Maps and Diagrams: Lights Will Call On You
Maps and Diagrams: The Town Beneath The Sea
Tim Martin has issued a large number of Maps and Diagrams albums and singles since 2002, so it comes as little surprise that these two companion full-lengths are such polished examples of his sound-making abilities. Far removed from anything beat-based and IDM-related, they're very much in the ambient-drone tradition we've come to associate with the output of labels like Hibernate and Home Normal (Ian Hawgood, who curates Home Normal, is also involved in the running of Nomadic Kids Republic).
The first of the two, Lights Will Call On You, presents forty-six minutes of understated and gently flowing settings that are often autumnal in mood, an impression reinforced by melancholy titles such as “Her Thoughts Are Her Own” and “When the World is Falling” and a cover image suggestive of long-past beach-side holidays and fading memories. Representative of Martin's deeply textured Maps and Diagrams style, “When the Night Came” and “Hide Yourself in Silence” are as immersive and transporting as the deepest and most restful sleep you've ever had. In these pieces, an occasional field recording emerges as an additional texture, as do grainy ambient textures of crackle and hiss. Slow-burning, softly lit, and gently shimmering meditations such as “The Haunted Hotel” and “When the World is Falling” unfold at their own unhurried and measured pace, and the album as a whole unfurls in a similarly becalmed manner. Lights Will Call On You thus offers a soothing antidote to whatever insanity is currently bedeviling the world.
Heard after Lights Will Call On You, The Town Beneath The Sea seems to be less weighed down by nostalgia and more focused on present possibilities and buoyed by hope and optimism. Its tone suggests that we've abandoned the safe cradle of home and moved into the outer world, ready to explore “High Reaches” and the other locales hinted at by exotic titles like “Groghe (Fort),” “Orebro,” and “Jaxom (Spina).” Consistent with that explorative impulse, sounds are less camouflaged on The Town Beneath The Sea: fire crackle emerges as part of the sound mix of “Lorentzen,” for example, and harp plucks are clearly audible within “Found Objects.” “Circa” likewise provides a rare glimpse of clearly identifiable piano playing, even if it's submerged within an aquatic pool of hiss and electronic effects. In “Nessel (Tillek),” a low-pitched hum of the kind produced by electric guitar appears in tandem with the ambient tinkle of piano, its acoustic presence providing a warm anchor for the piece's otherwise abstract tendencies. Sounding like something from a Schole or mü-nest recording, “Ukiyo-e” exposes us to the natural splendour of a Japanese countryside filled with glistening sunstreams and insect chatter. Collectively the album's material exudes a slow-motion, time-worn feel that one might be tempted to call Eno-like were the ambient textures featured less prominently.Acoustic and synthetic sounds often merge into largely indissoluble wholes in the two recordings' settings, the idea being that the listener's attention should focus on the entire sound-world of a given track than the individual elements appearing within it. At the same time, close listening can't help but lead one to zero in on specific sounds and consequently marvel at the artfulness with which Martin weaves them together. Though moments arise where piano and guitar appear, it's also possible that—like a trick of the light, as it were—such instruments don't, in fact, appear at all and that the listener is misidentifying an element, having been waylaid by the gauzy character Martin has deliberately put in place. That abstract quality isn't a flaw, of course, but rather something that allows the listener to be even more transported by the music.