MNO * Michael Begg & Clodagh Simonds

MNO Sleeps


The Marimba instrument is not often used in ambient music, at least as far as I know. But the sound of the instrument is very suited for it, especially when paired with the right electronic effects.
MNO is short for Michael Emeneau, a professional vibraphonist, composer and producer with experience in a broad range of styles like jazz, rock, drum & bass, salsa, techno, country, hindustani, gospel, baroque, klezmer and orchestral music. His biography boasts recording over 1150 CD’s. ‘Ambient/electronic’ music is not explicitly mentioned in this list, even though there were some solo releases on Hearts of Space and Six Degrees records.

For Ambient Marimba, MNO decided that he wanted to showcase the sound of the 5 octave rosewood marimba he used, not his ability to play it. “I needed to remove my ego from the creative process.” To do so, he decided to perform the tracks for this album while in a state of extreme tiredness, so that he was too tired to consider whether he was playing well or not.
“I set up all the recording gear, stayed up all night, and in the morning, entered the recording studio, hit the record button and played the marimba until I could no longer stand up. (4-5 hours/session) I did this two consecutive nights.[…] I think it is the purest, honest playing I have ever done.”
The passages he recorded were then electronically altered to create “flowing water-like sounds, intended to make music ‘not to listen to’.”

In fact, I think this music is far too beautiful nót to listen to. As the album progresses, more melodic parts are introduced (in Cadenza for instance), without interrupting the ‘flowing’ sounds. Gon-Gon, with 11 minutes the longest track on the album, sounds like it could have been written for a gamelan orchestra.

Michael Emeneau definitely succeeded in what he was trying to achieve. The recording process may have “felt like crap the entire time” for him as a musician, but the end result for the listener is about the opposite of that: refreshing and rewarding.

Ambient Marimba was originally released in 2004, but the distributor went bankrupt and the album went in limbo for many years. Not many people will have found out about this album then, so this re-release is good news for everyone to enjoy.

Witness 3


A few weeks ago I recommended listening to Michael Begg’s Witness 1, an ambient soundscape following the rules of the movement of six satellites around the earth.
Since then, this was followed up with Witness 2, which introduced the ‘Weather Engine’. Here, the sounds are mapped to live data like this: “the key is determined by the time of day, the tempo is determined by wind speed, the range of notes is affected by cloud cover, and humidity levels trigger more percussive elements.”
This must be an interesting topic: “Have you heard the weather today?”

On Witness 3, Michael Begg returns to the satellites again, aiming his Witness Engine to satellites from the European Space Agency: Sentinel 1, 2, 3, 5, Cryosat and Terra. If you’re interested in the underlying data: check [here].
The difference with Witness 1 is that this time “the turning of the satellites, their orbital patterns and relationships to each other trigger choral clusters composed and arranged by Clodagh Simonds“, the Irish singer currently known for her work with Fovea Hex.

The result is quite stunning: it’s comparable to hurling through space like depicted in the 2001 – A Space Odyssey end scene. Part of the mysterious effect is achieved by keeping the triggered sounds into an (almost) mono signal. At least in the beginning: as the three pieces evolve, more ‘widescreen’ background sounds are introduced and the result becomes even more immersive.

Music of the Stars (literally), combined with an angelic choir…. even with 58 minutes it feels like eternity.
And I mean that in the most positive way.

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  1. This is Michael “MNO” from the marimba album, first of all thanks so much to Ambient blog for this very kind review, and a bravo for the gamelan referance…. Gon-gon is a term in Gamelan music used to describe the time and space between the striking of the largest gong. It is also apparently the largest of all 4 monkey warriors on the game cube game “monkey ball”. he’s big and has an angrier face than Baby, Mimi, or Ai-Ai:)