It becomes harder and harder to review drone based ambient
records the more one explores the fringes of ambient music. It's not that the music begins to blend into
a gargantuan muddle of tones and drones, or that the music itself is in some
way lacking in "reviewable" content.
It's just that, after a while, a writer begins to run out of metaphors
and sonic impressions to use when dealing with drone material. The masters of the static drone are
plentiful: Klaus Wiese (not to mention his acolyte Mathias Grassow), Oöphoi,
and, to a lesser extent, Thomas Köner, all come to mind as recent purveyors of
that most indescribable of ambient beasts.
Drone musicians are prolific sonic mysteries waiting to be unraveled by
the curious listener and the frustrated writer.
This brings me to the new release by John Broaddus, who past
recorded under the Laocoön moniker, titled Four at
Eighteen--a droning release that delivers exactly what it promises:
four tracks clocking in at just over eighteen minutes each. Broaddus does not indulge the lazy writer
within me, choosing instead to omit track titles altogether, denying me any convenient
literate springboards with which to write from.
This sonic and descriptive ambiguity may make for a shorter Ambient
Review, but it's no subtle comment on Broaddus's ambient work, which is, in
essence, high-quality, extremely entrancing music for late night sojourns and
early morning blossomings.
Upon listening to Four at Eighteen, I was
immediately pulled into the enveloping fabric of the compositions, which are
generally simple and somewhat monochromatic.
Track one is a gusty (and analog sounding) study of contrasting
soundwashes--deep and vast, but never dark or uninviting. The closest recent comparison I can make is
to Jason Sloan's recent tour de force but the
material here is more static, and less progressive over track length. This is music to immerse oneself in, rather
than drift along with. Track two slows
the drone down even further, with a synthetic tone sustained to infinity. This is the kind of drone that gradually
invades your consciousness, blocking all thought (but in a
good way!) until it seems that all is the drone and you are
no longer inhabiting your own body. This
track morphs ever so gradually into a tender and psychedelic phasing as the
tones ripple like droplets on a still lake.
Track three manages to sound exactly like Tibetan singing bowls (in
fact, this could be a dead ringer for any of Klaus Wiese's numerous bowl
works). These hushed tones carry a bassy
weight as well; the low end on this track is immense and dramatic. The familiar gonging of Tibetan bowls is
present here too, pleasantly breaking up the harmonic litany of overlying
ambience. This track manages to capture
a zen-like state of no emotion, simply allowing the listener to bask in its
glowing harmonics. Finally, track four,
continues the Tibetan bowl "suite" (I'm quite curious to know whether
these tones are actually created on bowls, or are merely synthesised
constructs). Four is more traditionally
ambient, with windy tones gliding together gracefully as if the intention is to
personify a slowly rotating galaxy. This
track makes a beautiful, drifting finish to a quite distinctive (though somehow
lacking in definable qualities!) ambient album.
Four at Eighteen is an understated
and lovely album, most effective, in my opinion, as background ambience. While the tracks never quite take one's
breath away, I get the impression that the intent is more to amplify the
environment one is listening in, rather than supersede it. This comes with the grand tradition of
classic ambience, and succeeds marvelously in this respect. I especially enjoyed the work while I
slept--it's perfect for nights where your slumber drifts along with the
relaxing, though never trite or sugary, tonal wash on endless repeat. Four at Eighteen makes a
perfect compliment to Grassow's Bliss, Oöphoi's
Behind the Wall of Sleep, and Steve Roach's Darkest
Before Dawn. Fans of more progressively
styled ambient drift, however, would do well to steer clear of the placid
(though never stagnant) sounds herein.
Four at Eighteen is the sound of glacial movement,
ever so slow; things moving at the speed of seasons. An auspicious debut by a new artist well
Reviewed by Brian
Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.
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