Posts from the Reviews Category

I probably still have my original copy of the earlier version on Dale Lloyd’s amazing Seattle-based and/OAR imprint (circa 2008), but instead of comparing/contrasting, I am listening to this anew a decade later. This was one of the final projects for Celer when Will Long‘s then wife, Danielle Baquet, was involved as a duo prior to her untimely passing at age 26 in 2009 – now reserved as a solo project for the ex-pat American composer living in Japan. Their sound was uniquely refreshing in the ambient world, seemed new somehow to my ears. With the ample usage of processed tape loops Long recommends playing this on shuffle, so the sequencing is open-ended, and I can appreciate that as a lover of all things Fluxus.

So this ten year anniversary since the original release has seen an onslaught of field recordists, the advent of Bandcamp, the re-re-re-emergence of ambient and drone artists like never before — so how does this stand up these days? Let’s go into the stratosphere and find out. There are 37 tracks here, just as on the original, and with my iTunes on random…..

Scarfs, Blisters and Night Lights comes up first, and it’s as if a spotlight is rotating to capture something by the sea, something in the murky depths. It’s a bit unsettled, and like many of these very short snippets, flows well into Metal Master, even though it was track four and this is track eight. There’s a layer of calm in the ambient detachment here. Very similar to the slow pace of Passing Hills and Still Windmills, layered between tones and drones. I force the next track, Peak Pressure, to play because I want to experience something lengthier, and at just over five minutes this is it. A bit of low range modulation makes for a segregated dreamscape. That because the furl is sticking to its corner. I’d imagine losing a loved one, in hindsight, would make one lose themselves in the clouds – and I can see why it might be timely to take a look back to move forward.

The atmosphere runs from warm to icy, moreso the latter, throughout, although not heavily relying on too many effects, there seems like a simplistic purity to the playing here. It’s emotional and engaging, fleeting and human. There seems to be some understanding of rural sensibilities, something divorced from the chaos of the big city, a feeling of calm, the rare type it takes to make a garden grow. They seem to get the importance of pace, and in their way it’s got a very meditative aura (To Be Holy, Be Wholly Your Own, Ice Deserts Over Ross Island). Then there are pieces like A Minor Echolocation which are more like a harmonica around a campfire with a quieted group of friends, and the glints of light and smoulder –  its like an abstract, lyric-less folk song.

There are several tracks named after clouds, and it gives you the impression that the two may have appreciated a staycation, camping from their cozy spot on earth, watching the clouds pass. It doesn’t necessarily become a romantic scenario, moreso an artistic fusion of thoughts like the meteorological masses themselves. The record uses waves of pitch to move it along, after a while there’s shoegaze ambient impression that echoes even as each vignette passes, just like those clouds, up, up and away – into the ether.

Ten years after its original release, Celer’s Nacreous Clouds is proof positive of the timeless nature of finely crafted drone recordings. This welcome reissue is also notable for the first-rate remastering effort turned in by Stephan Mathieu.

The and/OAR label printed 300 copies of the 80-minute LP back in 2008. In those days, Celer was a husband-and-wife duo: Will Long and Danielle Baquet. Together they turned a series of tape loops and a bit of digital processing into an evolving sonic patchwork.

Unlike lengthy works like Brian Eno’s celebrated Thursday Afternoon, Nacreous Clouds features 37 short pieces. Hit the shuffle button and it’s a different experience virtually every time.

The lush serenity of this album stood in stark contrast to the world it was delivered into. A decade ago we watched a financial crisis of global proportions play out in the final months of George W. Bush’s U.S. presidency. A mix of poor policymaking and plain old-fashioned greed led to a world-wide slump that we’re still feeling the effects of.

Its scope was unimaginable. No-one could say with any confidence how bad things would get. I asked an executive I was working for at the time what he thought of the whole thing. “Kevin,” he said with complete seriousness, “it’s like we’re peering over the edge of a cliff.”

Amidst all of that, this beautiful, calming work of art came along to remind us that not all would be lost. No matter the headlines, no matter the bank statements, talented artists like Long and Baquet could still make the world a better place.

When it was first released in 2008, back when Celer was a duo rather than a solo project, the recommendation that you should listen to this album using the random shuffle function on your CD player would present no problems. With digital downloads now dominant many new listeners to this remastered re-issue may find it easier just to listen sequentially, but the net result is the same.

This is a collection of thirty-seven short related ambiences, super-gentle chord beds and slow melodic drones, ranging in length from under a minute to just over five minutes, resulting in the CD-friendly 79-minute total. The ebb and envelope of each track is such that the silences inbetween tracks feel like part of the whole, and the result, regardless of listening order, sounds like one coherent 79-minute work. Individual track labels mostly feel irrelevant, but there are colder sections like the glassy tones of “Petrified Forest”, distant mechanical-sounding hums in “Hyperopia”, grouped with warmer and somehow friendlier-sounding hums in tracks like “Echelons”. But all the differences are subtle, to put it mildly.

It’s a mesmeric, sleep-playlist-friendly work and while copies of the original 300-strong 2008 edition are not that hard to find, it’s a welcome remastering that should hopefully find a wider audience.

Celer, das seit 2005 aktive Ambient-Projekt des US-stämmigen Multitalentes WILL LONG, war bereits des öfteren Gegenstand von Besprechungen auf dieser Seite, weshalb auf weitschweifige Einführungen zur Abwechslung einmal verzichtet sei. LONG, der 2016 und 2018 mit zwei fulminanten Deep-House-Alben unter seinem bürgerlichen Namen überraschte, gründete und betrieb CELER gemeinsam mit seiner Frau DANIELLE BAQUET, bis diese 2009 im Alter von nur 26 Jahren verstarb. Seitdem führt er das Projekt alleine fort und hat die interessierte Öffentlichkeit bis heute mit einer schier unüberschaubaren Fülle von Veröffentlichungen geflutet – discogs etwa listet zum Zeitpunkt der Niederschrift dieser Besprechung bemerkenswerte 124 Alben auf. Beim vorliegenden Werk “Nacreous Clouds” nun handelt es sich um eine remasterte Neuauflage des 2008 beim US-Ambient/Environmental-Label and/OAR erschienen Albums gleichen Titels, das LONG damals noch gemeinsam mit seiner kongenialen Ehefrau eingespielt hat – auf seinem eigenen Label TWO ACORNS reüssiert es jetzt sozusagen als “10th-anniversary-release”.

Angesichts einer Veröffentlichungsrate mit dermaßen hoher Taktung wie der CELER’schen bleibt ein gewisser Wiederholungsfaktor naturgemäß nicht aus – zumal in einem eo ipso eher strukturarmen Sektor wie dem Ambient-Genre –, dennoch dürfte es kaum strittig sein, dass CELER in dieser Hinsicht nochmal mit Verve einen obendraufsetzt: gehässige Zungen mögen hier einen massiven Redundanzfaktor bekritteln, wohlmeinendere Zeitgenossen erkennen hingegen das bewusst intendierte Stilmittel, welches konstitutiv für die Programmatik des Unternehmens CELER im Ganzen ist – und “Nacreous Clouds” bildet in dieser Hinsicht nichts weniger als eine Ausnahme, sondern steht einmal mehr pars pro toto für das musikalische Schaffen des Wahl-Japaners WILL LONG unter seinem CELER-Moniker, will heißen: Ultra-kontemplative, monoton an- und abschwellende, spartanisch konzipierte, drone-artige Soundschleifen, so weit der Gehörgang reicht. Im Unterschied zu den meisten anderen frühen Veröffentlichungen, die nur höchst selten mit Track-Laufzeiten unterhalb der Zehn-Minuten-Marke auskamen, umfasst “Nacreous Clouds” indes stolze 37 (!) Titel (deshalb diesmal auch keine Einzelauflistung!) mit durchschnittlichen Laufzeiten zwischen anderthalb und drei Minuten, was nach einiger Zeit, bedingt durch die ausgeprägte Gleichförmigkeit der Stücke, allerdings kaum noch auf-, geschweige denn ins Gewicht fällt. Wie immer bleibt zu konstatieren: Ohne Frage ein wunderbarer Soundtrack für meditative Zwecke sowie die ideale Hintergrundbeschallung während stiller Beschäftigungen wie Lesen oder Schreiben, da hier lediglich reine Atmosphäre ohne das geringste ablenkende Moment generiert wird. Der Titel des Albums leitet sich übrigens von einem meteorologischen Phänomen, nämlich den Polaren Stratosphärenwolken, her, die auch unter dem bestrickenden Namen Perlmuttwolken (engl. nacreous
clouds) bekannt sind und – nomen est omen – vornehmlich in den winterlichen Polarregionen in Höhen von über 20 km auftreten. Die bisweilen spektakuläre, perlmuttartige Färbung, der sie ihren Namen verdanken, resultiert aus der Brechung des Sonnenlichtes an den Eis-und Schwefelsäurekristallen, aus denen sie im wesentlichen bestehen.

Das nur als kleines Bildungsbonbon am Rande, soll schließlich keiner behaupten, hier könne man nichts lernen. – Laut CELERs Bandcamp-Präsenz erscheint “Nacreous Clouds” übrigens im “4-panel, reverse board ecopack CD package” – ob das nun bedeuten soll, dass man es am End’ auch guten ökologischen Gewissens einfach wegschmeißenkann, sei diskret dahingestellt. Von Limitierungen ist jedenfalls nichts bekannt, insofern …

Fazit: Mit “Nacreous Clouds” liegt eine Wiederveröffentlichung vor, die das Herz des bekennenden CELER-Freundes mit Sicherheit charmieren wird, wenn sie dem ausufernden Oevre des Projektes auch kein Jota hinzuzufügen weiß, das nicht schon x-mal durchdekliniert worden wäre – doch was soll’s, wenn’s gefällt? Und das tut es. Auch der Neueinsteiger in den CELER-Kosmos kann hier bedenkenlos zugreifen, denn “Nacreous Clouds” vermittelt einen absolut repräsentativen Eindruck von dessen Essenz im besten Sinne. Dringend vom Kauf abgeraten sei freilich all den innovations- und sensationssüchtigen Abwechslungsfanatikern, die so zahllos durch unsere irrlichternde “Informationsgesellschaft” taumeln; dergleichen kurzatmigen Hektikern kann man nur entgegenhalten: “Bitte gehen Sie weiter, hier gibt es nichts zu sehen.” – Dass gerade DAS der Witz ist, verstehen die eh nicht.

Landmarks is the first collaboration between two artists who need no introduction. The more experienced Celer (Will Long) is joined by the up-and-coming mid-western master of plaintive ambient-drone, Forest Management(John Daniels). Their two styles are distinct but here it is difficult to tease out who is doing what.  The result is, therefore, a coherent take on collaboration more than a dialogue between two individual voices.  “Embera” is somewhat reminiscent of the forest ravescapes of Gas. The tape is book-ended by “7° 10° 77° 83°” and “Rights of the idea or a machine”, each ten-minutes of dreamy loops oscillating between past and present, hope and despair, book and film. Landmarks takes as its source material The Mosquito Coast, both the Paul Theroux novel as well as the 1986 film starring Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, and Harrison Ford. Three of the 14 tracks are short interludes consisting of vocal samples from film, each showcasing a different of the film’s stars. Once solution to the deep malaise of the present seems to be a retreat into nostalgia, but Landmarks interest in The Mosquito Coast works just as well as a warning of the dangers of nostalgia.  While we may empathize with the distrust of consumerism and bleak outlook on the future, the hubris of Allie, Harrison Ford’s inventor, should be enough to warn of the dangers of trying to build utopia on the fantasy of the primitive. The general sense of foreboding, critique of romantic retreat into individualism and colonialism, seems well suited to the present moment.

After a decade of these words on this music, I think I am slowly beginning to drift into that period of reminiscence, reflection and nostalgia, which is often associated with “the way things were”. It’s easy to proclaim that “things are not the same these days,” which, of course, is true, from both, positive and negative perspective. If things were the same would I want them that way? And isn’t my appreciation of the present observed only in contrast to the past? Was “that” indeed better or worse, and if so, how would I act to determine its future? It’s too much to ponder on (especially at 6am on a Thursday), but I am, nevertheless, aware, that the thought has occurred more than once in the past.

In order to properly perform this retrospective which would yield strong results, one must have a point of reference. This is a “stake in the ground,” sort of speak, which captures times in a very low fidelity resolution – the rest is filled up by our mind, with what we call “memory”. But beyond the nebulous and often distorted representation of the past, what we do have are the concrete documents to remind [I like that word: “re- mind”] us of the past: some photographs, some words, and yes, of course, all this music. Playing through a piece of history often can feel like a time-travelling feat, shifting your mind to another place with “that feeling” still present. The olfactory sense is the strongest one for this trigger, often sending one spinning into a particular sense of the past, but it is also effective with music… as Celer‘s Nacreous Clouds clearly confirms.

In 2008, Celer was a collaborative husband and wife duo of Will Long and Danielle Baquet, creating music, first for each other, and only then, for the world. There were many releases, often hand-made and unpublished, with 2008 marking the first year that Celer was beginning to gain traction with labels like Spekk, Slow Flow, and Infraction. Nacreous Clouds landed on Dale Lloyd’s and/OAR imprint, focused on environmental and avant-garde sound art, for which the album was a perfect fit. Using tape loops and digital processing, the duo constructed a slow-moving climate of gaseous states, that drifted across the frequency spectrum in a soft cloud of harmonic dissonance. The 37 short vignettes on an album explore different formations of sound, spreading their sonic tentacles deep into your mind. This is where they trigger a memory of a time and a place, which can not be described in a few honest words.

In our private correspondence, Will shares the following:

I thought about something that was different at this time… as time has passed, I’ve grown to use more direct experiences for the inspiration of music. However at this point in 2007-2008, it was near the beginning, and it was almost the opposite… stumbling across an idea or concept (like nacreous clouds) that can somehow associate to a more direct experience or feeling or musical quality. It’s a method I don’t use as often now, but I can appreciate it for connections that direct experiences don’t have, or for the listener, some kind of natural, fascinating association to take their minds away. I guess we’re all trying to get away from something or get something out.

I wonder if, that “something” that we’re all trying “to get away from” is the scary perception of “now”, or even more frightening, the unperceivable spine-chilling future, and so our minds tend to find the comfort and ease, in the post-processed and filtered remembrance of time. Our minds tend to hold on to this former fictitious account, to put in perspective the moment of now. In order to really connect with the present, one must simply let go, time-travel, and visit the past. Was it really better, and if so, how much? Music, at least to me, can serve as a tool, especially one as “memorable” as the one gifted by Celer. This newly remastered album by Stephan Mathieu is a great demarcation of time, to those early beginnings, and a newly found stage. Recommended as a random shuffle playback for about 2-3 hours for a full effect.

Will Long’s Long Trax 2 resembles an empty swimming pool or an abandoned pier extending out into the open sea. It deepens, but does not do a whole lot else, and though long stretches of it are featureless, it’s vast enough to be inherently awe-inspiring. A bassline is a luxury in this music; the drums sound like the rinky-dink automatic rhythm tracks on cheap keyboards; thick synth chords hang low, sad and heavy. Even house fans adapted to formidable repetition might find this stuff too stagnant to enjoy, but for those versed in the spartan ambient music Long makes as Celer, this should be familiar terrain.

Though Long Trax 2 and its predecessor are technically house music, this music works as ambient. These tracks don’t move linearly, nor do they build and release. They hang in place for anywhere between just under to just over ten minutes (long trax, indeed), and though the kick drops out often, it’s seemingly at random. Without the drums, these tracks would just be static washes of pad, but the dull think of the kick and the gentle hiss of the hi-hat (no snares here) means the music changes often enough to keep our attention—and, if we want to take this music for a walk, keeps our feet moving forward.

Something else happens. On most of these tracks, Long weaves in mournful samples, all from prominent African-Americans—Richard Pryor, Angela Davis, Barack Obama and Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Long is a white man, living in Japan.) “The struggles, the difficulties, that’s supposed to be in the past,” laments Davis. “Should we pretend we live in a colorblind society?” says Obama. “Nothing’s changed.” Perhaps the inertia of these tracks is meant to mirror these quotes. The music doesn’t change; neither does the world.

Long is an acolyte of Terre Thaemlitz, better-known as the New York house producer DJ Sprinkles, who 10 years ago released one of the most salient protest albums in recent years, Midtown 120 Blues. Thaemlitz’s strategy on that album was to spin impossibly lush and immersive house tracks and overdub them with passionate rants on the decontextualization and corporatization of house music. You literally couldn’t enjoy the music without sitting through the context. It’s not a stretch to suggest Long is trying a similar strategy on Long Trax 2. The albums even sound similar, with their rainy pads.

If so, it’s nowhere near as effective. Thaemlitz’s examination of the specific context in which house music developed invited thought and self-examination from listeners who might not have given any thought to their consumption of corporate dance music. The themes here don’t reward much thought, and it’s hard to tell if they’re deployed to make a statement or simply as a tribute to great black leaders and artists. The cultural stature of Obama and Pryor means their voices alone take on a certain grandeur; I was reminded of Coldplay’s “Kaleidoscope,” which opens with Obama singing “Amazing Grace.”

To those with the proper attention span, Long Trax 2 works phenomenally well as ambient music. It’s astonishing how much space and grandeur Long is able to generate with the rudimentary trappings of house music. It’s easy to sink back and zone out to this album, even as it continuously suggests that’s not how you’re meant to experience it.

The name doesn’t lie; six tracks all approaching or over 10 minutes, built around house so stripped back it’s barely even there at times – but the utter absence of excess and relentless, mellow, ghostly repetition becomes weirdly hypnotic. Before you know it, those 60 minutes will have melted away.

Attivo dal 2005 con decine e decine di produzioni nel segno dell’ambient a nome Celer, nonché metà della formazione alt pop Oh, Yoko assieme a Rie Mitsutake, e nondimeno artista a tutto tondo nel dilettarsi tra fotografia e scrittura, il producer statunitense – ma di stanza a Tokyo da ormai un lustro – Will Long torna con una nuova prova sulla lunga distanza firmata col nome di battesimo. Arriva a due anni dal precedente Long Trax, ispezione nei territori della deep house sulla Comatonse di quella Terre Thaemlitz (aka DJ Sprinkles, presente anche nel catalogo Presto!? del nostro producer più amato in Gran Bretagna e non solo, Lorenzo Senni) che in prima persona ha “disidratato”  le 7 tracce di quel primo volume lavorando di fino su texture e percussioni.

Due anni dopo, ma su Smalltown Supersound, Will Long si ripropone con Long Trax 2, un disco dai temi impegnati che vuole dire la sua sulla situazione politica odierna, e potete ben immaginare a chi si rivolga, criticando “la stasi culturale” che ci affligge. Proprio questo lato “sociale” segna il punto di inizio e di fine del disco, una lunga girandola ambient-(deep)house dallo schema sempre uguale a sé stesso, che si staglia su lunghe ma immobili atmosfere che si creano e sviluppano attorno a due accordi in croce, senza mai un sussulto, bassoni filanti, piattini e hi-hat stanchi e apatici. Ma guai a chiamarlo minimalismo, Long stesso ha aggiunto come lui preferisca concentrarsi sulla polpa della faccenda, valorizzandola il più possibile e lasciando alla polvere le sovrastrutture, proprio come erano soliti fare i padrini agli albori dell’house.

Qual è la polpa del caso? Le registrazioni di frasi e discorsi, neanche troppo avvincenti, di Obama e Richard Pryor per citarne qualcuno, che vanno a dettare come metronomi – metti Winona di DJ Boring senza il piglio acid – i tempi dilatati di tracce che senza questi intermezzi difficilmente troverebbero la loro ragion d’essere. Niente di più, niente di meno da aggiungere. Se non siete neofiti, di dischi così ne avrete già ascoltati a palate – e decisamente più a fuoco – e sarà semplice storcere il naso di fronte a questa profonda mancanza d’idee; se al contrario siete meno assuefatti a certe operazioni, chissà, potrebbe anche piacervi. Noi ci piazziamo nella prima barricata.

Will Long first became known as one-half of Celer, an American duo who issued an absurdly prolific stream of breathtaking ambient/drone releases laced with field recordings and acoustic instrumentation. Following the tragic, untimely death of his partner, Danielle Baquet-Long, Will continued Celer as a solo project, eventually settling down in Japan and starting a new life. While in Tokyo, he came in contact with Terre Thaemlitz, another American expatriate, who is best known in the dance music world for making provocative deep house under the name DJ Sprinkles. Long began translating his sparse but warm drones into a house context, adding a steadily kicking 4/4 beat as well as sporadic vocal samples that express concern and dissatisfaction with the state of the world. Long Trax appeared on Thaemlitz’s Comatonse Recordings in 2016, backed with a second disc of Sprinkles’ overdubbed versions of the tracks, and the album gradually received a decent amount of praise. Long Trax 2 does little to alter the formula: the tracks are all around ten minutes apiece; they all have a basic kick-drum pattern (sometimes accented by digital hi-hats, rim clicks, or bongos); they all have soft, meditative keyboard chords that change every few measures; and the occasional vocal samples still offer simple yet scathing insight into the corruption of society. Opener “Nothing’s Changed” features the terse, pithy words of Barack Obama; in addition to the frank titular phrase, he asks “Should we pretend that we’ve got a colorblind society?,” and at one point, his obviously edited voice states “I’m a very angry man.” Elsewhere, on “The Struggles, the Difficulties,” an African-American woman wearily sighs “We haven’t had it this bad in a long, long time,” and during a lull in “That’s the Way It Goes,” a man exclaims “I just think its part of capitalism to promote racism… and that separates people, so they keep people separated, and that keeps them from thinking about the real problem.” On the now-classic 2009 full-length Midtown 120 Blues, Sprinkles used more extensive samples and field recordings in order to probe deeper into issues relating to sexuality, race, drug abuse, and house music’s appropriation by the mainstream. That album also seemed far more designed for actual club play than Long’s tracks, which are nearly as meditative as his ambient work. His ideas are expressed in a far more succinct manner, but they offer similarly powerful commentary, and the album’s starkness works to its advantage, driving the tracks’ points so they hit home.