Will Thomas Long is the name associated with the synth explorations found under a new guise called Rangefinder. It might not be a household name per se, but TOME-followers and/or ambient music obsessors might also know him from the more-commonly associated nomenclature, Celer — an act many, many releases into an impressive career, most-recently landing on tape with something of a stunning masterpiece for Constellation Tatsu. (which Nathan is STILL borrowing by the way *shakes fist.) But of course here we have a different beast altogether; if Celer is a sound that can be defined by it’s wallowing ambient beauty, lakes of synthesizer made for a nice relaxing bath, then Rangefinder pulls the cork at the bottom of these bodies of liquid synth and let’s that water flow… fast. Of course, there’s no real tempos to be associated with this music, no beats-per-measure, and really there’s no measures. So how can we describe this music as being fast? How does Long create the illusion of rapid motion with such a sweeping, blinking blanket of tone? We often discuss ambient or drone music in terms of its ability to move, its inherent forward motion, but when it’s a slow-feeling piece, somehow that doesn’t seem quite as remarkable of an observation. Therefore, Long is treading on new ground with this his approach here, the synths themselves and their thrumming instabilities, shuttering arppeggios and chords, feel like they are travelling at warp speed. This is a new kind of ambient music, bracing and arresting, packed with inertia and soaring through the cosmos. Long lays out several chord progressions which succeed through boiling, bubbling strokes of Major and minor intervals, sometimes plunked out on a piano or danced out of what sounds like an organ made from laser beams. The sheer variety of textures, not only across the breadth of this breathtaking tape, but within individual tracks themselves, is a thing to behold; notes sound like they’re coming from buzzsaws, bows, strings, plasmas, fireflies, pools of blood, solar flares, amoebas, brain waves… and each note arrives as an unstable, pliable thing. Heavy vibratos, tremolos, tones squeezed and stretched to the max, and of course general reverberous and distorted effects are carefully chosen for each to keep the listener guessing, nerve-endings stood rapt in attention and tickled to death with each new sonic glimpse offered.
There is an element or two that is sacrificed in all of this: The main thing is that the immediate and compelling paintings of beauty that Long is nearly famous for (or should be, amirite?) are not exactly gone altogether, but a bit hidden. With the focus on these strobing textures, the harmonic subtleties are a bit harder to pin down and recognize, or even make sense of, and sometimes it seems like they might not even be there to begin with. And while there is still lots of gorgeousness in the compositions if you look hard enough, the pieces also have less clearly defined structures (beginnings, middles, and ends). Themes appear out of nowhere and wander about before ever really concluding themselves. But hey, maybe that’s OK. In fact, it very much is ok, mostly since this is the first Rangefinder tape, and it feels like Long was probably looking for a new vehicle to drive his instruments around in, joyrides to nowhere in particular for these experiments. Here he’s just testing out all the gears, making sure everything works like it should. The results are beyond thrilling for beat-less synthesizer music, and point with a fat finger towards a compelling future for all things Rangefinder — if he can take these new points of reference and map them out into a full, seamless journey, we’re really going to have something. And hey, I think a new tape might already be out, or is at least on the way… I’ve been flipping this 800 yen piece of merchandise over and over in my deck for months now trying to figure out how to write about it (and, of course, I have likely failed even now), but hopefully this little post gets folks hip to the even greater greatness that’s on Long’s long horizon. The best part? Whether it’s more Rangefinder or Celer material, it’s bound to be brilliant. What do they call that again? Oh yeah, WIN WIN.