‘Xiexie’ is a Chinese word meaning ‘thank you, thanks’. When Will Long went to China he bought a dictionary but in the end, only used this word. These two CDs reflect something of that trip to China, using four field recordings as starting points. So the first CD opens with some street sounds and people talking but then slowly, over the course of two minutes moves from fading out these street sounds and the drones then move in and slowly, as ever with Celer, transform from one thing to the next. Music that is like cascading waves breaking on the beach, but all in slow motion. In ‘Rains Lit By noon’ (disc one, second track) there is a pleasant mild distortion to be noticed but the piece ends near silence before going into ‘In The Middle Of The Moving Field’, which the kind of Celer you know best, flowing beautifully and right at the end the next field recordings come in and that’s only a brief fragment of a train at 303 Km/h (you could have fooled me) and two more lengthy drone pieces. Throughout it seemed to me that the pieces on the second disc were a bit more ‘distorted’; you have to count in that in the quiet world of Celer anything ‘less quiet’ may count as a bit distortion. There is of course not really ‘noise’ on this record, far from it; it just is a little something different, and occasionally at that, that is going on here, such as in the closing track ‘Our Dream To Be Strangers’. That makes that this Celer is a bit different from many of his other works, and while not a radical break with the old ‘Celer’, for me at least quite a surprise. Also available on 2LP!
It would be great if there was some simple way for casual Celer fans like myself to easily distinguish Will Long’s major statements from the ceaseless flow of minor releases, but there seem to be glaring exceptions to every system that I have attempted to devise. In the case of Xièxie, however, Long helpfully took the guesswork out of the matter, as this might be the most heavily promoted album that he has ever released. Happily, his instincts have proven to be well-founded, as Xièxie definitely ranks among the upper tier of his overwhelming oeuvre. I would probably stop short of calling it a start-to-finish masterpiece or my personal favorite Celer album, but I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone else churning out ambient/drone music as enveloping and sublimely lovely as Xièxie‘s bookends.
It is admittedly a bit redundant to mention that Xièxie (“thank you”) is an album inspired by bittersweetly beautiful memories of a specific time and place, as transforming lingering memory fragments into lush, soft-focus dreamscapes has been Will Long’s stock-in-trade since Celer’s very beginnings. However, I definitely appreciate the poetic reminiscence that Long wrote as an album description. For one, it establishes a lovely and evocative context: two lovers once took a train trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, a period that is now distilled to a series of flickering images of neon lights, rain, birds, and blurred scenery seen through the window of speeding train. Moreover, that literary component is vital to understanding and appreciating the full scope and depth of this project: without it, it is very easy to view Celer’s oeuvre as a vast ocean of similar-sounding releases. To be sure, Long is quite good at what he does, so even a run-of-the-mill Celer album can be enjoyable, but there are a lot of relatively interchangeable albums for every landmark release. One could argue that the latter is only possible through Long’s seemingly obsessive work ethic, but one could also argue that those less exceptional moments could have simply been kept in the vault rather than released. However, that would undercut the larger vision (or at least what I imagine that vision to be): Celer is like a vast impressionist diary or novel unfolding in real-time. Some chapters are certainly more vivid and memorable than others, but they are all integral parts of the whole’s gradually unfolding arc.
Much like the work of William Basinski, most Celer albums religiously adhere to a distinctive template of simple loops repeated into infinity–the biggest difference between the two artists is primarily one of scale, as Long traffics in a kind of slow-motion, widescreen grandeur. In that respect, Xièxie is textbook Celer, as each piece is an elegiac procession of dreamlike, billowing chords that beautifully approximates massive clouds lazily rolling across a vast horizon. The tone is almost always one of sublime melancholy, but Long has proven himself to be a master at articulating different shades of that narrow emotional range by deftly manipulating lightness and density. The midsection of Xièxie is populated with one lengthy and archetypal variation of that aesthetic after another, though they are interspersed with brief interludes of field recordings made during the trip. Each substantial piece meets Celer’s usual high standard of quality, but the subtle divergences from the formula that open and close the album stand out as the most compelling and distinctive pieces. In the case of the opening “Rains Lit By Neon,” Long simply allows the field recordings and his music to bleed together so that his heavenly chord swells slowly fade into a collage of street sounds. It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but it very effectively creates an illusion of added depth.
The twist is similarly minimal and effective on closing “Our Dream to be Strangers,” as the central theme sounds like a fragment snatched from an especially majestic bit of synth-centric ’70s space music or prog. It still ultimately sounds a hell of a lot like a Celer piece though, as the loop seems to leave a lingering and hazy vapor trail that obscures it more and more with each repetition. The moral here is that it does not take much innovation at all to make a Celer song stand out from the pack. Of the two excursions, however, I am most fascinated by the artful collage of field recordings overlapping those first few minutes of “Rains Lit By Neon,” as I do not understand why Long does not make that a recurring, defining trait of his work. Given that he is an expat living in Japan, his field recordings certainly seem unique and interesting to me as a listener. Also, from an artistic standpoint, it seems like Celer’s entire aesthetic is an abstract evocation of specific places and moments. As such, it would make perfect thematic sense to include the actual sounds of those places for added texture and enigmatic meaning. Goddamn it–now it sounds like I am complaining about an album that I genuinely enjoy: the important thing here is that Xièxie is an excellent album. Its flashes of greater inspiration unavoidably remind me that Long is a visionary artist who too often disguises himself as a solid ambient composer, but I am damn grateful that those flashes of inspiration exist.
Throughout the last decade, Will Long continued handling the candle of light of that very special Celer sound even when darkness has swallowed it all. The consummation, content, and most importantly consistency of his output has remained the guiding torch in my nights as well. The Discogs page lists over 200 releases and 2019 sees already a few, on Patient Sounds Intland Avalance Recordings, but it is for his very own Two Acorns imprint that Long retains the best. The Chinese word Xièxie (谢谢), which translates to ‘thank you,’ accompanies Long on his journey to Shanghai, where memories, imagined or very real, flood all his senses with grey passing rain. The deep inner longing, regretful nostalgia, and glum melancholia permeate every soft wave in a mist of the sound, captured in fast-moving trains, alongside sad doorways, or places of hope, where waiting in vain we lastly close eyelids, and rest in a dreamless, forever remembered, but sadly invented, reflected deep sleep. “Everything moves faster than we can control. Days are just flashes, moments are mixed up but burned on film, and all of the places and times are out of order. If it could only be us, only ours. If it was ours, if it was us.” Be sure to read more words by Long on the Bandcamp release page to get a full sense of the atmosphere. The album was mastered by Stephan Mathieu with a cover design by Rutger Zuydervelt. Available as a 2×12″ silver limited edition, as well as on black vinyl, digital, and compact disc. A highly recommended meditation on the being and the past tense of all the memories to be.
Under the moniker of Celer, American musician, writer, & photographer Will Long has released a staggering amount of material – a wide assortment of drones, soundscapes, sketchworks, and processed loops. No doubt his many followers each have their own favorites, but personally I always find his work most compelling when he creates deeply immersive on-location narratives such as Sky Limits (2014) which presented a sense of daily commuter life in urban Japan, or Two Days and One Night (2016) which wistfully retraced the steps of an elderly uncle’s tragic visit to Tunisia in the 1984.
Long’s preternatural ability to capture scenes and emotions in a kind of musical amber and then turn it into a story comes to the fore again on Xièxie, in which he takes us on a journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou on China’s high-speed rail line. Like a cinematographer who slows fast-moving action on celluloid for dramatic effect, Long turns the journey into a mesmerizing soporific reverie punctuated by scene-setting cues like the bustle of a busy station or the whir of a speeding train. To deepen the immersion, he narrates the excursion in the liner notes with all the eloquence of a novelist.
As we settle into the journey, it becomes intertwined with memory and metaphor. There is a destination stamped on our ticket, but that is only part of the story as Long takes us not only forward, but inwards as well.
Past is prologue to the arrival and the arrival is a prelude to new memorires and even deeper introspections. The trip may come to an end, but the dream goes on and on…
As author Pico Iyer once said, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves”. By the time this album drifts to its conclusion, I felt as I had done a little of both. Xièxie nĭ, Will.
We’ve covered a number of releases from Will Long, more commonly known as Celer, but Xièxie is likely one of his most pure explorations of his unique fusion between field recordings and smooth ambient textures. Long, who lives in Tokyo, took to the streets Shanghai, through the rain and amid nature to deliver one of his most searingly beautiful works to date. He fluidly travels from active noodle shop to a REM cycle inducing passage without a moments notice, generously setting the mood with some of the slow, lulling cadences found in common with work by William Basinski, Max Richter or Robert Rich. But here on this very lengthy release Celer orchestrates string-like chords (In the middle of the moving field) that seem extended for days on end, giving way to reflective modulations that swirl like thin fabric suspended in water.
After every third track there are intervals of curious in-situ recordings that capture the space and time between the intonations of drone and distance. Long really understands how to captivate the listener with this investigatory pauses within the otherwise bountiful release, and looping of harmonious light and shade (For the entirety). The birds and tiered street voices, the Chinese train station announcements, the bustle of vehicles, all lend themselves into and out of this dynamic and beguiling state of consciousness in flux.
Xièxie – translated into English as ‘thank you, thanks’ – is a journey through China. Celer’s trip began with a dictionary and a phrasebook. Day and night, rain wept from the sky, ripped from an open wound in a leaden cloud. Shanghai was lit in ultra-bright light, a fantastic neon display, and swirling grey mists. The ground fog never mirrored the fog of insomnia, because this city never slept. Nights were just as busy, a role reversal of the working day, an upside-down city where sleep vied with activity, and the lack of light brought seedier, sludgy aspects. The bright, eye-piercing lighting, the HDTV screens, glowing like artificial suns, blocking out the inky darkness of midnight, and the 24/7 supermarkets became the nightly population, its quieter traffic the only difference between night and late afternoon.
Will Long manages to condense the atmosphere of place into extended and patient drones. Car horns blare out, and pedestrians – tourists and locals – throng the streets, standing in clumps, under fire from a spattering of cool rain. Delayed drones lie softly out of focus, smeared like a taxi’s headlights in the rain. Will stands just outside a metro station, in a square beside a nearby park, where its trees overhang, draping outwards like a leafy skirt. A construction site sits silently, sleeping for a couple of hours. The exhausting nature of travelling isn’t lost on Celer, as his tones are a little jet-lagged, doing the red-eye, staying up all night to observe the square, the street, the noodle bar (‘From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school’), the people, and documenting it. In a sense, this is his camera, his phrasebook in which dialect, culture, and atmosphere translates into sound.
This is music of transit. It never slows down, and the drone’s tempo is deceptive. At first, it sounds like it’s in a 100m race with a snail, but that’s an illusion. The ambient music passes onto Hangzhou, rocketing past apartment buildings and open fields of farmland on the Maglev, which reaches speeds of 303 km/h. The train itself is indicative of the journey, and a metaphor for his trip. It flashed by in an instant, a singular photo shot on a single day, in a month, in a year, in a life.
Xièxie is a journey and a thank you, a music born from an appreciative heart. The dreamy loops and the long, unspooling drones have a rhythm of their own, never seeming to lose energy, never flat-lining or turning into a mere exercise. Instead, the loops gracefully unfurl, like the passing landscape, and like those fields of purity, there’s an organic tone to the music, which gives it a feeling of comfort, or sedation. This is a safe place. This is a good place. For Will, the trip was a touching experience, and you can feel that in the music, in the way it carefully and patiently unfolds, and repeats. The longer drones – some reaching up to and over ten minutes, and ‘For the entirety’ is twenty-one minutes – are suggestive of Will’s feelings. He doesn’t want that moment to end. He doesn’t want his journey to end, even as it one day must, even as seconds keep on ticking, and the train continues to hurtle along, producing barely a shudder. Likewise, Long’s ambient-dusted drones are gentle and smooth to the touch. Tender. Staying in the moment, the music marinates in itself and in its memories, as if it were in a beef noodle mixture of its own. Stay with me, the music says.
The announcer’s voice bleeds into the whirring of the train. The field recordings turn into long, outstretched echoes, becoming distant, like subway trains as they leave the station and thunder into the tunnel, leaving behind an ominous rumble emanating from the heart of its blackened mouth, but lasting for minutes at a time; sound left in freefall, eternally delayed.
‘I fell asleep, as you were dancing, but to no music. The lilies on the lake nodded in the rain, dipping into the water. There was a Wal-Mart near the hotel where I won a pink bunny from a claw machine. I remember the beauty of the architecture of Hangzhou station, birds swirling around the pillars near the top, the echoes of the deep station interior, and the laughing at being lost. There at least we have each other, that memory, or that daydream’.
The music is sweet and sensitive, and the coda, ‘Our dream to be strangers’, lightens the tone, as if it were above the clouds, with warm light pouring through the gaps in the drone, ascending in altitude. The effect is the same – we’re still passing through at speed – but the tone is different. Above all, the music is full of gratitude. It’s full of thanks.
Even so, there’s a constant sense of not wanting this time to end, even though it will, and it burns at the heart. Nothing lasts forever, and time doesn’t slow down. It only increases its pace. The adventure’s over before you know it, and the flight home is boarding. Xièxie was the only word he ever got to use.
It’s so rare when someone delves deeply into this realm and comes up with so much from so little. I still adhere to the adage that Not Boring is the highest honor you can bestow upon ambient drone and Celer have consistently held up the highest standards within this most difficult to pull off label. I Wish You Could is two 30 minute cuts. “Everywhere I Go, You’re All That I See,” is one of those sublime cuts I’ve found myself putting on repeat and just letting it play two or three times through, until I decide it’s time to emerge from this dream and reenter the world.
Edito originariamente su and/OAR nel 2008, “Nacreous Clouds” viene oggi ristampato sulla propria Two Acorns con diverso packaging e remastered dell’opera a cura di Stephan Mathieu. Celer, era allora progetto statunitense formato da Will Long (unico intestatario dal 2009 della sigla trasferitosi poi a vivere a Tokyo) e la sua ex moglie Danielle Baquet. Field recordings, nastri, violino e violoncello sfiorati e trasfigurati, trattamenti digitali e laptop. Le nacreous clouds, meglio note come nubi di madreperla, si trovano nella stratosfera polare d’inverno e grazie al mix fra altitudine, curvatura terrestre e bassa temperatura, ricevono e riflettono la luce del sole, risplendendo di spettacolari e mozzafiato increspature di colore acceso, prima dell’alba e dopo il tramonto. Capito tutto?
Eno + Eno in tutte le possibili declinazioni ambientali dal pastorale al brumoso, più un sottile tot di ricerca psicoacustica da sound installer. Bene sarebbe stato, nel catalogo di chiaroscurali soundscapes della Hypnos. In cuffia e riproduzione random uno spettacolo.
I started walking to work in the late fall, out of necessity.
The brakes went out in the car that I drove—had been driving since 2005, and the repairs it needed were entirely too expensive to take on for something having little to no value, and was barely being held together as it was.
During this time in our lives, what I had started calling ‘The Year of Silence,’ walking to work has not been an issue, or created much of an inconvenience for me. I used to come home on my lunch break, but at this point, it is not imperative that I do so; I can bring my lunch to work, and find some quiet part of the building to eat it in where, hopefully, no one will bother me.
We, thankfully, don’t live very far from where either my wife, or myself, work; for me, it takes roughly 15 minutes to get in the morning—sometimes a little longer on the way home.
The late fall, and into the beginning of winter, is not the best time to begin walking anywhere, really, but I found ways to make due with the drastic fluctuations in temperature—especially in the morning, before the sun rises, when it can be the most brisk.
At work, when my colleagues express concern over my walks—the length, the temperature outside, etc.—I tell them I do not mind, and that I use it as a time for ‘silent reflection.’
Depending on how I’m feeling when someone asks me what kind of music I listen to, I may tell them that I primarily listen to old John Coltrane records, rap music from the early 1990s, and ambient droning. I don’t really use my 15 minutes in the morning, then, again, in the afternoon, as a time of completely silent reflection—I have been trying to make the best of my walking time by listening to music on a second-hand iPod that, much like the car I used to drive, is barely being held together.
Sometimes it’s an album I need to focus on listening to for review purposes, and other times, it’s something simply to serve as an enjoyable soundtrack for the walk to or from work.
I’ve found that now, since we are truly in the winter of my discontent, listening to ambient droning pumping in through my headphones as I trudge through my neighborhood—especially on mornings when it has either just finished snowing, or is still snowing, creates this bizarre feeling that is both comforting, yet unsettling.
Will Long, per the very brief bio on his Bandcamp site, is ‘an American artist living in Japan’; on his personal Instagram page, you’ll find nothing but a steady stream of very dramatic, artistic photographs, taken with 35mm film; however, you will not find any information about the music he produces under the moniker Celer.
As I’ve spent the last two weeks, give or take, immersed in the sprawling new release from Long,Xièxie, which roughly translates from Chinese to English simply as ‘thanks,’ I was trying to recall how it was that I first became introduced to Long’s compositions—it turns out it was through a one-off collaborative LP he put together with the, at the time, like minded composer, Nicholas Burrage (nee Szczepanik), Here, for now, released in 2015.
That effort lead me to check out one of Long’s 2015 additional efforts, the charmingly titled How could you believe me when I loved you, when you know I’ve been a liar all my life, as well as one other release from the same year, Templehof.
As Celer, Long is overwhelmingly prolific. In roughly the last three years, he’s put out 10 releases—and not just digital efforts dumped on to Bandcamp; no, everything is given a proper physical edition as well—mostly CDs, with the occasional LP or cassette.
Xièxie is an ambitious project for Long—a double album, put together into two very distinct parts that, in a way, are structured to mirror each other; together, the record totals over 90 minutes of music, with extravagant physical editions including silver or black vinyl, along with a double CD set, or two cassettes.
With the physical products available in June (a bit of a long time to wait, I know) the digital version is made up of the anticipated individual mp3s, but what you get when you buy Xièxie also, smartly, includes seamless versions of the record—put together in two very lengthy files, leading one to believe that until the silver vinyl is spinning on my turntable, these are the intended way to listen.
Xièxie is less of an album that you simply just listen to; it’s more of an album that you experience—it has a transformative, transcendental power to it that Long pulls off effortlessly. From the moment it begins with a field recording, as the album’s true ‘first’ piece slides in underneath it then takes over, until the very last drone dissolves into the ether, you are at the mercy of Long, who is, in a sense, holding you captive, in the dense, evocative atmosphere he’s weaved together.
Everything moves faster than we can control. Days are just flashes, moments are mixed up but burned on film, and all of the places and times are out of order. If it could only be us, only ours. If it was ours, if it was us. Sometimes everything goes faster than you can control and you can’t stop, much less understand where you are.
I hesitate to say that Xièxie is a concept album, but it is a very self-contained work, with its tone and structure inspired by Long’s trip to China in 2017. He discusses this, somewhat ambiguously, on the Bandcamp page for the album, stating that before he left, he bought a phrase book and dictionary to help get around, but by the end of his travels, the only word he ever used was “xièxie.”
His reflection on the trip is quite beautiful, and haunting—much like the music that this trip wound up inspiring, and throughout Xièxie, Long does an impressive job of being able to take the evocative imagery of his travels—including the self-described rainy, foggy, glowing days and nights in Shanghai and the cacophonic rhythm of the city, to the frenetic blur of speeding to Hangzhou on a bullet train, and translate it into glacially paced, stark, and gorgeous pieces of music.
But, of course, the field recordings included at the beginning of each half to Xièxie assist with immersing you in this world. The album’s opening track, “From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school,” is, exactly what it sounds like it would be—setting the tone that is slowly introduced underneath the sound of children shouting in unison as they begin a karate exercise and the perpetual drizzle of the rain. Aptly titled, “Rains lit by neon,” the mournful, pensive drones come rushing in and Long manages to sustain them in the small pattern with which they oscillate for over 8 minutes.
The length of these pieces on Xièxie is another thing worth discussing—as well as the patience you must have with an album like this, and the kind of “it takes as long as it’s going to take” kind of mindset Long must possess when composing the, again, aptly titled “For the entirety,” which spans 21 minutes and change, arriving at the end of the album’s first ‘side’ as it were; it’s a beyond majestic, swooning kind of piece that is, again, structured around a minimalistic pattern of changes that swirls, and swirls, and as it does, it completely envelops you.
Across Xièxie’s seven long form compositions, Long manages to craft the kind of melancholic, wondrous drones that have an almost immediate, dizzying, and visceral emotional reaction with you. He spends the album walking the line between sounds that are hopeful but bittersweet, and incredibly reflective and somber—sometimes all at once; it’s an album that is the kind of thing you can, all too easily, become lost in, and the emotional gravity tethered within these sounds needs to be heard to truly be understood.