Posts from the Reviews Category

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.

Celer aka Will Long is one of the most prolific and well-known ambient artists of the last decade and a half. Based in Tokyo he has released a plethora of music visa imprints such as Home Normal, Infraction, Spekk, Dragon’s Eye Recordings and his own Two Acorns label.

This release clocks in at just under Sixty-seven minutes in length, with both tracks clocking in at over thirty-three minutes each.

Long is a master at creating large-scale pieces that work with tectonic plates of sound gradually moving over each other, slowly changing texture and color and before you know it you are drawn in by the hypnotically repetitive nature of the music which calmly washes over you and draws you in.

Of the two tracks, “Everywhere You Go You Are All that I See” and “Wishes Would Be Grand If Only They Were True”, I lean towards “Everywhere…” as my preferred piece. Maybe its the older I get that I become more attracted to music that evokes a sense of calm in me. I find that music that has a grating quality no longer registers with me than music that is conducive to being absorbed easily. Musically like Basinski’s slow form repetitive loop works “I Remember…” has a hazy, melodic, glacial, lush essence which relaxes the listener. The noted quality is it could possibly send the listener to sleep, such is the gentleness. It’s when you listen deeply to it that you notice the subtle changes throughout that may be easily overlooked. There is a wind soaked ambience, synth drones and an orchestral feel to the music that lightly ebbs and flows.

The flip side “Wishes Would Be….” while having melody is more on the ghostly, slightly cold, drone side of things. The repetition and loops are also there, but are more truncated, while a long linear drone runs through the center of the piece. There is a slight desolate, industrial like quality to the track, as if it’s the dying embers of a factory. It makes sense that the two tracks are split by sides on a cassette as they are like flip sides of each other. For as much as they share together, they are also very different beasts.

Will Long, also known as Celer, has been creating ambient music since 2006.  His journeys around the world (and current residency in Japan) have certainly shaped his art.  The collections of sounds and moods on his newest 5-CD album, Memory Repetitions, could be played anywhere from a meditation retreat to a busy international airport.

The album consists of five tracks, the shortest of which is twenty-eight minutes and thirty-one seconds.  This isn’t an album for house parties or your high-intensity cardio playlist.  It’s an album of meditations, calming sounds, and mood-altering music.  It’s difficult to describe, but one you’ll enjoy on your headphones as you stroll along the river or when you need to slow down the world outside your front door or even in your living room.

There are no lyrics.  It doesn’t need them.  It’s not an album that tells you what to think or an album that pushes an agenda.  It lets your mind wander or stop, depending on what’s happening around you at the time.

Keep your mind open.

Two long pieces by Celer, thirty-three and thirty-four minutes each. Along with this Will Long send two short stories, of which I am not sure if they are available for anyone else to enjoy. Both deal with sleeping and dreaming (and remembering) and it sure fits the dream like music. As almost always I have no idea Celer made all of this. Sometimes I think it is all very much based on computer-processed sounds, but then sometimes I have the impression it is tape-loop based and perhaps all analogue. For these two pieces I was thinking about a synthesizer, which is set to playing a repeating phrase over and over again. On ‘Everywhere I Go You’re All That I See’ this phrase seems to be shorter than the one on ‘Wishes Would Be Grand If Only They Came True’. As I reviewer I am of course supposed to stay awake and pay all the attention so I can say ‘ha, this doesn’t change at all’ or ‘while you think it doesn’t change, it does’ but as I was suffering from the Friday afternoon blues and have no drinky time with my office colleagues (that’s by the way no complaint), I set back in my comfy chair, and drank some coffee; I tried to figure out if it was raining and if I should go out if it does. I believe I fell asleep for a brief moment, which may or may not be seen as a compliment to Celer. Personally I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘music while you sleep’ ethic; music for me is to be heard. But I woke from this hazy state of half sleep and Celer’s cassette was on repeat and at some point in time I had no idea if I was playing the first or the second side, and also not really for how long. Sometimes I lost track of time there, but it was a slow afternoon anyway. I decided to let it continue for some more and write some words. Maybe these, maybe others.

When an artist is as prolific as Will Long, one might assume there is little time for looking back and taking stock. Not only does the artist seem to produce a new ambient album every month, he also releases house tracks under his given name. Yet this tireless man not only makes tranquil, restful music, but pauses to reflect on fifteen years of this activity and where it has taken him. Memory Repetitions is a carefully curated piece of work, balancing one new composition against four remembered pieces. Together they form a five-disc masterclass in warm ambience, challenging and rewarding the unhurried listener.

The new piece, ‘Tetra’, is built around a sustained, fluctuating drone – the sound of a church organ half-heard. Rich, overlapping tones approach and recede like the tides. Whenever they draw close, they are accompanied by an analogue hiss like breaking surf. While many Celer albums concentrate on short tracks, Long is a master of larger, sustained pieces. Many of these use a similar to-and-fro swell that is aurally evocative and powerfully emotive, carrying the cadences of a searching nostalgia. On ‘Simultaneity’, the high water mark is more pronounced, threatening to break into something darker. In contrast, ‘Weak Ends’ has a tighter ebb and flow. Here, Long seems to capture a near-ecstatic sense of engagement that is deceptively difficult to marry with such a gradual aesthetic. This journey towards rapture is consummated by ‘Nichibotsu’ (Japanese for ‘sunset’, reminding us that Long is an American who lives in Tokyo) and ‘Caprice’, which each cast the hymnal and chorus shapes of devotional music.

This accomplished, self-assured piece of work is available in physical form from Smalltown Supersound, a Norwegian label home mostly to Scandinavian releases in various other genres. It should be noted that there is a mastering error on the fifth disc, which the label has promised to rectify. While the box set’s title points to its recycled content, the concept of memory works at a number of other levels in Long’s music. It is hard not to project a mournfulness into his backward glance, given the passing of Danielle Baquet-Long, who originally made Celer a duo. At a more practical level, one of Long’s key tools is the tape loop, which manipulates a form of physical memory to produce ethereal textures. Across each half-hour piece, repetition carves a mark in the memory, making the music seem familiar and recollected even as it unfolds.

It is virtually impossible to consider any work by Celer in complete isolation, such is the omnipresence of his musical output. With over 100 releases spanning a period of 15 years, there is some inevitable crossover between each work, and the composer has concocted such a defined and personal sonic tapestry that his name alone conjures up a highly specific ambient tableau. In the case of I Wish You Could, however, such pre-emptive expectations are somewhat collapsed by a work that both invokes and exceeds any prior understanding of what a Celer album might be.

The album can be summed up in a single word – sparse. It is without doubt music for sitting alone to, a work of such solitude and fragility as to have a tangible effect on the attentive listener. That it draws upon the fairly well established oeuvre of William Basinski or even Leyland Kirby, is clear, perhaps more so than on any previous Celer album, despite such comparisons having been made in the past. It is an album that explore repetition with an almost Deleuzian finesse, not so much replaying its limited motifs as reframing them across time, and in turn denying the listener anything other than an active, co-constructive role within the composition.

The opening track, ‘Everywhere I Go You’re All I See’, stretches out less than 10 seconds of material to over 30 minutes, with very little – if any – indication of change. Celer provides no structure, no narrative, just that same repetitious phrase over and over again for what feels like a minor eternity. As a listener, the effect is phenomenal. Without registering any sonic difference, I can feel the piece mutate and grow, with unexpected overtones seeming to emerge vicariously before me, leaving me utterly unsure whether I am entirely imagining the subtle drift that constantly tugs at each repetition, the claustrophobic, inexhaustible fog that clouds both the music and mind. The relationship between the memory and the auditory is made resonant by the loss of any punctuation, any moment that might tie the listener to a specific spot – I find myself drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to focus on the piece and in doing so allowing it to colour the lived experience of being as I oscillate between the everyday and the disparate, disjointed recollections that the work digs up. Put simply, change is not experience as a property of the music, but as a property of the listener, made present by the sonic world in which they are immersed.

Whilst I have enjoyed Celer’s work in the past, I Wish You Could stands out for its refusal to adhere to even the limited narrative form present in many of his other works – there is no beauty here, no invocation within the music itself, only the cold and immovable residue of a composition to which the listener holds no access, an almost clinical phantom affect that is utterly mesmerising. Whilst the second track, ‘Wishes Would Be Grand If Only They Came True’, follows the same model as the first, it is no less effective, offering a faintly punishing journey that feels the ‘easier’ of the two works by virtue of the fact that, roughly 15 minutes in, the listener can detect a moment of actual change in the form if a slightly accented lower frequency that momentarily raises itself above the otherwise static parapet.  Resonances emerge and dissipate without grandeur, providing not so much a background for other, more pressing activities, as an immersive event, an encompassing nothingness cast in start opposition to the hyperactive flux of modern life.

As an album of so little resource, it is almost easier to discuss what it is not – it is neither a careful study of frequency  nor an exploration of timbral development, neither a structured narrative nor a formless drone.  Rather, it is in every sense a signifier of presence, a work that relies fundamentally on a collaboration with its listener and that, in doing so, assumes a state of attentive listening that it simultaneously exhausts. It is not a composition as such  – it is a constant search for difference.  Whilst on the surface at least, I Wish You Could may seem less beautiful, less expansive,  than some earlier works, this is only because such terms suggest a musical capacity the album not so much omits as transcends – it may not be beautiful in any traditional sense, but it is beyond doubt an example of Celer at his most affective.

E una ristampa fatta per festeggiarne il decimo compleanno, cosi “Nacreous Clouds” (nubi madreperlacee) torna sulla terra con un piccolo vagito. L’opera di Celer (duo composto dall’ormai ex coppia Danielle Baquet e Will Long) riletta dieci anni dopo non e solo un’operazione nostalgia e il venire a patti col il rimpianto, il dolore, un presentimento infinito ma una sentila reinterpretazione della visione; musica contemplativa, ancella di una natura indifferente come i suoi fenomeni, le nubi madreperlacee per l’appunto, l’elemento mancante del film Ten Skies di James Benning.

Back in Vital Weekly 1060 I was pleasantly surprised by a release by Will Long, as Will Long, called ‘Long Trax’, a nice pun on his name as well as the fact these were long pieces indeed. The real surprise was in the music, which was all house music; deep house music as Will calls it. I am no expert on the nomenclature of dance music, but I sure l loved that release. Here we have the follow-up album, again long tracks to be found here, six in total and there is a similar familiarthread going through all of them. Some very smooth synth sounds, almost nightclubbish in atmosphere, guided by some great beats, strong on the 4/4 of course, a fine set of percussive sounds and sometimes vocal samples that repeat lines off and on. I am not sure if there is the same political motivation behind all of this as on the previous one, but some of the samples seem to suggest that, in ‘That’s The Way It Goes’ or ‘The Struggles, The Difficulties’. A visitor to the HQ heard this and said it was fine background music, but then we were talking along all the time; when I turned up the volume and we shut up for a while he mentioned that it could be indeed an excellent minimal floor filler, so there you go. This is music that aims to please the feet as well fine background home listening. The surprise of Celer’s Will Long is not here again, but it sure is a pretty damn fine follow-up.

Last week I mentioned the first time I wrote about Machinefabriek and how many times I used music by him in the podcast. This will not turn into a weekly feature, but here I mention it again but in connection with Celer, of whom I used 25 bits in the podcast and thus probably reviewed a little more than that. There is also good reason to mention this as here we have ‘Nacreous Clouds’, which is a re-issue and it happened to be the very first time Celer was mentioned in these pages, all the way back in Vital Weekly 645. I am not sure why this is re-issued, although my best guess would it was unavailable for some time. I would think Celer is a highly productive entity so there is always something new to release. On ‘Nacreous Clouds’ Celer was a duo of Danielle Baquet-Long and Will Long and of course you know that Baquet-Long passed away in 2009, following that it is now a solo project. (…) Now, ten or so years later and hearing so many other works by Celer (which is far from their entire output), it’s quite interesting to hear this again; especially the short format of the pieces is something they didn’t do a lot since, so I believe, and while each of the thirty-seven pieces as an individual title, it is very well possible to experience all of this as one long work, cut into various shorter bits, ranging from a mere minute to several, each like a cloud passing in the sky; that is not today, which is a bit greyish and no wind, but somehow the moody textures of Celer seem to fit very well this kind of weather and just like the first time I heard it, I can safely say: my kind of weather. For those interested if there is a difference between the two versions, I am very happy to report that this is a remastered version, expertly done by Stephan Mathieu (who is in the process of making his mastering work into a proper business; I should be independent of course, but he seems the right for this kind of music).

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.