Format: Cassette, LP
Label: Two Acorns
Release date: 7/8/15
1 Bleeds and swell blends
2 These dreams, how portentously gloomy
3 Natural deflections
4 Acrimonious, like fiddles
A few years ago I took a road trip with my 80-year old uncle through parts of the American southwest. We drove to Moab, where the sunset turned the canyon walls orange in the early evening, and after midnight, passing puffy clouds still showed through the the navy blue sky. In the morning, the buttes seemed brilliant bleached in sunlight, and the view from above the canyon was completely silent save for the wind, and birds occasionally flying past. In the Needles district, the centuries-old petroglyphs were mixed with graffiti; spraypaint cans lying half-submerged rusted in the sand below. We drove through the back roads of the La Sal Mountains, and down across the windswept grey Colorado plateau.
Past the expanses of Monument Valley, on the outskirts of Kayenta, rainstorms loomed in the distance as teenage hitchhikers dotted the roadsides, along which were makeshift souvenir shops, alone like fireworks stands after a passed holiday. Climbing out of the desert, we passed through Aspen, through the ski resorts and celebrity mansions, where the average annual household income is $69,000, compared to $21,000 in Kayenta. The next day, our drive ended near Ouray, the fog rolling over the evergreen-lined roads.
Several years later, after leaving California, I put together a collection of tracks made with an electric piano and a wooden flute. Two tracks were copied onto two sun-baked cassette tapes I had found on the dashboard of a car, and the other two from a warped 12″ test pressing. Revisiting these pieces after living in Japan for several years, they instantly reminded me of the trip, and what I left behind in the United States. The tapes fluttered and stuck, drenched in hiss and grime. The record skipped, wavered, and dropped in and out. Yet with these imperfections, it completely reflected my memory of the places, and what they represented. There are sides to everything, whether it causes you to change or not.
– Will Long, 2015
– Will Long, 2015
Inspired by the American Southwest, “How could you believe me when I told you that I loved you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life” is the new album by American musician Celer, aka Will Long, now living in Japan. Sourced from an electric piano and wooden flute, tape loops were copied to sun-baked cassette tapes, and a warped vinyl tester, using the most basic format-inherent effects. Based on an idea of primitive Americana, it can be seen as a mediation on the different sides of music and cultural perception, or a reflection of inherent imperfections.
Since 2009 Celer is the solo project of Will Long; before that it was a duo. I assume the sad story to be known. The music on his latest CD was inspired by the American Southwest, where Will Long travelled with his 80-year old uncle and something of a wide open feel of the landscape is what we get in these four lengthy pieces. Long recorded some music using an electric piano and a wooden flute, and copied them on a sun-baked cassette; the other two pieces here were taken from a faulty test pressing of a record that never happened and while it fluttered and stuck, it became new music. I am not sure which is what here, I must admit. It’s hard to think of any of these four pieces as something of sun baked cassettes and/or faulty test pressings. Especially if one reads on the information that Long plays ‘reel to reel, tape loops, graphic equalizer, mixer and slide projector’ – and then going back to the music and hearing these wonderful gentle sounds. If one has no clue, one could easily think that we are dealing with some refined synth doodling, a bit of overtones from sound effects, and nothing from electric pianos and/or wooden flutes. In ‘Acrimonious, Like Fiddles’ we hear a faint trace of a crackle; otherwise this seems all very clean. I can imagine that Long cuts a few loops on his reel-to-reel machine, slow it down a bit and plays around with them feeding it through his graphic equalizer and slowly changes the colour of the sound, while the sound itself remains the same. I was reminded to some of the music on the ancient Dutch label Kubus Kassettes as well as De Muziekkamer, and especially their first release ‘Kamer Muziek’. It has that same tranquillity, the same next to nothing changes, and just minor variations in sound colouring. It might not be something that you didn’t hear from Celer before, but I think this is one of the most refined releases I heard by Celer. Excellent release.
Prolific ambient sound maker Will Long continues his streak with this four-part drone cycle. In light of its languid and patient pacing, it’s curious to me as to why Long applied such downtrodden titles to the project — it certainly influences ones assumptions or opinions of the sound compared to a more purely objective listening. “Bleeds and Swell Blends” starts things off in a familiar lull, with a gradual crescendo of a repeating pattern of melancholy pads in time. It recalls pinkcourtesyphone’s rhythmic, looping nature but with a gloomier finish, especially considering the dour title of this particular release.
“These Dreams, How Portentously Gloomy,” despite its title, shimmers with a bit more mystique than the rather morose opener. Its contrasting loops of midrange pads and higher ones lends it the quality of dark clouds with occasional light breaking through, with a shared ominousness and faint suggestion of optimism. I find it to have a feeling of resignation rather than anger or rage, however, the sort of passive sigh of defeat that brings with it a certain tinge of serenity. Even still, the naming casts a dark shadow, with “These Dreams” tipping toward a vague tension rather than just an inert cloud.
“Natural Deflections” feels even more hazy by comparison, repeating Long’s approach to minimal, prolonged cycles of looping phrases, continuing into the final movement, “Acrimonious, Like Fiddles,” another decidedly dour title for an otherwise languid and patient slice of looped ambience. When so much of Long’s material has felt hushed and small, it’s curious to hear these more overtly looping, lulling selections juxtaposed with their surly titles, lending a barely-there catharsis to his dreamy production. Fans of subtly looping and repetitive minimalism from the likes of William Basinski, pinkcourtesyphone, or The Caretaker will likely enjoy the quiet temper of Celer’s sounds herein.
Out of all the ambient types that littered our stock room with limited edition CD releases a few years ago, Celer were always the ones who could most easily evoke a mood of total calm. Now that there are fewer people making this kind of music, a release such as this long windedly titled record are much more welcome amongst the noise and debris of our over stuffed lives.
On opener ‘Bleeds and Swell Blends’, Celer immediately take you far away, to a sun bleached wheat field on a golden afternoon perhaps. The magic of this music is that it allows your mind to wander to a place you may have once felt at peace. This is done by using swirls of blissed out synths, plus the suggestion of an accordion and imperfect clicks and noises so it never sounds too clean. ‘These Dreams, How Portentously Gloomy’ swirls like bvdub being attacked by a gang of clarinets. Unlike that artist Celer leaves beats well along and concentrates on swells of sound.
It’s simple but very effective, immediately warming on the ear, no great departures just 45 minutes of blissed glory.
Will Thomas Long has made some changes to the Celer sound in recent releases, such as the subtle rhythmic structure of Voyeur, or the unending meditative repetition of Jima. How Could…, in that context, feels like a call back to the traditional sound he pioneered, laden with light wisps of sound, and pieces that evolve slowly but beautifully, never forcefully commanding attention yet never drifting off into the background.Loops play a significant role on this album as well, but in less of a static context and more as a foundation that the pieces are built upon. The source material is rather basic: electric piano and flute, but what appears on How Could… is the result of decay. The instrumental loops were extracted from cassette tapes that had been exposed to the sun and warped vinyl test pressings, resulting in a sound that is as hot and arid as the Western US desert landscapes that inspired the album.
“Bleeds and Swell Blends” resembles the ghosts of digital chimes, drifting light and weightless through space. There is a delicate and gentle sensibility to the piece that is quite peaceful, yet has a haunting quality to it. “These Dreams, How Portentously Gloomy” is a more than apt title for the following composition. Digital piano tones shine through a glistening passage of sound that would make perfect film score music, floating slowly and eventually taking on a more somber, introspective mood in its second half.
The source of “Natural Deflections” is less clear, because the sound resembles that of bowed strings, but what Long actually began with is not at all explicit. It has an even more buoyant quality to it, sparse but consisting of a strong collection of beautiful tonal drifts. The closing piece “Acrimonious, Like Fiddles” at first is built upon slightly more dissonant sounds, ones that sound clearly like they began as flute recordings. The loops are shorter so the pacing a bit more dynamic, but the mood is sadder compared to the other pieces. Towards its conclusion, the more dissonant elements are reeled in to emphasize the purer, clean tones.
How Could… is released on the three major formats, and not only was the mastering done to best present the sound on tape, CD and record, the cassette version features alternate versions of “Bleeds and Swell Blends” and “Acrimonious, Like Fiddles”. The differences are subtle, but perceptible. The former seems to have a wider stereo spread, with a greater separation of channels. “Acrimonious” has a thinner sonic spectrum to it, befitting the sound of a sun-damaged tape that sourced the piece.
Like much of Celer’s work, How Could… has a distinctly sparse and introspective sound to it. Changes are slow, and are largely the result of loops that are tweaked and processed over time. The source of the base recordings here adds an extra bit of complexity, because that expansive, sun bleached sound shines through from those damaged tapes and records.
After receiving that Bandcamp email that Szcezpanik had dropped a new joint, and after happily plunking down $10 for Here, for now, I wondered who Celer was (prior to just looking on Facebook for Long’s artist page) and I happened upon his vast discography, including his brand new effort—the incredibly titled, How could you believe me when I said I loved you, when you know I’ve been a liar all my life. And one quick listen to the transcendental opening track, “Bleeds and swell blends,” I knew that I had stumbled across an incredible listen.“Bleeds and swell blends,” hyperbole aside, is nearly 13 minutes of sheer auditory perfection. Reserved, somber, and nostalgic, Long weaves an absolutely captivating and hypnotic loop that I could seriously listen to all fucking day. It’s simple—the sequence repeats itself only after a short while—but that’s the beauty of it. It’s warm, calming, melancholic, and comforting. This track alone is what we talk about when we talk about ambient and experimental music.
And lucky for you, the listener is that there are three more tracks following that—the whimsical wood-wind swirls of “These dreams, how portentously gloomy,” the mournful, Basinski-esq ripples of “Natural deflections,” and the balance of the dreamy and the shrill on the final piece, “Acrimonious, like fiddles.”
How could you believe me is both an outstanding record in its own right—innovative and imaginative, but it also serves as a gateway to the vast canon that Long has on his Bandcamp page, taking you down a swirling hole of reserved, at times omnious and shadowy, and at times gorgeous tape loop manipulations.
Though the title of Will Long’s latest Celer release references an Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane song from Stanley Donen’s 1951 musical Royal Wedding (and performed by Fred Astaire and Jane Powell), Long appears to be channeling someone like Debussy for the album’s four settings. With flutes forming a dominant part of the musical presentation, it’s almost impossible not to be reminded of the Impressionist composer and a representative work such as the symphonic tone poem Prélude à l’après – midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). Such issues aside,How could you believe me when I said I loved you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life, issued on Long’s Two Acorns on vinyl and Chihei Hatakeyama’s White Paddy Mountain on CD, is a fine addition to what is now a rather staggering discography of Celer recordings.
Still, as Debussy-esque as the material might be on sonic terms, the origins for the project itself emerged far outside France’s borders, in the American southwest to be precise. It was there that a number of years ago Long undertook a road trip with his eighty-year-old uncle that saw them take in the glorious sights of sun-bleached canyon walls and billowing clouds. The two made their way across the Colorado plateau, past Monument Valley, and through Aspen in all its ski resort and celebrity mansion glory before ending the trip near Ouray.
Years later, when Long copied a quartet of tape loop-based tracks sourced from electric piano and wooden flute onto sun-baked cassette tapes and a warped twelve-inch vinyl test pressing, he was struck by how much the material reminded him of that road trip and what he’d left behind in moving from California to Japan. In addition, whatever imperfections there were in the playback became an analogue to the distortions in memory of the trip that had accrued over time.
Given such background, it doesn’t surprise, then, that the tone of the recording is nostalgic and plaintive. Soft orchestral swells breathe ever so gently throughout the four settings, and their loop-based design calls to mind William Basinski as much as their delicate shimmer and sparkle suggests classical Impressionism. Yes, occasional pops of static and grime do momentarily derail the musical flow (the most conspicuous example being the temporary arrestation that occurs near the end of “Acrimonious, like fiddles”), but such interference comes to seem an inextricable part of the recording’s character. It’s classic Celer, in other words, a tremulous, forty-six-minute set whose seductive lull will be familiar to long-time devotees.
Da qualche tempo, Will Thomas Long ha intrapreso progetti diversi, diradando i ritmi serrati delle sue innumerevoli pubblicazioni. Sembra tuttavia che a Celer continui a riservare la dimensione più intima e toccante della sua espressione artistica.Ne sono prova quattro nuove tracce frutto della rielaborazione e del finissimo filtraggio di vecchie partiture per pianoforte e flauto, che riportano l’artista californiano, da tempo residente in Giappone, alle memorie di luoghi affascinanti, visitati durante un viaggio tra Colorado e Monument Valley e, per loro tramite, a quelle pagine di vita lasciatesi alle spalle.
Si dischiude così un abisso romanticamente malinconico, di pura decompressione ambientale.
Guide Me Little Tape
If you ever have had the pleasure of experiencing anything in the lengthy Celer discography, you probably have a vague sense of what to expect from the project, yet while the approach of Will Long’s now solo project is consistent, each release is a unique collection of emotional resonance.
This tape follows this trajectory with a sound that is at once Romantic in its exploration of powerful feeling and Minimalist in its trust in the small gesture. Brief phrases are looped in Basinsky-like fashion, and they can be a bit like William Basinsky’s compositions in their use of melancholy loops, but these do not disintegrate. Instead, the loops are insistent. They repeat like mantras, meditative in the truest sense of the word. Each track offers a different tiny fragment of narrative, no linear movement, but rather presenting tiny signifiers that invite the solitary listener inward.
Beautifully packaged with hazy, layered photography from Will Long on a cardstock j-card. Unfortunately, two cassette editions have sold out, but this release is available on LP and CD from the Celer Bandcamp site.