A Wake A Week: Through Line

Fabio Orsi: Light Was the Day

David Tagg: Return of the Light

Simon Whetham: Velvet

Saito Koji: Early Works

A quartet of new taâlem releases finds the three-inch format very much alive and well. The label's latest set features some familiar and highly regarded names, including David Dando-Moore (aka A Wake A Week and Detritus), Simon Whetham, and Fabio Orsi, all of whose releases have been reviewed in textura in the past. Each disc features approximately twenty minutes of music—long enough to get a clear sense of what the artist is doing and what the work's about but not so long that the welcome is overstayed. Add in the full-length outing by Saito Koji (issued on the taâlem sub-label Kokeshidisk) and you've got five releases offering no shortage of variety and contrast.

Dando-Moore indulges his textural soundscaping side in his Through Line collection, with the opener “Indigo” setting the mood with four minutes of rain-soaked piano melancholy. The material takes a much darker turn in the subsequent piece, however, and don't be fooled by the romantic title either: the foreboding “With Love” is horror movie soundtrack material of the first order, with its grainy industrial ambient-drone a natural fit for some violent stalker scene. The EP's longest track, “With Love” grows ever more psychosis-inducing the longer it descends into its seething cauldron. As if to compensate for that disturbing foray, “Through Line” pursues a melancholy line in its dusty piano ruminations, with string figures also present underneath the cobwebs. The creeping “Forgetting” takes all of the above and distills it into an EP-defining encapsulation of all of its various tendencies.

Light Was the Day, Fabio Orsi's contribution to the taâlem set, unfolds in a single, twenty-four-minute presentation. Armed with field recordings, filters, guitar, and effects, the Berlin-based Orsi generates a nebulous dronescape of haze and shimmer, its edges blurred and outlines smudged. As the minutes tick by, the drifting mass slowly swells in size and a regulated pounding noise appears alongside an agitated snarl that also arises. A noticeable shift in tone occurs ten minutes into the piece, with field recording elements (birds, engines, voices, footsteps, etc.) emerging within a seeming echo chamber and assuming a more prominent role. Indicative of just how far the journey's taken us, little trace of the piece's initial sound remains by the time we reach the end, with the guitar all but absent and the babble of outdoor conversations the focal point.

New to these pages is David Tagg, a US experimental musician, designer, and photographer who recorded Return of the Light's two long-form settings in fall of 2007 using guitar as the exclusive sound source. The opening title track unspools in a grand, sweeping wash of billowing sound that exudes an intensity and aggressiveness that pushes it beyond the ambient-drone norm. The choral effect that gradually asserts itself calls to mind Popol Vuh—the Aguirre soundtrack, for example—, and Tagg's music in general possesses an ethereal quality befitting the genre. The comparatively more subdued “The Embracer” veers into Celer territory in its ten-minute unfurl of amorphous cloudscaping, prompting the listener to conclude that, if Return of the Light isn't the most original of the taâlem releases, it's still skilfully executed.

Like Orsi's Light Was the Day, Whetham's Velvet is a single-track, twenty-four-minute piece, but there the similarities pretty much end. Whetham's come to be a familiar face at textura over the years (his recent 3LEAVES release, Connection, was reviewed only months ago), and we're always interested to hear what the field recordings-based producer has up his sleeve. Though in this case he works with materials gathered from Manorbier, South Wales in 2009, he often strips them of their identifying character, such that, though water dribble appears to be present, for example, other sounds present themselves as a low-level windstorm of blurry ripple and hum. As a result, Velvet distances itself somewhat from other recordings in Whetham's discography in being a tad more elusive and abstract in its handling of the field recording materials.

As the title indicates, Saito Koji's Early Works isn't new material but rather three tracks originally issued as a CD-R trilogy on the Japanese label Magic Book Records a few years ago. A follow-up of sorts to Koji's Prayer three-inch issued on taâlem in 2009, Early Works comes in a large-size cardboard cover in a small run of 100 copies. Listeners already familiar with Koji's releases will pretty much know what to expect from Early Works—long-form, ultra-minimal ambient-drones—, and they won't be far wrong. At twenty-six minutes, the opening piece, “The Electric Sea,” is the longest of the three, while the third, “Solitude on Sunday,” is a comparatively concise ten. Regardless of such differences, it's all very much trademark Koji in the way the pieces' glassy tones ebb and flow in time-suspending manner. Of the five releases reviewed, it's also clearly the one that most satisfies the oft-cited ambient criterion in being music that one can just as easily attend to as let blend into the background. Having said that, during those moments when one does zero in on the music (during “The Electric Sea,” for instance), it's easy to find oneself swept along by the gently rippling sway of its chiming tones. That's never more the case than when “Reykjavik” casts its peaceful, melancholy, and, yes, even heartbreaking spell for twenty-two minutes, and the melodic changes, lean though they may be, bring Koji's sensitive side into sharp relief most affectingly.

October 2011