “Crocus”, a light chord sequence drifts to and fro over luscious ambient pads. From time to time the chord sequence breaks up, as if to demonstrate the fragility and uncertainty of growing to maturity, but inevitably it reaffirms itself again, gaining in confidence. In contrast, “Allium” bursts with an absolute, certain radiance as it swells to a sublime level, then becomes hesitant, and finally discovers its own inner strength and beauty.

“Scilla” begins with an organic sound and long, breathy pads. The plant’s flower opens, but takes its own time; it’s not at all unsure of itself, but rather is totally confident and will be stopped by nothing. This track is stunning, and is definitely my favourite here.

The album’s longest take, “Lilac”, opens with elongated chords, moving from harmonic to slightly discordant and back. Here is one of the original paradoxes of nature; rain battles with the flower as it attempts to open. And of course the plant needs the rain, so it strives for survival. Just after the halfway mark, the paradox begins to resolve itself, with a beatific chord which seems to signify sunlight breaking through after the rain. The plant’s growth continues.

The album closes with “Phlox”, which starts with a deep bass sequence underneath subtle keys. A bouncing, ring-modulated synth opens and closes over very distant chords, building a complex pattern. This is by far the most rhythmic track here. We are no longer listening to ambient music; this is electronic music in the most classical sense. The rhythm leaves, and the track finishes with natural sounds and long, drawn out notes which finally fade to silence.

The artist describes “Bloom” as “a celebration of the awakening and renewal of life”, and that description for me could not be more accurate.

Label: Relaxed Machinery   Cat: rM_0027   Artist: Chris Russell   Price: $$

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Ethereal Live has been one of my favourite labels since its launch just over a year ago. The label describes itself as a place for “archiving live performances of ambient, dark ambient, drone, minimal, and space musics”. The key word for me here is “live”, as it puts a keen twist on perspectives that we don’t always get from genres of music which are often produced, tweaked and perfected in a studio, whether real or virtual.

Symatic Star is Simon Walsh, who lives in Western Australia. This is Simon’s second release on this label; in addition, he has a number of tracks available for download or streaming on Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

The album comprises of a single live set, just over 35 minutes in length. What’s particularly fascinating about the set is the mix of acoustic instruments, drones, and other synth textures. The acoustic instrumentation played live on the set includes didgeridoo, gongs, and an African instrument called the mbira, which I hadn’t heard of before – it sounds to me a little similar to a marimba, though it looks nothing like one.

So, how’s the music? Well, it begins with twinned synths pairing off in stereo, before being joined by a didgeridoo. Space sounds peel off at the high end, before the mbira appears. It makes a series of statements, then questions. These two sounds, from two completely different cultures, complement each other perfectly here. Synth spirals flow in above the mbira. More didgeridoo opens out to space synths, this time dense and more complex, with muffled chords filling the midrange. A lead synth appears, sounding unresolved above a dense ambient wash.

A pulsing rhythm begins around halfway through the track, and it starts to pull the music along, but the rhythm is soon swallowed by an immense drone, then obliterated by darkness. A conflict between high and low begins and confuses the senses, before the listener is immersed in a protracted wall of drones, piercing synth notes and percussive effects. The music then fades to conclusion.

I haven’t heard every release on this label yet, but I think “Transmissions” is definitely their best one to date.

Label: Ethereal Live   Cat: EL021   Artist: Symatic Star   Price: Free

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Andrew Lahiff, a composer of ambient, space and electronic music, started to make his music available via the web in 2002. This is his nineteenth release, and his first to be issued on the Pocket Fields netlabel.

Andrew opens the album with “An Image of the Earth”, which glides in and pins the listener into a space between bass and high treble.  Liquid notes flow across the room, burbling and gurgling gorgeously as the track opens out. Little high notes dance elegantly above huge organic pads, evoking the beauty of the earth’s globe balanced perfectly in space. Next, “Oak, Snow and Ice” finds us in winter, but with a warm glow from the sun, even in this cold. The use of the stereo soundfield here is vibrant and engaging. Gentle metallic coils suspend themselves above reverb-laden pads, which become notes, which become pads again.

Track three, “The Dream Lives Forever”, is the album’s longest, running to eleven minutes. It’s very enigmatic. Moving slowly, and almost with hesitation, it shifts across long spans of scintillating synth chords in a soft ambient swathe. This is truly ethereal and sublime music. In “Alpine Glaciers”, gentle drips of melting iceflows tap away at the surface below, as we observe the endless conversion of ice to water. Cold, yet with an ever-beating heart of warmth inside.

“Stones and Ornaments” places us among both forgotten and remembered objects. A sense of nostalgia is ever present, but it’s almost as though we’re not sure what it is that we’re trying to remember. Stones and ornaments can be one and the same, but there is internal conflict in the music about which of those we see. In “Cliffs at the Edge of Time”, there’s a sense of unease and foreboding. This piece isn’t dark, but it seems to be full of questions about the future. Crackles ripple off to the left and right, and the structured centre tries to halt that fragmentation with a long, shifting pad which appears and recedes again, and is gone.

The final third of “Quiet Correlations” starts with “New Beginnings”, a tender piece which has just the right amount of yearning for the birth of something new. Never cloying, never over-seasoned, it’s life-affirming in a subtle, positive way. Something new is definitely upon us. “Luminous Approaches” begins as the edgiest piece on the album, heralding imminent changes which bring with them a degree of internal conflict. The instrumentation here is wonderful; everything is in exactly the right place. The highest notes of the music hang over us like a thin, gently moving canopy.

The penultimate track “Follow the Mountains” is somewhat mysterious. Long ambient pads stretch out, as far as we can know. The planet turns slowly, and distant creatures cry out in the night. There’s a sense of everything moving back into the right place – into correct, new-yet-familiar spaces. It’s disquieting, but not foreboding. The track closes with a repetitive synth trill which fades into silence.

For “Night on the Plateau”, we are left feeling chilly and bereft of shelter. Cold pads draw out in long voices. The noises of the unsettled night creatures continue; periodically, a bell rings as if to draw them ever closer. The album draws to a close with a seemingly unanswered question.

Andrew recently joined the roster of the wonderful Relaxed Machinery label, and his first release there is highly anticipated, both by the label and by this reviewer.

Label: Pocket Fields   Cat: PF027   Artist: Andrew Lahiff   Price: Free

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Phillip Wilkerson – Highlands

Phillip Wilkerson is one of the most prolific composers in the field of ambient music, atmospheric music and soundscapes, having produced and released his work since 2006. Phillip issues some of his albums free as netlabel downloads, and he also sells others commercially on CD. “Highlands” is one of his free releases, this one being his first on the Free Floating Music netlabel.

The opening track, “The Light Becomes You”, is absolutely gorgeous. The listener is completely immersed in a golden glow of warm ambient pads, which very slowly shimmer back and forth across the stereo soundfield. This is ambient music at its very best. It creates a great sense of inner calm. There’s no rhythm in the conventional sense – no percussion – yet the music moves with a slow pulse that’s almost at a subliminal level.

“The Mirror of God” starts quietly, and fades in slowly to a large, complex chord hovering on one side of the soundfield, with a higher, delicate series of tones on the other. The effect is quite extraordinary, especially when listened to on headphones. The music evolves very slowly again here, but carries a much grander, majestic feel than the opener.

The shortest track on the album, “Two Breaths of Forever”, is the only one that clocks in at under ten minutes. It’s sweetly evocative, with a little more motion than the two before it. There’s little in the way of bass on the album as a whole, but there’s really none to speak of here. It’s based on a series of chord sequences. Towards the end, the chords start to unravel, almost into individual notes.  It’s not difficult at all to imagine this piece being used towards the end of a film.

The album finishes with its longest track, “Sweet Eva Lena”. This drifts along in a serene way, with elongated higher and lower pads meshing into lush, spacious, slowly changing textures. It really doesn’t get much more chilled than this. Contemplative music to relax to, to imagine, to reminisce, to daydream.

The cover, by the label’s owner Brad Ross-MacLeod, fits the album perfectly. All in all, a perfect package. Go download it now.

Label: Free Floating Music   Cat: FFM-010   Artist: Phillip Wilkerson   Price: Free

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The netlabel We Are All Ghosts, based in Motherwell, Scotland, launched in April 2012. They’ve released two albums to date; this was their first.

Cousin Silas’s “The Path Between the Trees” opens with “In One Corner of the Sky (Jupiter Sings)”, which has some lovely stereo cracks and glitches overlaid on peaceful piano, and immediately gives feelings of innocence and fresh, icy air. “Of Ancient Ways” has electric guitar and piano, set in a wide space, occasionally overlaid with children’s voices; again, some nice stereo delay washes across the soundfield. The two opening tracks are both soundscapes rather than ambient music. “Beneath the Foundations” definitely is the latter, though, and it’s dark, too; dense, and probably best not listened to alone in the dark. Prepare to be startled a couple of times during this one.

The title track leads us on something of an ambient journey, and evokes its name well. “Rediscovered” is the first music on the album that has a percussive rhythm, and it carries a lopsided, almost cinematic feel to it, with clear guitar over a muffled piano. “Strange Qualities” spans across the album’s half-way point, and is eerie, claustrophobic, and once again very dark, with snatches of grim, almost demonic processed speech. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling, which is just how it should be. In contrast, “Lost Images” starts with a clear, almost hymn-like piano, overlaid with relaxed electric guitar notes which seem to offer answers to the questions posed by the piano. It’s very easy on the ear, and very restful.

On “The Sealing of the Pothole”, we’re drawn back into territory similar to “Beneath the Foundations”. Deep bass rumbles of dark ambience drag the listener down with their gravity, while alien chatter heightens the experience of being dissociated from our everyday surroundings. The second of two rhythmic tracks, “Diversions”, is a moody, bluesy and almost conventional diversion. Finally, we close with “Lowland”, where comfortable electric guitar merges with some Fripp-ish overlay and little backwards sounds. Fascinating. It’s a very pretty end to an interesting mesh of light and darkness. I look forward to hearing what else the label has in store for us.

Label: We Are All Ghosts   Cat: WAAG_REL001   Artist: Cousin Silas   Price: Free

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