36: Black Soma
3six Recordings

The word ambient hardly seems adequate at capturing what Dennis Huddleston's created on this latest 36 outing. Though the album title hints at a dark ambient classification, the release might be better described as symphonic ambient given how much the music's luscious textures suggest a sound quality similar to an orchestra's. That doesn't mean, however, that Black Soma shares things compositionally with classical music, which would be a misrepresentation. No, the material is, formally speaking, consistent with the kind of ambient soundscaping Huddleston's been perfecting since he initiated the 36 project a decade ago. Still, in terms of sound design, there's no denying Black Soma's symphonic depth and richness.

Huddleston describes Black Soma as the concluding chapter in the space-inspired series of releases that began with Sine Dust and Tomorrow's Explorers. Presented as an eight-part suite, the recording largely advances without interruption from one movement to the next (a brief moment of silence separates the closing track from the seventh), with all of them sharing a consistent title design (“Black Sustain,” “Black Halcyon,” and so on). Arguably the album's most arresting track is its opening title track, which adds a new wrinkle to the 36 playbook: choir-like vocals, swooning wordless expressions that amplify the instrumental design's already emotion-charged character. It's a stirring combination, one that veritably demands it be presented at peak volume and be allowed to flood the listening space with its blossoming detail.

As stated, each part flows seamlessly into the next, though changes in mood and presentation distinguish one part from another. That orchestral opulence comes to the fore magnificently during “Black Sustain” and “Black Halcyon,” both productions wide-screen in character but the latter the more glorious of the two. “Black Sun” distances itself from them by replacing the orchestral dimension with a synthesizer-dominated dreamscape whose melancholy expressions feel stripped-down when heard in the wake of such grandiose presentations, after which “Black Shore” grounds itself on terra firma by weaving sounds of crashing waves into its placid synthesizer design. As the album advances to its close, “Black Sleep” pulls the listener into a deep, reverberant ocean of ambient-orchestral swirl until “Black Cascade” caps the release with a suitably enveloping serenade.

Incidentally, any longtime 36 listeners worried that Huddleston might be thinking of ending the project anytime soon will be heartened by the words accompanying the release: “It's been ten years since I first started the 36 project. Here's to the next ten.” Sounds like there's still lots to look forward to.

January 2018