Gianluigi Gasparetti, recording as Oöphoi, is no stranger to
the self-released CDR. While many of his
most memorable ambient works have appeared on labels like Amplexus and
Electroshock, the vast majority of his work has appeared on very limited,
self-created, CDR. It stands to reason,
then, that Gasparetti's next step was to start his own label of home-made CDR
releases. Umbra records
might have threatened to be an outlet for only
Oöphoi-related projects--as it turns out, it will also be the first opportunity
for ambient fans to hear new and obscure artists from overseas. The first Umbra release, World of
Shadows, is, appropriately, a multi-artist compilation outlining the
future direction of the label, and serves as an interesting taster of artists
both familiar and unfamiliar.
First up is Sostrah Tinnitus's track "Corifeo
delle Rane"--a vaporous zone of gusty ambient, with clacking sounds
resembling the processed ticking of clocks.
Synth washes rise and fall amidst the clattering bone sounds of various
objects. The feeling here is of a less
organic Alio Die, though the sounds change more progressively over the track's
relatively short length. What seems like
organized chaos at first turns out to be rather orderly in the end, with a
wall-of-sound climax followed by a dramatic, classical coda. Having heard Sostrah Tinnitus's two albums
(one on Umbra, the other on Beyond Productions), I can say that this is not the
most exemplary track by the artist, but functions well as a teaser for those
Next is the impressive "Nocte Sublustri"
by newcomer Netherworld. Dark,
isolationist ambience in the vein of Thomas Köner can be found here, right down
to the otherworldly bass thumps. A thick drone with various bleak
synth-impressions ebbs along; a vision of the blackest kind of space. Distant scrapings of metal or stone, highly
reverbed, are heard--perhaps the hidden movement of planets, tectonic plates,
the mandibles of a giant insect. An
auspicious debut for this artist; his first album Hermetic
Thoughts perhaps one to look out for.
Next is frequent Oöphoi collaborator Tau Ceti, and
his track "Sator Arepo."
Shades of Celestial Geometries here, with a
harrowing, slow synth line low in the mix.
The more eerie portions of Michael Stearns's
Encounter make for a strange excursion into deep space. The track meanders, bassy vibrations breaking
up the claustrophobic blackness from time to time--similar to Lustmord, but
without the grand guignol theatrics. A
fine track, even if a little standard.
Klaus Wiese and Oöphoi give us "Hieros
Gamos" next, featuring Wiese's instantly recognizable Tibetan singing-bowl
atmospheres. These drones are combined
with creepy whispering straight out of Oöphoi's Night
Currents and extremely potent synth textures that glide through the
speakers. Headphone listening is
recommended. A reverent, mystical
atmosphere is created--perfect for the deepest night listening when the world
is still, aside from the drifting tones of the music.
Another new artist, Perceptual Defense, is next
with "The Last Tear." This
track is similar to Tau Ceti in mood--a synth-created atmosphere of intense
blackness, with only strange waveform sounds lancing across the skies. The terrain here is bleak, melancholy;
VidnaObmana-style synthclouds pervasive along with the deep space droning. This track is good, though fairly
one-dimensional over its length.
Finally, Oöphoi closes the album with the
twenty-three minute "Substance Metallique." Similar in feel to his recent set of EPs,
Dreams, "Substance" is extremely quiet, almost at
the edge of audible. It is as if one is
looking out from a pier at a vast ocean, stretching into seemingly infinite
distance. Occasionally one notices vague
movement, unusual sounds echoing across the water. The most action is, however, beneath the
surface, hidden from view. Perhaps not
the strongest Oöphoi track, often due to the extreme quiet
of the track--it wisps in and out of the listener's consciousness a little too
readily, too ambient for its own good.
Bleak and mysterious, but ultimately hollow.
World of Shadows various tracks
certainly suit the bleak title, while showcasing the interesting artists of
Umbra records. The album lacks diversity
due to the narrow focus of all the artists on bleak, deep ambience, but is also
of extremely high quality. Perhaps, when
taken as a total, World of Shadows can seem as too much of a
good thing--each track melding with the next until one can no longer discern
just who one listening to.
The quiet nature of these tracks, perhaps from the mastering process,
forces the listener to increase the volume in order to hear what's going
on. Headphone listening is not only
recommended, but almost necessary to appreciate what’s going on in each track. Even at higher volumes, some of these tracks
(most specifically the final Oöphoi track) seem too ethereal for their own
good--it's simply too easy to drift off and lose track of what one is listening
to. Nevertheless, World of
Shadows is a worthy sampler of Umbra's label focus. Ambient fans who prefer a little more sonic
"meat" to their recordings would do well to steer clear. Those who can't get enough of ambiguous,
shrouded, soundscaping will likely already have this album, limited to ninety-nine
copies, in their collections.
Reviewed by Brian
Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.
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