Dolphin Midwives is a solo project of multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Sage Fisher, one third of the always soulful and exploratory Portland-based post-rock group Waver Clamor Bellow. Her self-released tape Orchid Milk will surely be the watershed release for what she’s had cooking for the last two or so years.
Sage works ever-so-carefully to re-contextualize acoustic instruments (namely lever harp and zither, for the most part) into mind-manifesting soundscapes via unusual treatments and ethereal looping. Wordless vocals beckon you along the journey and further give the sense of ancient vibrations unfolding. A piece like “(((castleshell)))” conveys more cavernous imagery through a swelling drone and dreamily tumbling and overlapping reversed acoustic textures than some people bother to do with whole studios worth of equipment. Another artist who ought to make the Portland music and sound art community proud. Think perhaps of something between Grouper’s delicate drone-scapes and the territory of experimental mystics like Emerald Web and Jon Mark.
For Portland readers: Sage will be giving a show celebrating the release of the Orchid Milk tape Saturday May 21st at Kenton Masonic Lodge with the traditional Javanese music ensemble Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan and Dead Death, featuring experimental guitarist and Waver Clamor Bellow bandmate Paul Michael Schaefer. I hope to see you there!
Chicago’s Kyle Landstra is a synth-head with voraciously assiduous tastes in ambient and kosmische sounds, something that comes across pretty clearly in his five or so years worth of totally immersive isolation ambient collections. His nearly-two-hour 2015 epic Unshared Properties Vol I- IV was, in particular, a lot to take in– the kind of thing you want to let speak for itself. What I can say for his April release Variables of Resolve, commissioned for the Moog Mother 32 synthesizer and twin spring tapes and performed both in Portland for my friends at the Sanctuary Sunday showcase for BARO records at Xhurch and at The Empty Bottle in Chicago last January, is that while it is not as expansive in sonic scope as releases like the Unshared Properties tapes or 2014’s incredible Dream Array, that turns out to be a good thing, because I cannot think of a better starting point for this guy’s discography than right here.
From warm, sweeping washes of ambient pads, effulgent arpeggiated patterns sprout like thoughts finally solidifying, the surfaces falling away to reveal that which is essential, the world turning in double-time before your very eyes to reveal what is and what should be. It goes down easy as it ascends, this emotive reverie that really etches itself in your brain as only something instantly inexplicably familiar can. Essential, embracive kosmische musik, and a really melodic, concise introduction to a guy who regularly turns out stuff that could sit comfortably alongside offerings from the likes of Robert Rich and Thom Brennan. Please listen!
Channelers is a project of Inner Islands co-founder and current curator Sean Conrad, perhaps better known for his releases as Ashan; his 2015 debut under this moniker for Inner Islands They Are Cloaked in Stars and Rivers, which I only recently took the plunge into, stood apart from much of the nascent droney, new-agey stuff out there in the netlabel-verse waiting to be found for its sense of playfulness and melody. And the new Channelers album Essex, which came out in February, again, for Inner Islands, is still better.
You listen to these hazy, buoyant synth ostinati, and you’re drawn out from the shade into the sun-dappled expanses of reminisces and renewing daydreams. Acoustic textures perhaps anchor “Passing My Heart through the Place of Questions” and “Moved by Streams” in American folk tradition, but in truth here they sound exotic and mysterious, divorced from their sources. The emphasis is on melody over soundscapes, but all the same, the undulating layers fall into place to form some pretty lovely vistas. It all sounds a bit like something a sincere Deuter would put out, albeit a Deuter who grew up on the American west coast– it’s a musical gift from Conrad to you, accessible and lovingly assembled. Already one of my 2016 favorites, and I think it will be one of yours, too.
Small Hours, the debut recording of Belarusian sound artist Kirill Mazhai, off the Russian tape label ШАΛАШ, finds within the recesses of its whispering, submerged loops a feeling like the expansive, but muted, intimacy of Andrew Chalk’s Goldfall and Time of Hayfield, though in terms of approach it is perhaps closer to more contemporary figures from the Japanese ambient scene like Celer and Ex Confusion. I hate to go overboard on emphasizing references here, but Mazhai has shared that he named the album for the John Martyn song; that’s important simply because it affirms that Small Hours is an ambient collection that has soul as few others do. These are the sounds of emptied parks and schoolyards just before the break of day, when the sky is not yet emptied of stars. Peer into the blurred-by-distance field recording of a busy corner that anchors “IV” or the warm, swirling textures of “VI” and it is clear that, in short, this is an incredibly assured and sensitive first release. Check out the tape here, and also, take a gander at the work of Ania Khazina, who designed the lovely album artwork.
It’s been a busy year for SLC-based musician and sound artist Braeyden Jae; along with setting up a new tape label (Heavy Mess) and finishing six wishes, a new Softest album for Inner Islands, the netlabel-community-mainstay ambient powerhouse just put out his first ever vinyl release, the furrowed and emotive Fog Mirror, for Cincinatti’s Whited Sepulchre Records. I was a pretty big fan of Jae’s 2014 release Music for Rain: Volume One, so when I had the chance to dive into these new records I was kinda excited, to say the least. However, for some reason, I felt as though this was one case in which the music needed to speak for itself. And so later on, I took the opportunity to have a little Q&A with Braeyden via email– here’s what he had to share with me:
What were your earliest musical influences?
The first cassette tape I ever purchased was Boyz II Men II. I think I was eight years old. They were my first favorite band, I’d listen to that tape all the time. That same day my little sister got TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool. That was also a really big album for me.
Neither of my parents listened to music much in the house so I relied on whatever I could find from the radio. Most music was exciting to me as a kid. It was all new ya know? I remember getting really obsessed with the song “Da Da Da” by Trio. I first heard it featured in a Volkswagen Jetta commercial when I was in sixth grade. I called the local radio station over and over to play it, and dubbed it to a cassette tape so I could listen to it more.
By junior high I was finally figuring out how to not rely on the radio for music. I was getting into punk, stuff like Operation Ivy and Bad Brains and was pretty obsessed with Asian Man Records. I saw Black Eyes when I was 16 and that really fucked me up. Sent my taste in a more adventurous direction I guess. Soon after that I started getting into jazz. I moved back to Washington from Utah during my senior year of high school and was kind of a hermit. I’d ride my bike to library and check out stacks of CD’s. John Coltrane’s Ascension ended up being my first jazz record. I remember just smiling the entire album, It was like nothing I had ever heard. I picked up Sun Ra’s Space is the Place that day too. Both those records were pretty big for me as a late teen. By that time I was also listening to a lot of Eluvium, which was my first real taste of ambient music, for sure a big influence on my work as braeyden jae.
What kind of narrative or feeling did you want to convey on Fog Mirror? On Six Wishes?
I initially conceived fog mirror as an actual object. Like there was this mirror called the fog mirror. I was thinking about what that could mean and what it’s function would be and that eventually that broadened to something more abstract. I guess those two words next to each other spark a lot of imagery for me. Fog often being associated with concealment or mystery while a mirror brings contemplation and reflection. But than you can flip those things, like the obscuring of fog can lead to new insights or an inner reflection, while the vanity (not that vanity is without value) of one’s reflection in the mirror can keep you at the surface. I guess that’s not exactly it, to be honest I don’t fully know. Art is hard. You get ideas and you reach for them, but never really arrive at them. Then you make more art. Over and over.
Six Wishes is much less complicated to me. I don’t work on softest as much, because it’s a zone I’m generally not in the right head space to make sincerely. But one day several months ago I was feeling particularly soft and recorded for 24 hours straight pretty much, probably only took a break for food like once, and didn’t sleep much. Really anything I do as softest is just trying to get to that soft place in myself and making a soundtrack for it. Ya know, real gentle stuff.
What kind of personal/artistic distinction, if any, is there between your output as softest and your output under your given name?
braeyden jae is my main project, I see it as something that can grow with me, something that can change. I intend to cover a lot of ground with the project. There are things that I do in softest that can cross over into braeyden jae, but not the other way around. softest is something very specific to me, but I guess I touched on that in the last question.
I’ve noticed that you often make your own artwork on releases. How do you know Andrew Alba and what led to the collaboration for this release?
Who are your favorite contemporary musicians?
What’s the most memorable show you ever played?
What’s the best bit of advice anyone ever gave you?
Nothing’s coming to mind. Is that bad?
Here’s one from January I hope you didn’t miss: Luna, the third full-length from the Italian drone duo How to Cure Our Soul, whose 2015 release for Audiobulb Saigon became a fast favorite of mine. On Luna, the duo craft arid soundscapes in which guitar-based drones evoke the steady, susurrant songs of bush crickets and dry grass in the wind just as much as the works of composers like Eliane Radigue and Phill Niblock. Indeed, the spiritual dimension to this project’s output goes to show that composers/sound artists are not defined so much by the structures and tools they use but by the feelings and atmospheres they evoke. A really mind-manifesting excursion into drone that has had me returning again and again in search of things I might have missed.
I first encountered the English experimental trio Black Spring on, fittingly enough, their debut recording, a split with The Engineer for Monocreo; something about the chilly, insistent energy of that releases’s 19 minute post-punk collage “East to the Body’s Hum” really burrowed into my brain, so when I got word of the Golden Ghost/No End cassette, their first flight for Structured Disasters and the prelude to a longer recording due later in 2016, I had to dive in.
The trip begins without any fuss– you’re thrust unceremoniously into the propulsive krautrock/dub locked-groove of “Golden Ghost”, and as the ghostly keyboard ostinato gathers strength, you realize you’re being pulled by mechanical hands through blurry streets peopled only by vacant lots and silently staring architecture. Come the second side, and “No End”, the once mournful refrains have mutated into something a bit more uneasy, a bit closer to industrial aggression. The snarling soundscape relents at the break of day, its remains discarded into the wind at the peal of awakening automobiles. You get the sense of a band that has learned quite a bit from the likes of This Heat and Gilbert and Lewis without at all feeling the temptation to safely go through the motions of revivalism. I am extremely curious as to what their full-length holds in store; this will have to tide me over. Give it a listen!
Wander is a free-folk project of Vincenzo de Luce (Drowning in Wood, Zero Centigrade) and Matteo Tranchesi, and like nearly all of my friend Vincenzo’s output, it finds a sense of the epic through a savage mixture of American fingerstyle guitar (they share duties on acoustic guitar, though Tranchesi handles electric in parts) improvisations and heavily-processed sounds of obscure origin. What really impresses on their second album, Kat Gat Sea, for Warsaw’s Wounded Knife, is the almost dark-ambient imagist sensibility of pieces like “The Steps of Your Way Back” and “Into the Flood”, as well as the respect for silence shown on more “conventional” pieces primarily for acoustic guitar like “Red Barn”. Wander’s ferocious sense of melody and dissection of an American idiom show a level of imagination seen in musicians who make a point to have the open-mindedness of great appreciators of music of all stripes. File this between Natural Snow Buildings and Bill Orcutt if you wish, but it’s really something entirely onto itself, to be honest.