Posts Tagged drone

Hypnagogue Review: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair

Big thanks to John Shanahan (Hypnagogue) for his review of Souls Adrift, in Disrepair (original post here).

After over a decade, John is putting aside the Reviewer’s hat to undertake new ventures. His enthusiasm, keen observations and support will be greatly missed.

“It may not matter to you that Souls Adrift, in Disrepair began its life as a set of live improvised pieces to accompany an art installation. It’s nice to know, sure, but not necessary to take the voyage this album offers. All that really matters is how easily you got lost in the sound. Ambient guitarist Eyes Cast Down (Greg Moorcroft) provides five nuanced soundscapes in this “…spiritual journey, facing down sorrow and loss, in order to see through them and beyond…” There are long stretches of grim shadow, passages of optimistic light, and a mostly seamless sonic topography that gives your mind’s eye plenty to gaze into as you go deeper. “Fading Angel” opens the album in a light space, presenting floating ambient washes. It’s the lightest Souls… gets–or, at least, its longest sustained stretch of lightness, and as you get more into the album, you understand that this is something of a cleansing breath before it’s time to get deeper and darker. Impatient listeners may have issues with the mist-wrapped, near-static drones of the next track, “Astral Drift.” Moorcroft keeps the voices very low on this piece, both in volume and in timbre, and although there are shifts of sound and the emergence of fresh textures and directions, they come at a glacial pace in this 17-minute journey. Those who appreciate drone work will go deep into this one. I find myself halfway between. On different listens I have alternately been pulled completely into it or gotten to a point where I want something to happen. Regardless, its dark and mysterious flow makes a fine counterpoint to the lighter tracks. In fact, “Sirens of Maya” leaps into your head after that down-the-well experience with high, bright tones that bounce into view. They get somewhat smoothed out as they go along, but also spend some time working through a hint of dissonance that rolls through the space. I pick up chime tones in the wash, and wavering pads that ripple across the piece’s surface. “Transcending Memory” is a Steve Roach-style piece, the kind that blends moody darkness with a bigger stellar sense–The Magnificent Void comes to mind. It’s a dynamic ambient work, its pads in constant morphing motion like swirling storm clouds. The Roach sensibility rears up in sudden dramatic swells, and the whole thing has an ominous tone. That carries into “At This Body’s Final Hour,” which frankly is where Moorcroft loses me a little. He shoots for upping the dramatic ante, but chooses to do so by dropping in some big kettle drum tones. I understand the idea, but it comes across as out of place from what has gone before, and he’s already using super-heavy bass notes to give the piece the cadence and gravity of a funeral march. He offsets that weight with a rising, tonally brighter piano line, creating a powerful mood that doesn’t need the extra bombast.

“I like the balance of light and dark that runs through Souls Adrift, in Disrepair. I think there’s just enough of a challenge in the heavier pieces, and Moorcroft skirts the edge of alienating listeners who don’t want that kind of experience. As droning as “Astral Drift” gets, Moorcroft gives it enough dynamism to make you maybe want to keep listening even if it’s not your thing. We can all use a little darkness now and then. It sets you up for the next step of the voyage, and that path the album takes makes excellent sense overall.”


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Guest Blog by Chris Russell: Our Journey to the Memory Palace

Guest blogger alert:

It’s a pleasure to turn the page over to my collaborator Chris Russell, for his perspective on making the Memory Palace album:

Chris RussellThe journey to this palace has been a long, rewarding and sometimes frustrating journey. But so worth it in the end. Greg contacted me late 2010 to work on an album and we were off running. This was to be our first release using drums and odd time rhythms in our music. I have played with loops in the past, but never really applied acoustic or tribal drums to my music until work on this album came up. This immediately took me out of my comfort zone and at times became a challenge that led me to re-do my parts, two, sometimes three, times before I could hand the piece off to Greg.

Life events for both of us would slow production down on this album and it became clear to not rush the music and let this album slowly develop over time. That probably is what helped the most for me, living with the music for brief periods of time and then after a hiatus coming back to the project with fresh ears.

Fast forward to 2014 and Greg and I are at the end of our journey to the Memory Palace, but this is only the beginning of our adventure.

I look forward to the next chapter.


Thanks, Chris!

As might be deduced from the above, Chris and I knew, even before Memory Palace was finished, that another project was in our future, and the general direction it would take. Stay tuned!

A shout-out here to (1) the Relaxed Machinery artistic community, where we connected shortly after its inception, early in 2010; and (2) the rM label, which has released most of Chris’ albums to date. There’s a long list of excellent releases which I highly recommend!

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Building the Memory Palace – My Story of the Album

Memory Palace Album - Front Cover

What’s a memory palace? According to Wikipedia, it’s an ancient “method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information.” It was especially useful to students and orators in pre-printing-press times. I’ve long thought it would make a good exploratory theme for an album.

The Memory Palace project began when I approached Chris Russell around Christmas 2010, asking if he would be interesting in exploring a groove-based collaboration. I had enjoyed Chris’ album Frozen and posted a brief but enthusiastic review.

My idea was a simplistic division of labor: rhythmic stuff by me, melodic stuff by Chris. We agreed to try our hands at one piece and see if we liked the result.

So, on a January weekend in 2011, I headed straight to the 31st-floor stairwell in The White Tower (my downtown Toronto day job venue), portable recorder in hand… as one does. Hit the Record button… check. Start drumming on the steel handrails, with bare hands… check.

You might be surprised how many different sound timbres can be obtained that way. The session yielded a righteous selection of grooves, a few of which – duly processed into something other, of course – formed the backbone of a piece which I assembled on my laptop. The laptop approach was hatched of necessity; all my instruments and studio gear were in Chicago, while I was exiled in Toronto awaiting my US visa.

Chris wove one of his characteristic synth atmospheres over my groove, and I hit on the title Particles and Waves, in reference to the two forms in which – according to physics – light is perceived as acting, if you zoom in closely enough. It was included in the Relaxed Machinery compilation reBOOT, released in Jan. 2014, along with The Rage of Reason, a piece I did with Peter James.

Chris and I were both so pleased with how Particles and Waves turned out that going ahead with a full album was … how you say … not needing any brains.

Musical frogs

Best wedding present. Ever.

In any event, I hadn’t even waited for Chris to finish his part for Particles and Waves, before embarking on two other pieces. For Primitive and Prime, I worked up a groove using mostly acoustic drum and percussion samples, and especially my much-favored wooden frogs. By contrast, Touchstone Array was made from samples which were also acoustic in origin, but transmogrified into an electronic crackle, and set to a racing tempo. The original version of that groove goes all the way back to the Christmas season of 2006, one of my first attempts at carving up a sampled-based groove with Ableton Live.

Our procedure was the same for the entire album: I sent Chris my finished parts, and he went to work. By the end of summer 2011, we had three pieces, half an album’s worth. Chris remixed my groove part for Particles and Waves and composed a completely new piece around it, which became Spatial Mnemonics.

A lengthy hiatus was then sort of forced upon us. I was finally able to move to Chicago at the end of September 2011. The next year’s music work was mainly playing live shows and finishing The Separate Ones.

The running order of the pieces on Memory Palace was pretty clear early on, with those first three opening the album, and they were intense enough to strongly suggest a non-rhythmic, purely-atmospheric interlude for the next piece, especially since I was planning a really ambitious closer. So I started off 2013 on the right foot, spending New Year’s afternoon in the studio to record about 15 tracks of atmospheric percussion elements, using objects like car keys, Go stones, bubble wrap, a handful of inch-thick branches, and so on. I did some drumming on an inflated yoga ball, among other things. Fun fun fun…

Memory Palace - inside panel detail

Memory Palace – inside panel detail

Fast-forward to the end of October 2013, on a week-long Indiana getaway. By this time Chris – who had raised his personal bar with an outstanding release, Portal – had recorded entirely new parts for two of those first three pieces, and I wanted to tweak one of mine. I spent most of my play time that week arranging my New Year’s Day elements – which had been recorded without any concern for their future structure – into what became Afterimages. For a bed track, I added a field recording which I really liked, of blowing wind and falling leaves, which I’d recorded at the same retreat place two months earlier.

The Afterimages arrangement took only two days, so I began work on the closing piece, Somewhere the Circle Stops. For this I’d dreamed of alternating odd-meter electronic grooves (flashing back to my drum kit days) with four-on-the-floor tribal drumming, flashing back and forth between ancient and present days. Once again, the electronic grooves (in 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and 11/8) were all pieced together from samples. I need more vacation time, so I can get more work done!

Back to the city… I recorded the acoustic drumming and percussion parts early in January and sent my part to Chris. The piece was over 20 minutes long, so one of my most pleasant surprises ever was receiving the finished piece from Chris a mere three days later.

A shout-out here to one of my favorite singers, Sheila Chandra, whose song Question the Answer (from her album Nada Brahma) provided the title. I like the phrase’s apparently counter-intuitive nature; circles aren’t supposed to end! Nature, however, is full of … how you say … interesting paradoxes.

In the spring of 2012, some Buddhist monks visited Chicago’s Loyola University and created a sand mandala… as one does. Mandalas are gorgeous artworks which have always attracted me. I knew at once that this was the perfect subject for the Memory Palace album art. Since I couldn’t make it to the exhibit, my wife Dasi took some photos…

Memory Palace is available for pre-order now and will be released Dec. 8. It’s a joint release on Chris’ label Void Music and my Kalindi Music. We hope you enjoy it!

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

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Album Review: All Around Me by Bob Ohrum

Bob Ohrum’s albums combine urban field recordings with drones, bass and keyboards in a highly personal, alchemical fusion. (I’ve reviewed Bob’s albums Elevated and Subliminal Listening.) Bob’s latest release (Relaxed Machinery 0020) is All Around Me.

As he always does, Bob carefully weaves each piece from a few simple, minimal elements. There’s nowhere to go – you’re already there; it’s a sonic portrait of a location. As with Elevated, there is a strong melancholy element here, at least to my ears – but Bob’s music is quite like a mirror: your mood will greatly influence what you hear. The music can be alternately serene and depressing.

Last Breath Before opens the album with a downpour. As usual, we know we’re in the city, with Bob’s characteristic urban, industrial-humming atmospherics sketching our location. (I almost said “echo-locating”, which is how bats navigate – it would be apropos since this is a nocturnal cityscape.) A key element here is a single high note which echoes away over two dozen times. A set of three-note piano motives in the bass move the piece to an unexpected (but appropriate, given the title) cut-off.

For Dan (Excerpt), from a recent EP of the same name, is a memorial for Bob’s brother Dan, who passed on in 2008. A melancholy line sings over a hollow-metal low chord and a pitch-bending buzz. This grows to a searing intensity before the piece fades away.

Overpass Symphony #2 (All Around Me), the album’s longest piece at 17 minutes, is also saturated with water, streaming by over a quiet hum, which slowly blossoms into a harmonium-like chord. Scudding effects skid by on alternate sides.

The Mess (You Left) has the strongest industrial feel on the album, with a buzzing, crackling, rotary-saw drone. A swelling bass drone that takes over late in the piece is one of my favorite elements on the album. A chord progression on bass guitar closes it out.

Beauty in the Aftermath by Bob Ohrum

My favorite piece on the album (and one of my favorites from Bob overall) is the closer. Beauty in the Aftermath begins with birds and chiming, and a high hollow tremolo, before a wonderful power bass drone kicks in. This isn’t constant, it comes and goes, which is hugely effective here. It’s only one note, and that’s plenty. A bass guitar melody carves out a tranquil space. The mood here is the polar opposite of the rest of the album: it’s the morning after a big rain, and the sun and birds are out. The power drone and bass playing are perhaps Bob’s strongest tools. I would love to hear a whole album from him of just drones and basses.

As always with Bob’s music, in the dead of night it’s the city that’s real; we are the shadows. The city’s not permanent, but it will be here for quite some time. We, on the other hand, are just passing by.

If you like your atmospherics urban and minimal with an industrial touch, you should definitely check out this album.

All Around Me is available by download from CD Baby, and is coming soon on CDR from Hypnos and in FLAC from AD21 Music.

Wallpaper: All Around Me by Bob Ohrum

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Album Review: Domestic Aerospace by Ensueno

Album cover: Domestic Aerospace by EnsuenoRussian atmospheric maestro Rudy Ensueno released Domestic Aerospace in mid-December 2010. Its ten pieces, ranging from under four to over twelve minutes, are very distinct from each other, their titles ranging from wistful to borderline-absurd. Each track conjures up its own world with a strong sense of place, a definite strength of Ensueno’s, as was clearly evident in his long-form Burundanga (see my review here). These voyages are often inexplicably comforting, despite the sense of strangeness lurking just over the horizon.

Domestic Aerospaces begins and ends with one-chord drone pieces. Orbits beautifully draws us in with a serene, skyward-looking chord held throughout its too-short five minutes. You know at once: this is going to be a hugely enjoyable high-altitude adventure. Wireless closes out the album with one big, fat, floating, thick-textured chord.

Orbits by Ensueno

Several pieces highlight Rudy’s love of playing piano. Haunts features piano, electric piano and bass in a vast space. I hear a vast, scarcely-lit empty warehouse in a rainy twilight – but not quite empty… high tones hang in the space like moonlight.

Rudy has a knack for titles and Natalie in Starlight is one of my favorites. Electric piano again, with a nice drone chord, and an overpowering, super-reverbed synth chord that might have fared better if toned down somewhat. Even if Natalie’s loud at times, she’s still pretty and likeable. The melodic piano of A Few Steps Away is wistful and quietly romantic.

A Few Steps Away by Ensueno

I’m probably biased towards longer pieces anyway, but the album’s two longest pieces (the only ones running over ten minutes) strongly earn my favoritism here. Rudy sets the stage so well that we’re not interested in leaving it. The longer his atmospheres churn and spiral around us, the better.

Watch is subdued, in the presence of… something. (Yes, yes – the reference is deliberate!*) A churning patch animates a quiet, droning pad. A choral synth offers a wordless commentary, with hushed reverence. There’s nowhere to go, because this presence is everywhere.

Ask the Weather Balloon takes us back up into the stratosphere. Flying synth chords of mystic substance, with a slight metallic ring and just the right touch of dissonance around the edges to keep us alert.

photo of Rudy EnsuenoTrance-Lace is another gem: a deep, swirling and dark (but not forbidding) atmosphere, inviting and compelling. A thudding two-bar rhythm kicks in like the echoing heartbeat of some huge, unknown space creature. Tendrils of dark matter writhe nearby, almost close enough to touch. A rapid blip-sequence swirls nearby before moving away. I could happily pass a deep-space day with this piece on repeat.

Domestic Aerospaces, another excellent collection from prolific composer Rudy Ensueno, is available for free download here. Rudy frequently posts new pieces in his Relaxed Machinery community blog, and we look forward to hearing further albums from him.

[* Note: In the Presence of Something is the opening track from the sublime Well of Souls album by Steve Roach and vidnaObmana.]

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Album Review: The Approaching Armada by Chris Russell and Disturbed Earth

The music of Chris Russell and Disturbed Earth (Dean Richards) on their first Relaxed Machinery release, The Approaching Armada (RM0008) fully lives up to any expectations created by such a compelling and dramatic title. This album is beatless, atmospheric and mesmerizing.

Cover for The Approaching Armada by Chris Russell & Disturbed EarthWonderfully-woven textures and bedrock drones irresistibly draw you in. Especially strong in this regard are Clutching at the Strands, with its buzzing, churning, strongly-breathing processed harmonium tilting endlessly around a hearty drone; and the title track, which perfectly embodies that title. A strong sense of foreboding grabs you at once. A heavy drone with a rising and falling chord sweeps us away before it.

The opening piece, Watching as Pools Form, has a metal-tinged church organ-like texture, with high voices flying away in spirals, awe-inspiring, mystic and majestic – we could be watching an abyss forming, a Grand Canyon or a Mariana Trench.

Chris Russell and Disturbed Earth – Watching As Pools Form by Relaxed Machinery

Each piece dwells in one place, in one moment, like a still life – but raised gloriously to three and four dimensions and beyond. Harmonically, they hardly move, but when your chords sound like this, you don’t need many. There’s nowhere to go, except right here.

That said, there is still some sense of motion, intensely so on Neon Light, with its frenzy of pan-echoing whooshes and receding glassy clanks, swirling in manic fashion, threatening to disorient. Similarly, Leaves on Trees features open, sweeping, sky-high Oberheim-like pads, tumbling over each other like roiling storm clouds, along with short spiraling motives.

Chris Russell and Disturbed Earth – Leaves On Trees by Relaxed Machinery

Cold Night features chilling chords and a filter-sweeping spacey, hard metallic edge. It’s cold in deep space. The closing (and longest) piece, To the East of Evening, has an intense, breathy, choral presence. Strange, brief events flashing by – and the unrecognizably-processed voice of guest performer Pixyblink – inform this piece, hints of things unseen and unraveling. Moving east in the evening leads into darkness, the unknown. We definitely turn the page with this denouement, to face new and (for now) unknowable possibilities.

This is ambient music in a very classic sense – except for one point: Good luck listening to it as background – if you turn it down very quiet you might have a chance. Otherwise, prepare to be held rapt for the duration. Highly recommended!

Wallpaper for The Approaching Armada

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Album Review: Elevated by Bob Ohrum

Cover for Elevated by Bob OhrumGlancing over the notes I made while listening to this album for the second time, I felt disoriented. The materials used by Bob Ohrum on his third full-length release are minimal; my notes hardly amount to anything. I glanced at them and wondered: is that it? The elements Bob uses on each track can be described in just a few words, but the impact of this music can barely be captured with words. Call it alchemy…

Written and recorded in 2007 and released on Relaxed Machinery in June 2010, Elevated is a hypnotic collection of drones and minimal but evocative textures. It’s created mostly with processed electric bass, occasional synths and field recordings – and a ton of heart.

As Bob has written, this album is a tribute to his late father. The opening track, Song For You (I’ll Never Forget) was spontaneously recorded on the day that the body’s ashes were scattered. A metallic, slightly hollow drone sets the mood for the entire album, and a joyous riot of birdsong is suddenly pushed into the background (to the edge of consciousness) by a progression of dark, shimmering bass chords, with occasional bits of plaintive melody, and a buzzing drone.

Bob Ohrum – Song For You (I’ll Never Forget) by Relaxed Machinery

Such simple materials – shaped by this powerful emotional motive – are used to stunning effect on each track. While They Slept is all drones, a floating buzz-and-hum, with an unsettling metallic high pitch cutting through. Everytime I Close My Eyes features a field recording of a passing train and a dreamlike slow bass melody, resting on a Pink Floyd-like atmosphere. As the piece winds down, a lone female voice (Bob’s wife Mary Grace) sings one long note and a slow trill. Close your eyes, and time ends.

The 14-minute title track features the strongest, most mesmerizing drones of the album. The birds re-emerge towards the end, and the piece segues into Diwedd (Welsh for “ending”), which features a more soothing drone and a wonderful long-echoing, bowed-texture note. All of this, to my ears, suggests a long-delayed sunrise – an acceptance of what’s been lost. Ending, but also renewal.

Bob Ohrum – Diwedd by Relaxed Machinery

The album closes with The Wasteland, which begins with nearly three minutes of silence and breaks into a pastiche of industrial sounds and humming drones – all bleak and desolate. A pulsing note throbs in at the last minute. Acceptance is a long-term process – two steps forward, one step back – but the living always continue.

In every track, Bob shapes a few well-chosen elements into a riveting sound-and-heart meditation. There’s nowhere to go; this is a musical baring of the heart. Minimalism infused with emotional power.

These few words can’t begin to do justice to the experience. You have to hear it – in your gut.

Elevated can be downloaded from CD Baby.

Cover for Elevated CD by Bob Ohrum

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Chicago Didjeridu Chorus

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