Archive for July, 2010

The album “Pockets of Wheat” consists of a single hour-long track. There are no songs, lyrics or hooks. You learn little from the packaging except that it was recorded in a motel in North Texas, and was inspired by the vast surrounding wheat fields. I’ve listened to the record six or seven times, and always there is the undeniable image in my mind of those wheat fields, the barely perceptible changes in the waves as the wind stops and shifts. You imagine these Californians sitting in the wheat, closing their eyes and dreaming of the ocean.

Instrumental, and especially ambient music, is anathema to pop. Its pleasures are of a different element. Since the music lacks an obvious narrative, ambient recordings tend to absorb meaning from the listening environment, from the environment in which the music was created, and sometimes from the story of its creators. In the case of Celer, the ambient drone husband-and-wife duo Danielle Baquet-Long and Will Long, their recordings will forever be shadowed by Danielle’s untimely death of congenital heart failure, in 2009. If any recording should stand as a memorial to her, this one certainly is stately and elegant and smart enough to be it.

Celer released dozens of records in only a few years, and apparently there are nearly as many records in the vault. There is a clear curious and prolific energy in all of their work, and repeatedly they convey their ideas through a structure based on nature, in creatively physical ways. On 2008’s “Nacreous Clouds,” the music was synchronized with the movement of clouds. But their work would be mere modern art experimentation if it weren’t for the inherent, indescribable joy at its center. Celer is on a celestial journey imbued with private love.

Most drone music doesn’t hit you in the heart the way this does, and such a profound feeling of languorous warmth doesn’t just come from knowing the band’s story—that is, a couple transcending letters, expressing themselves in extended drone. Try to imagine them in that motel room, recording the cello, piano, violin, tambourine and vocals that went into this record, but you’ll never hear verisimilitude in this recording—all those sounds have been melted down to a whirring, stirring current of gold, glinting in late-day sun.

In interviews, Celer spoke about their songs as if they were gifts for each other. At once abstract and calm, “Pockets of Wheat” feels like heavy emotion, the way it can feel like a physical burden. But the private glimmering messages will never be decoded, which is why this recording manages to exude romance with nothing but minimal, sometimes menacing sounds. 8/10 — Eric Braden (28 July, 2010)

Hypnotising, confounding, beautiful: Chubby Wolf – Ornitheology

On 8 July—the anniversary of Danielle Baquet-Long’s death—in a rather lovely coincidence, her first posthumous release, Ornitheology, landed on my doormat • That was the standard edition, released in a typically short run of 125 copies by Digitalis—by now, of course, very sold out • Yesterday, the special edition arrived, in an even shorter run of just 21 copies, the cassette housed in a black wallet, replete with pink bow fixed to the front, all made from rather-curious-to-hold-but-very-striking-to-behold latex; designed by fashion’s latex goddess Sophie Richardoz, it gives the release an exotic, sensuous & highly tactile quality • Despite their resurgence in recent times, cassette releases have a tendency to appear less substantial than those on other media, in part due to the (usually) shorter durations they occupy • But Ornitheology is a different entity, its brace of tracks amounting to over 90 minutes of music, a demonstrative statement of intent as well as an article of faith in the cassette medium •

For listeners accustomed to the endlessly new & diverse but ever unified output from Celer, it can feel somewhat difficult to extricate Baquet-Long’s parallel Chubby Wolf project • A simplistic view would be to regard it as a solo extension of Celer’s work—after all, her material obviously carries many of the hallmarks of the established Celer sound • But on both her previous releases—the EP Meandering Pupa & album L’Histoire—a notably different sound, i feel, emerges; one that might be described as more focussed & intense, more austere, & certainly more demanding (which is not to suggest Celer’s music lacks these qualities; far from it) • Indeed, both these releases, with their firm sense of patience & restraint, & the resultant cool, aloof textures, are in fact a world away from most Celer, really akin only to their great anomaly, Sieline • Baquet-Long is clearly an independent force to be reckoned with on her own terms •
Ornitheology, however, is the first Chubby Wolf release to acknowledge & assimilate the warmer musical climes inhabited by Celer; it’s fitting, therefore, that the work is dedicated to husband Will • The latter track, “Phantasmagoria Of Nothingness (Prey To Our Emotions)”, is something of a hybrid; the austerity remains in the narrow dynamic range & minimal activity—exhibited most emphatically in the droning pitch (C) that sits in the foreground for much of the track’s duration • However, this note is drenched in a gentle, drifting fog that prevents it from becoming irritatingly persistent, muting it & causing the surface to ripple & undulate • The effect is disconcerting: too warm to be ascetic, too cool to be ecstatic; the music hypnotises, confounding attempts to ‘place’ it, & the more i’ve listened to it, the more i’ve realised one needs to embrace the uncertainty • i’ll admit i was initially not so keen on this track, but it’s slowly (& completely) won me over, in no small part due to its reluctance to do precisely that •

On the other hand, the first track, “On Burnt, Gauzed Wings”, consciously allows in far greater warmth • At first listen, little is that different: narrow dynamics (if anything, narrower than its successor), slow movement, no extremes (high/low frequencies are entirely absent), but there’s an abundance of richness allowed to flourish here that is nothing short of breathtaking • It’s a richness that manifests itself strongest in a powerful shifting tide of harmonies that reverberate out & around like distant musicians slowly improvising in a vast cathedral • But ultimately, hyperbole & metaphors seem rather redundant in the face of music that’s simply as beautiful as this track is; of course, a great deal of the material issued by Dani & Will could be described in that way, but this really is something else • Anyone familiar with Celer’s 2008 album I Love You So Much I Can’t Even Title This (The Light That Never Goes Out Went Out) will know what i mean about intense beauty; “On Burnt, Gauzed Wings” really is as good as that •

Only a few weeks ago, i was lamenting the fact that, having listened to very many 2010 releases, not one of them had struck me as an unblemished 5-star candidate • Finally, that lament is over; except to say, of course, that there was an unavoidable sadness in listening to such a gorgeous album from one no longer with us • But Danielle Baquet-Long’s music ultimately conveys such a deep-seated elation that tears—even tears of joy—evaporate in its wake • This is a rare, marvellous album, one of the best from one of the best •

5:4 rating: 5/5

There are many titles but no actual subdivisions in the music comprised by the two sides of this LP, whose tracks were recorded by Will and Dani Long at home in 2008. As always, the sounds were obtained via a painstaking work of degeneration and reconfiguration of the timbres coming from normal instruments and machines. However, this time the final result is special as we abandon precincts characterized by worn-out terminologies and genres, approaching instead a condition which is nearer to a singular kind of extrasensory fog than “new ambient”, or whatever name you may want to stick on it.

A slight differentiation exists between the parts. In the first, human remnants seem to be still present: unrecognizably altered voices (perhaps a handful of singers, somewhere), or just traces of someone’s activity appear and perplex, attributing an additional degree of uncertainty to an indescribable combination of factors. Everything revolves around a constant instability of nebulously stifled clusters – occasionally following a synchronization of sorts, elsewhere amassing one over another in indefinite fashion – that get suddenly cut at one point, leaving us quite flummoxed.

The other face of the coin is represented by the relative steadiness informing part of the second side, also defined by the type of vibrational/irrational power (mainly originating from a creatively skilled equalization) which only certain adjacent frequencies can elicit. Sudden increases in the thickness of the sound’s inherent rumble are capable of annihilating the shimmering textures that some of these recordings are endowed with. Ultimately, this mix of situations brings the whole to the same state of sonic ambiguity perceived previously, the amplified influence of the lowest possible susurrus literally clutching the nape of the neck at elevated levels of playback.

In both cases the outcome is impressive, causing a temporary postponement of alternative actions, and the few pops due to the vinyl are not detrimental to a compelling involvement. Dwell In Possibility indisputably belongs among Celer’s paramount releases and its reissue in digital format would be very useful for this writer’s personal needs of infinite-repeat abstraction.

– Massimo Ricci

You know that feeling you get when you realise you’ve missed the boat? That bizarre moment of realisation that somehow you just weren’t in the right place at the right time? Listening to Celer’s “Engaged Touches” was a moment like that for me…

I’m baffled as to how I’ve managed to avoid hearing Celer’s music – I’ve seen their name mentioned in all the right places, read reviews and noted that their music has been released on some fantastic labels. Yet, whether through a lack of time or through simply not cognitively registering the information in front of me, I have succeeded in overlooking their work. Thankfully, Home Normal have seen fit to allow those people, like myself, who have been left stranded at the shore scratching their heads and watching the boat disappear over the horizon, a second chance to get on board with this re-release of “Engaged Touches”.

So, with the knowledge that I’m probably preaching to the converted, I have to say, with the zeal of the new convert, this album is simply magnificent. Taking the form of two long pieces, “Engaged Touches” is music to be alone with and lose yourself in. It is not merely that pieces of this length require the sustained attention of the listener, but the two tracks here, with their enveloping ambience and hidden layers, demand attention for their discreet and restrained beauty. Each piece is made up of linked vignettes rich in balance and classicism. Stylistically, the most obvious comparison is to Stars of the Lid’s “And Their Refinement of the Decline”. Each phrase is characterised by wholeness, is a self-contained epic.  Frozen strings melt into channels that are at once both familiar and fulfilling. Tones emerge, shift and probe the auditory field – tracing and defining the boundaries of wakefulness.  Whilst undeniably minimal – on a first listen some people may understandably (but mistakenly) dismiss these tracks as directionless or lacking a driving force – the pieces have a glacial subtlety that provides cumulative momentum. Time appears suspended; the pieces deliberately unfold, evolving with studied forbearance and, despite their length, they’re gone before you realise.

It doesn’t make sense to try and capture the details of each track here; the delicacy and timing of their emotional resolution defies any attempt to focus on individual parts – to separate out the constituents is impracticable. There is an experiential quality to this music that can only understood through allowing yourself time to absorb its scope and affective splendour. “Engaged Touches” should be experienced in its undivided, perfectly balanced entirety as a single entity. It should be engaged with like a landscape; a real landscape, not a painting – timeless, majestic and embodying an immutable, elemental power. Stupendous stuff.

– Review by John McCaffrey for Fluid Radio

She smiled, with a pleasant inquiry, and a little bit of a bedhead. Walking into the room, in her v-neck cotton shirt and pajama pants, at midnight where I was on the couch, my mouth cracked because of infomercials. Just that soft cotton tshirt of hers. The warm smell from her hair permeates every inch of space left on this couch, that we don’t occupy together. Just a blinking tv, with a below-audible volume and the occasional car horn in the sleeping city streets are around. Even the old tomcat is asleep, but what else does he ever do? Goodnight, these dreams.