36: Void Dance
In his 36 project, Dennis Huddleston has accomplished something many an ambient-electronic producer has struggled with: the creation of a distinctive voice. The reason why Huddleston has managed to do so when others haven't is actually pretty simple: he realizes that a distinctive persona isn't achieved via gear—though admittedly the equipment involved can't help but be a factor—but instead through compositional form. Stated simply, it's his persona as a composer that resonates most vividly in his work.
On this latest hour-long collection from the UK-based ambient artist (issued, like almost all of the 36 releases he's released since 2009, on his own 3six Recordings label), Huddleston presents twelve pieces, a small number of which appeared on the 2015 EPs Pulse Dive and Sine Dust. Void Dance is sequenced so effectively, however, that one hears those previously released pieces as if for the first time in this new context; one could almost get the impression that Huddleston conceived the album content first and then issued the EPs as scene-setters, though surely that's merely a trick of the light, so to speak.
It's a mature recording in the sense that Huddleston has clearly benefited from the years of experience he now has under his belt as a music producer. Each of the settings plays like a perfectly realized miniature of ambient-symphonic form, with much of it ethereal, radiant, and incandescent in tone. His melodic gifts are on full display throughout, perhaps never more so than during the title track, an epic of interwoven, multi-layered entrancement.
Some pieces are drenched in strings and others more minimal in design; in certain cases, such as “Stasis Eject,” the arrangement starts off as stripped-down but then gradually builds to an epic and dramatic pitch as the seconds pass. Other contrasts emerge, too, specifically in terms of dynamics and rhythm. Aggressive pulsations power the brief “Meshi Echelon,” for instance, while “Pulse Dive” derives its kinetic thrust from a locomotive shuffle. Only once does a human presence literally appear in these synthesizer-based instrumentals, specifically during “Sine Dust” where soft vocal murmurs arise to bring the icy synth tones into sharper focus.
Though 36 does carve out its own glorious soundworld, there are moments where connections to kindred spirits can be made. It's possible, for example, to hear Marsen Jules in the lulling drift of “Hold On,” even if the luscious strings that Huddleston includes so plentifully distract one's attention away from the gently swaying background. Weighing in at nine minutes, “The Last Light” warbles serenely in a way that recalls Eno's “Spider and I” and “Spirits Drifting,” and needless to say any modern-day ambient material that can be spoken of in the same breath as those masterworks is something special indeed. It's probably pushing it to say that Void Dance is the most perfectly realized 36 recording Huddleston has released, given the consistently high level achieved by the the ones preceding it. But there's also no denying that the latest set contains material of the highest order for music of its genre type.