Machinefabriek & Minus Pilots: Signals

VA: Aquarius

On their collaborative outing for the Moscow-based Dronarivm imprint, Minus Pilots and the ever-prolific Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) combine forces for a single-track, thirty-four-minute setting called Signals (150 CD copies). Little information is available about who or what Minus Pilots is, though the group is described at its website as being about “(s)parse bass, delay, delay, delay, delay, delay, delay, gentle crackle” and that its music is “designed for listening through headphones while gazing up at the stars.” Signals certainly lives up to the first part, as Minus Pilots did apply delay and looping pedals to multiple electric basses to generate sketches for the project that were then stitched together. Throughout Signals, gentle ripples of crackle accompany the soft bass strums, resulting in a placid stream of sound that's more soothing than unsettling. While the largely unwavering sound palette lends a monochromatic quality to the work, it also undergoes numerous changes that consequently keep the listener engaged and boredom at bay.

While Zuydervelt is the less dominant of the participants, his contributions are nevertheless felt. He tips the balance in his direction by overlaying Minus Pilots' processed bass foundation with clarinet tones (sampled, apparently) as well as wordless singing. Even so, one still comes away from Signals hearing it as more of a Minus Pilots piece than a Machinefabriek one. In general, the recording's not unpleasant effect calls to mind the image of a rowboat drifting down a country stream on a hot summer afternoon, with the sleepy inhabitants lulled by the boat's gentle rocking.

If Signals exemplifies consistency, so too does Aquarius albeit in its own way. A seventy-minute compilation (200 CD copies) of ambient settings compiled by Bartosz Dziadosz (aka Pleq), the release presents a unified front on sonic, stylistic, and even temporal grounds (each one of the fourteen tracks is precisely five minutes long). The collection draws upon the talents of artists from ten countries, all of whom will be familiar to listeners conversant with the ambient soundscaping genre. Though the idea of imposing a five-minute limit works well as a way of bringing concision to the project's component pieces, there is admittedly a sameness about the material that lessens the recording's impact.

While a generally meditative quietude persists throughout, some contributors' pieces stand out from the crowd: the pastoral melodies of The Green Kingdom's “Pineloops3” sparkle as satisfyingly as anything else in Mike Cottone's oeuvre; Simon Whetham's haunting “For a Short Moment, Our Love Was Strong” finds the slow-motion drift of celestial strings descending earthwards; and Fabio Orsi's “Treffen am Café Chagall” is dominated by symphonic sheets of guitar-generated smolder. In addition, offthesky converts Melodium's “Pistorius” into a shimmering deep space drone, Marsen Jules' slow-motion “A Room Full of History” exudes portent and mystery, and Francisco López's “Untitled#288” merges heaving ice blocks with sheets of frozen exhalations. Federico Durand, Pjusk, Loscil, Machinefabriek, Pleq and Mathieu Ruhlmann, Hakobune and Hiroki Sasajima and Yann Novak also participate. On a closing note, Pillowdiver's “Selected Ambient Fails,” a series of brooding textures and tremolo-laden guitar phrases, brings into sharp focus a lesson every aspiring ambient producer should bear in mind: never underestimate the impact of a hypnotic bass line.

June 2013