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Tag: ambient music

Steven Kemner: Little Notes

Little Notes

Little Notes

Steven Kemner: Little Notes
Released: 3 December 2018
www.fluidaudio.co.uk
www.stevenkemner.com

Clearly Steven Kemner is fascinated with the inner life of sounds. The album Little Notes (39’18”) comes from a place where words are unnecessary, as music better conveys his story. Performed in a kind of slow motion, this album is a work defiant in its meticulousness. Little Notes offers eight places of ambient otherness – each realization of a languorous, inviting disposition. Some pieces are penetrating in their blankness, while others are well received by the ears and hold fast to the heart. Over their brief reclusive spell these compositions rotate and transpose keys. Chords progress and play to a resolution, but occasionally become lost – floating to the surface over and again. Along with its breathing blissed-out layers of vibrating electric guitar strings, Little Notes adds slow piano notes, organ-like tones, mysterious field recordings and manipulated samples. As long melodic lines rise out of a misty aura of harmony, we find its ambiance to be established by an array of expressive sonic shades. It was his concerts within reverberant church sanctuaries that led Kemner to imagine the component emanations of his instrument as objects in space. As notes would float through the air, surrounded in silence, he learned to allow time for themes and forms to be felt by each and every audience member. In his utter refusal to be dull Steven Kemner advances the nearly stationary textures of generic Ambient Music to the level of a steely structured, harmonic tale. Warming the circuits of the listening mind, he reminds us of an often neglected thought – that what has been accomplished in the past can show us what is possible in the future.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 January 2019

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K Leimer: Imposed Order | Imposed Absence

Imposed Order | Imposed Absence

Imposed Order | Imposed Absence

K Leimer: Imposed Order | Imposed Absence
Released: 26 January 2018
www.palaceoflights.com

When the Imposed Order LP arrived at WXPN back in 1983, the DJs were duly impressed. But one of us was quite shattered. The idea of a good-looking, expertly engineered, independently produced album of lofty new music, by someone somewhere way out in the USA, someone who probably did not know anything about our scene here in Philadelphia, who had founded his own record label for this and a number of other similarly weighty projects, this notion was beyond stimulating – it was moving.

It was such a pleasure to explore the nine tracks found on the original LP, which moved easily between cool textural ambience to Fourth World heat. Imposed Order seemed to reference contemporaneous works by Brian Eno, but to the extent that a typical listener would not really notice. This music truly inhabited its own distinctive space, a space which has never really been appropriated, or even approached by any other artist in electronic sound.

A lifetime later, the guy behind the label, the music and the aesthetic is still active and vital. Along with decades of forward-thinking, innovative releases and projects, K Leimer has now found it was time to re-release his original classic – with a second disc full of works realized for various purposes between 1983-1987.

The beautiful Imposed Order | Imposed Absence is an inventive album that is rarely made any more. The original Imposed Order was released in a time where border crossings were not forbidden, but rather encouraged. Its re-issue (with bonus material) feels like a retreat back to an era when this genre was new, and offered a world of possibilities. A marvel of musical precision, it reminds us that there was a time when we celebrated the sounds and moods of music, and not just the technology and process.

From the granular detail of ethno-drum loops, to slow, airy piano improvisations, and the dreamy atmosphere of vintage synths and reverb, Leimer’s compositions move like a swift silvery ghost. One track may be as intimate as a whisper, while the next rolls over us like storm clouds coming in from the horizon. Absorbing and moving, Imposed Order | Imposed Absence deserves full immersion. However, it is doubtful that you will find yourself anywhere in this music. It will be better for the listener to avoid wondering what it all means – so as to notice better how it makes them feel.

If the art of music is about transporting the audience, then K Leimer is an unrivaled guide. His abilities elevate Imposed Order | Imposed Absence beyond the “Indie” category and into fine art. We are not really sure who made K Leimer, or what confluence of events has led him to make so much substantial music. In his early releases we can hear where Leimer began. By listening to his recent work we may learn where he is, but trying to predict where this artist will go next is completely impossible.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 January 2019

Juha-Matti Rautiainen: Above Me Weeps the Sky

Above Me Weeps the Sky

Above Me Weeps the Sky

Juha-Matti Rautiainen: Above Me Weeps the Sky
Released: 15 November 2018
www.juhamattirautiainen.com

We find the music of Juha-Matti Rautiainen drifting in a cool deep blackness. Tinged with cosmic melancholy his album Above Me Weeps the Sky (66:31) feels as intimate as a whisper, yet as vital as the sun rising on a new day. Rautiainen has a musician’s gift for finding and organizing the perfect range of sounds and textures meant for conjuring a specific atmosphere – in service to expressing certain emotions. It is this exact sonic poetry that gives this album its slow chill. Rautiainen has obviously left the conventional view of his instrument behind, as Above Me Weeps the Sky finds him using it to explore music of stillness and space. The music slowly alternates between a trembling vulnerability to waves of strength and light – often with a deep subsonic foundation. Coaxing new and surprising timbres, along with more comforting melodies and contrasting harmonies, the field of sound expands beyond the well-established palette of the bass with layered tones, bending notes, metallic pitch shifts and image altering processing. His success may be found in the connection of imagination and creativity to technique and technology – and the taming of a quieter action. Rautiainen has not found the right solutions to the problems plaguing our age, but he has found the right questions. By hearing him play the electric bass guitar in a most resourceful way, doing such imaginative things with it, eliciting sounds from out of the sky on down to the ground, with just four steel strings, it should not be hard for us also to imagine being bigger… larger than the way we find ourselves. We are a meaning seeking kind, and so seek to silence the turbulence within to better carry out our ways. By taking the way of the thinker we may find that we are not living through a bad time, but it is an empty time – which leaves it up to humanity to find the sacred. And so we shall, even as the sky cries above the weary world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END27 December 2018

Bob Holroyd: The Cage

The Cage

The Cage

Bob Holroyd: The Cage
Released: 9 March 2018
www.bobholroyd.com

Everyone has a talent, but not everyone has something to say. So let now those with ears hear The Cage (59’57”) by Bob Holroyd. Relentlessly introspective, this album is about what it means for Holroyd to be alive right now. Patient and yet exploratory, the music may be as much a therapy for the musician as it is a pleasure for his listeners. While little of The Cage is truly new, the light it sheds most definitely is. As Holroyd seemingly runs an electrical field through a chamber ensemble, instruments lose their sense of place and become sonic forms – making every note piercingly bright, yet soft as velvet. Haunted and fragile, stricken strings establish a secret territory – a kind of twilight struggle between contrasting harmonies and unresolved emotions. His ambient zones work well to still the wheels, while further in textures thicken, a rhythm arises, and an anthem resolves. The Cage always takes the way of the thinker, even when it is pumping and pulsing soft beats and gentle grooves. This music for the quiet mind also grows softly – with layered violins, reverb drenched piano notes, delicate acoustic guitar, and all manner of digital treatment and interference. The quieter sections tug from the edges, pulling our attention away from their center. With its subtly heightened, finely focused energies flowing through every moment, this work decorates our condition with music. Holroyd is a remarkably protean composer, one at home in a wide range of styles. At all times he is the human centerpiece of The Cage – his hollowness, his most veiled, impossible longings, and more, all portrayed across 12 tracks of becalmed poetic brevity. Pushing the Ambient Chamber Music form forward with intellectual precision, artistic clarity, and stylistic confidence, any one of Holroyd’s finely tuned compositions prove it is possible to achieve a utopia with the materials we have at hand.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 December 2018

Helios: Veriditas

Veriditas

Veriditas

Helios: Veriditas
Released: 31 August 2018
www.ghostly.com
www.unseen-music.com

As Helios, the music of Keith Kenniff has the ability to make our world appear to be a better place. With the 12 tracks on his release Veriditas (45’27”) he takes the listener with him into a liminal space. The experience proves as magical as one would expect. These arrangements portray a wide open realm of the imagination, where the main consolation is the feeling of being energized – not through rhythm or beats, but by the overlapping realities of multiple realms. Veriditas is a gorgeous, contemplative, deliberate ride. With its slowly spiraling triads and prowling bass, ghostly assemblages of drifting electronics coalesce to form big major chords or mysteriously minor ones. The restless searching of harmonies – which takes the ear in a pleasant way – produces a moody reverie. As our thoughts circle within this oxidized eerie beauty, a wayward soul slowly swoons – and a wistful easygoing air heightens the wonder. As grainy detail recedes behind vivid sonic gestures, the crawling tempo, gradual chord progressions and drawn-out notes push through cavernous reverberation as Veriditas strains against the EM form. When it comes to the music of Helios, we should set aside our music history, and just listen. His work resides in an open intellectual forum, one far more likely to help us understand and embrace new ideas than to obliterate them. But more people should recognize this wondrous world, where a love of being alive, a love of our humanity, is essential in itself.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END18 October 2018

James Murray: Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards

James Murray: Falling Backwards
Released: 14 September 2018
www.homenormal.com
www.jamesmurray.info

Real life is enough for most people. Thanks goodness that James Murray is not like most people. His album Falling Backwards (47’05”) edges into our awareness, and warms us up in a most welcome way. His instruments, an extension of his consciousness, do not just make sound – they are part of the spirit of this musician. Realized with a kind of cursive grace, the seven tracks show strength in their stillness. As parts of the mind are held back by language, so it may be that in his organization of sound we find Murray’s conceptions and emotions becoming concrete and communicable. From a palpable unease and the whisper of spirits, to electronic shadows and magnetized clouds, Falling Backwards provides a better expression in the harmony of tones. Each piece begins as an impression within the composer’s head. As vivid aural tints form a handsome contrast, the movement of sonic forms becomes active and charged with electricity. Working with the understanding that sound expresses something in itself, Murray indulges his arrangements with lush ornamental pads and sterling, swirling lines of vaporous, recurring notes. Everything in his turbulent sonic landscapes is in motion, yet we never seem to move very far from the dreamy dark holler from where Murray remains in repose. To some Falling Backwards may remain a blur, but to others of us – who hear the interior hum of drama in each and every moment – we cannot help but imagine the futures we will dream about while under its influence.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 October 2018

K Leimer: Threnody

Threnody

Threnody

K Leimer: Threnody
Released: 20 July 2018
www.palaceoflights.com

When K Leimer is unable to find refuge in his own long thoughts, he makes music. Of continuous interest to the ear is Threnody (71’14”), which presents nine innovative works for everywhere and everything that lies ahead. At times psychologically loaded, the people-less, imaginary worlds Leimer creates have an entrancing effect. From the nakedly vacant, to passages of off-kilter rhythms and rhymes, this release moves through the smoky and textured to regal conclusions. Slowly bowing thick strings and spare open piano notes hover above the comings and goings of a crawling bass. Faint sounds surface into a distant mist of gentle distortion, while ensemble chords hang and sweeten the air around us. From out of another mental corridor, a gritty, scratchy clicking, followed by random rumbles, which seem to imitate the workings of a singular mind. Each piece on Threnody provides a gradual mental groove – the ideal basis for our technologically assisted dreams. When the tolling of soft struck metal sounds cold through reverberant space – it is as an announcement of the history of one track entering into the next. As humans we find it impossible to escape the past, yet with Threnody we are guided to look to the future. Resisting the intrusion of interpretation, taken as a whole this album is an enchanted excess of smart atmospheres and ambient production. Threnody places the burden of meaning on the listener. Any intelligent person will understand these compositions, but find them impossible to explain to another in a meaningful way. K Leimer makes this achievement seem effortless, as if the undercurrent of each song is a whispered confidence shared with a friend. He approaches his work with a point of view all his own. Whenever he does everything right, controls the chaos of electricity, moves sound in the right direction and place, Leimer can make something perfect. Just as fate whispers to the warrior, creativity will speak to those who pay attention.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 August 2018