Various Artists – Sleeplaboratory1.0 / James McDermid – Kern Host / vau – Ways of Stillness.

Here I cast my eye over the newest and Fiftieth release from the Whitelab Rec’s label as well as look back on two of their most recent releases that were missed before.

Depending on each and every individual, sleep can be one of the most enjoyable, therapeutic things, or if you suffer from insomnia, one of the hardest things to do. Lack of sleep can alter personalities and affect you physically. The topic of sleep has come through in arts across the decades such as Warhol’s “Sleep” (1963) through to Max Richter’s “Sleep” (2015) , the Stoner Rock of the band Sleep and indeed the entire ethos behind the Slaapwell label.

Preceding the birth of his first child and the influence of Janek Schaefer’s “Lay-by Lullaby” album of 2015 released by 12k, label boss Harry Towell set about curating a release to ease listeners (and his new-born daughter) to sleep. The “Lay-by Lullaby” album was such an integral part of Towell’s sleep routine that he was delighted that Janek himself contributed a piece for this album.

“Sleeplaboratory1.0” is a sixteen track cross-section of modern Ambient artists touching on everything from minimalist drone to modern classical cinematics to electroacoustic and synth influences works. This album is intended as a relaxing companion for either conscious or subconscious listening,with contributing artists briefed to create something vacant that is likely to induce sleep.”

The aforementioned Janek Schaefer kicks things off with “Night in Narnia”an oscillating multi-layered drone piece that works in field recordings nicely. Straight away you notice the clarity in the sound, how it provides depth within the piece and makes it feel as if it is being performed right next to you. There is enough of an underbelly to the drones and field recording so that the piece doesn’t come across as to sweet. Sven Laux as is becoming a habit, contributes a stunning piece of orchestral drone with “Sleep in C Minor” that comes in waves of  sound marrying the deeper bassier sounds and the high strings nicely, while Natse (a name I am unfamiliar with) offers an Ambient/New Age/Electronic Field Recording piece called “Wandering Spirits” that counters quite relaxing drones and ambience with a variety of field recordings that at times jar against each other.

“Deep Phase” by Valotihkuu is the pure sort of drone which keeps the movements within it tight and consistent. Melody is a strong part of the track, but there is still a certain amount of dissonance included. Ben Rath’s “A Quiet Morning” is anything but. Different people fall asleep to different things and for me this track would be a challenge. Using looped guitar pieces and electronics, its starts off meditative enough with hypnotic guitar, but by the mid-point of the track, much like a magnet, the guitar attracts additional sounds making it a more tightly packed and vibrating drone track.

“Nod” by M. Grig has that timeless ambient feel, like it could be from any era. Melodic glitchy chimes create an lush bed for ambient guitar noodling of the finest variety to float upon. The guitar is layered with two different tones, one of which is introspective in nature and the other more exploratory and emotive. The bed of chimes in a way becomes lost in the track as the focus centers around the guitar parts, but it is an essential part of the piece for it gives the track depth and makes it multidimensional. The track is the sort of piece that would most certainly induce a sense of calm.We are taken back to more soothing conditions with Maps and Diagrams’ “REM”. Tim Martin who mastered this collection, provides a track that blurs the lines between electronics, drones and guitar work. Having a hint of a sci-fi sound and mixed with circular drones and chiming guitars, Martin creates a piece that flirts with new age territory from a distance.

Daniela Orvin’s “Wide Ocean” is an early stand out for me. This could easily be a soundtrack to sleep. It is slow and unwinding and in no need to rush. It balances the tones nicely so as not to be monotone, nor too heavy or too light. The mix of drones and synth lines work well.The final third of the track is when it really elevates itself before metaphorically crashing on the shore. This ascendance is the type that elevates mood and would result in a peaceful nights sleep. James Osland contributes the submerged and utterly soaked “Making All Things Dimly Beautiful” which may just be the soundtrack to a weird dream with its mixed up kaleidoscopic sounds.

Another recent father in Brad Deschamps aka anthéne contributes a storming squall of static soaked ambience with “Surfacing”. Parents will know that baby’s can fall asleep with white noise as an accompaniment and this track features some of this along with a decent amount of melody and jostling drones. It’s the type of ambient piece that feels like you are flying through the air at great speed. “Melatonin” by Lofield goes through several different iterations throughout the piece. From its static opening through to cold glacial drones and onto a moodier oscillating piece that returns to whence it came. Polaroid Notes provide another highlight with “Nocturnal Mood” a  nice Modern Classical / Ambient work that utilises space both for emphasis of the piano’s notes and in creation of drones. The repetitive nature, much like counting of sheep or thinking of objects as a tool to fall asleep, would make this particularly effective in at least calming you before falling asleep.

La Petite Vague offer “Fais Dodo” an Ambient meets broken Electronics sort of track. Glitchy loops are mixed with tone loops and a noisey ambience running through it. It all has a glassy tone throughout and sounds to me as the soundtrack to a seriously weird dream. Tropic of Coldness gives away the sounds you will hear on “These Hills Are Not Like We Dreamed Of” with its mix of cold tones, swirling drones, guitar strums, debris and lightly humming ambience being reflected in the artist’s name. There is a dark twist to the music, not in the dark ambient vein, but definitely moody which is increased in intensity as the track continues. Floor Overhead creates a vibrant light filled piece which with “Autonomy” with its shimmering and wavy ambience paired with similar guitars lines that ripple outwards. The track moves between a gentleness and more of a slightly violent, well, violent for ambient, section. Daliah’s “With Z” brings the collection to a close. After the intensity of some of the last few tracks, its nice to bring back the music to more gentle  areas. Largely based on loops and muted tones, “With Z” in a way mimics sleeps patterns, or at least snoring, with its different sounds possibly representing different parts of the sleep cycle.

It would be too predictable to have sixteen tracks of just the same type of music to be a soundtrack to or inspired by sleep. Some tracks like those by Janek Schaefer, Sven Laux, Daniela Orvin and Polaroid Notes work for me better as when I want to go to sleep I need something that will lull me to sleep and these tracks have that quality in their DNA. That said, there is plenty for listeners to dig into and work into their own sleep soundtrack.

“Sleeplaboratory1.0” is available on Cd-r and digital.

James McDermid

James McDermid is a Bristol based, UK sound artist and “Kern-Host” is the final part of a triptych of works dedicated to his late sister. It follows on from “Ghost Folk” (Polar Seas Recordings, 2017) and “Tonal Glints” (Krysali Sound, 2018).

“”Kern-Host” began as James spent some time alone in Paris. He’d walk around the city during the day and then work on music at night in his hotel room. He’d sift and rework sounds he had captured at home; he has a piano, a couple of accordions, a violin, guitar and ukulele. Using his laptop, headphones and a tiny keyboard controller he is able to work in a location away from the environment that his sample library had been created and Paris became the backdrop to this project. The ten recordings, aptly titled in French, feel as if James has recorded a sonic diary of his time spent alone in Paris and the beautiful texture to these drones will help you feel a part of his solitary visit.

There seems to be a swell in music that is of the submerged variety. Music that feels like you need to dig through the layers of dissonant sounds to get a better understanding of the compositions. Naturally this form can be easily associated with the whole resurgence for Nostalgia or meaning in memories. McDermid’s music is definitely in this Covered/Submerged/Hidden style, but while the album is the final part of a tribute to his late sister, it feels more to do with engaging the listener to dive deeper and discover all the contours of the music,  than being straight nostalgia or memory driven.

“Quand il m’a touchée”  aka “When He Touched Me” evolves from fractured darker ambience before becoming a pure drone track, one which has had all the colour drained from it. There is a certain moodiness within the track which increases towards the end where, the almost squall of noise jostles tightly before fading away.

“Tendre” aka “Tender” is a more physical piece that sounds like sheets of metal are being hit creating some sort of experimental tones over which a static squall engulfs all sounds. It has feelings of Industrial, Noise, Drone and Sound Art all combined into a piece that I a lost for words to describe.

“elle était une hardi combattant” aka “She Was A Brave Fighter” brings in some light to the album and flashes of melody buried underneath everything. There is a certain constancy to the piece which flickers with orchestral drones, cut up field recordings, small percussion elements and shimmering guitar. The music does elevate with intensity and indeed expression in the colurs of the music, becoming more vibrant.

“ballade des pendus” aka “Ballad of the Hanged” is a track that easily confounds the listener. Opening with a stormy squall and looped percussive element of some sort of broken electronics, it mutates into this slight drone piece with Autechre like rhythms buried underneath which dramatically alters the whole feel of the track and the interpretation by the listener.By being so far deep into the track and the whole unexpectedness of beats within the piece, it provides a new direction for McDermid to further explore, as this taste shows an interesting direction to be taken.

There is something devastatingly ominous within the epic fifteen minute piece “la mort d’un seul innocent” aka “The Death of One Innocent”. It’s  a slow burning piece full of decay, glacial like pace, mournful melodies and guitar lines all shrouded in a cloak designed to trap everything in. It ranges from sublime beauty to outright shards of rumbling noise running the gammet from Ambient/Drone to almost Power Electronics/Noise.

The finale “[mettre fin]”which fittingly translates to “The End” is a distorted alien soundscape of warped tones and distant rumbles, which are cinematic to a certain extent (mainly the opening)and seem to be the music disappearing further within itself. All colour and light has been sucked out and we are left with the vacuum.

“Kern-Host” is probably suited to those that like to explore the darker zones of Ambient/Experimental/Electroacoustic forms. “Kern-Host” is available on Cd-r and download.

 

vau

vau is Portuguese artist Nuno Craviero who also plays in the duo Névoa. This album, recorded over a four-year period is his debut.

Under his solo project, Nuno usually makes music at home, beginning by either playing an instrument or sampling his own recordings that consist of field recordings and past experiments. Once a song begins to develop, he may then record specific instruments on purpose if required, either at home or at a friend’s studio for example.
‘Ways of Stillness’ took four years to complete in its entirety and so lots of experiences and memories are etched into it: places, moments and relationships. All of its sounds have stories attached to them and they are very much a reflection of Nuno’s own thoughts as an individual and musician. He considers the album to be the most personal record he could have wished to create but to us, these stories can only be experienced through the medium of sound, as these six pieces imbue a sense of stillness.”

“Slight Movements” some music relies on limited instrumentation or sound sources and a track like this is the antithesis. It’s full of melody, percussive like string instruments, chime like piano and warm swathes of ambient. It goes through several movements adding instrumentation and evolving from a simple keyboard/synth piece to a fully fleshed out and vibrant piece that transcends genre boundaries and includes everything from Ambient, Drone, Electronica, Experimental sounds within it. It certainly sets a great path for the rest of the album to follow.

“Triviality” looped electronics, piano and field recordings slowly unfurl in Oval like glitchy fashion. The piece starts expanding with fractured pieces of sound, ambience and general glitchiness, while continuing to evolve. This evolution includes adding longer musical motifs to build upon the foundation created. Almost harmonica like sounds cuts across and the underbelly becomes covered in sonic debris and the loops continue. The final minute strips the track back to the micro elements that make it work.

The noisiest track on the album, “Chance Touch” builds on loop pulses of small fragments of sound built with multiple layers, some of which creates beats of sorts. Stabs of piano lead onwards to a collection of swirling electronics, chimes and what feels like harp playing, but is not. The piano with its brief interludes holds the focus of the piece, much like a pulse or a measure. The tone of it gives an organic feel to the rest of the tracks kaleidoscopic sounds.

After the fullness of “Chance Touch”, “Halcyon” nicely brings us back to calmer melodic minimal tones Largely loop based, melodies and instruments come and go with a natural sounding variation. Craviera shows just how well he knows about placement in music in the way that the elements interact and the fluid melody which ebbs and flows nicely. Static is used throughout, but not in a way that is overpowering, but gives the piece that needed grittiness to balance it all out.

After the glitch soaked piece Craviera takes into more free form floating Ambience meets Electronica meets Field Recordings with “Nightfall” which feels like the kind of track that you can relax to easily. Rather than pinpoint the direction the track is going to take the listener in, this piece offers up many styles and sounds for the listener to then pay attention to which one suits them. they may focus on the beats or the ambience, or even the tiny fragments of sound found within the track.

“Solace ” wraps up the collection and feels like a piece of sound art. The pace is super slow with time and space for the sounds to reveal themselves. The track continuously changes its nature from Industrial like clangs and sounds of a distant factory, through to dark ambient swells and metallic pipe percussion, onto mournful and slightly folky sounding strings that flicker and arch. It’ s quite a different sort of piece compared to the rest of the tracks, which adds an extra dimension to the artist and his music, showing us that there are many styles to Craviera.

The difference between this and James McDermid’s album is like night and day and it shows Whitelab Rec’s openness to covering the variety of shades and colours under the ambient genre. Expertly mastered by Luís Neto, the album is vibrant, rich sounding and with such a clarity and depth of sound. No wonder the physical release has sold out. “Ways of Stillness” is still available as a digital download.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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