36: The Infinity Room
A Strangely Isolated Place

Though Dennis Huddleston typically issues his 36 material on his own 3six Recordings imprint, this latest collection, available in download and vinyl (transparent red) formats, comes to us by way of A Strangely Isolated Place. But a change in label venue isn't the only difference; more significant is the subtle modification in the 36 sound that emerges on the concept album. First, however, let's clarify the meaning behind the title: when Huddleston creates music at his home studio, that hermetic space begins to seem like countless rooms when, analogically, the musical possibilities exponentially multiply in so many directions—hence The Infinity Room.

To produce its ten tracks, Huddleston worked from a specific set of self-imposed guidelines. He used the same core sounds in each track, yet at the same time modified the elements so as to generate subtle degrees of contrast from one piece to the next. Perhaps most significantly, the material reflects the recent affection Huddleston's developed for artists such as Disasterpeace, Boards of Canada, and Sinoia Caves, a move that has, in turn, reawakened his love for electronic film music of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It's no surprise, then, that hints of Vangelis and John Carpenter sometimes surface on the album.

Much of The Infinity Room fits squarely within the melodic ambient tradition associated with past 36 releases, each track an exquisite, finely crafted jewel of electronic instrumentalism. Huddleston has refined his creative process to such a fine degree that every setting exemplifies a magnificent command of control, balance, melody, sonority, and mood. In meditative settings that suggest complete, self-contained miniature galaxies, vibrant synthesizer patterns, smeared by the occasional billowing whoosh, weave elegantly for five minutes at a time, and despite the fact that not a single note feels out of place, the tracks don't feel any less fresh or lacking in spontaneity for having been prepared so meticulously. From the stately (“Room 7”) and rain-drenched (“Room 10”) to the beautifully mournful (“Room 5”), the album is everything we've come to expect from a 36 release.

The album does, however, include one rather startling departure from the 36 norm: during “Room 2,” Huddleston works hi-hats, crackling snares, and booming kick drums into the otherwise synth-heavy mix, resulting in a clubby cut that sounds more like the work of a techno producer. That change-up proves to be so enticing in the way it suggests new possibilities for the 36 universe that it's a shame it only happens once. As strong and solid an addition to the 36 discography as it is, The Infinity Room might have been even more satisfying, musically speaking, had a few more club-inflected tracks (like “Room 2”) been included alongside the pure ambient (beatless, in other words) pieces. Regardless, it's heartening to discover that in Huddleston's world more rooms await, ripe for exploration.

October 2016