Loscil – Plume

I’ve spoken frequently about the critical role that atmosphere plays in creating immersive ambient music, and more importantly, how that immersion manifests itself in experience. A coworker of mine recently asked what was meant by the term in reference to music. I told him it’s when the only acute, working descriptions of the music are physical — something you feel as much as you hear, if not more so.

I was born, raised, and still live in a small corner of the Ozarks. The rapid, unprecedented growth over the last 20 years has put the area on many radars, and endless opportunities seemingly abound. There’s a little something here for everyone. Still, I’ve seen others leave, lamenting the tragedy that was the first two decades of their existence in an area with limited nightlife, pigeonholed career opportunities, and little artistic merit to stand on. Some stay, some go, some return, and others I never hear from again. Everyone has their own story, and subsequently, opinion, of this place. I enjoy it here. It’s enough for me. I’m a homebody who lives on the Internet, so it doesn’t surprise me that I don’t have high expectations for the place[s] I reside. Still, I see enough good in this place to make a personal obligation to attune myself with it.

The chance happenings of our daily lives are all subterfuge for the unique familiarity we have with the place we inhabit. When you dig up the weeds of surprise, it’s shocking how much we know about what exists underneath. Amazing how much information the subconscious can store. It’s not until something is out of place that we take note of it. Plume notates this, affirming the familiarity we have with our surroundings, lest we admonish them. It reminds me of random moments I spent as a child in the backseat of a car, counting people, electrical poles, houses, etc. on the way home from school. As insignificant as these moments were, I still remember them, and maybe that counts for something.

Sometimes I get the shaky feeling that life’s repetition will be what finally does me in, and I won’t realize it until it’s too late to do anything about it. These are the moments when I go home, take my shoes off, and kick back with Plume in the background. The album oscillates between hazy recollection and precise clarity. Regardless of what it’s doing, it’s always operating inside that which we’re familiar.

Occasionally I have to remind myself to do the same.

Recapping

The last three months of my life have been a trying period with the inconvenience of holidays, work biting down harder with the busy season, futile attempts to be a better son and brother, and watching my 3-and-a-half year relationship come to a close. It’s been a lot to take in. I have wanted to write so badly in this time. I could hide behind the guise of exhaustion, but truthfully I’ve been scared — scared to be alone with my thoughts, scared to transpose those thoughts into words, scared to sleep in my own bed. As one who prides himself on his autonomy, it sure has been a tough time to be alone. This slight onset of neurosis has manifested itself in industriousness, hard work, and the sinking tinge that I’m shedding part of my humanity in the process. That’s not to say that corporate America is draining my soul, but I’ve been acting more robotic in a way that I can only assume is a coping mechanism.

This weekend I saw my ex-girlfriend at a local beer festival for the first time since we split. We smiled, and hugged, and gave each other the 60 seconds of awkward chatter we owed one another — due diligence and all. A few minutes later I overheard a woman nearby use a phrase I frequently bemoan: “I’m closing one chapter and starting another” after lamenting a situation comparable to my own. Books are a great metaphor for life, I get it, but what happens to that chapter once we finish it? I was a bit buzzed but couldn’t get my mind off that question as I walked around the festival that afternoon, the warmth of the day tapering off as the hours went by. I thought of all the times I’ve heard others utter the phrase. More frequently than not, spouted off by a jaded, rancor-ridden, newly-single individual who is eager to prove to the world that the past is behind them, and they are ready to see the dawn of the new day. That’s not me. Still, unequivocally, a new chapter has indeed started in my life. Seeing my ex clinging to someone new was a reminder to look back on what we wrote, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, before jumping into what’s next. A chapter, after all, serves no purpose unless it changes the course of the story.

It feels weird to think and write about it in the past tense. There are no more actions to be taken. The words (memories) that were wrote (made) are immortalized, and I cannot change them. I can, however, go back to read and, more importantly, learn from what was written. As with most relationships, the beginning seemed so childish. There’s a dazzling bewilderment in experiencing things with someone new. It tingles the senses and makes you think, even if for just a moment, that there is harmony, joy, and purpose in life, and that it’s within your grasp. Those feelings only deepen with time. Given ample water and care, their roots will spread for miles, and they did. Over time, I felt a flame growing within me, not of animosity, but of conflict. Is who I am compatible with the life I am trying to create? It was not. I think this flame existed within us both — suppressed for a while, waiting to boil over.

There comes a certain point in every relationship where you have to ask yourself the hard, important questions you’ve been putting off. Thankfully time was set aside on more than one occasion to do so and it opened the door for what was hard to admit was necessary: departure. Time was given to think (but not dwell) on the situation, and the hard part was done in earnest, with respect, and out of self interest [for us both]. I said what I needed to say and listened when it was my time, and walked away reminding her that it was worth it.

My time was not wasted. I became a better person. I now have a better picture of what I want in my life, and in another. I set the bar higher for my future. Those are the reasons I can type this with a smile, free of regret, sorrow, and confusion. I’m glad I left enough light on the path behind me to be able to look back, but for now, forward.

Rafael Anton Irisarri – Sirimiri

Late to the party, I finally had the profound realization of how beautifully quintessential water is to everything that we do. I wasn’t really blown away until I thought about it falling from the sky, as a mist, or a shower, or as Rafael Anton Irisarri puts it: Sirimiri (n. very light rain; stronger than mist but less than a shower).

I’ve been a pluviophile for as long as I’d like to remember. I love hearing rain drops, the crashing of thunder, the smell of the air, the short silence I hear as I drive underneath a bridge, and the vast, incomparable pleasure I get on the days I get to be outside in it, letting it soak through my clothes and hair, unbound from pressure and responsibility. There’s a childhood bewilderment to it all as amusement, excitement, and discovery all blur into one.

Sirimiri conceals these moments underneath a tenebrous veil of decomposition and disintegration as the album unveils itself, lest we forget the realities from which they descend. Deconstructed horns and static push their way through a field recording of insects and running water on “Downfall,” a beautifully delicate crescendo akin to drops of rain falling upon a window as waves begin to crash in from the ocean underneath a gentle gradient of sky and sea blended together.

More interesting than the idea of sirimiri is the title of the second track, “Sonder.” I first heard this word and read its definition a few years back:

Sonder. n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Today was a pretty busy day for me and this word popped up a few times in my head. I took too many phone calls at work, I watched a celebration for some of my employer’s most successful drivers (and their families), I got honked at and flipped off on my way to a dentist appointment (not my fault, of course), and talked with more people after getting a cavity filled than I needed to with half of my mouth completely numb. With the local anesthetics wearing off and the heat of my black leather interior beating against my skin, I took a minute to appreciate these interactions. There’s a lot going on in the world. We live complex lives in an infinitely more complex world. I want to wrap my mind around it and take it all in, but I have to start small. I spend a lot of time on myself. It’s easy to think you have have  that figured out until someone says “So tell me a little about yourself.” What good is any of this if I’m simply a drop of rain in an endless ocean, a minuscule brush stroke on an infinitely large canvas, or a tiny pixel on someone else’s screen? Not only that, but how significantly can I influence other’s lives without completely abandoning my own? Does it matter either way?

This reminded me of the eXtreme Deep Field image gathered from ten year’s worth of photographs by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope. Over the course of one decade, the Hubble Space Telescope spent a total of 50 days (2 million seconds of exposure time) gathering pictures of a tiny, hollow black spot in the sky. Once they gathered all the images and pieced them together, this is what they saw:

It’s amazing how much happens in life’s smallest, quaintest, most insignificant moments. I am thankful that I get to experience them.

 

Stars of the Lid – and Their Refinement of the Decline

Stars of the Lid // and Their Refinement of the Decline // Kranky // 2007

Last January, I made a post mentioning that I’ve never made a New Years resolution. It’s lovely to see that one year later, I still have no desire to do so. Firstly, I don’t like the idea of myself (I), a dynamic, ever-evolving individual, being reduced to a spark of courage and inspiration on an otherwise arbitrary day of the year. I’d prefer taking the pieces and implementing them throughout the year, as obstacles approach and the need for change becomes more apparent. Secondly, each resolution seems to disregard the brutal tragedies and inconceivable joys we may encounter in a year. Though I suppose if we could peek into the future, there wouldn’t be as much to resolve, would there?

April of last year marked the ten year anniversary of  Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline, an incredible followup to their seminal 2001 release, The Tired Sounds Of. This passage of time has hit me harder than any New Years ever could. I doubt my 2007 self would have lent this release my ears or time, but I’ve lost so many hours over the past several years to it. At some point it’s nice to piece together two fragments of time, highlighting the change that occurred between them. At that time, it was much more simple to focus on life’s harmonies. As I’ve grown older, I’ve encountered and consequently found ways to deal with life’s dissonances. Each one manifesting itself as either small, insignificant instances or as massive, brooding singularities. Both are tragic; both necessitate change.

There are many problems that we, as a nation; us, as a community; myself, as an individual, must face. I’ve spent many nights over the past several years in somber reflection of what these problems may be and where their solutions may lie. That purposeful contemplation is never better reflected for me musically than in And Their Refinement of the Decline. The principal constituent of my life over the past year has been about pacing – finding an effective midpoint between lacking drive and being too ambitious for my own good. I fear the former; life’s beauty will pass by if I am not proactive in my search for it. I fear the latter; I cannot afford to overlook it. On a thin line between the order and chaos on both sides lies our discernment of life’s beauty and our capacity to appreciate it. Life is unfathomably tragic, invariably, for us all. The passing of a friend today is another somber annotation in my own life, reiterating the inevitability of tragedy.

And Their Refinement of the Decline is no medicine, and happiness is not its goal, but there is beauty hidden in the cracks of its dark passages. There is a gargantuan, looming fear central to the album’s atmosphere, make no mistake about that. But ever present in the deepest, darkest recesses of the album’s brooding environment is the resounding reassurance that tragedy can be offset by those willing to look it in the eye. Of course it is not simply a mindset, it is also execution. It takes time, there is a rebuilding period, and life does not offer us a break in between them, often overlapping several insurmountable tragedies in either a volume or time frame we believe ourselves unable to handle. But we can, and quicker than we think, we do. Staggeringly, people often do this without the lamentations that plague comparatively minor issues. When presented with real, implacable tragedy, we stand ready for battle, if for no other reason than we must.

“Why do dragons hoard gold? Because the thing you most need is always to be found where you least want to look.” – Jordan B. Peterson

Notable Lyrics

I got lost in this one this morning in one of those captivating moments that seems to freeze the flow of time temporarily. I didn’t blink for a minute while I stared at the handle of a fork, totally hypnotized by these words. My brain wanted to listen, but my ears beat me to it.

Ian William Craig – “Contain (Cedar Version)”

Say my name
I will vibrate
And I will linger in the sound for a time
Gathering all of your tiny pieces
And all the things I didn’t get quite right

Stories fallen, from the mountain
We tread upon them softly
These words are slow vessels
That were never meant to contain anything at all

Stole a smile in a swarm of strangers,
Tidal waves, and tragedies
Your eyes, they were sweet assassins
Pulling memories just out of reach
‘Cause we’re machines of
Of forgetting
Throwing all these things to time
The future in your folded palm
How I long to walk that line

So come in from this haunted weather and
Tend the fire a while with me
Say my name and I will vibrate
I will not contain
Contain you at all

Recommended Listening

Red House Painters // Songs for a Blue Guitar // 1996 // Supreme

How beautiful must words be to portray the deepest meanings inside of us?

In twenty-five years, I’ve heard the phrase “check it out” quite a bit, but rarely does it contain any peculiar meaning. It’s hard to emphasize any real depth in a conversation that can end with that phrase, so rarely will you gain any insight on either the topic itself or the person who presents it. Deep down inside of all of us, there are many things we hold precious, storing them inside of us, rarely offering others a glimpse into the beauty we have found in them. “Check it out” just doesn’t cut it. I don’t want you to check it out. I want you to understand the meaning I have found, and use it to find your own. In searching for it, I want you to understand the lengths to which I went, and appreciate how far you will go to find your own. And once you’ve found it, I hope you’ll hold it as precious as I once did, and wait for the right opportunity to share it with another.

Concerning the intangible, finding meaning in things is the most important thing I do. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it takes time, there is risk, but damn does it pay off. In college, there was an ongoing inside joke all my friends had about me concerning my fervent responses to the most minor of jokes and provocations, often causing them to laugh that I was mad about a relatively meaningless topic. It was only a joke, but it was indicative of a real problem, nonetheless. Time really speeds up in college, and it was hard to get a grip on who I was. In hindsight, everything seemed so blurred. One of the few crucial moments of clarity came when two of my friends shared their experience in bonding over the song “Duk Koo Kim” off of Sun Kil Moon’s debut album, Ghosts of the Great Highway. I hadn’t heard of either, but a few nights later we all listened to it together while laying on the carpet, and for just a fleeting moment, everything made sense.

“That was so good.”

“Yeah man, you should check them out.”

I grinded that album all summer long that year. Mark Kozelek is the first artist I remember listening to that was able to paint pictures with his words, and hold a mirror up to a part of me that I didn’t know existed, or maybe I was just too afraid to admit it. He wasn’t afraid to ask himself the important questions, or reflect on the costly mistakes, and in that, take something from both. Those two things became the imperative in my own life, at least for a whileThe reflection, the learning, the letting go… It hurts, but it helps. Little did I know, the insight Kozelek offered in Sun Kil Moon was amplified tenfold earlier in his career as a part of the seminal slowcore group Red House Painters. Kozelek held nothing back on 1992’s Down Colorful Hill and 1993’s Rollercoaster, where a surprising range of emotions highlighted in great detail what it means to let go. When you let go of anything, you have to face it as it makes its way out. You will learn what allowed that demon to manifest itself and what it takes to rid yourself of it. When you repress that, you starve yourself of the knowledge it possesses. Later in Mark’s time with Red House Painters, he asked himself a very important question to open up 1996’s Songs for a Blue Guitar:

“Have you forgotten how to love yourself?”

No, I haven’t, and I won’t. I know what it takes.

So yes, I checked it out, and maybe a little bit more.

Notable Lyrics

Three months ago, I moved into an apartment by myself. Each building has eight apartments, four on the bottom and four on top, each with a fenced in balcony or porch. It’s funny looking at the building across from mine, because each balcony is filled with plants, wicker furniture and other pricey outdoor decor. Over in my building, nobody has any furniture or decor… Just empty slabs of concrete and lonely stacks of brick. That being said, there’s a few pigeons who have made camp in the empty space between the pillars and the roof on my balcony. Every morning I get greeted by the same “coos,” but I’m reminded of so much more.

To me, the voice is an instrument of equal or no greater importance than any instrument that accompanies it. At times, I feel singers and their lyrical output wrongfully persuade people to objectify music based off of personal experiences in relation to the lyrics, rather than purely off of personal experience alone. At this point I could ramble about how atmosphere is what’s really important and that each instrument should work together to culminate into a consistent atmosphere from which you can derive your personal experience, but I’ll stop myself short. I don’t completely hate lyrics or singers, I just wish we changed our approach to listening to them. That being said, occasionally they do stand out, and I can’t help but to ignore my own philosophies on the subject.

Grouper – “Come Softly”

I’ve been waiting
For you too
Come gently
To me

In night time
I feel you

Come softly

The sky breathes
A mirror

To see

A soft light
Harmony

In a mirror
You are mine

The only
Thing caring
In me

A soft light
Come gently

Harold Budd – The Pavilion of Dreams

Harold Budd // The Pavilion of Dreams // Obscure // 1978

When discussing the origins of ambient music, I frequently cite the following four artists:

  1. Brian Eno – Ambient, art pop
  2. Steve Roach – Ambient, Tribal ambient, progressive electronic, space ambient
  3. Robert Rich – Ambient, dark ambient, drone
  4. Jon Hassell – Tribal ambient, jazz fusion

Harold Budd always gets left out, but recently I’ve been checking into his music beyond the two Brian Eno compilations (Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror [1980] and The Pearl [1984]), and  and I have to say I’m significantly impressed. His sound reaches a delicate level of playfulness that really isn’t ever touched on by any of the other seminal ambient musicians. It’s so gentle and free in a way that life rarely is and offers a fleeting glimpse of something we all spend way too much time thinking about.

Good looking out, Harold Budd.

William Basinski – A Shadow in Time

William Basinski // A Shadow in Time // 2062 // 2017

Am I repeating myself?

What is there to say about William Basinski’s music that couldn’t easily be the tagline for an underground ambient music website…? Probably a lot, and I’m not going to be the one to say it, but I will speak on their behalf:

Firstly, repetition is inescapableWhy do we choose to run from it? Because time is imperative. The opportunity cost of every fleeting moment is a deeper experience, a more genuine involvement, a heightened presence. In the midst of always-conflicting motivational advice, we rarely find comfort in repetition. It’s too simple.

Secondly, where does the color in our lives come from? A trip to the beach here, a few grand there, but I’m left wondering if the liquid on my brush came from my palette or the moisture in the air. Oh well, they are both colorless after all. 

There is this pressure that weighs down on all of us at times. Have you done enough? Have you seen enough? Have you learned enough? Have you achieved enough? So you go on vacation and spend your money, you opt for the underground bar and test their local flight, you read that more-relevant-now-than-ever book that’s gathered a layer of dust since you put it on your shelf, and decide that it’s your life yet to come that will be written in history books. As you stare out the subway, the raindrops slowly move backwards along the window as you gain speed. Your focus shifts to the skyscraper in the background, clarity fading from the raindrops and foreground. Your focus shifts again as raindrops move along your reflection in the window, like tears. Your breath fogs the window and you close your eyes for a moment of rest, but when you open them, everything is blurred. It’s the mudanity of it all, I swear! And you run from that, too. What is a long distance journey to the man who can’t sit still on the elevator? Another opportunity to run. Vision obscured, you can’t see what you’re running from, nor will you see what you’re running to. It doesn’t matter, just go! Explore the unexplored, or so that’s what they say.

Slow down, quit running and let your vision be restored. This is a battle I have been fighting for years now, but it comes and it goes. There is more to life than increasing its speed. Cue William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time, a painfully melodic trip into patience, tribute and repetition. When you’re thinking ambient music and tape loops, you won’t have to stray very far to find Basinski’s discography. After all, 2001’s The Disintegration Loops proved that even desecration lies inside of Basinski’s ingenuity, and A Shadow in Time fits snugly in the same environment. The first of two tracks, “David Robert Jones” sets a slow but steadfast course. As is frequently prominent with Basinski’s melodies, they are distant but lusha drop of honey here and there, but your hunger is never satisfied. The ghostly intangibility of the first six minutes of tape loops will tease the senses, but make no offerings of consolation to our yearning for something more concrete. At the six minute mark, a defiled tenor sax lunges forward intermittently but is held back, an obvious allusion to the namesake’s 1977 album Low, and a tribute to his 2016 passing. The weightless, ethereal nature of the tape loops restrain the saxophone in a somber tribute to Bowie’s life. Just as a human breathes with his lungs or the Earth breathes with seasons, so the two intertwine for over 14 minutes before “deconstructing themselves into a hypnotic silence that perfectly sums up the void that Bowie left with his departure.” (RYM ~FloodLA_24, well said)

The melodies of the title track are significantly more capricious, appearing and disappearing fleetingly. Though subtle, the dynamic nature of the track is present as well with discernible changes in texture and mood. The atmosphere frequently shifts from dense and fuzzy to light and clear, seemingly over just a few moments, several times throughout the first half of its duration. At the halfway point, a thick, resounding bass cues the atmosphere to ease itself out of the foreground. It does so reluctantly, like the falling of the tide throughout the day. As the atmosphere suppresses itself, a somber piano loop introduces itself. The fluctuations in volume allow the notes to dance around and play with each other, as if one piano was turned into three. With one minute left, the atmosphere comes fully to a close and allows the piano to gently drift downward, but it too eventually dies off.

There is serenity in repetition, even if the beauty is hidden. Take time to slow down and find it. If you try to paint too beautiful of a picture, the colors of your palette will turn into one.

Am I repeating myself?