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The Prairie Lines * James A. McDermid

Tonal Glints

Prairie Lines - Today Leap and stop time


The Eilean Records Label map (‘based on a map with 100 points. Each point is associated to a number. Each number to a release.’) fills up rapidly with a steady stream of new releases. #58 On the map is Today Leap and Stop Time by The Prairie LinesIf you think that is a strange title, wait till you see the track titles: Slow Hand Clap for Working Late, Department of Soft Focus, Transmissions for Street Punks, Stay Elegant Lose You Mind, etc. etc.

The Prairie Lines is Bill Bawden, recording under this alias since 2015 (before that he released his music as Herzog).
It’s not easy to describe the music on this album: there’s a lot of lofi sounding analogue tape loops involved, including the warm distortion and clicks and cuts that comes with those, and the occasional unspecified instrument. The overall sound is carefully constructed and very, very relaxed. The deconstruction of the tracks and their deteriorating elements are reminiscent of the work of William Basinski, but not in length: the (9) tracks are all between three and six minutes. It’s definitely ambient, but not the sleepy-droney kind meant to be ‘ignorable’ – because the sounds definitely deserve your exclusive attention.

The Eilean Records bandcamp site has only left the digital download to offer, but a few remaining CD copies are still available directly from the Prairie Lines page.

Tonal Glints


Tonal Glints is the second of three albums James McDermid dedicates to his sister Harriet, who passed away in August 2016 after 2 years of illness. Most of the music was written for her and for himself, to deal with the grief, ‘to articulate what I was feeling’.

‘After she’d passed away, there was the question around what to do with the many tracks I had written; they had, in all honesty, been written for her. For me to perhaps leave them sitting on a hard-drive seemed a disappointing end to what amounted to, in my mind, a tribute to her.’

decided to publish the tribute when he was offered to release the 25-track(!) Ghost Folk on Polar Seas Recording in April 2017.
And now the follow-up is released by Krysalisound40 minutes in twelve personal musical sketches.

Knowing about such a heavy and personal background possibly defines what you hear in the music. And although, on one side, it is important to know about the process that lead to the creation, on the other side it might be better to nót know about that and let the music come to you aligned to your own personal frame of mind. (Alas, if you read until here, I’m afraid that is impossible now).

The inspiration for this music may have come from a very sad personal situation, but the music is not necessarily ‘hard’ or ’emotional’ to listen to. On the contrary perhaps: it offers a lot of consolation. What it is defined by the perception of the listener, it may offer whatever he/she needs at that moment.

By the way: James A. McDermid also recently released Melodies of the Widowbird in the ongoing release series from the 1834 label label series.
All of the releases from this label are free downloads, so it’s a good way to start investigating McDermid‘s work (ánd that of many others in this generous series)!

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Silent Vigils * Ian Hawgood

Silent Vigils

Silent Vigils


I admit I had to look up the meaning of the word ‘vigil’, to find out it refers to a ‘period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray’.
Add ‘silent’ to that moment and the name of this duo perfectly describes the atmosphere of their music. Perfect for listening while awake in moments usually spent asleep.

Silent Vigils is James Murray (UK) and Stijn Hüwels (B). Both are prolific musicians, producers as well as label owners: Slowcraft and Slaapwel, respectively. But Fieldem is not released on any of their own labels, but on Home Normal.
The album presents four long pieces with titles that seem to refer to locations that could be in the UK as well as in Belgium: Molenbrook, Mossigwell, Zwartewall, Fieldem.
“Places neither here nor there; half in the world, half in the mind.”

45 Minutes of peaceful, unhurried music – a “dialogue motivated by mutual respect and revolving around our shared love of the minimal, the graceful and the understated.”

Ian Hawgood 光IAN HAWGOOD – 光 (HIKARI)   Also on Spotify

Ian Hawgood does not need any further introduction I suppose. Even if you’re remotely interested in the ‘ambient’ and ‘experimental’ genre, you’ll have met his name on many occasions, be it as the curator of the Home Normal label, or as a multidisciplinary artist, educator, instrument builder or sound engineer.
He has lived a great part of his life in Japan but currently resides in Warsaw, Poland. The two different cultures are reflected in the titles of the tracks on this album: the first five are in Japanese, the last four are in plain English. Which, by the way, does not mean the music in these two parts are completely different: after all Ian Hawgood is the same person, wherever he lives.

(Hikari) translates as “Light” or “Shine”. Judging by the titles alone, there’s a difference in atmosphere that seems to tell a personal story: while the Japanese titles refer to concepts as Preface, Waves, Refraction, Journey and Extinction, the English titles sound sadder than that: Every Ending Is A Little Sadder Now You’re Gone, Hurt Whispers On. Gladly, the closing track of the album is titles A Light That Never Dims.

The first thing you’ll notice is the deliberate lo-fi sound quality of the recordings, which is perhaps not what you’d expect from a seasoned sound engineer. The music is performed on his childhood piano, using old disused reel to reel recorders and an array of vintage synths.
The result is that these pieces are very intimate: it’s as if this album was specifically recorded personally for you.

is not released on Home Normal, by the way: it is number 14 in the Eilean Records release series.
“color: blue. season: summer”

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Ljerke * Michel Banabila




The name Ljerke may not immediately ring a bell. But if you know that this is a multidisciplinary collaboration projects with and around the Kleefstra Brothers (Romke Kleefstra – guitar, Jan Kleefstra – poetry, voice), you know that the wind is blowing from the North. Not only from Friesland, the northern Dutch province where the Kleefstra’s live and which inspires most (if not all) of their work, but even farther north this time.

For this particular Artist-In-Residence project the Kleefstra’s invited Norwegian musicians Alexander Rishaug (electronics), Hilde Marie Holsen (trumpet, effects) and Michael Francis Duch (contrabass), Dutch percussionist Sytze Pruiksma, along with video artists Marco Douma (NL) and Haraldur Karlsson (Iceland).

In november 2016 these artists retreated to the Frisian countryside, improvising and studying for a series of live performances. They also booked a few days studio time to record their work, and those sessions were mixed and edited by Rutger ‘Machinefabriek’ Zuydervelt and are now presented on this set featuring a CD with six tracks and a DVD with the video version of the same tracks.
(Note: the DVD version is only available in the physical version, not with the digital download)

Jan en Romke Kleefstra are the nucleus of many collaborations, each with their own particular emphasis in sound depending on the contributing artists. In concept, this Ljerke is not unlike their previous projects Seeljocht and Skeylja. But the sound is more intense this time. There is more urgency to it.
And with a reason, because Ljerke deals with the serious concern about the decline of the Frysian landscape, the irreversible loss of biodiversity and the accompanying decline in cultural diversity.

Unlike many of their other releases, the poems are not included and translated this time. So, unless you can understand the Frysian language (which probably only natives can), you will not understand the words. But you will still feel what this is all about.
And the message is even stronger with the videos: layered landscape images that are carefully synced to the music.

The wind comes from the North, and it is a cold wind. This is a clear warning that we have to be careful, act, and take care to preserve the nature that we will miss when it is gone forever.

Just Above The Surface


Some artists have a release rate that almost exceeds my listening speed. Michel Banabila is one of those. His name appears so often on this blog that you might think that I recommend all of his releases. Which, in fact, I do! Because very few artists have such a high output rate while maintaining such a high quality level and musical versatility!

Just Above The Surface, his latest release, is released almost casually, unannounced. It is a digital only release, which is an understandable choice at this time – but I feel a bit sorry for those that treasure all things physical… this music deserves to be available on a less ethereal level. Because of the music, but also because of the stunning cover artwork by Gerco de Ruijter.
(Writing this I realise that this sounds as if music that is released in digital format only is less ‘important’ than that on a physical release. Which of course is not the case or at least it shouldn’t be).

There are six long tracks (most around 9 minutes) and a (shorter) closing track which is taken from a Disquiet community release dedicated to Bassel Khartabil (coder and open-source advocate from Syria, imprisoned and executed). With the exception of the last track, the material for this album was created with parts and fragments made for a live performance.
Banabila’s flawless wide-screen production is created with the help of some friends he worked with before (Oene van Geel, viola, Salar Asid, violin). As far as I know it is the first time that Gareth Davis adds his bass clarinet sound to Banabila’s music: on the shuddering opener The Ripple Effect. Martin Barski adds tape sound on Tapes and Polaroids in the 21st Century (great title!)

It is fascinating how easily Banabila navigates between different kinds of styles and moods, even within the span of one single track. From emotional, melancholic to abstract experimental, from subdued calm to a threatening tribal rhythm that makes your palms sweat. And the transitions never sound forced.

Why is it that Banabila is honored by critics and connoisseurs, but after many years of hard work still has such a hard time reaching a larger audience?
What is wrong with the music business??

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Andrew Heath * Sonmi451 * Sven Laux




Soundings is released almost simultaneously with Lichtzinhis collaboration with Anne Chris Bakker, who also makes his appearance on a few tracks (Winter on Noorderhaven and Happenstance).
So it is no coincidence these two albums are alike in their contemplative atmosphere.

Soundings is a remarkably long album (9 tracks, 95 minutes – the last two tracks are bonus tracks that not on the CD-version but are included in the download that comes with it) for which Andrew Heath is inspired by ‘the quiet sounds of people within interior spaces – footsteps, talking, even whispering – the sound of voices that are often rendered so faint and that are buried so deep that they become unintelligible, simply leaving a trace of speech.’
The found sounds and field recordings are embedded in soothing musical textures, ‘set against quiet piano phrases and shimmering electronic treatments.’

The soft piano sounds and patterns on some tracks (Speedwell Blue, Happenstance) more than once reminded me of those on Brian Eno’s 1-1 (on Music for Airports). Quiet, contemplative, generative motifs that perfectly fit the surroundings.
But, unlike Eno’s generative projects, Heath‘s music is not intended to be ‘ignorable’ (‘… as well as interesting’). Each track has a different instrumentation, and solo instruments (like the cello played by Stéphane Marlot, and the clarinet played by Bill Howgego) are clearly placed in the foreground. Some details are presented much louder than the accompanying sounds, giving extra dynamics to the soundscapes.

Together with Lichtzin, this album is definitely one of this year’s personal favorites. Sometimes described as lower-case music, but I clearly prefer to use capitals for releases like this!

Panta Rei


The prestigious Eilean Rec label’s releases are referring to a map with 100 points – ‘each point is associated to a number. Each number to a release. Each release will fill an area on the map around one point, giving it colors, relief & details. Once 100 releases are done, the map will be full, the label will end.’
Eilean have released a continuous string of great releases, so seeing that this Sonmi451 release was numbered #99 scared me a bit. Are we close to completeness?
But fortunately the release numbers are not sequential; they refer to a specific point on the map. If I’m correct this is the 63rd release so we can expect some more before it’s over… phew!

The Eilean map is an imaginary one, but Bernard ‘Sonmi451‘ Zwijzen’s (tenth) album is also dedicated to  ‘the rivers and streams, crossing the exquisite mountain-landscape of the Alps and Dolomites in the beautiful region of Southern Tirol.’
Like these rivers and streams, Zwijzen’s music is refreshing and bright – ‘exploring the inner aspects of sound and stillness, the cracks and loopholes that exist between sounds.’
His unique choice of instruments and sounds (like the harp and the whispered vocals) have become his trademark sound, a sound unrivalled.

Another pearl in the collection of the label as well as in Sonmi451‘s discography!

Sonmi451 – Brenta

(Oh… and to avoid disappointment: with this particular concept the label has become very popular among collectors, so the sad news is that the physical editions sell out in no-time. As did this one: sold out even before the release date. But the digital download remains).


Sven Laux


Berlin-based Sven Laux is an ‘artist, composer, sound designer, musician, DJ and film addict’ and all of this  skills can be heard on his latest Dronarivm release Paper Streets.

The ‘organic, neo-classical journey heard through a cinematic lens’ presents a large-scale symphonic sound that, on close listening, seems to be performed by an artificial orchestra. Which is no surprise of course, since Laux has created electronic music since 1998 ‘after discovering a talent for meticulously sampling and looping audio.’
The string arrangements seem to reach you from within a dream – that alienated feeling even strengthened by the subtle sound details in which the virtual orchestra is embedded.

‘The artist’s work bares a sense of detachment & reflection that usually occurs with the passing of time.’
In this I feel this music is related to that of Field Rotation, Bersarin Quartett and maybe A Winged Victory For The Sullen. It’ll definitely appeal to the same audience. But in fact Sven Laux does not need comparisons like that at all: he claims his very own spot – one that will become a reference point for others probably soon.

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Monty Adkins – Shadows & Reflections / Usher’s Hill

With his impressive back catalogue, Monty Adkins has become one of my favourite artists (if you’re not familiar with his work, don’t forget checking out Four Shibusa,  Rift Patterns, Borderlands and Unfurling Streams).
So it’s great news when two new albums are released almost simultaneously:

Monty Adkins - Shadows and Reflections


The first of these two is Shadows And Reflections, released on the Crónica label in a cassette and download version.
(No CD version to my regret, since I think this album deserves a ‘proper’ release with a better sound quality than the cassette tapes can offer. But, judging on their latest releases, tape is the medium of choice currently for Crónica.. Of course ordering the tape also includes a high-quality download too).

The album presents two 20 minute tracks (Sounds of the Shadow and Sounds of the Sun), built from organ samples performed and recorded by Monty Adkins. On first listen this could be classified as drone music, but in fact a lot is happening in the layering of the organ sounds, and the pieces build up to a climax in a way that defies the strict definition of ‘drone’. (Not that this matters in any way, though)

“In the two parts of the work Adkins wanted to induce a sense of mediation, contemplation and reflection. He wanted the sound to be constantly, though in some instances imperceptibly, changing so that one remained mindful of the music rather than allowing it to drift in to the periphery of one’s consciousness. For Adkins, the focusing on a single organ timbre over an extended duration encourages a more attentive perception as the ear is drawn in to the micro-fluctuations within each of the extended phrases. One’s sense of time is dilated and there is a sense of envelopment within the soundworld.”

There’s no mention of what organ is used for the recordings, but there’s a strong association with the timbres of a church organ. Which would be appropriate, because these pieces were created for a multimedia exhibition at the Bradford Cathedral to interact with fourteen paintings by Andy Fullalove (as well as with the light from the stained glass windows in the Cathedral). An example of Fullalove’s work can be seen on the album cover.

Listening to this music (with the acoustics of the large cathedral it was played in) while enjoying the interaction of the paintings with the ever changing light must’ve been a moving experience.  When listening to it in your private surroundings, the visual part is missing of course. But it’s still a moving experience anyway.


Monty Adkins‘ sixth solo album (since 2009, not counting the earlier releases as Mathew Adkins) is somewhat different from most of his earlier works. It is as quiet and introspective and is created with the same thoughtful sound design, but it feels a bit like it is a selection from two different albums. One part featuring ‘modern classical’ piano compositions, performed by Jonathan Best, the alternating tracks presenting the twinkling electronic soundscapes  (here created using celesta, organ and electronics) we came to know Adkins’ previous albums: the “slow shifting organic textures derived from processed instrumental sounds.” 

At first listen, it seems as if you’re listening to two different albums in a random sequence. But listen carefully and you’ll start to hear the details that connect the tracks: subtle acousmatic backgrounds coloring the piano compositions, or soft piano notes enhancing the charismatic electronic textures.

A Year At Usher’s Hill  is the third part of a trilogy, together with Rift Patterns and Residual FormsThree albums that, according to Adkins, are based on “psychogeography and psychosonology”.
“The album is highly autobiographical, charting events, places, and most importantly the people associated with these experiences… a re-discovery of memories and the connections between them across time.”

Like all Eilean Records releases, the album refers to a map point – a number between 0 and 100 pointing to a map of an imaginary land. This is map point 28. You won’t find Usher’s Hill anywhere except from this location of the Eilean map, or in your own imagination.
But you can be sure it is a very beautiful place to visit.

For those that can play piano and read scores: there are three scores available from Monty Adkins‘ website:  Shifting Ground, In Memoriam Jacques Hamel, Under A Lunar Sky.

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Autistici & Justin Varis – Nine (+ Remixes)

Autistici & Justin Varis

The work of David ‘Autistici’ Newman  (Sheffield-based sound artist and also Audiobulb label curator) has regularly appeared on these pages, but Justin Varis (from L.A.) was unknown to me until now – even though he has released Mountains in 2013 and appeared on various collections.

The two have worked together on their new album – Nine – in the familiar collaborational way, sending material back and forth as it developed.
The result is an 141 minute double album with eight tracks (not nine), completed by another eight remixes from artists ‘close to their universe’.
(Think: Marcus Fischer, Isnaj Dui, Christopher Hipgrave, Monty Adkins, Pillowdiver, Offthesky, Wil Bolton and Letters! on Sounds.)

All tracks are named after different colours. It took a while before I realised that they should best be experienced in a synaesthetic way: the sounds represent the colour characteristics – at least the way the artists experience them.
The opening track, Light Blue, evolves around a somewhat harsh synth sound which I did not find particularly pleasant at first. But light blue can be quite a harsh, sharp colour too. Realising this, my listening experience changed.

This way, each track has his own different characteristics, some bright, some soft, all built from microscopic details.

Experiencing colours also proves to be a personal experience: the longest track – subtitled Sleep Test for Erik and a perfect track to doze away on – is called Amber; a colour close to yellow and orange and so one not immediately associated with ‘sleep’ (to my eyes, I should add).

The remixers all take a slightly different approach, adding layers of sounds to the basic material, which is like putting the original colours into the perspective of their surrounding landscape.
Together, these two cd’s are a truly kaleidoscopic collection!

To conclude, here’s the (usual) sad news:
although the release date for Nine is set for January, 16, the physical copies are already marked sold out!
But pay attention if you’re interested: the last few copies may soon become available directly from Autistici, from Stashed Goods (UK) or from Experimedia (US). Of course, the digital version will remain available for everybody else.

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Various Various

Into The White

Dronarivm kicks off the new year with an impressive 21-track (almost 2 hours) sampler, offered as a free (or better: name your price) download!
One short look at the contributors and you know you’re in for something good.
I won’t begin to mention anyone since I would have to include them all – so just check the Bandcamp link for more details.
I am not entirely sure, but as far as I know all tracks are previously unreleased works. Together, they are a perfect overview of what contemporary ambient music – and, more specifically, the Dronarivm label – has to offer.
So why wait?

Eilean 2015

Eilean Records ended 2015 (or started 2016 if you wish) by looking back at the year and presenting this compilation of tracks by artists that were involved with the label in 2015.
But again: all 17 tracks (72 minutes) are previously unreleased!
The limited metal box edition is sold out now, but the beautiful music of the download is exactly the same, fortunately.
The collection includes some less familiar artists, among names like Bill Seaman, James Murray, Ruhe, Lee Chapman and Dag Rosenqvist.



Not one, but two separate collections, from a series that started earlier in 2015: Volume 1 was released in March, Volume 2 followed in December (and Volume 3 will follow somewhere in 2016).
We Are Invisible Now is  ‘a project about absence, memory, silence, seeing without being seen, reconciliation, resolution, stasis, kites, aeroplanes, the last cup of coffee of an entire life, sleep and descent’.
It’s a ‘no-profit’ series: no money is involved and all music is contributed ánd offered for free. An interesting way to discover new artists: the collection involves relatively few familiar names – most of the contributors were hitherto unknown or ‘invisible’.



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Eilean & Dauw Dialog Tapes

Dauw - Dialog Tapes

In recent years it is not uncommon that artists work together without meeting each other in real life. On-Line collaboration is a common working method: sending work-in-progress to each other until it’s ready. It’s one of the many wonders the Internet brought us.

But as far as I know, two labels collaborating together in this way – matching their artists to work in duos on a collaboration track – has not been done before.

It’s a bold project by Eilean Records and Dauw to match 15 of their artists and let them make 14 collaborative tracks that are released as “Dialog Tapes” on two different media: a CD from Eilean and a Cassette tape from Dauw.

It’s a matching pair – the one should not be listened without the other. Just consider it a double album released on two different media – by two different labels…
No need to think about that too long, by the way: the physical editions will probably be sold outby now (though there may be some copies of the CD left at Experimedia or Stashed Goods). But luckily both releases are still available as a perfect pair of digital downloads.

Dauw - Dialog Tapes

One might expect a somewhat hectic clash of extremes when so many artists are paired, but it’s not. On the contrary: the fourteen tracks are pleasantly varied, often lo-fi, seemingly improvised, introvert, but néver dull, soundscapes.
The labels  – ánd their artists, at least those participating here – clearly share their view of what contemporary soundscapes should sound like!
(A honorouble mention is in place here for the mastering of Ian Hawgood)

14 tracks by 15 artists working in duo’s must mean there is one duo involved (Sokkyo is Heine Christensen and Ciro Berengues) which means that two tracks are created by a trio, not a duo. Not that that really matters, it’s just for those that want their math to be correct…

So, each artist that is present in two different combinations, each interacting with what the other party does best.
And beyond that, it is great to see labels not competing but working together.

The artist names to wet your appetite (find out the combinations yourself):
Stijn Hüwels, Danny Clay, Ruhe, TwinCities, Miguel Isaza, Monolyth & Cobalt, Wil Bolton, Leigh Toro, Aaron Martin, The Humble Bee, Sokkyõ, Masayaka Ozaki, David Andree, Dudal.

As demonstrated by this release, the result can indeed be much greater than the sum of its parts.

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