An American Ambient Story

The opening track of M A S and Travis Mcalister’s The Fade Out Room, “The room lies still during twilight” uses abrupt silences and ‘faulty’ instruments to create a hauntingly rough ambient album which is both old and new at the same time. Throughout the album, each track builds on this tension of the ambient and the unexplained. From the liner notes, it appears that the duo spent three years improvising on various instruments including a bells, optigan, a music box and others. There is a soothing feeling in The Fade Out Room (test tube)which is created not through synths drones but rather by a familiarity with the music and its construction, which, of course, the listener is totally unfamiliar with. The Fade Out Room, in short, is outrageously strong and should not be missed.

[mp3j flip=”y” track=”The children and the sleeping saint@″]

The Still of the Sun

Ceptual - Songs of the Sun

Desmond Hollins has been putting out some intriguing music over the last five years or so. You may know his music from the aliases of  A Sankip Hummad or Ceptual or Katrah-Quey, but regardless of the moniker, the music has been exceptional. Hollins latest release is Songs for the Sun on test tube. Gone are the subtle beats and the jazzy-feel of his earlier releases. Instead Hollins keeps his experimentation alive with various sound distortions and intentionally incomplete and choppy melodies. Songs for the Sun lies somewhere in the beach swirls of dawn and the lazy loops of an afternoon nap.

Ceptual’s “Vasnao Gil Firma” (mp3)

[audio|artists=Ceptual|titles=Vasnao Gil Firma|animation=no]

Choosing Your Poison

Daniel Maze and Dave Zeal - Blueprints for Insect Architecture

Back in 2006 Vancouverites Dave Zeal and Daniel Maze produced their first work together on Zeal’s Landsdowne (veerwaves) which was released in January 2007. Both had been very busy with releases on Top-40, Test Tube, 12 rec, Sinewaves and other labels during 2006. But 2007 marks Zeal and Maze’s first full-length collaboration with Small Airports on test tube. Pedro Leitão, the curator of test tube, wrote at the time that Small Airports was “a marvelous journey into pop-ambient.”  Labels truly confuse me and I understand why we use them, though all evidence points to the contrary, but pop-ambient sounds like something I wouldn’t want to listen to. And Small Airports is something I want to listen to.*

Five years later and not much was heard from the Zeal and Maze compared to their earlier productivity. But 2011 brings the pair back, this time as Maze and Zeal, with Blueprints for Insect Architecture (test tube), an album that strips any vestiges of a pop veneer and explores the experimental depths that haunted the periphery of Small Airports. Before I go on about the music, please take notice of another superb album cover from aeriola::behaviour who has done a most amazing job  at test tube. The covers are always, always exquisite and this one of a termite nest for Blueprints is of no exception.

The first track, “Parasite Rex” (mp3), sets the tone that the Blueprints for Insect Architecture is going to be filled with delicious noises and feedback instead of smooth synths and melodies. Small Airports smothered the earlier experimentation, but with a track like “Glimmer from the third eye” (mp3) one hears Blueprints triumphing over Airports. The track I keep on coming back to is the indescribable “Computer self aware”. And now that I’ve called it indescribable, like any good reviewer, I shall try to describe it. “Computer self aware” is part minimal techno, part noise, part ambient, part melody, but pure glitchy. It is a collage of all the musical tools that Zeal and Maze have at their disposable. If I had to choose between Airports and Blueprints, I’d definitely go for the latter as I groove to its experimental goodness. But, if you leaned towards Airports, I really do understand.

Daniel Maze and Dave Zeal’s “Computer self aware” (mp3)

[audio|artists=Daniel Maze and Dave Zeal|titles=Computer self aware|animation=no]

* Upon second read, I realized one might assume I’m writing about netlabels confusing me. They do, but that’s not what I was trying to get at. The labeling of music, calling something rock or country or ambient or drone, these labels are what I find so confusing.

Listening While Submerged

Gutta Percha - A Crawlspace Companion

Back in March, Brent and Ryan Hibbert aka Gutta Percha released A Crawlspace Companion of Test Tube. From the first track, “Conscious Listening I”, one realizes that you are about to listen to an incredible work. The slow pace and subtle texture of this 13-minute track draw the listener in to the artists world, one we won’t escape from for another hour. The songs are a combination of sound manipulation, instrumentation, and field recordings that flow forward in an ambient map of unconnected soundscapes that meld together blissfully.  There is the unquestionable dreamlike status of the editing which gives the album a magical realism feel throughout. Gutta Percha’s A Crawlspace Companion is an extraordinary work.

Gutta Percha’s “Unconscious Listening I” (mp3)

[audio|artists=Gutta Percha|titles=Unconscious Listening I|animation=no]

Minotaurs and Wolves

Ricardo Webbens - Analog Mountains

Instead of writing this post, I got distracted searching for and listening to Ricardo Webbens other experimental work. Solo or with Tsuki, Kringle’s Cat, or Polar as well as his well-populated SoundCloud page, I was trying to listen to it all. But procrastination be damned, and I finally forced myself to write this review of Webbens’ latest release, Analog Mountains on test tube.

The first track of Analog Mountains is “Lithospheric” (mp3),  a 22-minute delicate ambient track, filled with vague drones and whispers of glitches.  Its quietness could be mistaken as indistinctness, but it’s this subtleness that gives the track a certain accomplished aura. And then “Orogenic” (mp3) abruptly turns the listener to the dark ambient, the noise. The second track is filled with a shadowy static that steadily increases in volume, its glitches are more pronounced and the drones have morphed into more abrasive tones. Though “Orogenic” might seem a startling change mid-stream, listening to Webbens other work, shows that it is not unexpected. Analog Mountains ends with “Epeirogenic” (mp3), a track more inline with the album’s opening though the glitches are replace with field recording fragments and there is the entry of slight, repetitive beats. Webbens’ work may turn out be challenging to some especially after the ambient beauty of first track, but for this reviewer, it is the demands that Webbens puts on to this listener which makes Analog Mountains so absorbing.