These massive blocks of music have been waiting for review for some time, but I found it hard to get around to them. Travelling, a change of scenery seems an excellent time to work on them. Right now, I’m on a train and listening to the noise of the train moving. I’m thinking about Celer and thinking of a few questions I have. When was the first time I heard the music of Celer, back then a duo of Will Long & Danielle Baquet-Long, who sadly passed away in 2009, following which it became Will’s solo project (and, apparently, ended in 2022; for when was the last time I heard it, well, before this massive set, obviously. I’m not in a situation to find out quickly. I took all ten (or, rather, 14 CDs (some are double releases) with me, on my laptop, to listen to in all the relatively unquietness of train travel. Maybe it is entirely wrong to do this, as the music’s delicate nature requires good speakers and a music-friendly environment. In the past two weeks, I heard them as part of my early morning routine. I recounted this before; when I get up, I read the morning paper, drink a coffee and want to have some music unrelated to what I m doing, i.e. writing music reviews. To start the day without ‘work’. From the previous occasions that I heard Celer’s music, and I heard quite a lot, I know this music does this job very well. Provide a quiet backdrop, the perfect definition of listening and non-listening, ignoring and enjoying. That is not to say that the fourteen hours of this album are long and contain the same music. It is related, and yet, also a bit different. I played one CD daily, thinking I should make notes, which I didn’t do, and lost my way early on. What did I hear? There is definitely that classic Celer sound, the long-form, unchanging, minimalist sound work, sitting next to music that is deeply covered in reverb, maybe a bit too much, and some work that is not unlike a more ambient industrial approach. What, where and when? I lost my way, indeed. I hadn’t heard any of these discs before, as they were all ‘self-released’ in the duo’s earliest years, and none of these made it to Vital Weekly. As such, it is, for me, a further exploration of music I already know, I long cherish, and which, at least with my reviewer’s hat, I’d say there is already a lot of music by Celer available. I know that a re-issue like this may feel likea heavy burden for collectors, but I am sure none of these earliest releases are easily found these days. Plus, what I also find interesting is that these discs aren’t all about one long piece per disc. Some of these have shorter pieces in which Celer explores their themes in a similar yet concise form, and it’s great to see that it works very well in such a time frame. It is a massive release of spacious music.
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“Self-releases 2006-2007” in Brainwashed
Given Celer’s incredibly voluminous discography, releasing any kind of comprehensive retrospective would be one hell of a quixotic and cost-prohibitive endeavor, but this collection does the next best thing. Weighing in at 14 discs spanning 10 albums, this boxed set celebrates an especially significant and prolific era in the project’s evolution: the self-released albums that Will Long and the late Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) recorded as a duo before the latter’s passing in 2009. Not all of them, mind you, but this collection seems to at least cover the ones that matter most. Given that Celer is based in Japan and Bandcamp was still in its formative stages back then, I suspect very few people were hip enough to pounce on the duo’s early CD-Rs at the time of their original release, but they world definitely began to take notice soon after, as I remember Celer albums being a very hot commodity sometime around 2008/2009 when they started getting widely re-released. Unsurprisingly, there are some remastered fan favorites from that era included here, such as Continents and Cantus Libres, but I have grown so accustomed to Long’s current elegantly minimalist dream-drone aesthetic that I was legitimately surprised by the wider palette of moods and atmospheres explored at the project’s inception. Naturally, the gorgeously warm ambient dreamscapes that Celer has long been synonymous with are still the main draw here, but they are not the only draw, as I found it very illuminating to revisit the less-remembered noirish and sci-fi-inspired sides of the duo’s exploratory beginnings.
This collection is only being released as a limited edition physical boxed set, which makes a lot of sense for a couple of big reasons. The mundane one is that all of these albums are already readily available in remastered form, so this retrospective is very much for the project’s more devoted fans. The more poetic and heartfelt reason is that this boxed set is essentially a memorial to the Dani era and music was merely one facet of the duo’s artistic vision. Obviously, the music is the biggest and most relevant reason for Celer’s continued appeal, but the project has always been something of a multimedia love story/travel diary as well, as the accompanying images and texts often provided important context, clues, and deeper shades of meaning. In fact, I sincerely doubt that Celer would have made such a deep impression if Will and Dani had not found a way to make ambient/drone music feel like something personal and intimate (a feat very few others have achieved). Consequently, making this a collection a physical object with all of Dani’s poems and photos intact seems like the only proper way to celebrate the duo’s shared story. That said, nearly all of the texts, images, and song titles do tend to be teasingly enigmatic. In fact, they almost act like an inversion of the film/film score relationship, as they color my perception of the music without providing much actual information beyond a sense of place and an impressionist glimpse of how Will and Dani were feeling about both life and each other at the time. While I would probably love a Will Long memoir or travel diary, the decision to portray that period instead as an elusive, elliptical, and mysterious collection of dreamlike sounds, images, and words is admittedly the more alluring and Celer-esque path to take. Words and unambiguous meanings are cool and all, but struggling to express the ineffable is a beautiful and noble way to spend an artistic career.
As often happens with William Basinski’s similarly minimal work, it is easy to (wrongly) dismiss a lot of Celer’s work as a few simple loops endlessly repeating, but it seems more like a near-religious obsession with reaching towards the sublime to me. In fact, my favorite Celer pieces tend to be exactly those in which a single blurred and frayed melodic fragment is simply allowed to endlessly loop into infinity (or at least for 20 minutes or so). Obviously, progression and evolution have their place, yet distilling something beautiful to its absolute essence and straining towards the transcendent offers a more rare and exquisite pleasure than what I generally expect to get out of albums. When I hear a truly great Celer piece, I am reminded of the film at the heart of Infinite Jest that is so lethally compelling that no one can stop watching once it starts. In Celer’s case, there is instead a gift for crafting loops so gorgeous that I am perfectly content to let them hypnotically unfold forever without any transformation. When everything about a piece is already perfect, there is no valid reason to break that spell other than the inherent durational limits of physical media.
Needless to say, there are plenty of Celer pieces both new and old that achieve that illusion of an infinite, endlessly billowing heaven and those are usually the pieces that I am thinking of when I describe something as “Celer-esque.” However, spending an entire weekend absorbing this 14-disc retrospective has reminded me that there has been considerably more variety and experimentation with this project than I remembered. For example, this boxed set covers at most only two years of recordings and just from a compositional standpoint alone, there are albums comprised entirely of short pieces, albums comprised entirely of longform pieces, a single album-length track (Para’s “Leave Us Alone To Be Together”), and a collection of 22 brief loops intended to be played in a newly shuffled sequence every time (Voodoo Crowds).
There is quite a lot of stylistic variety as well, albeit exclusively within the realm of ambient drone. The pieces from Sunlir (first released in May 2006) in particular are especially varied and unique. For example, the opening “Spelunking The Arteries Of Our Ancestors” feels mostly like the Celer I know and love, yet also features an oscillating and sci-fi-damaged industrial thrum in its depths that provides an unfamiliar edge of psychotropic unease. Soon after, “How Long To Hold Up A Breathless Face” approximates a fragment of an orchestral film noir score that has been frozen in quivering suspended animation. Not long after, “Espy The Horizon, Miss The Long Road” seems to reprise that trick with a brooding and epic-sounding fantasy score. Elsewhere, “Whimsical At The Cretaceous Extinction” is probably the biggest Sunlir-era revelation, as it feels like a steadily intensifying cosmic shudder of futuristic menace. There are some dark surprises lurking on the other disks as well, however (albeit less frequently). For example, “Archival Footage of Only The Lost And Forgotten” from Scols resembles a time-stretched nightmare orchestra, while Continents’ hallucinatory “Fast Forwarding Sleep” evoked the “haunted ballroom” magic of The Caretaker years before most people had even noticed that The Caretaker existed. The phantasmal horror of “Brackish Nagas Too Low In The River” was yet another bombshell for me, evoking a supernatural howl of anguish that would have made a fine (if harrowing) score for 2001 or Solaris.
While I tend to gravitate towards the one-offs, outliers, and “roads less traveled” on this collection due to my reasonably strong familiarity with Celer’s usual oeuvre, I suspect complete familiarity with Celer’s discography is an unattainable state. In fact, I would be surprised if even Will Long remembered everything collected here. For example, I probably have somewhere around two dozen arguably well-chosen Celer albums in my collection (weighted heavily towards this era, no less), yet there were still plenty of classic pieces that I had not encountered before Selected Self-releases entered my life. There were also plenty of seemingly familiar pieces that made a deeper impression on me now that I have revisited them more than a decade after their original release. I have no idea how much of that shift is due to my evolving taste, the magic of remastering, or because I simply did not listen closely enough the first time around, but it feels I just unearthed a fresh treasure trove of hits regardless. In particular, I was enraptured by the smeared, hissing, and buzzing magic of Scols’ “Municipally, I Let It Slip,” much of Cantus Libres, some of Continents and Neon, “Sans Heavens, Hand In Hand,” and a handful of quivering feedback-gnawed pieces like Sadha’s “The Once Emptiness Of Our Hearts,” but that is by no means a comprehensive list.
My conservative estimate is that there are at least three or four hours of prime/classic Celer highlights to be found here, which is extremely damn impressive for a retrospective encompassing just two years of project that has nearly spanned two decades. Obviously, Will Long conjured this boxed set into existence primarily for Dani and Celer’s most ardent fans (only a hundred copies were made), yet this is the sort of retrospective that deserves to ripple outwards to turn new and casual fans onto some underheard gems from the early days. Obviously, there have been a healthy amount of stellar Celer releases in more recent years as well, but Selected Self-releases is a necessary reminder that Will and Dani were onto something wonderful and distinctive right from the start.
“Coral Sea” in Rockerilla
A bituiamoci a sentire il suono, non ascoltiamo semplicemente ma sentiamolo. Cerchiamo di assumerlo come fosse ossigeno respirandolo lentamente e lentamente permettendo all sua sostanza di invadere ogni parte del nostro organismo, anche le piu recondita. Non piu dissertazioni tecniche, confronti, pareri ma utili e improrogabili diserzioni, fughe nel mondo della purezza e del racconto, lo stesso che il loop costante innescato da Will Long in arte Celer, musicista scrittore e fotografo americano che ha scelto il Giappone come casa, inizia a diffondere. Disponiamo di quaranta minuti un tempo definiti ambient, nei quali tuffarci raggiungendo il nucleo di questo loop infinito. Viaggiamo leggeri ma terribilmente carichi di materia percettiva che pieno piano inizia ad espandersi riuscendo a tradurre le magnifiche ondate iterative in racconto, in pensiero, in immagine. In Coral Sea, Celer supera se stesso e durante una apparentemente lucente traccia ambient, riesce a raggiugere vette di grandiosa profondita intimista. Sentiamola quindi, trasformiamoci in essenza, mentre il pensiero vola a sfiorare le parole scritte da Allen Ginsberg: Il peso del mondo e amore. Sotto il fardello di solitudine sotto il fardello dell’insoddisfazione il peso che portiamo e amore.
“Sunspots” in Groove
Lange Drones in subtiler Bestform, hat jemand Celer gerufen? Natürlich darf Will Longs Projekt an dieser Stelle nicht fehlen, schon gar nicht wenn es endlich mal wieder auf Vinyl erscheinen darf wie das delikate Sunspots (Oscarson/Two Acorns, 26. November) nun in deutlich erweiterter Form. Wobei sich hier der jüngst beobachtete Trend zurück zu kürzeren Stücken fortsetzt. Kein Track über zehn Minuten, und doch jeder gegen die Unendlichkeit schwebend.
“Sunspots” in Artnoir
Empfindungen und Wahrnehmung, rationale Erklärungen sollte man für «Sunspots» nicht anführen wollen. Das neuste Album von Will Long als Celer ist erneut eine zurückhaltende und auf wenige Elemente reduzierte Arbeit. Seine Herangehensweise bei Ambient basiert auf Empathie und Gefühl, elektronische Klänge direkt aus der Seele. Weite Texturen und warm wirkende Flächen sind bei den zwölf Tracks die Architektur, Klänge überlagern sich wie beim Spiel mit dem Kaleidoskop. Zwar fusst alles auf erlebten Moment des Musikers Dasein, funktioniert ohne diese Zusammenhänge trotzdem.
Beats gibt es keine, die Electronica von Celer badet die Umgebung in goldenes Licht. Ähnlich wie bei der letzten Platte «In Light Of Blues» ist der Zugang zur Musik im ersten Moment nicht einfach, es passiert theoretisch nichts. Wie eine Kunstarbeit umgarnen die Stücke, «Inexorable, Every Night» etwa als Decke und Reiz zugleich. Oder «I’m Not Getting Up» mit seinem rebellischen Namen, das allerdings die Wirkung von Sorgen und Melancholie in sich trägt. Am Ende ist die Hoffnung wieder als Begleitung zurück, «Left In a Sunny Stupor» ist Akzeptanz der persönlichen Sorgen und Hindernisse.
Mit «Sunspots» werden Zweifel beseitigt und schwierige Wochen im Leben als Grundlage für eine positive Zukunft genutzt. Fragmente und zerstückelte Träume werden zu einem neuen Ganzen, die Synthesizer lassen im Nebelmeer die Sonne sanft scheinen und mit jeder Minute versinkt man mehr im Album. Celer versteht es, die Seele zu streicheln und liefert erneut eine Platte der schönen Zurückhaltung ab.
“Sunspots” in African Paper
Will Long bringt einen neuen Longplayer seines Celer-Projektes heraus mit zwölf seiner unverkennbaren Ambienttracks. Die Stücke basieren auf verschiedener Tape-Technik und präsentieren Long zufolge eine Art Erlebnisbericht, der mit dem Amblick von Lava beginnt und über den Genuss von Weißwein noch einige weitere Stationen zurücklegt. Das Album erscheint als CD, Kassette und Download bei Longs eigenem Label Two Acorns und als Doppel-LP bei Oscarson.
“Coral Sea” in Loop
Revisando los discos a comentar llegue a Celer, aka Will Long, un músico, escritor y fotógrafo estadounidense que actualmente vive en Tokio, Japón. Celer fue formado en 2005 por Danielle Baquet y Will Long. Desde 2009, hasta la actualidad, Celer es el proyecto en solitario de Will Long que ha editado varios discos en sellos independientes y en su propio sello Two Acorns.
De Celer he reseñado varios de sus discos y siempre me atrapa por su carácter hipnótico. Y claro que ayuda tener como telón de fondo el mar y hacia lo lejos dos barcos cargueros que todavía se divisan con la luz del atardecer.
“Coral Sea” es un solo tema de 40 minutos de teclados ambientales que se expanden a través de un loop envolvente, interminable, bello e inspirador de bellas imágenes. Un sonido que puede parecer simple, pero es una simplicidad que oculta su densidad y movimiento.
“Coral Sea” in Vital Weekly
Ah, good old Celer. A new release means making coffee, picking up a book, putting the CD on repeat, and sitting back for a fair amount of time. I am not reading all the time. Sometimes I will close my eyes, even fall asleep, or I will get up and walk about a bit. Look at my bookshelves, CDs and records. Maybe there is something to organize again? I can watch out over the quiet street on this greyish Thursday afternoon, for which ‘Coral Sea’ seems the perfect soundtrack. Quiet and grey, that is well-translated into music by Will Long here. Not grey as in dull, but as in painting a moody colour. It is not a surprise when I say this is atmospheric music. Celer’s music is hauntingly minimal, just a few very long sustaining drones that go in and out of phase, slowly drifting apart and coming together. All of this happens in long, majestic flows. There is a quick fade in and a slightly slower fade out at the end; it all stays in the same volume for the rest. For all I care, it could have been the full eighty minutes of this. There is movement, there is change, and yet there is not. It is what it is. Phill Niblock’s ‘Early Winter’ sprang to mind, or perhaps other pieces of his as well. There is a similar vastly layered sound here with Celer this time around, with slowly drifting ice caps. Celer is here at his most orchestral, I think. I love it, but I am a fanboy, so not the most critical mind.
“In Light Of Blues” in Hipersonica
Sin llegar a la categoría de clásico, sí se puede decir que Celer es ya todo un veterano del panorama ambient. Desde desarrollos más erosivos y potentes como los inicios de Tim Hecker a atmósferas de gran peso emocional, el norteamericano ha hecho de todo.
“In Light Of Blues” in Aural Aggravation
I’m still recovering from the last Celer release I covered – the four-disc Future Predictions, released only last summer. It wasn’t harsh or sonically challenging: it was just really, really long. This one, however, is rather shorter, comprising twelve tracks with a running time of just twenty-nine minutes.
It is, notably a departure. As the press notes detail, with In Light Of Blues, ‘[Will] Long pivots away from long-form works to create a series of vignettes that capture the essence of his aesthetics interests. The record condenses and refines his compositional methodologies forming each piece as an acoustic miniature speckled in hazy harmony and evocative tonality’.
As such, as much as In Light Of Blues is a departure, it is also very much a continuation of his previous work, while concentrating it down to shorter snippets – but with no loss of power or depth. Long’s comments on the reason for this departure are illuminating:
‘It was months ago, but it could have been weeks, days, or even hours since then. I stopped wanting to hear loops, I wanted to stop it. I added brass; trumpets, trombones, and more horns. I cut it out like words from a book, and sewed it back together. Burroughs. These movements are merely to stay alive, to stay moving.’
In citing [William] Burroughs, Long’s observation that ‘You wake up from a truck horn passing in the early morning hours on the nearby freeway, or from a dream that you can’t tell was a nightmare or a loving memory… Someone walks by on the street wearing the same perfume. I drew out each place, each scene, and put the story there. It might have been with you, or without you. All I know is that you were there somehow the whole time, even if you weren’t’ marks a striking parallel with some of Burroughs’ statements on the way the cut-up technique was an attempt to being art closer to life: “every time you walk down the street, your stream of consciousness is cut by random factors… take a walk down a city street… you have seen half a person cut in two by a car, bits and pieces of street signs and advertisements, reflections from shop windows – a montage of fragments”.
While the pieces on In Light Of Blues are composed from a montage of fragments, instead of jarring against one another and crossing over one another to replicate the blizzard of simultaneity that is life, they blur together to create a slow-creeping sonic mist. The details are obscured, the edges indistinct, the definition vague to almost absent. Some of the pieces are fragments in themselves: the second of the three ‘Melancholy Movement’ compositions is only fractionally over a minute long, and there are a number of pieces of similarly brief duration.
Time appears to be something of a leading preoccupation on In Light Of Blues, as titles including ‘Days Before the Change’, ‘In the Intimate Hours’, ‘After All Time’, and ‘Precious Past Hours’ indicate. The titles suggest a certain urgency, an anxiety, even, over the passing of time that’s not necessarily apparent in the music itself. But as is so often the case, with ambient / abstract musical forms, the music conveys only some aspects of the full meaning or intention, and beneath comparatively tranquil surfaces often lie more trouble currents, and there are numerous billows of darker, denser sound which rumble and stir, evoking brewing storms amidst the soft layers of the pieces here.
Perhaps this is the real pleasure – and perhaps also the purpose – of In Light Of Blues. It’s an album that can simply be allowed to drift along in the background, the darker clouds occasionally tugging the attention while, in the main, it may pass largely without the demand for focus. But closer attention yields greater rewards, in the sonic depths and subtle textures that reveal themselves through that engagement, and to seek the space beneath the surface, to explore its context and origins and consider what it may mean beyond the surface yields more still.