VA: Air Texture Vol. 1
Air Texture

VA: Burning Palms
Flaming Pines

If there's one 2011 ambient compilation that deserves to be seen as essential, Air Texture Vol. 1 is certainly a strong contender. The double-album set—over 140 minutes of music—constitutes an amazing coming-out for the newly hatched Air Texture, especially when the individuals responsible for curating its respective halves are bvdub (Brock Van Wey) and Andrew Thomas. Much applause, then, goes to Agriculture Records co-founder James Healy, who, obviously convinced that listeners weren't receiving their necessary diet of deep ambient music, founded Air Texture to satisfy that need. It's not the first such series to appear, of course, as Kompakt's been issuing its annual Pop Ambient volume for years, but the idea of having an individual producer given the role of curator is an inspired one. And consider the line-up of contributors. There're bvdub and Andrew Thomas tracks, naturally, but the sets also include pieces by highly regarded figures such as Rafael Anton Irisarri, Maps and Diagrams, Ian Hawgood, The Green Kingdom, Klimek, Oneohtrix Point Never, Chihei Hatakeyama, loscil, Biosphere, Markus Guentner, Leyland Kirby, and Wolfgang Voigt.

Van Wey's half opts for immersive meditations of deep entrancement and will appeal strongly to fans of the Home Normal and Hibernate labels, as a number of artists associated with them appear on the first disc, Ian Hawgood and Ryonkt among them. The release's first half rewards one's attention for bvdub's “Tried So Hard” alone, which is one more in a long string of majestic pieces Van Wey's given us. Harp strums and strings build into a haze-covered sea of sound that swirls hypnotically for ten minutes, until the baton's passed to Maps and Diagrams, who carries the style on into his own “The Shape of Things To Come.” Other memorable moments come from Hessien (the wistful, electroacoustic splendour of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”), Rafael Anton Irisarri (“Flowstone,” a textural meditation emblazoned with ominous rumble, crackling embers, and symphonic sweep), and Arc of Doves' “I Remember When,” which closes the first half with six beautiful minutes of piano-based elegance.

Highlighted by two contributions apiece from Markus Guentner and Oneohtrix Point Never, Andrew Thomas's disc also features strong contributions from loscil (the elegiac electronic-symphonic serenade “Hyphae”), Leyland Kirby (“Departure,” a time-corroded slab of heartfelt orchestral reflections), and Thomas himself (the sombre guitar-laced atmospherics of “Black Sky Bright Sun”). Oneohtrix Point Never's “Sand Partina” serves up seven minutes of becalmed kosmische meander, while his “Alexander Scriabin (edit)” swoops into position like some low-flying 747. Both Wolfgang Voigt's “Fresko 1” and Guentner's “To the Place” are lovely examples of soothing ambient, while one of the collection's few beat-driven pieces is Guentner's “Senses,” whose silken ambient stylings receive a propulsive kick from a galloping house pulse. The upcoming volumes in the Air Texture series sound enticing too, with the second to be overseen by loscil and Rafael Anton Irisarri and the third by Deadbeat and DJ Olive. The names involved suggest that the volumes will have different points of emphasis, with the third perhaps more dub-oriented and earthy than the second—time will tell. For now, the inaugural volume gives us more than enough to listen to.

Another fine ambient compilation comes by way of Flaming Pines, the netlabel run by Sydney, Australia-based artist Kate Carr. The title of the label's third release, Burning Palms, refers to a small beach in Sydney that's accessible only by foot and is home to black cockatoos, palm trees, and a rock pool (Flaming Pines' other releases, also issued in 2011, are another compilation, Listen To The Weather, and Carr's own Summer Floods). Interestingly, most of those who contributed to the release—among them, well-known figures such as Savaran, Sublamp, and Darren McClure—didn't visit the site prior to creating their pieces, making them acts of imagination; conversely, those familiar with the setting drew upon nostalgic remembrance in fashioning their contributions. A general theme, then, becomes the way in which particular meanings come to be associated with specific locales, even when the places in question haven't been physically visited.

No background details are provided for the individual tracks, so one can only speculate as to how they were produced. Given that it's populated by an ample supply of micro-clicks and that its sounds are drenched in echo and reverb, it's entirely possible that Carr's “The Sound of Fish in a Rock Pond” incorporates field recording materials; it's also possible that it's entirely an electronic simulation of the site with nothing from the natural world added. Either way, the piece convincingly evokes the ambiance of the locale and especially the reverberant character one would expect to be so much a part of it. In other cases, it seems clear that field recordings were integrated into the artists' works—the insect swarms buzzing through Manrico Montero's “Sweet Palms and Burning Bees” certainly suggest as much, as do the crashing waves and the crunchy sound of a figure trodding through undergrowth during McClure's “Figure Eight.” Pulsating dub basslines are the glue holding together the myriad site evocations within All N4tural's “Burning Dubness”; the various natural sounds that appear, such as water and insects, imbue the piece with a nocturnal aura, as if the piece is capturing a portrait of night-time activity typically unseen by human eyes. Elsewhere, Broken Chip's deep ambient exercise “Path to the Sea” conjures the image of a sweltering vista, and undercurrents of mystery and foreboding disrupt the overall tranquility of “Hidden Places” by Savaran (Wales, UK-based Mark Walters) when ominous flourishes sweep across the terrain. Mention must also be made of Every Bolt Rumbling's “Sunburn,” where micro-slivers of scratchy guitar filaments flicker aggressively for nine minutes. Here and elsewhere, Burning Palms amply rewards one's attention, and let's also not forget that the fifty-four-minute collection is free for the taking.

November 2011