Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts filed under ‘Drone music’

Seaworthy + Matt Rösner – Two Lakes

February 17, 2012

seaworthy matt rosner two lakesTwo Lakes, a collaboration between Australian sound artists Seaworthy + Matt Rösner, is among the most immediately immersive and engrossing drone records I’ve ever heard.  Seaworthy + Matt Rösner have wefted together documentary recording and improvised drone collaboration into a seamless, arresting, long-form piece as arresting as it is stately.  That last sentence wasn’t review-speak.  This is quite an achievement, something this duo manages to accomplish by exhibiting a steadfast dedication to patience and to judicious movement when employing elements from their carefully chosen palette.

On Two Lakes, there are few sounds at any given moment.  Those that are present at said moment compose a gorgeously wrought vignette of nearly austere reserve.  However, what gives the record its considerable power is the deliberate movement between these sounds, how and when certain pieces fade into and out of the track.  The mixing on Two Lakes is impeccable: The resonant burbling churn and slosh of water on “Meroo Rockshelf,” for example, dissolves into the clean, pastoral drones of “Meroo Sedgeland Pt. 1” in a way that’s surprising and gripping, yet somehow still feels inevitable.  And the album is nothing less than a succession of these revelations from the beginning to the end.

Music like this—and by “like this,” I mean music that’s designed to be beautiful, peaceful, contemplative, and impressionistic—is rarely actively engaging.  If it weren’t for albums like Two Lakes, it would be easy to assume that listener engagement and drifting, naturalistic, minimalistic ambient music are mutually exclusive.  The fact is, few albums reach this level of imposed contemplation,* but Two Lakes is certainly one of them.

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*Two other albums I can think of that do are the Olivia Tremor Control’s Explanation II: Instrumental Themes and Dream Sequences, one of the most unfairly forgotten ambient records of all time, and Taylor Deupree’s Northern.

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Bvdub – I Remember (Translations of “Mørketid”)

December 11, 2011

bvdub i rememberAs we find ourselves firmly ensconced in winter’s dreary frigidity, Bvdub’s I Remember (Translations of “Mørketid”) is an ideal record for those who, like myself, use music as an aural mirror.  This record accurately reflects the chilly milieu with compelling, often devastating, accuracy.

I Remember echoes the downcast widescreen panorama of downbeat beatsmiths like Burial and Gas, sounding not unlike some long-lost collaboration between those two artists.  At times, as on “We Said Forever” or “Would it be the Same,” clinical house beats occupy the foreground, and the resulting sound is reminiscent of a Luomo track wrapped in suffocating layers of heartache and hiss.*  Usually, however, Bvdub untethers his loops and haze from rhythms.  The resulting sound is aggressively immersive and consuming, at once powerfully bleak and gorgeous, strongly reminiscent of the dramatic, windswept snowscape that is I Remember‘s cover.

Regardless of the elements Bvdub employs, the tracks on I Remember are uniformly monolithic and relentless and unapologetically heart-wrenching, echoing the hopeless, ruined beauty of another emotionally unflinching work of loop-based music, William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops.  “A Taste of Your Own Medicine” closes the album on a particularly naked note, in which shards of shattered, bleak drones insistently threaten to obscure the fragile, despairing melody at the piece’s heart.  I Remember is undeniably harrowing, but its emotional heft, while considerable, always engrosses and never overwhelms.

Grab a blanket (or Kleenex):

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*And if that doesn’t sound awesome to you, I can’t help you.

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Sister Waize – The Realignment Series

September 16, 2011

sister waize the realignment seriesI first heard about the transformative sonic immersions of Sister Waize on Dr. Schluss’ Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities.  Dr Schluss operates a truly phenomenal blog.*  It’s the Loaded to my Squeeze, and it’s where Sister Waize’s The Realignment Series garnered an exceedingly rare 5 out of 5 on the Trip-O-Meter (a finely calibrated and sensitive instrument, that).  That score right there was enough to appeal to me so I listened to what I could find on Grooveshark, which was My Army of Stars Will Get Me There.  It was exactly what I was hoping for, a crisp trip through synth arpeggiations recalling the more clear-eyed side of komische practitioners like Emeralds and Jonas Reinhardt.  It was undeniably up my alley.

So when David Mekler, the aural architect behind Sister Waize, contacted me with possibly the most heartfelt review request I’ve ever received, I seized the opportunity, feeling, I’m not ashamed to admit, the faintest hiccup of fanboy excitement.  After all, here was someone whose art I admire, and, it must be said, who I’ve heard of reaching out.  It was a warm feeling.

So I downloaded The Realignment Series and gave it a listen and, well, it is safe to say that I was not anticipating what I found on at all.  Based on my limited experience with Sister Waize, I was expecting chugging, Teutonic synth explorations.  I was not expecting a drone record, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a monolithically huge slab of canyon-deep drones like this.

Because I’ll say it: I have never heard drones this deep.  To listen to The Realignment Series is to be thrust entirely into roiling gray continental cloud-banks of sound.  The music is directionless in the best possible way, suggesting scale and mass and intelligence and otherness and unfamiliarity on a Lovecraftian scale.  It begs for that subset of adjectives and verbs we typically use for drone, ones that suggest an immersion, a transformation, a transportation from Here to There.  And it sounds absolutely huge.

Everything about The Realignment Series takes time.  No track is below 15 minutes in length, and most take around a minute for discernable sound to become detectable, a brilliant tactic that all but forces you to pay intensely close attention to these roiling gray continental cloud-banks of sound.  Yes, my friends, I’m afraid this is one of those albums that demands the ol’ quality headphones treatment, as Sister Waize is almost obsessively detail-oriented, and a great amount of The Realignment Series‘s finer points will be lost if decent stereophonic speakers aren’t pressed up against your ears.  This is true with most drone, but is particularly accurate here.

The closest thing I can compare the staggering size and engrossing scope of The Realignment Series to is Gas’s classic 2000 album Pop, which approaches similar depths of sensory-overwhelming mass, albeit by employing a much more humid, organic palette.  The Realignment Series, by contrast, leans on sounds altogether more alien, ominous, and sterile.  And with that frigid, unrelenting template, Sister Waize has crafted a starkly inexorable experience.  It’s uncompromising, challenging, and undeniably rewarding.**  It’s not at all what I was expecting, and that is fine by me.

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*Something you probably already know.  If you’re reading this blog, there’s about a one-in-one chance that you’ve read his.

**Mekler maintains a blog where you can download Sister Waize releases.  (He terms My Army of Stars Will Get Me There “progressive romantic bitpop.”  Brilliant!)  You can also read “instructions” for listening to his “folding drone,” as he terms it.  One prescription suggests to begin by listening to one or two songs at a time on The Realignment Series before building up to the whole thing.  I’d never disagree with a set of instructions straight from the artist himself, but I have to say that blocking off three hours of your time and losing yourself in the entire thing all at once sounds like an absolutely transformative way to spend a weeknight alone.

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Accentor – Moscow, WV

June 25, 2011

accentor moscow wvHere we have Moscow, WV, a new, limpidly frigid, and unusually dynamic drone record by Berkeley-based duo Accentor.  There’s a crystalline grace and hugeness on display here, something that’s better appreciated by airing the music out and letting it get loud.  That’s right: Like most great works of ambient drone, Moscow, WV demands throaty speakers.  I found myself progressively turning the volume up while listening to it, the better to get enveloped by its intergalactic austerity.  It shifts tectonically between the quieter moments of drift on Michael Stearns’s Planetary Unfolding, Auburn Lull’s Alone I Admire, and William Fowler Collins’s Perdition Hill Radio.  To understate things a smidge, that’s pretty good company.

About those shifts: Like Auburn Lull’s aforementioned, turn-of-the-century masterpiece, Moscow, WV is often filled with brilliant light and airy space.  “Winter in Moscow,” for example, basks in a frigid glare, a harshly bright cathedral of ice where frozen synths* trace the clean lines of a forbiddingly beautiful architecture with stark clarity.  At other points, however, things take a significantly darker turn, as on the queasy, foreboding “Tomlinson Run,” which pulsates with blackened aggression.

Sometimes, the hugeness of atmosphere, so evident on “Winter in Moscow,” approaches the oppressive, as on “High School Sweetheart’s Baby.”   At points like these, the coldness and dryness of sound becomes vacuum-like and hermetic.  Elsewhere, drones painstakingly swell from barely-there wisps of aural spacedust into temporally and spatially immersive primordial stews reminiscent of the late, great Celer, like on “Winter in Moscow II.”  There’s a forboding maximalism to these minimal drones, and a stargazing feel of neck-craning wonder as well.

Moscow, WV is the first installment of a year-long series of monthly album releases.  Apparently, one of the upcoming records is, in the words of Jacob, an Accentor member, “an album of Appalachian noise-folk recorded using only a Nintendo DS.”  Yes, please!  You can stream Moscow, WV for free at Accentor’s Bandcamp, or you can download it for whatever you wish to pay.   Think about the latter option, because Accentor is donating all proceeds made from Moscow, WV for the next month to the American Red Cross to help victims of the Midwestern tornado tragedy.**   Accentor: Doing beautiful things with beautiful music.

*Or what sounds like synths to these poor, untrained ears, as Accentor apparently made this record using primarily electric viola and vocoder.  Good luck teasing apart and categorizing these icy, wefted tendrils of sound.

**This being relayed to me one week ago from today, so more like three weeks.

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Shuttle 358 – Understanding Wildlife

May 28, 2011

shuttle 358 understanding wildlifeNow, I understand that Shuttle 358 isn’t drone music by any traditionally prescribed definitions of the term, but bear with me here.  If we’re going to agree that drone music uses a minimal palette (even if that palette is sometimes subsequently applied in maximal ways), Shuttle 358’s Understanding Wildlife, producer Dan Abrams’s 2002 album, ably fits that bill.  And while there’s less of an emphasis on sustaining tones, Shuttle 358 certainly exemplifies the powers of repetition and mood exploration that most drone exhibits.

Shuttle 358, and Understanding Wildlife in particular, comes from that moment around the turn of the century where electronic genres like clicks & cuts/glitch and microhouse made music from an ever-shrinking library of sonic possibilities.  This music was less about breadth and more about depth—depth of sound and of orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy, in the form of paring down and stripping away whenever possible, is important here: Clicks & cuts,* like several other highly specialized subgenres, was always more about experimentation than visceral connection.  I mean “experimentation” the literal sense of testing, too, not just its typical musical meaning (which is, I think, supposed to mean “strange”).  Sometimes these tests would yield engaging work, as is the case with Vladislav Delay’s fascinating output.  By and large, though, clicks & cuts was music to be thought about more than it was to be felt.**

So out of that knotty paragraph, we’ve yielded this: Clicks is cold music, and Shuttle 358 is clicks-oriented.  Instead of sounding dry, distant, and clinical, however, Understanding Wildlife sounds intimate, warm, and vital.

It’s immediately telling that the first song on Understanding Wildlife, the finely gorgeous “Finch,” begins with what sounds like a synthesized harp voice.  It’s a rich, warm, golden tone at odds with the eviscerated sine waves you might typically expect from an album like this.  Indeed, though Shuttle 358 certainly incorporates elements of clicks & cuts, they’re not the central focus of the album.  Instead, they become a foundation upon which a subtly shifting set of soothing, low-profile tones are built.  It’s a simple formula, repeated time and again, but the collective effect is the evocation of supreme peace, a temporal suspension, an immersion into dark, warm waters.

Understanding Wildlife turns restraint, normally a distancing attribute, into an intimate one.  The effect is at once very quiet and very close.  You want to lean into this album, to envelop yourself in its unassuming world of small and unexpected beauty.

*The name comes from a series of compilations curated and released by the German record label Mille Plateaux.  Clicks & cuts takes the disorienting abstraction of glitch to its minimal extreme, all sterilized high pings, metallic scrapes, and subaquatic bass detonations.

**Apologies if I offend anyone who really bawls out to those Mille Plateaux comps.  I’d love to hear your perspective on mine.  I just don’t really get a deep upswell of emotion when I listen to Farben or early Pole (which is admittedly extremely rarely, if ever), and I suspect that that’s not the point.

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Ben Frost – By the Throat

August 27, 2010

ben frost by the throatI don’t have much to say right now, except that By the Throat, the latest album by Austro-Icelandic soundscape genius Ben Frost, has blown my mind at work all week.  Instead of spending too much of your time describing what this roiling, aggro, drone-heavy, Tim Hecker-esque masterpiece of menace sounds like, I’ll just let the album art do all the talking.

That’s right: In this instance, at least, a picture’s worth a 700-word blog post, and this album cover looks exactly like how By the Throat sounds.  Which is to say, like a pack of wolves marauding across a floodlit snowdrift.

Which is to say, fucking badass.

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In Bb 2.0

July 30, 2010

By my calculations, there are 1.5511210043 × 1025 songs available on In Bb 2.0, a collaborative music project spearheaded by Darren Solomon from Science For Girls, which I’m gonna go ahead and show that I’m not a musical omnipotent presence and say I’ve absolutely never heard of.  Regardless, with In Bb 2.0, Mr. Solomon has hit on something wonderfully elegant and gorgeous.  (For the record, my figures are probably really damn wrong.  I just calculated 25!, which, I mean, sounds about right.  Mathlords, feel free to correct me.  Or not.  To paraphrase the immortal words of Mr. Whitney Houston, it’s your prerogative.)

You like this buried lede?  You know you do.  Here’s what In Bb 2.0 is all about.  It’s 25 video clips of various performers playing different instruments in the key of Bb.  They are user-triggered.  That means, when I navigate to the site, I can pick and choose which ones play, when.

Most of the clips operate in the same vein, with performers opting for ambient textures over concrete melodies.  That’s a blessing, since none of the performances dominate the proceedings, and the user can layer at will without making something sounding overly busy.  The results, though I have admittedly only heard a minuscule fraction of them, become a subtly engaging ambient piece that lasts as long as you, the user, want it to.

In Bb 2.0 is a fundamentally user-controlled musical endeavor, more akin to an instrument than an album one passively listens to.  Even though you may just be clicking randomly to begin with, due to the brief nature of the video clips, it’s virtually impossible to listen to In Bb 2.0 for any given period of time without tending to it.  With apologies to Ron Popeil, you can’t set it and forget it.

With my first In Bb 2.0 experience, I started hesitantly, triggering videos more or less at random.  Like one’s first experience with any tool for music-making, my first clicks were ones of discovery.  I would play one, maybe two, videos at a time, determining what was played when. After they all loaded, it was on.  I spent a good half-hour just sitting there, clicking different videos, and seeing what sort of unexpected beauty I could create.

Of course, I had my favorite performances and ones I wasn’t as keen on.  In particular, I kept returning to the first video I clicked on, of Solomon playing the glass marimba.  It served as the backbone for the rest of my ever-changing, quietly reassuring drone-song, and provided continuity to my experience.

Some people will obviously have different videos they favor.  Some people may hate the Solomon’s marimba playing, near to my heart as it was.  But that’s exactly the beauty of In Bb 2.0.  Anyone can sit down, click on whichever videos they want, and listen to what they created.  It’s crowd-sourced, user-directed ambient music, and it’s beautiful.

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Michael Stearns – Planetary Unfolding

May 22, 2010

michael stearns planetary unfoldingLet’s go with something a little more left-field here: this is Planetary Unfolding by ambient composer Michael Stearns.

I’ll be blunt, right out of the gates, here: this record is fucking massive.  It’s impossibly rich and deep and creates a sonic environment so palpable, so galactically leviathan, that it should be measured in light years, not decibels.  It absolutely puts Tangerine Dream and “Thus Spake Zarathrustra” and 9 Beet Stretch and “Echoes” and maybe even the KLF’s Chill Out, my previous candidate for the most immersive, nebula-reaching bliss on record, to shame.

A term like “soundscape” does not do the all-encompassing, cavernously deep and toweringly tall synth explorations on Planetary Unfolding justice.  Soundplane?  No.  Too earthbound.  This record’s downright interstellar, all about dimension, size, and presence, and it towers over you like a glacial, crystalline tsunami miles high, an always-cresting, sparklingly otherworldly wall of sound.

And when you listen to Stearns’s masterpiece, you definitely want that wall of sound cranking as loudly as possible.  Planetary Folding is maximal ambient music, the kind that positively demands impressively loud listening volumes.

Take a step back from the rather pedestrian, kinda cliched album title and look at it with a fresh set of eyes.  Planetary Unfolding.  This album is every bit as epic, expansive, epochal, ambitious, star-reaching, and jaw-droppingly huge as that title suggests.  It suggests a cataclysmic genesis, creation on an astronomical scale.  I already used this word, but I’ll use it again: Planetary Unfolding is a masterpiece, an ode to distances and places far beyond our quotidian world.

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If that all sounds like a bunch of breathless hooey, listen to the record and tell me if you disagree.  I’m serious.  It’s the greatest find in recent memory.  Major kudos to Mutant Sounds for unearthing this thing.

I know I promised some Pram, and it hasn’t happened yet.  Sit tight.  Shit’ll go down soon enough, I promise.  Also, more psychedelic delicacies are on-deck, including, perhaps, a breathless rush of adulation for those lords of minimalist psych, Spacemen 3.

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Charlemagne Palestine – Continuous Sound Forms

March 27, 2010

charlemagne-palestine-continuous-sound-formsCharlemagne Palestine’s Continuous Sound Forms might be a somewhat surprising lead-off post for a psychedelic music blog, but I don’t consider it too much of a stretch.  After all, this music–immersive, hypnotic, and droning–certainly has more than its fair share of psych signifiers.

This recording is a compilation of two different performances.  The first consists of three excerpts from a dual harpsichord session, which certainly has its moments.  However, both the choice of instrumentation and the stark rigidity of the composition itself tends to leave me cold, and it’s definitely not what moved me to begin writing this.

The motivation for that belongs to the second piece here, a 1972 performance entitled “Piano Drone.”  A more generous exercise in classical minimalism does not come to mind.  What we have here is brilliantly luminescent clusters of sound, a clear-eyed and generous space that inhabits the intersection between Lubomyr Melnyk’s torrential cascade of notes and LaMonte Young’s stoic mysticism.

I already used the word, but what I really want to point out and emphasize here is the generosity of this recording.  I mean, we can be frank here: to give an entirely cynical, negative, and closed-minded reading, “Piano Drone” is 22 minutes of highly repetitive meandering on a piano.  An argument can be made that very little actually happens here.  And yet, being fair to Charlemagne Palestine, it’s fairly easy to get lost going down the deliberate, hypnotic, and inviting path that this piece takes.  After a delicate intro, trills and currents of notes begin to slowly but definitely coalesce, forming, at their thickest, a rich haze of interlocked melody.  At its deepest, “Piano Drone” becomes an absolute pleasure to listen to closely. I never get tired of teasing apart threads of tone and observing the place of each in this dense weft.

Even at its most complex, the piece is still harmonious, with any dissonance only alluded to and never engaged.  “Piano Drone” concludes as delicately as it begins, with individual runs of melody wisping away into the perfumed air.

I know, I know, overwrought critical language.  But engaging this kind of studied beauty practically demands it.  Plus, the “wisping”/”perfumed” air thing is at least somewhat literal.  Though this performance is not ambient, it closely hews to that genre as defined by Brian Eno: this is music that can completely diffuse into the background, filling out the space of whatever room it’s played in.  And yet, when stopped abruptly, the ensuing silence is both deafening and somewhat unwelcoming, a testament to the pervasive goodwill of “Piano Drone.”  It’s a learned piece, but it’s beyond that: it’s beautiful, inviting music.

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