For this second look back to 2018 releases I visit the Fall batch from the Constellation Tatsu label and two albums from Hong Kong based artist Norvik.
“Sit down, put your arms out, and lean your head back. Your neck rests on the black leather of the couch, and warm sunlight only comes in if you open the windows. Marble angels watch over you, and the lights can stay low. While you’re sleeping, I can’t imagine that you’re dreaming at all. I took photos of the curtains, and waited for what seemed like hours for you to wake up. I couldn’t sleep at all, just sitting under the lights. I’ve dreamed of these moments we’ve had. Every interpretation is simplistic, an expectation that you can find some whole in something so thin. Even the thinnest knives can cut deeply. Dreams that love can be the solution, that I’ll find everything here, no, everything there. Maybe next time everything will be perfect. I’ll stop burning inside, I’ll stop wanting everything to change. I’ll be happy, I won’t need anything. But I keep wavering, esurient and waiting. You search for love, all you need is love, and all you have are memories.”
Celer aka Will Long is one of the most prolific and well-known ambient artists of the last decade and a half. Based in Tokyo he has released a plethora of music visa imprints such as Home Normal, Infraction, Spekk, Dragon’s Eye Recordings and his own Two Acorns label.
This release clocks in at just under Sixty-seven minutes in length, with both tracks clocking in at over thirty-three minutes each.
Long is a master at creating large-scale pieces that work with tectonic plates of sound gradually moving over each other, slowly changing texture and color and before you know it you are drawn in by the hypnotically repetitive nature of the music which calmly washes over you and draws you in.
Of the two tracks, “Everywhere You Go You Are All that I See” and “Wishes Would Be Grand If Only They Were True”, I lean towards “Everywhere…” as my preferred piece. Maybe its the older I get that I become more attracted to music that evokes a sense of calm in me. I find that music that has a grating quality no longer registers with me than music that is conducive to being absorbed easily. Musically like Basinski’s slow form repetitive loop works “I Remember…” has a hazy, melodic, glacial, lush essence which relaxes the listener. The noted quality is it could possibly send the listener to sleep, such is the gentleness. It’s when you listen deeply to it that you notice the subtle changes throughout that may be easily overlooked. There is a wind soaked ambience, synth drones and an orchestral feel to the music that lightly ebbs and flows.
The flip side “Wishes Would Be….” while having melody is more on the ghostly, slightly cold, drone side of things. The repetition and loops are also there, but are more truncated, while a long linear drone runs through the center of the piece. There is a slight desolate, industrial like quality to the track, as if it’s the dying embers of a factory. It makes sense that the two tracks are split by sides on a cassette as they are like flip sides of each other. For as much as they share together, they are also very different beasts.
“I Wish You Could” is available on Cassette / Digital.
“Rhucle is a Japanese artist currently based in Tokyo. This project started in 2013. The number of albums he has made exceeds 50 albums so far. His music is created by synthesizer, field recording materials, piano, many sampling sources. However he uses
whatever sounds are generated around him.Besides music he takes pictures, draws, makes collages, and uses wood to express his art. He continues to create new works, new ways of expression, and will continue into the future.”
Rhucle is such a prolific artist that there were at least eleven releases by him in 2018 and already one in 2019. I get a little skeptical with artists who release such volumes of work , especially when it comes to quality control. Over the seven tracks on this album Rhucle utilizes Synths, field recordings and other musical sources to create pieces that lie smack bang on the New Age / ambient intersection. There are some consistent themes running through the album with the sounds generated by Synths meshed with field recordings and an almost vibrating/shimmering sound quality to them. By being so similar it can feel a bit repetitive and same/same. The track “Quiet Morning” offers something different with its sci-fi retro feel and the way that it goes from new Age sounding sections to droning ambient ones. The music is light and searching and much like the title may infer, leads to quiet reflection.
When an artist releases so much work (58 releases over six + years) then there is clearly an outlet for his work, as many have been released by labels rather than just self – released works. But for me, the music doesn’t grab me that much. I am not saying its bad or anything negative, it clearly is liked by others. Unfortunately it doesn’t resonate with me. Maybe releasing less and focusing more on the pieces, rather than releasing so much work, could be an option.”More Beautiful Than Silence” is available on Cassette/ Digital.
“Emil Holmstrom and Peter Wikstrom have been working on different music projects together since 2001, but in 2006 after a 3 months of a psychedelic journey together in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos they found some otherworldly inspiration to create an Ecovillage project that wants to explore this spiritual path to union with Life’s Essence, The Source of all that is.”
“Sacred Village” is their fifth album following on from releases on Darla, Parallax Sounds, Nature Bliss/Plop and Psychonavigation. This release also features Gayle Ellett on a variety of string , indigenious instruments and field recordings.
The music finds balance between new age sounds, drones and field recordings. A track like “Catch the Spirit” has a relaxed, floating feel which pairs woodwind instruments with synth drones, field recordings, percussion and strings to create a piece that seems to straddle multiple genres. Indeed of the three batches and twelve releases in total sent my way, this particular track, for me, defines the Constellation Tatsu label’s musical ethos. As the album continues you find that the music is quite fluid in its journey either between tracks or within the tracks. Ambient/Drone reigns supreme in “Sign of the Rainbow”, in “Garden of Bliss” there is a retro feel an Asian feel amongst the mix of guitar playing, woodwind and chimes while “For Artur” fuses trumpet, what sounds like throat singing, swirling layers of ambience and guitars to create a track that is both mournful at times and at others full of hope.
There is no shortage of sonic ideas or sound sources within this album. To probably get the most out of it the listener is probably best in the relaxed frame of mind as an album like this would probably best suited for activities such as yoga or meditation as it has a very soothing calmness to it.
“Sacred World” is available on Cassette and Digital.
“Stephan Haluska is a harpist, composer, and improviser based in Cleveland, OH. His music for harp examines the instrument’s unique textural, harmonic, and percussive qualities. Much of his music focuses on blending traditional and non-traditional harp playing through extended techniques, preparation, tools, electronics, and effects pedals.
The harp has developed a mystical identity in western culture as the sound of angels in heaven, magic, and dream sequences. Considering these stereotypes, Haluska attempts to
expand the instrument beyond its preconceived notions, creating new roles and opportunities for it, and to (de)mystify the harp.
Haluska holds an MFA in Harp Performance with a concentration in Improvisation from Mills College and a BA in Music Composition from Bowling Green State University. He currently works as a freelance harpist performing standard harp repertory and original compositions and arrangements for solo harp. In addition to his solo music, he collaborates with numerous jazz, free improvisation, and experimental musicians around Northeast Ohio.”
The re-examining of instruments seems to be something that is popping up in the Ambient/whatever underground. Think of artists like Alder & Ash, Julia Kent, Jo Quail and Aaron Martin with Cello, Seabuckthorn with guitar, who want to make you reconsider any ideas you have on their chosen instrument. Haluska wants to change the perception of the Harp and on this his debut release he sets about doing just that. Prior to Joanna Newsom the harp wasn’t an instrument that registered on my radar (actually Haluska is the first Harpist I have heard since Newsom and her revelatory “Ys” album).
With “Empty Room” Haluska sets about the harp to create ambient orientated pieces that utilise different techniques from fast strumming, to finger picking, to using more of the dronier bass like elements of the instrument. Haluska also uses space, silence and volume to create pieces that have depth and different tones.”New Windows” probably demonstrates this best with its mixture of playing styles and sounds which includes feverish playing and near silence. “Ocean Projector” for the most part is the most Ambient related piece with its swirling sounds, but also the most expressive track. You get the feeling that other than using the whole instrument including the frame, that Haluska utilises post production methods to create the layers of sound which for different reasons focus the sounds whether they are distant or very much present.
The track below is a good example of territory, sound, texture and colour that you find across the course of these four tracks and some forty-nine or so minutes. For fans of free form exploratory music. “Empty Room” is available on Cassette and Digital.
All four releases are available as a bundle which can be picked up here.
Norvik is the ambient music project of Hong Kong-based composer Gabriel Chan. In 2018 he released two albums “Messages to No One” and The Drawing Board” in July and October respectively. The first “Messages to No One” is the result of months of development and experimentation, finally arriving at the sound that encapsulates the contradictory emotion of isolation and attachment.With meticulously mixed pianos, synthesizers and field recordings from Japan, Gabriel has crafted an album that plays like a short film. Indeed, the 12-song collection intends to be read as 12 letters, each written and sent throughout a year with no replies. The second “The Drawing Board” is an intimate and personal collection of piano – based songs and was born put of a desire to return to the basics. Once in a while, our journey arrives at a state where it is so cluttered and complicated that we become overwhelmed in the flood of thought. This album is created during such a period and is a reminder that it is possible to restart – to go back to a clean state. In fact is it necessary to do this once in a while.”
With the two albums you are able to put them side by side for comparison. The debut features a more Ambient edge than “The Drawing Board” with its stripped back feel. Both albums have a lo-fi intimacy that probably works better with “The Drawing Board” as with ambient pieces you need a bit more vibrancy in sound to fully accentuate the textures, while solo piano can find itself nicely in more personable settings.
“Better to Burn” off “Messages..” nicely finds a fusion between the Ambient and Modern Classical styles. Both share the soundscape equally and act as supporting elements to each other. It’s the kind of track that you would like to hear reworked with a crystal clear sound as it would further elevate the piece. For “Second Spring” Chan goes all ambient with flourishes of piano/synths which shows him being adept at creating floating ambience with electronic touches. Straight after which is “A Taste of Misfortune” which shows his introspective (but also slightly Jazzy) piano alongside drones. “A Long Patience” with its souring strings alongside consistent piano is a highlight as the strings drip emotion while the piano holds it all together with a consistent mood. It also adds another feather to Chan’s cap as it shows a multi dimensional artist who can happily extend his music or reduce it to a single means.
After the string driven spacey ambience of “An Act of Rebellion” Chan brings the album to a close with “Every Leaf A Flower” a melancholic piano piece that is infused with a variety of field recordings that loop in a different pace to the piano. Initially I thought they may have been of rain or city soundscapes, but as they have been cut up, looped and manipulated, I can’t really say their source. This mystery in a way, adds to the piece as it has an ambiguity , rather than just an obvious sound accompaniment to the piano. Is it about restarting, or about developing new things in your life, or becoming something more than you already are? We just may never know.
With “The Drawing Board” Chan returns to lo-fi territory with the stunning “Tape” which features below. A mix of deft Modern Classical and Ambient mixes, you can’t help feel how captivating it would be to hear with full clarity. “Window” has strong cinematic flourishes buried deep within the music, while the following track “Roadtrip” has an introspective feel with pensive playing and real control to rein in the emotions. “Ceiling Fan” sees the drones returning after an absence and the juxtaposition of tempo and texture works nicely alongside the piano which is both feverish and contemplative. Chan, who easily proves his skill behind the piano on tracks such as “Outline” which are as good as any other, demonstrates that when he adds in the ambient/electronic touches it gives his music an extra element to play with and develop. Rightfully he doesn’t use it all the time otherwise it can lose its potency.
Both these albums are enjoyable listens and possibly a look into the future of a new artist. Without trying to be repetitive, Chan’s music would really shine through with clearer recordings and I am sure would provide a highly enjoyable listen with every element included shining through. “Messages to No One” and “The Drawing Board” are digital only releases.