Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mr. Thistle's Ambient Drone List

I have had an unshakable obsession with ambient drone in the last couple of years so I decided to write a little article on it. While there is something to be said about the processes taken to produce the music’s texture and at least some level of skill to produce the loops and chord progressions that create these melodious blankets – the music is cloyingly simple. Some may argue the complexity of it but the true brilliance of any ambient music is in its restraint not its compositional virtuosity. Really, it’s introspective, not necessarily based solely on its own audible utterances. It is interactive music, playing off the emotive and lulling spells it casts on its listener. It produces retrospection based on individual memory and hangs on the ability to submerse one’s self in something so blatantly simplistic, the enjoyment of which could be easily faked, I suppose. I mean, some of the compositions are so faint and repetitive that, unless you are being particularly attentive, they could be adapted to and blocked subconsciously by a listener’s brain. But its power is in its submissiveness and it’s that same submissiveness that makes its resultant satisfaction almost unverifiable, similar to any type of religious spiritual claim. That’s where we get into shaky territory I guess. Where I can boldly state that I have witnessed some people on this here earth force themselves into what they would later call “spiritual experiences,” ambient music can also be an emotional (or spiritual) ‘forcing-of-mood’ to the submissive. As Sassigrass has so aptly put it, “ambient music is the new emo.” This assertion was simultaneously hilarious and offensive considering Forest Gospel’s historied obsession the word “emo” as the invertible king of all joke’s butts. The reason it was hilarious is because there was a time when Forest Gospel listened to Dashboard Confessional before they were cool (something we later found out was impossible) and offensive because it rang of some truth. So here is the rub, ambient music isn’t the evolution of emo but the manipulation of minor chord compositions into such. Ambient music is (arguably) rooted more solidly in classical music than in pop punk but that is what makes it so deceptively manipulative for the perma-saddies. It cloaks immaturity in intellectualism. So basically, what I am trying to argue here is that I’m smart not sad. Don’t let poser hipsters discredit your belief in my self accredited intellectualism. Oh, it’s kind of hopeless at this point. In honor of its inevitable pop stardom, I am going to review my favourite “experimental ambient drone” albums here in a list. While I respect the originators of the form (Brian Eno, Arvo Part, William Basinski) I am most deeply indebted to these following records for my current, instant tear flow inducers (my obvious penchant for the topic will create a point inflation of sorts on scoring so adjust the rating according to your preferences)…

October Language
(2006, Carpark)

Disciples of Fennesz in the fuzz department, this duo creates some of the most achingly beautiful pieces among the group. Perfectly sequenced minor-chord masterpieces that have been run through the crackle of October leaves, Belong makes the perfect music for evenings in that month; hence the title.

Endless Summer
(2003; 2007, P-Vine; Editions Mego)

Christian Fennesz electro acoustic explorations incorporate
glitch electronics helping make this the most beautiful and organic “electronic” album ever created. IDM fans should take notice because Fennesz somehow makes the crackles and blips from their undanceable beat-candied floors into shores of immeasurably rewarding composition. The 2007 reissue has two bonus tracks!

Talk Amongst The Trees
(2005, Temporary Residence)

Definitely one of my favourite records of all time (regardless that it was released just of two years ago). Eluvium, A.K.A .Matthew Cooper, accomplishes here what every ambient artists strives for: looping washes of guitar that could seemingly play forever without ever getting old. This was what made me fall in love with this kind of music.
The Wind-Up Bird
(2004, Music Fellowship)

The Wind-Up Bird seems to be working on a far more narrative affair here than any of his compatriots on this list, shifting from desperate beauty to lilting ease to eardrum caving dissonance. Incorporating electronic flourishes to his mostly violin based compositions.
Tim Hecker
Harmony in Ultraviolet
(2006, Kranky)

Tim Hecker has been a long time standard player in the experimental scene but released has transcendent high water mark only last year. Here he has created a gorgeous work of art and then has taken the time to meticulously deconstruct it until the gorgeous nature must seep through the recordings inherent destruction. Flawlessly sequenced.
(2006, Spooky Action)

Equal parts ambience and noise. Powerful tidal waves of musical movements drenched in static and feedback all while
incorporating vocal drones and occasional drums as well. Axolotl works with Violin manipulations among other traditional instruments though you probably won’t know it by his output.
Stars of the Lid
Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid
(2001, Kranky)

Tired indeed, this may be the slowest and most mournful of the entire list. Stars of the Lid's palette comes from a decidedly more classical background of orchestration and saws your heart strings with violin bows. This is a long affair spanning the length of two CDs or three LPs.
Keith Fullerton Whitman
(2002, Kranky)

The master of minimalism amongst the group, at least on this seminal recording, Keith Fullerton Whitman is the elder statesman of modern electro acoustics and definitely the geekiest as far as his obsessions with the methods and sciences of the sound he creates. Whitman even taught at Harvard following this record in exchange for using recording equipment there for Playthroughs’ follow-up.
Chihei Hatakeyama
Minima Moralia
(2006, Kranky)

Chiehei Hatakeyama’s electro acoustic compositions have been likened to pop ambience. While I wouldn’t go that far, Hatakeyama does go a long ways in creating a general lulling pleasantness free from care. Along with his drifting afternoon-by-the-lake motifs, Katakeyama occasional transitions his pieces into beautiful folk acoustic guitar lines.
Geoff Mullen
(2006, Entschuldigen)

The history and story of how this recording came to be released is worth the effort to look up. Relaxed glitch acoustics and field recordings imbedded in folkish guitars and banjos. As a debut it is going to be difficult for Mullen to recapture the heights of an album most never even approach.
Black Dice
Beaches & Canyons
(2002, DFA)

Transitioning from being a hardcore band to an avant-garde one, Black Dice created a long stretcher of primal noise amongst its tidal waves. An undoubted high water mark for the band and an enthralling contribution to noise andambience as a whole.

-Mr. Thistle


Anonymous said...

What does intellectualism have to do with emotion? They appear to me to be mutually exclusive, and if not exclusive, at least independent. I'm not sure if i am misunderstanding, but you like drone (and not Dashboard) because you're smart? I detect some artistic pretentiousness in your analysis and maybe just a smidge of hypocricy. If Drone is so simple, why does it matter if you're smart, especially if its best asset is its emotive ability.

b killer said...

Eluvium is cooler than the guy or girl who made the first post! 10/10

Anonymous said...

Nice list.

Some of my faves lately have been Wieland Samolak - Steady State Music, Drone Forest - Our Ghost in Her Wood, Loscil - Stases, C. Reider and Friends - Long Defeat Variations.

Also, all that stuff is legal & free to download, which pretty cool.