Cavatica Sessions (named after a beer that was named after a spider’s scientific name) arose from a collaboration between Tim Gray (Ethernet) and Elias Foley (Temple Maps). What happens when you combine the 32-bit hauntology of Temple Maps with the spacious, meditative techno vibes of Ethernet? To answer that question you’ve got to look at their shared affinity for dub techno– Orbweaver is a take on deep techno sounds as unconventional as Foley and Gray’s respective styles. Foley put out the limited cassette release of Orbweaver on his label Tamarack Music, which earlier this year put out On Solar Winds, his fine new album as Temple Maps, right after High Light, a collaboration between Gray and Tim Worley (Jatun).
These are layered, eclectic mixes in which splattery, booming beats compete for space with rambunctious, mantric refrains– a bustling alien landscape with synth ligaments jutting out from every direction. The sound design is intriguingly atypical for dub techno– the textures are tinny and angular, yet they resound heavily. When the guys bust out the swirling synth stabs on a track like “Heavy-Bodied”, what you’re ultimately struck by is the claustrophobia of the overall mix, which is shot through with clattering echo-heavy polyrhthms– these mixes are more dubby than ambient, with the interplay of percussive, metallic surfaces sending the listener into deep trance territory.
This one is certainly among the year’s essential listening for fans of experimental electronica at its most abstract– check it out right now!
Seattle-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and sound artist Thomas Meluch’s Benoît Pioulard project made a full-length return to its more experimental underpinnings in March with Sonnet, a collection of mostly instrumental pieces composed with magnetic tape, guitar, and voice, off Kranky. Sonnet was followed by two stylistically-similar companions: Stanza in April and Stanza II earlier this month. Following the net release of Stanza II, Meluch collaborated with my friend Ant’lrd’s Baro Records and Portland experimental mainstay Beacon Sound for a limited series of tapes combining both Stanza and Stanza II in one collection. Both installments of Stanza were mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri and recorded in 2015.
Most of Meluch’s albums under the Benoît Pioulard moniker have been made up of wispy, echo-laden folk songs, similar in their sensitivity and mysterious experimental undercurrents to work by Gareth Dickson, Liz Harris, and Richard Youngs. Bearing this in mind, it seems natural that Sonnet and its two companion albums were devised to stand out among the yearly deluge of thoughtful and texturally-varied ambient releases, in both a conceptual and aesthetic sense. Wordless except for the drowned vocal melody of “A Shade of Celadon”, Sonnet is all ephemeral isolation ambient– and it has a fairly specific form: fourteen lines irregular in length, yet following the same dreamy meter. The two stanzas that follow the sonnet are a refinement of this concept: a sextet of nameless 4-minute-long lines followed by another sextet of nameless 6-minute-long lines. Interestingly, the concept seems to be made clearer on the combined release from Baro, as the standalone edition of Stanza ended with the 6 minute-long first line of what is seemingly the diegesis’s second stanza, and Stanza II’s standalone release included two titled tracks at its end (“Held In” and “Courtesy”) that could not be included on the C60.
Sonnet and Stanza I & II represent the most poetic, organically-beautiful offerings from modern ambient music. Like Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Meluch paints in saturated colors so as to evoke heavy vibes of nostalgia and melancholy. Tape decay and heavily-processed electric guitar are looped into a sonic ocean in which subtle harmonies swell and echo– the sheer immensity of these soundscapes is on the level of Tim Hecker’s white noise odysseys, and, like Hecker, Meluch knows well that one can’t exactly recreate the blurry beauty of organic decay with software. I would say though, that Sonnet goes even further into these realms than anything by Hecker, and with more of a pastoral, impressionistic sensibility in which more attention is paid to melody and harmony. What’s more, the textures of Stanza I & II venture deeper into the shade cast by Sonnet.
Stanza is, for the most part, muted and thoughtful– an afternoon lying in the grass on a beautiful day near the end of summer. Stanza II is the slow crawl of orange light over the earth as evening approaches– it steadily grows more mysterious and plaintive, with the emotionalism of Meluch’s guitar surfacing more frequently in the mix as the the sun dips out of sight. The tones that Meluch has struck here, as well as the conciseness of his phrases, particularly in the last three pieces of Stanza II, are marks of a master. Stanza and Stanza II are all of a piece, and they are ultimately even more melodically, harmonically captivating than their precursor.
Along with Deupree, Sakamoto, and Illuha’s Perpetual, Benoît Pioulard’s trio should be at the forefront of the must-listens of the year for enthusiasts of sound art and ambient music. Stanza II is already one of my favorites of the year. Here’s hoping you check all three out soon…drink deeply.
Few other projects in sound art and ambient music show the sonic scope and thematic poignancy of Richard Chartier’s pinkcourtesyphone. The highly prolific Los Angeles-based sound artist came out with the latest word from this project, Sentimental Something, towards the end of August through the always excellent Important Records, and since I have been something of a rabid fan since I first made the acquaintance of Foley Folly Folio, I had to get my hands on it. If you were not sated with the release of the fine Divertissement, Chartier’s latest collaboration with William Basinski, you are probably more than ready to take the plunge into the chasms of pinkcourtesyphone’s haunted heart.
pinkcourtesyphone, a bit less minimal and more musical than Chartier’s work under his own name, is a thick, susurrant, creeping ambient soundscape of tones from synth modules and sampled cinematic dialogue, as well as other heavily-processed sounds. Details like eerie vocal samples and the not-entirely-sweet somethings of guest vocalists like Evelina Domnitch that frequently crop up in this world do more than just fit with its heady and luxuriously sinister atmosphere. What makes Chartier’s work as pinkcourtesyphone so deliciously necessary is the way that it reflects the arguments of different theoretical outlooks on modernity while referencing a too-beautiful, plush aesthetic rooted in the past. Cold beauty that only appears perfect at first glance often conceals strange monsters at its peripheries. This romantic, spooky duality has much in common with Leyland Kirby’s releases as The Caretaker, a key influence on Chartier, but it also reminds me of the films of Jacques Demy, in which what superficially appears to be naive fantasy meshes with implicit critiques of the societal values underlying that fantasy.
Sentimental Something is something of a departure from the usual style of pinkcourtesyphone in that it finds a middle ground between the lowercase minimalist style of A Field for Mixing and other works Chartier has released under his given name and the syrupy atmosphere I’ve come to expect from this series. Compared with its precedents, this new album is just pure chilly bleakness– all slowburning hums and hisses, and none of the sample-heavy interludes of encrypted commentary that intensified the spell of Foley Folly Folio and Description of Problem. Moreover, the album is surprisingly short, with just one epic (“Fabric Illusion/High on Neuroticism”) and two shorter pieces (“Tears of Modernism” and “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter”) bringing it just under forty minutes (perfect for the limited vinyl pressing, though). Nonetheless, these stylistic shifts have perhaps made this the most easily digestible release Chartier has put out to date.
Indeed, Sentimental Something could stand as a great introduction to Chartier’s somewhat intimidating body of work. The timbres are, as always, gorgeously layered (look out for Evelina Domnitch’s theremin on “Tears of Modernism”) to create a meditative and sensual aura of dread that recalls Rapoon and Nurse With Wound, yet is far more genuinely intriguing than the countless dark ambient releases that repeatedly fall back on stock materials borrowed from pioneers such as them. And the sinuous, growling ostinato melody of “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter” is as eerily resonant a construction as Chartier has ever crafted. If you’re deep into dark ambient sounds and extreme minimalism, you’ll hopefully already have this on your listening log for the year. I can’t recommend it enough.
Continuing the trajectory after the release of Dag Rosenqvist’s The Forest Diaries, for the 25th and 12th points on the map, Eilean Records shifted away from dreamy electro-acoustic sound art to put out two bewitching releases more focused on music from acoustic instruments: Pendel by Yadayn (good to see him developing even more after 2014’s fine Vloed) and And the Birds Sing in Chorus First by Lake Mary, respectively. Lake Mary is musician Chaz Prymek, who played, recorded, mixed, and mastered this album of pieces for banjo and acoustic guitar wholly on his own.
And the Birds Sing in Chorus First is the child of about four years of disparate recording on the road all through the Western U.S.. Train the ear with care and you’ll see how each piece reflects a different season of life, from the forlorn and resonant “Chipa: North Dakota” (easily my favorite) to the burgeoning of a second wind on “Whatever The Light Touched Became Dowered A Fantastical Existence”. The sound manipulation here is very subtle and spare, reaching its peak, honestly, on the shimmering overlapped textures of “The Sudden Bruise of A Rainstorm”– that’s more than okay with me.
This one would make quite a soundtrack to a sunrise panning across a big, lonely Wim Wenders prairie. This one comes highly recommended to all enthusiasts of experimental takes on the American fingerstyle-guitar tradition.
Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods is gradually building an impressive catalog of ambient techno sounds. Of particular interest is Warmth (a Spanish electronic musician who goes by Agus) and Kris Dubinsky’s languorous, richly-textured collaboration Nature in Its Forms, which divides its time equally between exploratory beatless ambient and flowing, temperate dub techno. Whether beckoning us along for the slow-motion unfolding of “Sammanväxta Toner”, or on a techno voyage in the clouds like that of “Drawing Circles”, the duo have crafted enveloping, atmospheric electronica. This one goes a little lighter on effects than the capacious work of dub techno production virtuosos like Tamás Olejnik; however, it has a certain sweeping, dreamy quality to it that can lift you off the ground. Olejnik’s Singularity would be best-suited for an urban skyline at night– Dubinsky and Warmth’s Nature in Its Forms naturally lends itself to the forest scene on the cover. Highly recommended to all fans of deep techno sounds.
Pleq (Polish producer Bartosz Dziadosz) makes rhythmic electronic music positioned at the fringes of ambient music and sound art for its melancholy aesthetic and samplings from modern classical sounds. He is also an extremely congenial and open-minded collaborator with those who focus completely on ambient sounds, as evidenced both by Adrift, his 2012 meeting with Hakobune, and now The Prelude To, a collaboration with Italian sound artist and musician Giulio Aldinucci just released on Twice Removed’s younger sibling, Long Story Recording Company. Aldinucci (whose work focuses on incorporating field recordings with digital and analog synthesis) also just released the excellent Spazio Sacro; the guy’s on a roll and I’m very curious to see where he will venture next! The Prelude To (which began as a one-off for a Home Normal compilation) also features three engaging remixes by Olan Mill (Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko), Christopher Bissonnette, and The Green Kingdom (Mike Cottone).
The Prelude To is beatless ambient where, here and there, a bright ray of light and chilly gust of air will sometimes shoot through the thick fog of blurred tones made up of distorted field recordings, acoustic instruments, and synthesized sounds. This is not to say that the end result is muddled– the intuitively harmonious collaboration at the heart of The Prelude To has produced soundscapes in which Pleq’s loops and faded white noise and Aldinucci’s ringing, slowly-ascending drones orbit so closely that they form a seamless whole. The sum of this collaboration is something halfway-between the arctic ambient of Biosphere and the meditative sound art made by contemporaries of Aldinucci like Stephan Mathieu. This one comes highly recommended to all fans of ambient music and sound art.
Strom Noir, Slovakian sound artist Emil Matko, makes warm, enveloping ambient with a methodolgy similar to Hakobune’s: through the layering of faint, delayed-to-the-aether tones. Though the best entry point into his discography would be through the mysterious, endlessly trailing ostinato melodies of Dni Stratili Svoju Farbu (Days Lost their Colors), his new album ΕΣΟΠΤΡΟΝ (Espotron: Inner Mirror), released on cassette by ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ early in March 2015, is just as lovely. Matko’s meticulous work has produced blissfully dreamy soundscapes– the early spring to Hakobune and Nobuto Suda’s late autumn. This one is a must-listen for all fans of sound art and ambient music.