Martyn Bates and Troum – To a Child dancing in the wind

Martyn Bates and Troum

By definition, ‘ambient music’ cannot be ‘vocal music’ unless only wordless syllables are sung (by my traditional definition, that is). Recognisable text generally asks too much attention, and singing almost always requires chords that can be ‘remembered’ easily. Still – in the last year I have heard some great examples of music that defies this narrow definition. There are quite a few examples of “songs” that work very well with a clearly ambient, droney background. For a good example, listen to Wheely Down cover by the Uncertain Music Corps.

Svalastog – Woodwork

Woodwork

Rune Grammofon does it again! Can you imagine what ‘electronic’ music based on the sound of a ram’s horn, a cow’s horn and a harpeleiki (a norwegian zither) could sound like? Well – in fact it sounds a bit like the compositions of Information’s ‘Biomekano’, because that’s where Per Henrik Svalastog comes from. Only this time the sound is much more natural (as opposed to electronic), due to the nature of the instruments used. This is a complete new definition of the electro-acoustic genre. Fascinating!

Helios – Eingya

helios

Although Keith Kenniff’s (aka Helios, aka Goldmund) music is labelled as ‘ambient’ in fact it’s nothing like it. At least not in my definition of the genre. There’s way too much melody and rhythm in it, you could even hum along…
It’s not just strictly electronics – there’s a soft guitar, piano, laid back percussion. This is the sort of music that feels like a warm bath. It’s very ‘friendly’ music…opposite to the dark threatening atmosphere that ambient drones sometimes have.
Sounds a bit like Susumu Yokota on his better works, and, yes indeed, Goldmund.

Susanna and the Magical Orchestra – Melody Mountain

melody mountain

To say that I was touched by “Melody Mountain”, by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra would be an understatement. In fact, it hit me quite hard.
It may seem a bit strange to have an entry on this blog about a vocal cd containing pop covers…if it weren’t for the music in the background. This sparse, mainly electronic music will certainly appeal to the ambient music fan. It is created by jaga Jazzist keyboard player Morten Qvenild and produced by Deathprod (Supersilent) – who is well known for his own ambient music and his collaboration with Biosphere. Backed by this (almost ambient) soundtrack, Susanna’s voice sounds even more intimate and honest.

The selection of artists covered may well raise an eyebrow (or two): Prince, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, AC/DC (!!), Kiss (!!!!), Depeche Mode, Fairport Convention (the cover of Fotheringay is especially moving) , and the inevitable Joy Division (sampled here). If you like Nouvelle Vague but think they were a bit too light-hearted, be sure to try out Melody Mountain!

Modern Institute – Excellent Swimmer

modern institute

Ambient electronic music sometimes seems to lack self-relativism and humour. That’s why track-titles like “ECM Haircuts” or “Sign Everyone in Iceland” call for immediate attention.

“Excellent Swimmer” – the latest Modern Institute Album on Expanding Records – has just the right mix of relativism and seriousness, and a perfect blend of electronic and acoustic sounds too..

It’s Martina Bertoni (on cello) and Teho Teardo (on everything else) – with a little help from Mark Beazley (Rothko) on the track you can listen here (called “post.ino”). 

“Excellent Swimmer” defies standard genres; there’s quite a lot of references found in it…sometimes it even reminded me of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Nice. Or more than nice – Great!

Burial – Burial

Burial

We already enjoyed Pole, of course, and Deadbeat, and don’t forget Rhythm & Sound. And now from London comes Burial with this self-titled CD.
The genre is called ‘DubStep’ – and there are quite a lot of new electronic DJ’s exploring it. Lot of times it sounds flat, one-dimensional, analogue and not very inspiring. But every genre has it’s geniuses.
Burial is a very good example of how adventurous this new music can be. Neither Dance(-able) nor Reggae, neither ambient nor classic dub. Yet all of these at the same time, and very heavily electronic. A bit like Adrian Sherwood mixes from another dimension…??On the ‘Hyperdub’ label, which describes it as “Burial’s parallel dimension sounds set in a near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio transmissions, or the tropical downpour of the submerged city outside the window. In their sometimes suffocating melancholy, most of these tracks seem to yearn for drowned lovers.”

‘The tropical downpour of the submerged city’ …(well it wás quite hot in London, that’s true)….’yearn for drowned lovers’…Just top thát for a description!

Your Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Eno-Byrne-cover

Those of us that bought the original album back in 1981, would never have dreamt anything like this would ever be possible…:
To celebrate the re-release of Brian Eno & David Byrne’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” there’s an opportunity to remix two of the tracks yourself.
From the special remix website, you can download track-packs for “Help me Somebody” and “A Secret Life” and start working on them yourself.
Re-upload your mix, and you’re in..!

The Beethoven Time Warp

9BeetStretch cover

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is part of mankind’s collective memory – everyone knows and recognises it (or at least parts of it).
Can you possibly imagine how this 74 minute symphony would sound, if it was stretched to 24 full hours? I bet not. Still, it’s worth a try. Leif Inge is the man who actually did this, and the resulting 9BeetStretch is unforgettable. If there’s a sound of infinity, this must be it.

Nguyen Le – Duos

cover

I had a bit of trouble acccustomizing to this cd, because it is so diverse and has some rather fierce improvisational material on it. But after a few spins it finally got me hooked. The ‘duos’ (Lê alternately plays and improvises with trumpeteer Paolo Fresu and Oud-player Dhafer Youssef) are described as ‘musical dialogues in an electronic laboratory’, and that’s a well-fitting description. There’s very beautiful, inspired and adventurous music here. Sometimes resembling the sound of Nils Petter Molvaer, but with the focus more on jazz than dance. This is not ‘easy’ music, but you’ll be rewarded for your persistence. The sample track presented here – Thang Long – is a good example of the blend of world music roots, improvisational jazz end modern electronics.

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble

Although this is a Jason ‘Bong-Ra’ Kohnen side project, there’s none of his usual mind-blowing breakcore to be heard here. It’s ‘dark jazz’ instead – inspired by and meant as a soundtrack for films like Metropolis and Nosferatu.
There’s a lot of beautiful atmospheric moments to be found: highlights are tracks like The Nothing Changes, Solomon’s Curse, Amyghdala, Guernican Perspective. These are, as you may have guessed, the more quiet tracks. At other times the music is nicely running off the rails for your more experimental experiences…

Loscil – Plume

Loscil - Plume

Just mention the words ‘Kranky‘ (for the label), ‘Loscil’ (for the artist alias of Scott Morgan) and ‘Plume‘ (for the cd title), and the experienced ambient listener that will know what to expect.  
This is the fourth full cd release since 2001 (after Triple Point, Submers and First Narrows). Again, it’s very good, as were the ones before. Comfortable atmosphere, beautiful sounds, never boring. And extremely peaceful.
“I opted to choose the better improvised passes and merely mix them in and out rather than cut them up. I think this leaves a lot more natural space and balances the heavily structured and repetitive electronic elements with more organic performed layers.”

And if this wasn’t enough, the free net release Stases can still be downloaded here!

Anouar Brahem – Le Voyage De Sahar

Le Voyage de Sahar

Anyone that has experienced the magnificent ‘Le Pas Du Chat Noir’ (2002), will know what to expect from this follow-up. It’s the same line-up: Anouar Brahem (Oud), Francois Couturier (Piano) and Jean-Louis Matinier (Accordion). It’s also the same beauty. Stylish, introspective lyrical compositions that have their root in French melancholy as well as in Tunisian passion. This is not just for the jazz- or ethno-purist audience, it’s simply too beautiful for that. Try it.

Hector Zazou / Bernard Caillaud

Quadri+Chromies cover

The music on this disc is just incidentally something remotely ‘ambient’. Most of the time it’s experimental electronic music, vaguely remembering the avant-garde scene from the late 60’s and seventies. At first listen, that is. When you listen more closely, you’ll hear that this music perfectly fits the 2006 timeframe. It’s clicks, cuts, hums and bleeps, but there’s something most other recordings in this field mostly seem to lack: emotion. (It’s exactly that in which this music resembles Murcof’s ‘Remembranza‘)
It’s the perfect blending of Zazou’s electronics with strings (played by Archea Strings) that makes this music stand out compared to a lot other releases in the same field. That, ?nd the help of some of his friends: Brian Eno (performing onthree tracks), Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian and Peter Buck (!? Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame!?).
It’s not often that projects like this ‘touch’ me like this one does: most are too arty, or too pretentious, or just not interesting. This project proves that Zazou is a master in this field of experimental electronic and it must have been the work of Bernard Caillaud that inspired him to do this.

Apart from the audio cd, the package contains a DVD with the 5.1 surround remixes (!) of the music accompanying the digital artwork of Bernard Caillaud. There is no direct (intended) relation between the music and the computer art, but both perfectly fit each other. This really turns your living room into a modern art gallery!

Quadriz

Both discs are packaged respectfully, along with 10 reprints of Caillaud’s work (one for each track).
Commercially, this release may be a risky one when compared to Zazou’s earlier projects. Praise to Materiali Sonori (the label) for taking that risk.

William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops

Upon re-discovering his own archives, William Basinski found some old analog tape-recordings of some ‘pastoral pieces’ of his own work, recorded in the early 80’s. If you can remember this analog reel-to-reel tapes (or cassettes), and imagine them to be used as a real physical loop (end glued to beginning), you can almost see how they started to deteriorate when played endlessly. (Remember the brown dust on your cassette-recorder playback heads?).