Steve Brand: Children of Alcyone
Seren Ffordd: Stellar Nurseries
Mystified: Primal Mystification
Viridian Sun: Infinite in All Directions
Four new releases from the Hypnos camp, three of them very much ‘in the tradition' and the fourth a surprisingly noisier recording. Regardless of individual differences, they're all quality releases, much as we've come to expect from the label.
Let's start with the earliest of the four, Seren Ffordd's Stellar Nurseries, which is actually a reissue of a 2004 release (the first in a planned series of recordings previously issued on Umbra and Penumbra, Italy-based labels managed by Oophoi) he created using a Korg 016 and a Yamaha PSR 262 keyboard. It's an hour-long, single-movement work that the Wales-based Ffordd splits into four figurative sections: “Out of the Void,” “Storm Movement,” “Spiral Dance,” and “Floating, Dreaming.” By way of context, the artist's notes describe huge, drifting clouds of molecular gases that turn star-like, then gradually increase in heat and movement until ignition occurs, after which lighter and heavier elements are pushed and pulled by gravitational forces until planets form. There's a suspended and drifting quality to the material, with cloud-like washes and tones extending for minutes at a time like massive exhalations taking place thousands of kilometres above the earth or perhaps nebulae coming into focus in slow-motion. Shifts in emphasis alternate between the rumbling lower to ascendent higher tones, and wave-like surges in intensity occur too, lending the material an industrial character in the process. An undercurrent of controlled aggression and pressure dominates the first half, until an abrupt termination strips the material down to a sole, organ-like nucleus around which synthetic tones languorously congregate as the sound mass thickens. In contrast to the first, the mood of the second half is lambent, serene, and melancholy, rather requiem-like in spirit as if in mourning for the death of a star. Ultimately, the programmatic connections between the section titles and the work itself are easily drawn in Ffordd's beautifully sustained meditation.
A supra-terrestrial theme also runs through Children of Alcyone, the second release by Steve Brand (who's also issued recordings under the Augur name) to appear on Hypnos Secret Sounds. The inspiration for the work came from the writings of Barbara Marciniak whose books supposedly channel information from the Pleiadians, distant ancestors of ours from the Pleiades constellation (Alcyone, incidentally, the name of the constellation's ‘central sun'). Initial sound sketches for the recording were produced in September 2007 during a master class taught by Steve Roach and were refined subsequent to it at Brand's studio. The material on Children of Alcyone is minimal, even simple, by design but is alluring nonetheless. Lonely tones whistle to one another across immense expanses, and a melancholy spirit shadows the four calming meditations. A brooding epic of long tones and ringing percussive flourishes, “Outside the Grid of Time” forcefully draws the listener into its murky depths, but the recording's coup de grace is the stirring “Light Age” where minimal synthetic tones unfurl gracefully for an entrancing twenty-three minutes. Showing a deft and pitch-perfect touch, Brand skilfully weaves the elements into hypnotic form, never hurrying the material along nor slowing it down too much either. The result is that rare thing: ambient music that's both artful and moving.
The fifty-minute Primal Mystification is the first release by Mystified (aka US ambient-electronic musician Thomas Park) to appear on Hypnos Secret Sounds. Park is no novice, as he's collaborated with artists such as Nunc Stans (One Thousand Dreams, Dataobscura), Robin Storey (Rapoon), and Nigel Ayers (Nocturnal Emissions). The four tracks on Primal Mystification are restrained in character and induce a state of calm in the listener—which isn't to suggest they're uneventful, as there's lots of activity and detail on display. Likening the mercurial drone sounds to the emergence of human beings from the ‘primordial ooze,' Park shapes minimal elements (some of it created from field recordings) into ten-minute-plus settings of placid design using ringing ambient washes, willowy synthetics, elemental percussive patterns, and simple melodic phrases voiced by piano. In “Massive Turning,” elegant piano playing drapes itself across long-form droning tones anchored by a gently swinging rhythm track made up of acoustic-sounding percussive elements (hand drums, bells). “Departing Certainty” exudes a ghostly, even tribal quality in its crystalline swirls and cavernous rumble, while both “Not Knowing Where,” its nocturnal whistling tones animated by a midtempo rhythm track, and “Back to the Primal,” its ethereal shimmer augmented by Eastern-sounding percussive pulsations, are energized by comparison.
The relative wild card of the four, Viridian Sun's Infinite In All Directions is a different animal altogether. The group itself is a joint venture into abstract improvisation involving Hypnos founder Mike Griffin and Hypnos solo artist David Tollefson, whose last Viridian Sun album, Perihelion, appeared a decade ago. Eschewing synthesizers, Griffin and Tollefson build the album's seven tracks from electronically treated and looped guitars, basses, and percussion. On the surface, there's not a radical degree of difference between Viridian Sun and the other artists in terms of sound—tones stretch out as extensively on Infinite In All Directions as they do on the other recordings, and Griffin and Tollefson also shape their base elements into sustained drones—but in a number of pieces the elements themselves are often harder-edged and swell to more extreme levels of intensity and aggression (check out the industrial guitar squalls that blow through “40 Hz Emergence” as an example—in a way that's a tad reminiscent of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint too). The material also often exudes a trippy character that verges on psychedelic or phantasmagoric. At certain moments, for example, “Four Times I Slept For A Year” becomes an almost kosmische musik-like exercise when cycling elements pulsate to psychotropic effect. Elsewhere, sheets of metallic sound surge during “Magnetars Cast No Shadow,” and phantom guitar drones spiral through “Light Years From Here.” The rawness of Viridian Sun's attack may give Infinite In All Directions a visceral edge over the three other recordings, but again it's all quality stuff that more than enhances Hypnos's reputation for distinguished soundscaping.