Soundtrack, ambient, downtempo.
Carbon Based Lifeforms present the motion picture soundtrack: Refuge. The film is “a suspense-thriller about a family struggling to survive in the wake of a great catastrophic event… the film is about never feeling at ease, always trying to find refuge and seeking refuge” – how well the music captures this spread of emotion. Repeating themes tie the experience together whilst shifts in structure, tone and atmospherics greatly alter the mood from one piece to the next. RCA(+) opens the story with a warm, dreamy cloud that gradually brims with gentle melodic forms, a lazy bass fades in and a hazy, bright synthetic theme sparkles, then a restful beat of the kind that CBL do so well completes this utterly blissful awakening. Subsequent tracks develop the elements of the opener in different directions: Birdie beatless and plaintive – a reverb drenched piano picking up the theme; RCA(-) introduces a more uneasy feeling, with peculiar crackles and faint atonal disturbances flecking a steady, tense, gathering drone texture; the theme distorted and densely buried in the mix – a massive climactic build up. Leaves has us back in sun-dappled reverie – the now familiar melody lines buoyed up on another gorgeously tranquil programmed beat. Less typical of CBL is the penultimate Escape – a dynamic trance piece that picks up the pace with a burbling sense of menace that only dissipates when the last pulses of bass echo reluctantly away. Marauders concludes in prowling, beatless, ambience made somewhat emotionally ambiguous by sounds that seem to lie somewhere between water drops and bird calls.
Since this is a digital release and a movie soundtrack, artwork at its most basic consists of the rather sinister cover image of a trail of dark figures whose presence threatens a modern home. A powerful, near-monochrome image that points toward the darker aspects of the album; you can almost miss the red tint in the twigs and the sky. More realistically though, Refuge was composed as accompaniment to the suspense-thriller of the same name: promotional material informs us that “Refuge will be screening at festivals this Spring through the Fall and will be coming to Europe for screenings. And beyond that it will be available theatrically and for download, but it will pass through the festival circuit first”.
Daniel Segerstad and Johannes Hedberg have released a series of extremely high quality ambient, drone and downtempo albums since their inception in 1998. The subtle, yet powerfully cinematic style of their music is so aptly suited to soundtrack work that it was surely only a matter of time before they took on a project of this nature. The seven tracks of Refuge, however, are an emotive listening experience in themselves: a deceptively simple theme explored from varying perspectives and presented in strikingly different forms – from evocatively minimal ambient through some of the most deliriously beautiful downtempo through to driving dark trance. You can hear the music at the band’s Bandcamp page and there are a range of purchase options at the Leftfield website.
Found is a lush album of instrumental beauty that is not easy to categorise: there are smooth ambient elements; deep spacey expanses; tribal rhythms and heaving drums; moving themes that both uplift and defy gravity. The album exudes tranquillity and restful bliss – plenty of drifting, dreamy passages brimming with reverb and an overall vibe of enigmatic reverie. However, this is not simple relaxation music (although Found is ideal for that purpose) there is much here to engross and awe the listener and draw us into worlds of wonder and imagination. The title track features a delightfully underplayed wordless vocal from Miriam Stockley, her voice hanging far into the mix, entwined amid the synths like layers of fog and atmospheric haze. Electric guitars and synthesisers form most of the lustrous textures on Found, light piano touches adding an extra twinkle to some of the melodies.
The packaging of Found is as attractive as the music: a three panel card wallet of saturated colour and inspirational imagery. The front cover image depicts a rock mass rising from a flat plain backlit by an amber-umber sky that fades through purple to indigo above. The crag appears as a destination with the title sitting immediately below whilst a white streak in the sky suggests a greater picture. The rear cover drops the camera down into the grass of the plain, the last rays of sunlight painting the arcing blades in shades of copper and rust. Track titles are here with the time of each piece to the side. The third outer panel moves in closer to the enigmatic crag – now shrouded in mists and crepuscular blues; this same shot is repeated within as the centre of a three panel panorama. Credits, recording details and thanks are neatly tucked into the shadows of the rightmost inner section. A website address is here too.
Found is released as the final chapter of a three-album series; Treasure and The Crossing having previously charted the course that has taken six years to unfold. David Helpling and Jon Jenkins rightly remain with Spotted Peccary who delivered the other releases in the series and you can explore the music via the label’s website where there is also a Soundcloud link and further review links. The recordings on Found are of mid-length, ranging from the opening and concluding pieces both at five minutes thirty one seconds to the delicate, beatless Only Ashes at thirteen eleven. Promotional material talks of “the deep, three-dimensional quality to the recording” and music on a “grand scale … filled with powerful rushes of adrenaline, beauty, loss and triumph – true words. A really fitting conclusion to an epic project of astounding music.
Electronic world dance.
Apollo sees Banco De Gaia on top form: powerfully evocative, globally infused chillout, vivid and colourful. There is a great range of mood here: we have the mournful, ethereal drift of Lamentations; the infectious, inebriated folk dance of Wimble Toot; the insistent off-beat joy of Eternal Sunshine; the internationally lush tribalism of Apollon; the dub-oriental flavoured gradual climax of Oreia. It seems that each new track brings a completely fresh feel to the developing picture, All Sleeping has a luxuriously soporific slow-motion English-ness about it unfolding gradually out of the natural sounds of woodland green and remote village timelessness. Tim Wheater’s brooding flute adds to the dreamy, cinematic nature of this piece – echoing vocal hints, smooth violas and an understated, introspective guitar melody broadening the appeal.
Apollo is a plastic-free three-panel card sleeve of dual character: the outside is bathed in Mediterranean sunshine and the aqua blue of the sea-sky divide, an orange-lit temple, textured title and ragged scroll (whereupon track titles reside) providing pleasing colour complement; within, a brick-red ground supports a panel of information, a panel with slot for the disc and another with slot for the twelve-page booklet. The booklet itself is designed to feel like an aged artefact: dark leather binding, textured spine and thickened corners. The pages inside are text free (apart from a quote George Orwell to accompany All Sleeping) rich photo/graphic montages full of subtle little details to enrich the sonic imagery.
After a studio hiatus of seven years, Banco De Gaia returns with a stunning new nine-track album. Released via his own Disco Gecko Recordings label Apollo features vocal performances from Zhenia Mahdi-Nau, flute from Tim Wheater, sax from Matthew Jenkins drums courtesy of Ted Duggan, violas from Patrick Dunn and even some guitar from someone called Toby Marks. Everything has the top quality feel that you would expect from such an experienced musician – beautifully produced and presented – Banco at his eclectic best. You can explore the music via the Banco De Gaia Bandcamp page or of course the official Banco De Gaia website.
Downtempo, world-dance remixes.
Gamelan bells, sighing synths and sonorous hand drums start the experience as Tripswitch remixes Acquiescence into a lush, hypnotic downtempo dream. The deeply evocative vocals of Zhenia Mahdi-Nau drift ethereally through the mix as it gradually builds to climactic glory. Subsequent tracks retain this richness, this saturated global-other-worldliness whilst shifting genre bases and rhythmic formats to taste. Deep Fried Dub does what the title suggests to Oreia with a bouncy, crunch beat and bubbling electronica; Desert Dwellers take All Sleeping into a perfect balance between nodding reverie and techno complexity. Hu! opens with heaving tribal drums and a piercing synthetic whistle before shifting to an insistent sequencer and dance/break beat. Kaya Project juxtaposes an eclectic montage of world instrumentation and melodic digital wizardry, whilst System 7 creates a lucid, spacey vibe around a distinctly feel-good rhythm. Toby Marks re-invents Eternal Sunshine himself as the eighth piece here: epic and enormous in scope, this track makes a mesmerising shift midway where the underlying time signature changes before reintroducing all of the dramatic synths, Middle Eastern elements and vocal chants onto the new pattern. Eat Static’s whimsical Wimble Toot with its pumping brass wobbles gloriously in a drunken folk dance spurred on by traditional violins, flutes and accordion phrases. Gaudi lifts the drifting Lamentations into a bass driven blend of atmospheric beauty and gritty, zappy euphoria.
The Ollopa CD arrives in a beautiful nocturnal blue card wallet of three panels. A huge moon dominates the front cover, cut vertically by a ragged tree form. The classical orange-sun-setting of the original Apollo album is here dropped into indigo night – a hue that diffuses throughout. The rear cover lists the tracks and their remix names. The third outer section opens up the track list with information on the remixers and their websites as well as listing additional musicians and providing generous thanks. The inner panorama is text-free; a pale blue moonscape filling all three sections. The DC sits in a curved notch keeping the packaging completely free of plastic.
Banco de Gaia has been in the habit of following up his studio albums with remix releases for a while now – this is perhaps the strongest one so far with each track delivering something much more engrossing than a simple restructuring of the source material. The track order, like the title and the colour scheme, is reversed from the original album. The nine recordings can be explored on the Banco De Gaia Bandcamp page as can Apollo itself. A look at the official Banco De Gaia website explains that this was not originally intended to be a full remix album, he explains: “I emailed my friends and allies in the music world and was blown away by how many folk were up for remixes, and in that way ‘Ollopa’ was born. As the mixes came in, it became obvious that there was an opportunity to remix the album concept as well, by flipping the order (and then the name and the artwork), so that the collection would begin softly and end with a bang.”
Q: As the third in the series – what was the vision you had for Oxycanta III?
I hesitated between different ideas, a fully atmospheric compilation, or maybe an IDM / breakbeat one, or something a bit more proggy. As a DJ I like to play all these styles. I didn’t really know, for sure I wanted to create a third chapter and Vince was pushing me hard to do it but it was quite blurry in my mind as I had little time to concentrate on music. Eventually with the various tracks I put aside I realised it would be a smooth musical story so I put in different influences to open up horizons and kept to a certain line of emotions and grooves.
Q: How did the initial parts of the collection begin to gather?
I started over a year ago to contact artists whose music I truly love, posted on Facebook and forums to receive demos. These plus all the demos I naturally receive everyday gave me a large pool of music to choose from. Jason’s track (Muridae) was one of the first I received and loved straight away. There’s something in his music that resonates with me. I enjoy all the aspects of his composition, whatever moniker it comes out under. Especially keen on the “Afar, Farewell” album, collaboration with Man Watching the Stars released on Rural Colours. It’s my “evading this world” soundtrack!
Mer-A sent me a full album which I listened to in a loop for ages, many of the tracks were good, not all of them perfect but with a certain personality. I knew I wanted to present his music somehow. Which track though, couldn’t tell and Anthony was very sweet and patient with me. Now this guy is a discovery and even though he’s hardly known in the scene I can foresee an interesting future. Jostein and Bjarte from Circular sent me a few tracks for an EP we plan to release and one of them was the exact vibe for the compilation. Then I discovered Lars Leonhard with his album released on Bine Music, I contacted him and presented my project and he replied rather quickly with a few tracks to listen to. That opened the door to a new collaboration as we are now working on two digital EPs with him, one of which should be released quite soon. I’d known about Fingers in the Noise for a while, actually bought one of his self-produced album on Bandcamp and enjoyed his release on Bine Music. I like his moniker a lot, it’s a good word play with the French expression “les doigts dans le nez” – easy peasy, piece of cake… I emailed him, he sent me a track, it was perfectly what I wanted to hear. Now I Awake’s two part track is another story. We are working on a collection of EPs leading to an full album release with a special concept and in the big package of tracks he sent me there was part 1. I really liked it but found it too short so I asked him if he could compose a few more minutes to the track. Trouble was he only had the recorded version and another alternative one but the project had disappeared in a hard drive crash. There was something a bit repetitive if I put the two versions one after the other so I decided they would frame another 36’s track. I was listening to his “Lithea” album one day when Vince came in, “Session” was playing and he said “that’s the one, the last track you were looking for”, he was right.
Vince composed the track based on what he knows touches me and put the focus heavily on the rhythmic part as there were already a lot of atmospheric pads and melodies in other tracks so it creates a sort of break in the flow. Miktek wrote his piece also specially for the compilation with the directions I gave him. And last but not least, Scann-Tec who managed to grab the essence of my project and compose this spacey floaty track with a slow build up and a slightly cheesy little melody that’s a part of me too, I do like deep, experimental stuff but also enjoy a good old house tune and putting my arms up in the air, now of course that’s the mellow version of that J
Q: Did you have any particular criteria set down in advance regarding track selection?
I didn’t really as I explained in your first question, in a way, the first tracks I fall in love with set the pace and then it’s a matter of finding the follow up to the story. The most important to me is to be deeply moved by the music. To be able to listen to it day or night, happy or sad, in a loop for hours while working and not tire of it. I like to have several layers of listening experience, enjoy the track at low level in my office, loud in the studio or in the shop, and discover subtleties in my headphones. There are several aspects in music that I pay particular attention to, space and depth are important to me, but not always; rhythms, I especially like when they are intricate. I like glitch, dirty frequencies but it shouldn’t go out of tune. When I was younger I used to listen to this Smashing Pumpkins track called “Drown”, actually I used to put on repeat the last 2 minutes, full of guitar larsen, oh I loved it! That’s probably why I enjoy Hybrid Leisureland’s music so much, most of the emotions are in those frequencies. To me there’s a type of sound for every moment of every day, and occasionally you find this track that works on several levels. That’s what the tracks on this Oxycanta III compilation do to me, but of course that’s fully personal and I can appreciate someone else will feel differently about it.
For sure I wanted to stay away from the classic psychill tracks, but you know what happens? I still get that tag!
Q: Where there any special moments in compiling the CD?
I guess playing some of the tracks in Moscow last June, my first gig after 4 years away from the stage, it was quite an experience in itself and being able to share tracks that I cherished like that was the cherry on the cake! The first time I burnt a copy to listen to it in our record shop was also quite special, the mix was finished, the compilation done, it was out of my hands in a way and all I had to do was sit back and enjoy.
Q: How do you go about creating the order of play?
I try all the possible ways, I never know fully in advance which track will be first. I put all tracks in Vegas and then go one by one, if I start with that, what should be next and so on… Does the story work like that, it is really smooth? If not, I start again, another track first…
I may have done about a dozen different stories before I settled on the one you can now listen to.
Back in 94, I was living in London with a mad music addict, Mark. He once said talking about an album release by his friends: “They should have let me do their tracklisting, the album would be much better”. Now I didn’t really get it at the time but when I became a DJ and started working on the label with Vince this came back to my mind and I decided to make a point of creating a good tracklisting.
Q: Can you tell us something about the creation of the artwork and booklet for Oxycanta III
Vince and I selected the pictures for the booklet and artwork, for each track we searched for a picture that would evoke the emotion of the music or be somehow related to the title. For example, Aeolis Mons, title of one of Mer-A’s tracks is a mountain on Mars so I looked for something about the planet and found this picture of a newspaper. I sent it to Vlad (Scann-Tec) as it’s all in Russian and it happens it is something about travels on the planet so I thought it would be just right.
For the cover we found new pictures of the same plant we’d used for Oxycanta Winter Blooms, at a different stage and from a different angle. Although the compilation series is named after Hawthorn I never used any picture of it as I simply never found one that would work for a cover or booklet.
Q: Would you say that you made any especially exciting discoveries in the process of developing this project?
Definitely, as I said before, Mer-A and Lars Leonhard are discoveries that open doors for future collaboration on Ultimae. 36 too but in a different way. Arnaud who works with us discovered him and we decided to take all his releases to sale in our record shop.
Q: Now that the album is complete what would you say has been the most gratifying aspect of the project?
It’s definitely receiving the compilation from the factory, sending it to the artists and fans and knowing they enjoy it. Of course I love getting great feedback from the press but that’s not for me to take, it’s for all the artists featuring on the compilation.
We are already receiving enthusiastic reviews actually, yours in one of them J
Q: What can you share with us regarding the future?
I’m kind of back on tracks as a DJ and plan to travel again for gigs, I enjoyed working on the compilation even though it took me ages to really get into it. And now of course, I’m already thinking about chapter 4! But we have quite a few plans for releases on Ultimae so it’ll have to wait a little. Asura’s album is in the pipeline, we have EPs coming up for I Awake, Lars Leonhard, Miktek; Circular are working on a new release as well, Nova is nearly done with his compilation, we’re going to reprint Interloper from CBL… Oh and I nearly forgot to mention, Vince is working on an album in 4 parts to be released on vinyl next year and our first collection of audio samples.
Q: Where do think that downtempo music is heading? What are the most exciting developments on the horizon?
I see more and more composers, pretty talented ones, going in that direction, more alternative scenes opening up to the style. I hear about promoters wanting to set up downtempo / ambient events and plenty already in place. So compared to where we started nearly 14 years ago, I can say there’s a definite change and this music genre is slowly carving its unique scene. Also, you probably noticed more downtempo music in documentaries, films, TV advertising. I think the public is opening to it. They may not know it yet, but they love that music!
Thanks to Mahiane at Ultimae for allowing us that interview.
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Downtempo naturally-oriented ambient collection.
The third in the Oxycanta series continues the thread of intricate beauty begun in 2006 by Ultimae curator Mahiane. The elegant blend of neo-classical ambient drifting and tasteful downtempo idm exerts a powerful influence – transporting the listener, infusing a coherent, shifting mood… From its gradual ascent out of minimal ambience, through dreamy soft-crunch beats, cerebral urban electronica and wistful piano nostalgia through to the blissful reverie of the wind-down tracks, Oxycanta III cleverly maintains a sense of musical quality and vision rarely matched. Luxuriating around the less beat-driven end of the chill-out spectrum and brimming with ambient zones, Oxycanta III is ideal headphones listening; late-night head-space material; intelligent atmosphere music.
The opening Drone Flower is subtle: soft, undulating electronic tones with echoing field recordings floating in slow-motion, building gradually to a plaintive piano/acoustic guitar refrain, lulling beat pulling in toward the end. Track five, Plenitude, from Fingers In The Noise is a serene piece of weightless digital beauty – layers of light crackle and sleeting static lifting a simple repeating blurry-chime motif as if bobbing on a mote-flecked ocean. Tracks seven and nine both come from I Awake feat. Björn Berglund – Morning Drops part1 and part 2 – these pieces feature a timeless piano that conjures up visions of deserted old houses, dust and cobwebs; the first meanders hauntingly amid hazy synthetic tones and faintly glowing drones; the second rises out of stillness and into a very, very restful beat. Scann-Tech’s glowing Phaeton Remains (track 10) has a wonderful sense of uplifting warmth that carries on to the penultimate Complex A by Circular – breathy vocal sighs and synth swells building like a sunset tide.
Following the pattern of previous Oxycanta releases Oxycanta III comes as a three-panel panoramic digipack – however, this is the first in the series to include a booklet insert. Cover imagery focuses in on dark, curling winter plant forms – furred shells and stretching filaments spreading across a smooth grey background. Track titles are laid out on the rear cover whilst inside can be found contact and label information. A track to a page, the sixteen-page booklet presents natural vignettes, city abstractions and intimate macro-details each with title, track-time and brief credits. The final pages reveal a portrait of Mahiane, some words on the project, dedication and thanks.
After a six year gap Ultimae’s Mahiane follows up on [ Oxycanta ] Winter Blooms with the third Hawthorn-inspired assemblage of top-notch organic electronica. Although the personality of the series is beautifully maintained, the roster of artists is different: only Aes Dana appears as a constant feature. New contributors are: Miktek, Mer-A, Lars Leonhard, Muridae, Finger In The Noise, I Awake feat. Björn Berglund, Scann-Tec, Circular. The album is released as a delightfully packaged CD or it is also available in a broad range of download formats. Twelve tracks in all are here and you can sample before you buy at the Ultimae website or the Ultimae Bandcamp page.
Melodic rhythmic ambient.
Little Things has a delightfully gentle mood that strays from aching, melancholy beauty to drifting, soaring serenity. The sparse, delicate opening bars of muted piano brim over with emotion – slow and insistent – leaching out into the heart, radiating, diffusing. This patient, loitering introduction builds gradually into swaying motion a subtle, sublime beat and echoing chords drawing the motion onward. There are passages of haunting, glitchy minimalism: the lovely title track featuring a sleet of static, looming electronic waves and dreamy piano. Michael Allison has refined his style now to a high degree of purity – an eclectic sound gatherer, he effortlessly blends together instruments and stylistic elements from diverse places and genres. There are soft flutes, Indian sarangi phrases, trumpet flourishes, weeping steel guitar lines, orchestral strings and dense beatless ambient zones. Country roots sometimes surface in massings of natural passion – the blissful reverie of Watch Your Step demanding complete submission to its heavenly gaze.
Little Things is delivered in a plastic-free card wallet of twin panels; the CD is tucked neatly into an end. Artwork features crepuscular vignettes of quiet, waterside scenery. Red cloud glow silhouettes black foliage; an umber-orange atmosphere soaking everything. Track titles in elegant white font sit alongside their timings on the rear cover – the panorama continued from the front cover here fading and softening into a smoother ground. Inside an image of similar nature fills both panels – sharp centre quickly blurring into obscurity toward the edges. Here are brief credits, a dedication and website details.
Little Things sees the maturing Darshan Ambient sound exploring a little more darkness than normal, looking back somewhat to ambient-country origins and stretching forward into stirring glitchy textures. This is the seventh album from Michael Allison’s uniquely tranquil project to be released via the Spotted Peccary/Lotuspike label. The twelve tracks here have much to attract Darshan Ambient fans of previous releases – the lazy, melodic ambient groove is strongly in evidence – yet the innovative departures and inventive juxtapositions are what lift this album beyond the norm – a fact highlighted by the wise choosing of the title track Little Things. Visit the Darshan Ambient website for more information and reviews or check out the Spotted Peccary page for sound samples and purchase links.