A staggering number of Celer releases has been issued since the group’s 2005 inception, yet Will Long continues to find ways to give each new Celer outing a distinctive character. As long-time fans well know, the group originated as a duo project but has been guided by Will alone since 2009 following the untimely passing of his partner Danielle Baquet-Long. Currently based in Tokyo, Japan, the US-born Will has not only kept the Celer project alive but amped up his activity level through his participation in Oh, Yoko (with Miko) and Hollywood Dream Trip (with Christoph Heemann); he also operates the Two Acorns label, on which the vinyl version of Sky Limits appears.
Long’s liner notes provide some mode of orientation for the fifty-minute album, though they’re hardly required when the music by itself is so evocative: “Hill towns and empty mountains pass by, but the smoothness of the train blurs the view, and it’s easier than ever to fall asleep in the low morning sunlight coming in through the train’s windows.” The intertwining of movement and stasis in the image of a traveler taking in the passing scenery finds its analogue in the album, where transporting, strings-laden episodes alternate with field recordings-sourced snapshots of daily life in Tokyo and Kyoto.
The instrumental settings are ethereal in character, as if to suggest music drifting slowly far above the earth’s surface, and their textures are silken, diaphanous even. As a result, a piece such as the nine-minute opener “Circle Routes” inculcates a state of dream-like reverie in the listener receptive to the music’s charms, especially when its suspended strings hypnotically oscillate between two pitches. Though the instrumentals—symphonic pieces that often swell to a Wagnerian pitch (see “Equal to Moments of Completion”)—are a collectively unified bunch, there are subtle differences between them. In contrast to the restful tone of “Circle Routes,” for example, shuddering strings in “Tangent Lines” generate a more agitated effect by comparison.
The single-minute interludes, on the other hand, ground the listener firmly in the minutiae of everyday life where different scenes are captured in fleeting form. In one, tea is prepared while a television broadcasts a rocket launch; in another, intercom announcements and buzzers convey the frenzied activity of a typical train station. Miniature portraits of the city and domestic life are both accounted for in the album’s five vignettes, all of which have identifying dates affixed to them.
If there’s a single Sky Limits track one could select to illustrate the subtle allure of Celer’s music, it’s “Wishes to Prolong.” At first blush, it might appear to be little more than a static drone anchored at a single pitch, but when inspected more carefully, plaintive echoes below the surface begin to reveal themselves, and the piece becomes an artful exercise in the kind of subliminal sleight-of-hand at which Celer excels.