Monday, January 18, 2010
We tend to give ambient music two distinct purposes:
1. To serve as inoffensive background noise for activities like studying, sleeping or perhaps barely waking up.
2. To serve as a special soundtrack to a unique situation we may find ourselves in: weaving through travelers at an airport, riding on a morning train, watching the snow fall outside.
I know of few people who choose to listen to ambient or drone music as a means of sparking lively conversation or who elect to share their new favorite microtonal artists with their peers. It is not an entertaining music, nor is it a significantly artistic music. Yet somehow these sound sculptures can manage to be the most quiescent or the most absorptive music we listen to.
We have heard over the last 30 years of the brilliance found within the minimal compositions of masters like Brian Eno and Harold Budd. In half the time, we have been able to add artists like Wolfgang Voight, William Basinski, Christian Fennesz and Stars of The Lid to that list. What was once a genre that few tread within, dominated by tape loops, hazy guitar pedals and the tinkling of keys on a synth or piano, soon blossomed during the laptop age of the early 2000's. Anyone could be a sound musician. I tried, you tried, we failed.
And though the genre of microtonal ambient music is far from dead - it is altogether saturated by carbon copy artists, all clawing (softly) for that one standout review handed out by a major publication every year.
I love ambient music, and while I'm in no way someone who follows the actual scene (and there is a true art-based minimal scene in every corner of the western world), nor am I even learned enough to be able to write for mapsadaisical, I delve into many new releases every year that happen to catch my attention during the hyperbolic ramblings of their press releases or Boomkat reviews. Every year many of them are nothing but boring, soulless electro-acoustic meanderings that start nowhere and go nowhere. "A guy, a laptop and a guitar walk into a bedroom..."
It is funny that we can consider a music with no specific form to adhere to but whatever one hears in their own head as "soulless", yet many releases within this genre are exactly that. Dan Abrams aka Shuttle358 is anything but soulless.
All positive reviews of ambient music make reference that a particular release is good because of the "warmth" and "humanity" that the music brings up for the listener. Specific memories in time are recaptured, current moments in the present are captured for the first time. Chessa is warm, Chessa is human.
Recorded and released during the apex of the click-and-beep madhouse of 2004, Shuttle358's third album on 12k has spoken to me for 5 years now. The fuzz, the chimes, the buzzing sounds, the looped guitar - these are all elements that can be found on releases by any ambient composer - and yet, this release sticks out from the others. I listened to this album four times this afternoon as I watched the rain come and go out my window. As night set in, earlier than it should have, the music continued to soundtrack my evening. Every track seems to find itself matching my breaths as it clicks along, every track placed perfectly in context with the exact emotion I encounter upon this experience.
It is a quiet album, a beautiful album - one that has many situational uses. It just turns out that its beauty has not allowed me to tie it to one situation in particular, but many. And few albums can do that.