Mystified: Morning City
Spotted Peccary Music

Chris Russell: Labyrinth
Spotted Peccary Music

Spotted Peccary issues many different kinds of ambient music, with everything from sci-fi spacemusic to pastoral splendour available on the label. Thomas Park's Mystified project adds another piece to the puzzle in rooting its industrial-ambient productions in musique concréte strategies and drawing for material from the urban environment. The route leading up to Mystified's solo debut on Spotted Peccary was circuitous: training in classical and jazz as a teenager developed into a flirtation with techno and electronic sounds and the eventual birth of the Mystified persona. Though Morning City is Park's first solo release on the label under the name, it's not his first appearance, as he earlier collaborated with fellow ambient-electronic composer Shane Morris on a trilogy of releases, individually titled Epoch, Emergence, and Evolution.

To create Morning City's nine tracks, each of which functions as a carefully constructed sound collage evoking a different experience within the industrial zone, Park blended heavily doctored field recordings with conventional musical instruments such as piano and bass. Adding stability and structure, a mechanical drone often extends throughout a given piece as a backdrop to an array of sounds mutating at the forefront. “Reflecting Metal Cycles,” on the other hand, is animated by an insistently swaying rhythm in a manner that references, even if tangentially, dub-techno; rhythm also surfaces during “On the Fire Escape Reprise,” though in this case the repetitive rock groove registers more like the sounds of a drummer drifting to the street from an open apartment window.

In packing each piece with urban noise, Park's clearly not out to lull the listener to sleep. To that end, “Industrial District” functions as a miniature portrait of the release in arranging grainy whirrs, factory emissions, and machine rhythms into a ten-minute sound sculpture, the total effect so powerful it feels like an undertow. Throughout Morning City, buzzing electrical drones radiate alongside the reverberant clatter of a bustling city in action, and at such moments the release resembles an audio diary of someone moving through the industrial landscape on foot and ultimately shaping its sounds into an arresting urban symphony.

Like Morning City, Labyrinth is Chris Russell's debut solo release on Spotted Peccary, even though he's been recording since 2000 and earlier appeared on the label with a 2014 collaboration with Phillip Wilkerson titled Vague Traces. The sonic worlds inhabited by Park's and Russell's releases couldn't be more different, however. Whereas the former focuses on the industrial character of the urban environment, the latter presents six elegant, enveloping soundscapes that cast their gazes on the limitless expanses of the universe and corresponding journeys into the self. Quietly majestic in tone, the pieces unfurl in ambient-drone waves that rise and fall in slow motion, and connections to the sound character of our home planet are almost wholly severed.

Described by Russell as an “audio soundtrack for Circling to the Center of oneself,” the recording makes room for both epic and intimate moments. As far-reaching and transcendent as “Life's Journey” and “The Vision” are, for example, “Dream Fragments” exudes a gentle calm—even when field recordings of nature sounds work their way into the sound design—that feels soul-cleansing. A high point of sorts is reached in “Lunation,” a tranquil setting featuring piano and synthesizers whose becalmed and carefully sustained drift arrests time in the most captivating manner imaginable.

Sci-fi flourishes add an unusual twist to “In the Maze,” but Russell generally hews closely to the space-ambient template on the forty-seven-minute set. There are times when one might be reminded of Steve Roach, one of Russell's avowed influences, and certainly fans of the former should find much to like about Labyrinth, too. It bears worth mentioning that while Morning City and Labyrinth are digital-only releases, various sound quality options have been made available in both cases, from the basic mp3 to high-definition studio master choices.

April 2017