“Following last year’s reworking of ‘Living Treasure’ James Murray and Mike Lazarev present a collection of post-classical compositions woven into delicate ambient textures. Suññatā is the experience of encountering the non-self, of a sound and its reflection meeting in empty space, found here in the remarkable combined resonance of emotive piano and uniquely reactive sound design.”
According to Wikipedia, “Suññatā – pronounced in English as shoon-ya-ta, translated most often as emptiness, vacuity, and sometimes voidness – is a Buddhist concept which has multiple meanings depending on its doctrinal context. It is at once an ontological feature of reality, a meditative state, and a phenomenological analysis of experience.” For Murray and Lazarev it is a further exploration of a collaboration first born with the piece “Living Treasure” which was born out of a feeling of a melody that Lazarev had thought he had heard within a track from Murray’s “Falling Backwards” album. The melody was absent from the original piece, but Lazarev recorded it on his piano and sent it to Murray who worked it into “Living Treasure” for a single release on Home Normal and a collaboration was born. Both are not strangers to collaborations with Murray having three albums as a duo with Stijn Hüwels as Silent Vigils (all on Home Normal) and Lazarev working with Arovane on releases for Eilean Rec and Moderna. Murray has a little over a decade of musical history behind him while Lazarev is relatively new on the scene as a musician himself and is best known as the Godfather of Ambient / Post Classical / Electronica blogging with his Headphone Commute blog setting the tone for blogs and artists to come since 2007.
So, where does this leave us with “Suññatā”? Well, “Suññatā” is a seven track Mini-lp of sorts that clocks in at twenty four minutes, none of which are wasted. You get a sense that the collaboration is one which brought each other closer to each others side, resulting in what could be termed a true collaboration. In some occasions collaborative releases can feel like elements from each artist have been bolted together to create pieces where you can detect the influence of a particular artist in a piece. With “Suññatā” you get the shared visions of two people with a consistent sounding release, one which is more about the sum than it is the parts. Murray comes from a more experimental ambient background while Lazarev is from the modern classical scene, but as I mentioned above both have long musical histories. One as a regular working artist, another who is on his way, but has clearly absorbed the almost decade and a half of writing about the nuances of music, that it becomes a second nature when creating it.
The seven pieces have a dream like quality, one which has a slight blurriness that removes any sharp edges which allows for the listener to fall deep into the pieces. Another quality that is noted is the openness to the pieces which doesn’t lead the listener in any particular direction. The swirling ambience and contemplative piano work in tandem to create the moods of the pieces whether it’s the rippling opening of “Rittaka” aka “Open Void” or the distant ambience of “Ānimitta” aka “Signless”. Throughout the release you are taken into cinematic areas where the duo build on a particular sound and feel which elevates it from a regular ambient release. An example of this is “Asāraka” which translates to empty or worthless, where the duo work on slowly building the piece from almost nothing as if replicating the same emotional feeling that exists throughout situations in life. A standout quality for is how the pieces can represent different aspects of the music while still leaving so much room for further possibilities to explore. On some releases you can pretty much map out where they are heading from the get go, but with “Suññatā” the road map ends with dusty trails with paths yet to be explored. Hopefully, like Murray’s Silent Vigils duo, both he and Lazarev pick up where they have left off and take us to other places in the future.
The use of the term “Suññatā” I suspect comes from Lazarev who has stated before on his various social media accounts about meditation being part of his practice. The pieces here have meditative qualities while steering well clear of any spiritual or new age tropes. “Suññatā” is available from Home Normal on limited CD (200 copies) and Digital from November 17 and comes recommended.