Quite a diverse collection of releases in this review, from the more experimental electronics of Arovane through to the consistently enjoyable piano works of Bruno Sanfilippo and the wider ambient aspects of Alaskan Tapes. The thing that brings them together is the common release times of March 24 to 26 and the fact that all three artists have appeared on these pages before.
Uwe Zahn opens this review with a release on the New York based Software developer and label helmed by Micah Frank (whose “Quetico” will see a review someday on these pages). Although not listed anywhere, I would be curious to know if Zahn utilised any of the parent companies tools while making this album.
““Gestalt” is defined as “an organised whole that is greater than the sum of its parts,” and Arovane’s (Uwe Zahn) Gestalt realises the concept with warm, lifelike parts scudding gently through a sonic atmosphere, entwining themselves together into a complex, rich and encompassing whole. Gestalt captures the listener in the moment.
“For the production,” Zahn explains, “I had some very specific ideas—not complex compositional or rhythmic ones, just single sounds that reflect the “gestalt,” the form of the musical idea. It is not really a large-scale form or concept, to be honest, it’s the idea of simplicity and elegance,” form, structure, and style freed, in Zahn’s terms, “from superfluous elements, focused on the essential: the sound and the gestalt.”
I am gathering with a title such as this albums that Zahn is looking for the audience to take a look at the album as a whole piece of work rather than focusing on individual pieces as that probably doesn’t reveal all it’s intricacies. Over the years Zahn has been moving towards a more experimental ambient sound with an IDM core and his collaborations with both Porya Hatami and Darren Mcclure have been successes. On this album just under half are traditional in length with the rest being vignette sized morsels.
There is certain quality to the material that seems to cross decades within the same piece. You can have more retro synth flourishes of peak Kraftwerk era mixed in with with more current gritty, granular drone like ambience of the last two decades. The contrast between the lengths range from at times a more meditative type track like the six minute “endolp” through to the bite size soundtrack-esque “quyn” (which is a beautiful drone piece in it’s own right). Also in the mix are the IDM and Field Recording influenced “cinn” which opens the album, but doesn’t set it’s direction. On the whole the material feels like Zahn has scooped up sounds into a melting pot and an essence ekes out through each track without them being identical to each other. Themes of distance, melancholy, haze and a slight alien environment are felt throughout the album on various tracks. It feels that there is a very serious side to the music with all the shorter pieces being fully formed rather than just small collections of sounds or drafts of ideas. I would probably lean slightly towards the longer pieces as they give the listener something more to hold onto, but then a piece like “laap” is a highlight with it’s haunting loop qualities.
“Gestalt” will be right up the alley of anyone who has been following Zahn’s career and for those who are familiar with his work, but have not checked it out, this is a good starting point. “Gestalt” is available on Cassette and Digital.
“Bruno Sanfilippo’s imagination knows no bounds. The prolific pianist and composer has poured a lifetime exploring contemporary classical patterns and minimalism into his Piano Textures series, records of austere beauty and quiet, melancholic reflection. Piano Textures 5, his latest release, expands on this palette, yet feels freer and looser. From the opening track, which sounds like sunrise on a spring day, Sanfilippo imbues the music with lightness and a sense of optimism – songs float by, as if on a cloud. The result is his most open, engaging work yet, songs for the heart that speak to the joy of life.”
It felt quite weird coming into 2020 without a January 1st release from Sanfilippo after 2019’s “Pianette” and 2018’s “Doll” Single, but here we are with his 5th instalment in his “Piano Textures” collections. If you have been a fan of his work you know the quality to expect, but if you are new to him any of his releases are great entry points to his music. Thirteen years after the opening of the series with many other releases in between, Sanfilippo offers up a collection of bright works that cover various styles of piano music, rather than just Modern Classical. You could make the claim that the give away in the mood of the pieces is reflected in the cover. The fourth instalment from 2016 had a more starker and moodier sound which was represented visually by the blue toned cover. With the gold lustre of the cover and the circles which I can only assume represent a moving away from more traditional sounds while keeping a balance in his musical history, is one which nicely compliments the pieces.
It’s kind of fitting that such an album is released right now due to the upheaval that we are expecting in the world. Music can replicate exactly what is happening in the world or it can take our minds away from what is going. The music on the album has the mood to take our minds away from a moment. While there are pieces more in the minimal and slightly melancholic style like “Piano Textures 5 X” or “Piano Textures 5 VI” they are still quite some distance away from those on “Piano Textures 4”. Pieces like “Piano Textures 5 III” really set the scene with a joyous feel and a playfulness that changes the mood of the listener. Then there is “Piano Textures 5 VII” which has motifs which make me think of a piano player in a smoky bar crossed with one performing at a cabaret.
For the large part this a pure piano album with Sanfilippo showing exactly the knowledge he has gained from the twenty five plus years of his work. This knowledge means that what you are hearing is an artist at one with his instrument and holding all the cards in regards to where he will dictate where the music will sound like or where it will journey to. “Piano Textures 5” is an album well worth checking out for new and old fans and is available on LP, CD and Digital.
Alaskan Tapes is Brady Kendall and like 36 or Lowercase Noises he has been forging his own path in the ambient scene by self releasing his own music. With the exception of “You Were Always An Island” which was co-released with Fluid Audio, all Kendall’s releases have been self produced utilising some consistent collaborators such as his partner Chantal Ouellette. This is the first release I have come across since his “The Ocean No Longer Wants Us” and sees him venture further into the ambient/drone sound.
“After releasing “Views From Sixteen Stories” in September of 2019, Toronto-based ambient composer Alaskan Tapes decided to go back and explore some of his own older sounds. Sleeping Since Last Year continues where The Ocean No Longer Wants Us left off, with 4 long form drone/Ambient tracks, and a lovely lo-fi folk ballad featuring vocal Chantal. At a run time of around 35 minutes, these tracks are a deep dive into textural music, with synth based dreamscapes that take to the outdoors, where melancholic isolation sways with relaxed seclusion. Press play and dream a little easier, drift a little lighter, and soak in the day.”
The first four pieces are ones which feel soaked in a storm of sounds. There is a swirling, repetitive feel where sound surrounds you buffering you from all sides. There is a an essence of weightlessness and a feeling of not being grounded as you are fully absorbed by drones which are circular and swirling. Dark in nature due to the distorted qualities, it is by no means a collection of dark ambient pieces, rather it seeks to offer a protective if isolating feeling. A piece like “The World Can Only Be Beautiful For So Long” has some found dialogue which is buried in the soundscape and incomprehensible which adds to that dream like state. The final piece “The Sea (Feat. Chantal)” which has a feeling of discovering a long lost artefact with it’s raw and dusty feel and hints at his more guitar based past. The press release mentions about a return to older sounds and this does sound like a compendium release to “The Ocean….” sharing a similar sound and feel. What you notice is how with repeated listens you can glean more from each recording due to the depth and weight of the pieces.
You can hear over the journey with Kendall’s music how he likes to venture between clearer ambience, post rock or folk influences or more darker forms of drone and how he likes to return back and explore these styles from time to time. By doing so he has a consistent style and also never shuts the door on a particular sound which indicates that he has more exploring to do. “Sleeping Since Last Year” is available on CD, Cassette and Digital , with alternate versions featured on the physical releases.