Koen Holtkamp: Field Rituals

Koen Holtkamp, perhaps better known as one-half of ambient duo Mountains , makes his solo artist debut with Field Rituals, a fifty-five-minute collection of ambient collages that more properly warrant the label “mirages” than “drones.” Creating the album's material with meticulous care, the Brooklyn-based producer melded field recordings with acoustic guitars, harmonica, melodica, found objects (seeds, metal bowl, paper, ice water), and electronics to generate the album's eight evocations. Both song titles—“Bee Change” and “Bear Bell,” for instance—and the field elements—children's voices in “Sky Flowers” and the bustle of crowds and transport in “ Walker ”—attest to the material's earth-bound design. Scott Mou drapes his vocal murmur over the insect chirp and electronic burble of “Night Swimmer” while Häpna co-manager Johan Berthling contributes double bass to “Bee Change”; though the track is short, his participation alone is significant, given how close in spirit Field Rituals is to the delicate, folk-oriented sound-sculpting Berthling and his brother Andreas and Tomas Hallonsten produce under the Tape guise.

The brief overture “Half Light” establishes the album's tone with pastoral splashes of acoustic guitar and electronically filtered colour. Exceeding fourteen minutes each, “Sky Flowers” and “Haus Und Spirale Im Regen” (House and Spiral in the Rain) make good on the opportunity such extended duration affords for organic development. The former languidly segues from an opening episode where children's voices dominate to a second where bird chirps and other environmental sounds intermingle with sparkling guitar lattices that swell into swirls of beatific shimmer. Much more psychedelic and drone-like in character, “Haus Und Spirale Im Regen” is boosted by the presence of Ben Owen's incandescent harmonium playing which gives the piece a vibrant, celestial shimmer that helps bring this fully-realized collection of meditations to a remarkable close.

November 2008