When the relatively short opening track from "Digressions" slowly fades into the second track, "Caden Cotard", an unexpected, jaw-dropping massiveness starts to build - a full orchestral sound that I did not expect to hear on this third Greg Haines album.
It's not 'loud', it's not 'noise' - it's beautifully restrained, but it's just...massive.
But then, within the same track, the intensity drops to a much quieter level to become much more intimate.
With this flow of tension and release, "Digressions" somehow compares to a post-rock album, however with a different instrumentation.
Musically, it feels more like it's a full classical symphony.
Mirrorring - Foreign Body
+ Grouper - Sleep performance
Grouper (Liz Harris) is quite "Hot".
And with that, I am not referring to the fact that she is female, which obviously is a rare feat in the male dominated world of ambient music (listeners, as well as musicians).
She's 'hot' because she manages to appeal to a (relatively) large audience by merging different backgrounds, combining sleepy bedroom folk with laptop lo-fi and electronic minimalism.
Her recent performance (in my hometown) sold out quicky and raised a relatively fair amount of buzz. In her performance she did not touch any guitar, did not sing any tune - she just shuffled and mixed some cassette-tape recordings into an uncompromisingly minimal, William Basinski-like set of "Sleep" (from "Violet Replacement").
Looking around and watching a silent (!) crowd (of about 150) listening to this slowly deteriorating piece, most of them with eyes closed, I could not help but wonder why I did not see most of these people at other ambient music performances.
Two days earlier I enjoyed a brilliant performance of Machinefabriek, Celer and Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra - with only some 20 other people in the audience. Which was a shame, because this deserved to be heard by a lot more - I realised that most of this Grouper audience definitely would have enjoyed that performance too!
Most of Grouper's previous recordings are not as minimal as this performance of "Sleep". The fact that she's crossing over from hazy bedroom electronics may very well be the reason why she guides her audience into the deep and sleepy realms of minimalist ambient music. Almost unnoticed..
Until yesterday, I had some doubts about reviewing "Foreign Body", a new release by Mirrorring (a duo featuring Liz 'Grouper' Harris and Jesy 'Tiny Vipers' Fortino (these two names together should obviously raise attention), because it's not an 'ambient' album as most on this blog.
But with these thoughts about the recent Grouper performance in mind, I decided this album was well worth the attention, because it will probably appeal to a lot of ambient music listeners, too.
So - how's that for a lengthy introduction?
The Dwindlers are a duo consisting of Michelle Seaman, poet, and Benjamin Dauer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. Although they have been working together since 2002, "Allegories" is their second album, following up their 2010 debut release "Dreams".
"Nothing but a Grand Piano. No Synths, drones, pan pipes or tubular bells. I think it's quite different. The music is very gentle, slow and quiet, more about the space between the notes than the notes themselves."
Jeremy de Tolly 's introduction is a perfect introduction and an accurate description of his solo piano album "Piano Nocturnes, Volume One" .
"These pieces express emotions that have no specific name; the songs are meant to exist in the background of your life. It’s not archetypal music of any kind. It’s not really ambient, or classical, it’s definitely not jazz. It’s not depressing, nor is it happy."
Various Artists - Festive Greetings...
...from Hibernate and Home Normal
Okay: Christmas and New Year's Holiday are rapidly approaching - you've probably already had your share of the End-Of-Year Top 2000 lists (full of unsurprisingly position shifts of headliners like The Eagles and Queen) - Your "Last Christmas" and "Imagine" singles are totally worn out - as has "Phil Spector's Christmas Album"? Even the ZE Christmas Record (featuring Suicide!) is not surprising anymore?
Well, maybe it's time for a slightly different approach ....
Enter: "Festive Greetings from Hibernate and Home Normal" - and be prepared for some surprises!
Sometimes an album comes along that is difficult to define, because it doesn't seem to conform to what may be considered as a single 'style' or a 'genre'.
Albums like that usually take a few extra listens to definitely make up your mind, but they prove to be the more interesting in the end - they don't easily fit the current consensus because they create their own style definitions.
"Feather Hammer" is one of such albums.
Michael Gordon - Timber
(Slagwerk Den Haag)
To some, waves on the shore, leaves from a tree, flames in a fire all look the same.
Others can stare at this fractal beauty and find Zen-like peacefulness in the fact that this 'sameness' is just an illusion, because every single detail is different - and no single detail ever occurs twice.
Michael Gordon's "Timber" may achieve the same effect in sound.
"Timber" is scored for six "wooden 2x4s, each cut into different sizes, giving each one a slightly different pitch."
Called a "simantra", this percussion instrument was first devised by composer Iannis Xenakis.
"Deislieper" is the third release in what I like to call the "Kleefstra Wire Trilogy".
In fact, there's no real 'trilogy', but three separate albums that were presented by three independent labels on one single advertising page in Wire Magazine: "Wurdskrieme" (on Experimedia). "Tongerswel" (on Home Normal), and now "Deislieper" (on Hibernate).
"Deislieper", by the way, is a Frisian name for the nightjar and literally it means ‘day sleeper’
Rooted firmly in the improv scene, core members Jan (poetry) and Romke (guitar, effects) Kleefstra never work alone.
With Piiiptsjilling, most of the contributors were Dutch fellow musicians (like Rutger 'Machinefabriek' Zuydervelt, Mariska Baars, Chris Bakker), but soon they also started playing with an international cast of musicians like Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Greg Haines (on the Seeljocht project).
Tongerswel presented their work together with saxophonist Gareth Davis, and now Deisleeper features the incredible percussion music by Sytze Pruiksma.
There is, has been and will always be, a lot of debate about what "ambient" music is. Whatever you think of that, the word definitely has ambience in it, so the music will probably have something to do with the atmosphere of your surroundings.
Closely related, yet still an entirely different matter, are what we call Field Recordings, and/or Environmental Soundscapes.
The first strive to record environmental sounds as closely as possible to its origin, the second add an emotional dimension to that recordings by deliberately manipulating these recordings into a soundscape. Which, inevitably leads to the discussion about the moment when sound becomes music.
Chris Watson is one of the very few real masters of this area (which might be a lot more challenging than you'd suspect). He was one of the founding members of Sheffield's Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio, and started another career as a television sound recording engineer in 1981.
Recording and documenting natural sounds, he has also specialised in assembling these recordings to fascinating soundscapes.
Most of his memorable works have been released on the Touch label, that recently presented his latest masterpiece: "El Tren Fantasma" (The Ghost Train).
And after listening to this album for quite a few times, I can easily state that this is certainly one of the most impressive soundscapes available.