So this past week I have befallen ill. I’ve got the cough, the chills, the fever – all of that fun stuff. I spent a week in bed. Well, not literally in bed – a bit in front of my computer, but mostly on the couch, watching Mubi and drifting off to Celer. As you can imagine, I’m not exactly in the mood for anything too rambunctious [there is a loud word for you!], and yet the music of Will Long is just as luxurious, exuberant, and full of the resplendent sound as my mind now desires. To be fair, it’s been so long without Danielle Baquet, that I have almost gotten used to crediting the work of Celer to Will Long alone. And yet, Continents is a remaster of the original self-released album from 2006, one of the first CDrs by then, and thus, on here, Celer is a duo. This is that early authentic sound that I fell in love with. The stretched and time-warped strings, the endlessly reverbed and delayed keys fused into sonics, unknown textures always threading into each other until they weave a quilt of warmth and space – a cradle for your mind. To appreciate the magic of Celer is to understand the sound itself and to allow it to repeat until you hear something new in resonance, in timbre, and in silence. Absorbing this euphonious medication enables me to float, rest, and heal, while all of the frequencies caress my body. Released for the first time on a CD, the album is offered with artwork featuring the photography of Danielle Baquet, packaged in a 6-panel 2xCD eco-pack. The repress includes two extra tracks not available on previous editions. While you’re there, you should also grab Celer’s Scols, which was also re-released, and just like Continents, remastered by Stephan Mathieu.
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Celer is an established name in electronic ambient, and a prominent name on my sleep playlists already. This four-disc set, with one single piece on each disc, adds confidently to the repertoire without throwing in any major surprises.
The press release states that “each piece begins with all layers playing, with minimal additional long-term structural development in order to maintain a state”, and frankly it’s difficult to either argue or add to that. Each piece is rich, and quite densely layered, with calm and tuneful top ends over soporific bass hums that can wash over you with pleasure.
The warmest is first piece “Merita”, a 35-minute concentrated sonic lullaby that pulls you gently out of time. Despite its name, “No Sleep In Medan” is certainly something you can fall asleep to, but a slightly gritter low rumble and a more plaintive slow two-chord alternation do add a sense of loneliness and melancholy.
“Nothing Will Change” has a strongly Eno-like vibe to it, again rotating the chords but with a slightly more acoustic flavour and a velvety tone to it that might or might not be connected with the use of old reel-to-reel tapes for recording. Final piece “Qarauan” adds more of a gradual rise and fall to the slowly evolving melody parts, a stepping process that feels oddly inebriating after a while, playing on the most primitive of psychological effects where rising tones feel optimistic- so there’s a certain happiness to the audio drunkenness here.
If I were looking for something to criticise, I would mention one gripe which is more environmental than artistic. The average running time of these pieces is under 40 minutes and despite being a four-disc set, the music on here could easily have fit onto two discs, with room to spare. So in a physical sense, it is a touch wasteful. And if you fell asleep whilst the first track on a disc was playing, and slept through the second piece, would it really matter?
The press release also describes the concept as “a meditation on future events”, and while it’s hard to discern where the future events lie within this sound- or indeed any events at all, an implication reinforced by the track title “Nothing Will Change”- it certainly is meditative music of the highest order.
Im März erscheint bei Two Acorns ein neues Album von Will Long alias Celer. Die vier Stücke auf “Future Predictions” basieren auf Tape Loops von digitalen und akustischen Instrumenten, Field Recordings und weiteren Sounds. Jedes der instrospektiv ausgerichteten Stücke der CD korrespondiert mit Bildern und Texten, die im umfangreichen Booklet abgedruckt sind. Als Download ist das Album bereits erhältlich.
Scols is Celer’s sophomore. Originally released in 2006, and presented along with Sunlir as a limited edition 2 x CDR, Scols is a slow-burner, a forever-looping ambient/drone LP in which sustained tones drift, surge, and recede, and the music becomes soporific in its actions and swaying movements. It has aged remarkably well, and the recording has been left with its birthmarks intact, as some skips, clipping, noises, and other artefacts are preserved from the original recordings.
Continents came right after Scols. Both albums have now been remastered by Stephan Mathieu, and they shine a light on Celer’s music as it was still developing, and as a younger artist. And yet, listening back and being very much aware of his output to date, it’s clear that a special form of ambient was already blooming. Although remarkably prolific, there’s a steadying, consistent quality to Will Long’s specific blend of atmospheric, delicate ambient. Like a well-diluted drink, Celer’s music is lighter than most…thinner, one might say…which is down, in part, to his life in Japan, the Japanese lifestyle, and the nation’s specific style of ambient music, but lightness doesn’t equal a lack of depth, and his music goes deeper than most.
In 2020, Scols and Continents are still mesmeric, and they both offered more than a glimpse of what was to come. With the benefit of hindsight, and looking back on his extensive and impressive discography, it’s good to return and revisit the original foundation, to tread once again through the drones, cutting through the atmosphere, and to see the development of a young trail. Tonally, a beautiful continuity runs throughout Long’s work, a tonal tributary which has never run dry, veered off course, or outstayed its welcome. In fact, his music continues to remain fresh.
The ebb and flow of ‘Archival footage of only the lost and forgotten’ carries over to the rest of his work, and the ambient textures have something of a spectral quality, all wispy contours and transient vapours, a film noir scene from early Hollywood, but repeated over and over again as a heavy, slow-burning loop. Celer’s music is raw and young. At this stage, he was still developing his sound (when does an artist stop developing their sound? Does it ever stop?), and this, along with a stellar remastering, is what gifts the music a renewal of energy, and a fresh feel in spite of the 2006 conception.
Sometimes, it’s good to go back.
Explaining why one Celer album is significantly better than another is no simple task, as Will Long is generally an extremely consistent artist who has released a huge volume of warmly lovely, loop-based ambient drone albums. Consequently, it is dangerously easy to take his artistry for granted, as a casual listener would not be crazy for finding a lot of Celer’s oeuvre relatively interchangeable. From my perspective, however, Celer can be viewed as Long’s tireless and Romantic quest to conjure up fragments of melody so achingly sublime that they can be looped into infinity. In that regard, Long has rarely come closer to realizing that dream than he does on Future Predictions. These four lengthy compositions capture Long at the absolute peak of his powers, resulting in the rarest of achievements: a 2+ hour album that leaves me wanting more and regularly inspires me to start it all over again as soon as it ends.
One aspect of Will Long’s artistry that I have always appreciated is his ability to evoke the sense that there is a deep undercurrent of emotion, mystery, and meaning lurking within his work, which is a trick that very few other ambient artists are able to pull off. It certainly does not hurt that Long is also a fitfully brilliant minimalist composer, but there is definitely something larger and more compelling than that happening with this project: Long has amassed a vast body of work that feels like a bittersweetly beautiful, impressionistic, and ever-expanding palace of memories. As befits a release as ambitious as a 4-CD boxed set, Future Predictions is an especially poignant and enigmatic example of that unusually intimate and diaristic approach to art, as Long accompanies the music with a small booklet of poetic writings, travel photos, and some enticingly cryptic other images of elusive meaning (a black and white photo of a forest fire at night, a picture from an early 20th century Antarctic expedition, a grainy image of the Dead Sea). The song titles deepen the mystery still further, as they make reference to cities in Sumatra and Lebanon. Presumably, all have some ties to Long’s own travels and personal memories, but that is not made explicit nor should it be considered a given: Long is certainly welcome to craft any poetic fictions he wants while straining to express the ineffable. In fact, all of the accompanying texts and image might be a fiction, as Long describes Future Predictions as “a meditation on future events” and a sort of inversion of 2018’s backwards-looking Memory Repetitions retrospective. Still, I would be very surprised if Future Predictions was not largely inspired by real past loves and snatches of beautiful memories. This is a Celer album after all.
Notably, there are allegedly some field recordings buried throughout the album, but they are far too well concealed to provide any further illumination (though I would be very impressed if they were field recordings from the future). In fact, just about all of the source sounds have been blurred and processed into floating, billowing unrecognizability on Future Predictions, as Long’s layers of loops mostly resemble an orchestral recording that has been dissolved and stretched into abstraction. For what its worth, my favorite pieces are the two bookends, though the gulf between them and the other pieces is not a large one. Moreover, all four pieces are unified by their similar structure and tone. Long made a conscious decision to avoid any overt “long-term structural development” within these pieces, so all of them begin and end with the same rich tapestry of collaged motifs in place. The result of that approach is that each piece feels like a sustained dream state that lazily churns with deep drones and swooning, sensuously intertwining, soft-focus melodies. Like a lot of Celer albums, these pieces evoke a mass of thick, slow-moving clouds broken by vibrant streaks of light, but the majestic ascending melodies of a piece like “Merita” suggest the beginnings of a brilliant sunrise as well. In fact, only the more simmering and brooding “No Sleep in Medan” lingers in melancholy, as the remaining three pieces transcend wistful meditation to take a brighter, more hopeful tone. In the wrong hands, such a tone would likely lead in a saccharine direction, but Long has the lightness of touch and intuitive grasp of dynamics and contrast needed to make it work. The closing “Qaraoun” is an especially lovely example of that mastery, as its gorgeous ascending melody has a hallucinatory, shimmering texture that feels like it is echoing around a vast cathedral leaving a trail of quivering, ghostly afterimages in its wake.
The only arguable caveat with Future Predictions is that it is essentially just four elegantly crafted and layered loops allowed to unfold in floating stasis for roughly half an hour each. That will likely drive some people mad, as there truly is no noticeable development within each piece. I have a hard time relating to such a grievance though, as I would be just as happy if this album were just one of those four repeating motifs extended for two hours. Long’s brilliance as a composer lies in the juxtapositions and in the details, so I see no reason for any further transformation to occur when the initial theme is already gorgeous, immersive, and hypnotically meditative. I only find myself wishing something new would happen when I do not find the central motif fully absorbing on its own, which is why I was so fond of the prominent field recordings on Xièxie: they made good songs more rich, more textured, and more interesting. A piece like “Qaraoun,” on the other hand, is simple, perfect, and fully realized right from the start so no further embellishment is needed or desired. In fact, that statement applies to just about everything here. I cannot pretend to have a comprehensive recall of Celer’s entire catalog, but I cannot think of any other albums that are this consistently strong from start to finish. As I have said about William Basinski in the past, it might seem deceptively easy or lazy to compose a piece from just a few endlessly repeating notes, but achieving the balance of rhythm, small-scale dynamics, and shifting harmonies necessary to cast a sustained and beautiful spell requires an enormous amount of skill and patience. As with Basinski’s best work, Future Predictions makes that process seem effortless and organic, but that is precisely because Long is a master illusionist able to produce a distillation so lovely that no traces of the intricate, meticulously shaped scaffolding remain.
Celer’s Future Predictions is a vast and ambitious work: spanning four discs, it’s an ambient exploration on a truly grand scale. Each disc contains a single longform track, each running at around half an hour, with the shortest, ‘No Sleep in Medan’ clocking in at 27’30”, and the longest, ‘Nothing Will Change’ 42’36”.
According to the write-up, the compositions are made with ‘tape loops, from digital and acoustic instruments, field recordings and foley sounds’, and ‘with a focus on introspection and imagination, each piece begins with all layers playing, with minimal additional long-term structural development in order to maintain a state’. There’s a conceptual lineage here, if not an auditory one: Future Predictions is the follow-up to 2018’s Memory Repetitions which was based on memory and the interpretation of it over time. Future Predictions, we learn, ‘is instead based on the idea of future situations, and should be seen as a meditation on future events’.
While the various elements of tape loops and various instruments are indistinguishable, combining in their simultaneity to create soft, supple sonic washes, hovering drones interweaving interminably, the overall effect is incredibly immersive.
The first of the four, ‘Merita’ is light, drifting like mist over dewy expanses of grassland at sunrise, and while I initially find myself waiting for some progression, expecting some transitional shift, after a time the stasis becomes the end in itself.
‘No Sleep’ inches into darker territory, with deeper, rumbling low notes but after a few minutes this sense of difference dissipates in the drift of elongated notes that have no clear definition, no forward trajectory, no overt sense of movement, but instead hover and hang in the air for all time. ‘Quaraous’ brings new layers, new tones, new, shades, a shimmering light and swell of organ to the proceedings, and for a time it again feels different, but again, that difference fades over the course of half an hour of sameness.
The effects of Future Predictions are cumulative. It’s true that on a purely practical level, few, if any, are likely to listen to all four discs or digital files in succession, although it’s in this context of continuous play that it works best. Admittedly, this is not music to listen to, but to allow to drift by. You don’t listen: you feel it and on a subconscious level as you drift, and you let life happen and continue as normal. I read and replied to texts and emails, while the sound swelled and hummed in eternal undulations. They didn’t transport me anywhere, they didn’t ‘do’ anything. And yet, inducing a certain sense of sedation, of slowness, of tranquility, they achieved everything.
L’americano a Tokyo Will Long, proietta nel cielo opalescenti scie in lenta disgregazione. Mareggiate di tiepida malinconia in cangiante e stupita accensione graduale. Come un raggio di sole che carezza e scioglie tensioni, con gli occhi chiusi e la fronte poggiata sul freddo vetro di un finestrino d’auto in movimento. Velocità e desideri inafferrabili che tali restano, il suono di infiniti transiti, di esperienza in esperienza, senza mai fermarsi, senza mai averne reale possibilità di farlo. Restano immagini stirate, stralci di conversazioni carpite ad un incrocio, il canto dei motori, l’azzurro del cielo, notti al neon e balli di gioia senza musica in sottofondo. Il progetto Celer da una decina d’anni procede direi immutabile, a volte funziona, a volte martella i santissimi. A questo giro in doppio vinile, bellezza tremolante a profusione. Dal cinese, nella traduzione in inglese, “Xièxie”, vuol dir grazie.
We have enjoyed moments of previous Celer releases, but today I’m finding Xiexie an over-long chore. Two discs of endlessly looping slow ambient drone inspired, it seems, by his travels in China. It seems to have been raining perpetually during his sojourn, even one track title remarks on the rain, and that rain has seeped into every note on the album. It’s a perpetual loop of a scene from Blade Runner. The sleeve is covered with grey tourist photos of incredible banality, and his press release notes find deep personal significance in his every gesture, no matter how trivial. Even the music aggrandises this self-centred take on life, providing a quasi-heroic soundtrack for meandering around a foreign city.
The word 谢 谢 (Xièxie) is composed of two Chinese characters, which translate to “thank you”, perhaps a simple homage to the people the artist Will Long met on a trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou in 2017. Or perhaps Xièxie is easier to pronounce in a language that is difficult for Westerners. The project was published by Two Acorns and in this instance Long used his alias Celer. Here he sets some field recordings and measured sound drones on 11 cinematic, highly dilated and enjoyable tracks on a double CD. The work is a kind of audio-diary, a poetic translation of the suggestions raised by crossing between places and situations, moving over different environments with different climatic conditions, with the alternation of sunsets and neon lights, awakenings and markets, nature and metropolis, flashes and fogs. The set is never dissonant, but very sensitive and quietist, focusing on a distilled and sweet aesthetic rendering. Celer tries to re-sound the atmospheres of the places he passes through; however, there is always an inner melody. It seems that in specific spaces we might be able to pick out only what is already inside our heads, like being in a transfer that moves schemes of feelings and emotions from different settings – where the megastore HDTV screens can easily become something else, maybe artificial stars. The voices are recorded, not because of what they say, but because of their “exotic” intonation as musical forms. Even the muddiest sequences are set to bewitch, seduce, to transport the listener into a suspended dimension, one that is slightly magical and introverted. Every transition is deceiving, it can bring additional references, and the times are cyclical, as in a continuous production and decline, in eternal and infinite sequences. The author is there, in the place, and doesn’t compose from inside an empty space: through “real” references he can partially try to filter his private dialogue, or at least bring it under control. The reality provides the impulse, but then everything remains vague and needs further suggestion to develop into accomplished musical structures. Traveling opens other doors and Celer is unlikely to stop a musical flux made of moments translated into sounds. There is nothing left but to say thank you, a little profusely, “thank you, thank you”. These words resound as a personal mantra that reconnects us to an aestheticized daily life, made, for this, more bearable.
Will Long’s early 2019 Celer release exemplifies all the qualities one might expect from someone whose discography is at this stage staggering in volume: assurance, artfulness, and poise. Yet Xièxie (in English, thanks) is also characterized by properties one would associate with the work of a burgeoning talent, someone with but a few releases to speak of: imagination and freshness, for starters. To Long’s credit, the material on this expansive set shows no sign of fatigue or exhaustion, no lessening of conviction or engagement. It’s classic Celer but also a recording that somehow manages to stand apart from its predecessors.
Issued in multiple formats (download, double-LP, double-CD, double-cassette), Xièxie could be described as a ninety-five-minute, two-part aural diary of a China visit by the Japan-based American artist, with stops in Shanghai and Hangzhou and a ride on the high-speed Maglev parts of the itinerary. The recording hews to a familiar ambient template in blending site-specific field recordings with immersive soundscapes, many of the latter pushing past the ten-minute mark (the longest, at twenty-two minutes, “For the entirety”). But the way Long sequences the tracks and effects transitions between them reflects the practice of a highly skilled craftsperson.
Details included in the titles of the four field recordings pieces provide orientation. At the outset, “(06.23.17) From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school” locates us within a setting teeming with traffic, car horns, and voices, the faint strains of the ambient piece that follows growing more audible as the opening progresses. The repetition of gently wavering synth tones lends “Rains lit by neon” a calming, dreamlike quality that suggests mist covering the city, after which the melancholy meditation “In the middle of the moving field” perpetuates the effect even more affectingly with an entrancing loop one imagines could go on forever. The field recordings pieces often act as connecting points between the ambient ones, with the forty-four-second “(06.26.17) Maglev at 303 km/h,” for example, facilitating the transition from “In the middle of the moving field” to the softly glimmering “Text me when you wake up.” The second part formally begins with “(06.24.17) Birds inside the high halls of Hangzhou, (06.23.17) Shanghai red line, metro karaoke,” the industrial whoosh of the metro car audible amidst the babble of adult and children. Mirroring the sequencing of the opening tracks, the two-part “Prelude to obsession” follows with twenty-four luscious minutes of shimmering loops.
The seven ambient settings are quintessential Celer, each an absorbing, plaintive reverie. With incessant repetitions of descending strings and horns figures assembled into a flow that’s equally stirring, luminous, and Gas-like, “For the entirety” is perhaps the loveliest, with the ethereal closer “Our dream to be strangers” a close second. With so many releases in the Celer discography (as of this writing, Discogs lists 211 project-related releases), it’s difficult if not impossible to determine exactly where any one falls, hierarchically speaking. That said, Xièxie is undoubtedly a standout and for longtime followers of the project will very likely be regarded as indispensable.