Manual: Confluence

Time was not so long ago when I would have chosen Jonas Munk's beat-based Manual releases over his pure ambient output but, these days, the balance now tips in the latter's favour. Following upon 2003's The North Shore and 2006's Bajamar, Confluence not only eschews beats but time signatures too. What we're left with are ever-evolving streams of heavily-processed guitar playing that assumes a rather ethereal, even celestial character in the album's eight pieces. Shimmering washes stretch out for minutes on end, with blurred dashes of piano the only other sound present. The Danish producer alternates miniatures of one- to two-minute duration with long-form meditations, with the title track and “Oracle Night” both exceeding thirteen-minute running times. He pays seeming tribute to Eno and Budd halfway through “Confluence” when the guitars drop away to cede the spotlight to a slow, single-note piano melody before the guitar waves re-emerge. Imagine a canoe moving silently downriver until the fog lifts to reveal a magnificent castle in the far distance and you've got some idea of the mysterious, natural ambiance Munk cultivates in “Oracle Night.” “Blue Stone” surreptitiously rolls in like a blanket of early morning mist, enveloping everything in its path and coating it with a fine layer of cool dew. The piece is at times minimal in the extreme but delectably so, with nothing more than gently shimmering chords all that's needed to maintain the peaceful mood. Hardly surprisingly, “Sanctuary” exudes a strong devotional character in its array of pealing guitar tones and washes while “Last Light” likewise plays off its title with a gradual fading away of ebbing and flowing tones. Even fleeting interludes like “Cirrus” and “After the Rain” seem less like filler than exercises in sonic haiku that relieve the tension of the epics that sprawl around them. Throughout the hour-long collection, the music's calm and tranquility proves immensely satisfying, especially when the listener gradually attunes him/herself to Confluence's time-suspending drift.

January 2009