‘Xiexie’ is a Chinese word meaning ‘thank you, thanks’. When Will Long went to China he bought a dictionary but in the end, only used this word. These two CDs reflect something of that trip to China, using four field recordings as starting points. So the first CD opens with some street sounds and people talking but then slowly, over the course of two minutes moves from fading out these street sounds and the drones then move in and slowly, as ever with Celer, transform from one thing to the next. Music that is like cascading waves breaking on the beach, but all in slow motion. In ‘Rains Lit By noon’ (disc one, second track) there is a pleasant mild distortion to be noticed but the piece ends near silence before going into ‘In The Middle Of The Moving Field’, which the kind of Celer you know best, flowing beautifully and right at the end the next field recordings come in and that’s only a brief fragment of a train at 303 Km/h (you could have fooled me) and two more lengthy drone pieces. Throughout it seemed to me that the pieces on the second disc were a bit more ‘distorted’; you have to count in that in the quiet world of Celer anything ‘less quiet’ may count as a bit distortion. There is of course not really ‘noise’ on this record, far from it; it just is a little something different, and occasionally at that, that is going on here, such as in the closing track ‘Our Dream To Be Strangers’. That makes that this Celer is a bit different from many of his other works, and while not a radical break with the old ‘Celer’, for me at least quite a surprise. Also available on 2LP!
Archive for April, 2019
“Xièxie” in Brainwashed
It would be great if there was some simple way for casual Celer fans like myself to easily distinguish Will Long’s major statements from the ceaseless flow of minor releases, but there seem to be glaring exceptions to every system that I have attempted to devise. In the case of Xièxie, however, Long helpfully took the guesswork out of the matter, as this might be the most heavily promoted album that he has ever released. Happily, his instincts have proven to be well-founded, as Xièxie definitely ranks among the upper tier of his overwhelming oeuvre. I would probably stop short of calling it a start-to-finish masterpiece or my personal favorite Celer album, but I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone else churning out ambient/drone music as enveloping and sublimely lovely as Xièxie‘s bookends.
It is admittedly a bit redundant to mention that Xièxie (“thank you”) is an album inspired by bittersweetly beautiful memories of a specific time and place, as transforming lingering memory fragments into lush, soft-focus dreamscapes has been Will Long’s stock-in-trade since Celer’s very beginnings. However, I definitely appreciate the poetic reminiscence that Long wrote as an album description. For one, it establishes a lovely and evocative context: two lovers once took a train trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, a period that is now distilled to a series of flickering images of neon lights, rain, birds, and blurred scenery seen through the window of speeding train. Moreover, that literary component is vital to understanding and appreciating the full scope and depth of this project: without it, it is very easy to view Celer’s oeuvre as a vast ocean of similar-sounding releases. To be sure, Long is quite good at what he does, so even a run-of-the-mill Celer album can be enjoyable, but there are a lot of relatively interchangeable albums for every landmark release. One could argue that the latter is only possible through Long’s seemingly obsessive work ethic, but one could also argue that those less exceptional moments could have simply been kept in the vault rather than released. However, that would undercut the larger vision (or at least what I imagine that vision to be): Celer is like a vast impressionist diary or novel unfolding in real-time. Some chapters are certainly more vivid and memorable than others, but they are all integral parts of the whole’s gradually unfolding arc.
Much like the work of William Basinski, most Celer albums religiously adhere to a distinctive template of simple loops repeated into infinity–the biggest difference between the two artists is primarily one of scale, as Long traffics in a kind of slow-motion, widescreen grandeur. In that respect, Xièxie is textbook Celer, as each piece is an elegiac procession of dreamlike, billowing chords that beautifully approximates massive clouds lazily rolling across a vast horizon. The tone is almost always one of sublime melancholy, but Long has proven himself to be a master at articulating different shades of that narrow emotional range by deftly manipulating lightness and density. The midsection of Xièxie is populated with one lengthy and archetypal variation of that aesthetic after another, though they are interspersed with brief interludes of field recordings made during the trip. Each substantial piece meets Celer’s usual high standard of quality, but the subtle divergences from the formula that open and close the album stand out as the most compelling and distinctive pieces. In the case of the opening “Rains Lit By Neon,” Long simply allows the field recordings and his music to bleed together so that his heavenly chord swells slowly fade into a collage of street sounds. It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but it very effectively creates an illusion of added depth.
The twist is similarly minimal and effective on closing “Our Dream to be Strangers,” as the central theme sounds like a fragment snatched from an especially majestic bit of synth-centric ’70s space music or prog. It still ultimately sounds a hell of a lot like a Celer piece though, as the loop seems to leave a lingering and hazy vapor trail that obscures it more and more with each repetition. The moral here is that it does not take much innovation at all to make a Celer song stand out from the pack. Of the two excursions, however, I am most fascinated by the artful collage of field recordings overlapping those first few minutes of “Rains Lit By Neon,” as I do not understand why Long does not make that a recurring, defining trait of his work. Given that he is an expat living in Japan, his field recordings certainly seem unique and interesting to me as a listener. Also, from an artistic standpoint, it seems like Celer’s entire aesthetic is an abstract evocation of specific places and moments. As such, it would make perfect thematic sense to include the actual sounds of those places for added texture and enigmatic meaning. Goddamn it–now it sounds like I am complaining about an album that I genuinely enjoy: the important thing here is that Xièxie is an excellent album. Its flashes of greater inspiration unavoidably remind me that Long is a visionary artist who too often disguises himself as a solid ambient composer, but I am damn grateful that those flashes of inspiration exist.
“Xièxie” in Headphone Commute
Throughout the last decade, Will Long continued handling the candle of light of that very special Celer sound even when darkness has swallowed it all. The consummation, content, and most importantly consistency of his output has remained the guiding torch in my nights as well. The Discogs page lists over 200 releases and 2019 sees already a few, on Patient Sounds Intland Avalance Recordings, but it is for his very own Two Acorns imprint that Long retains the best. The Chinese word Xièxie (谢谢), which translates to ‘thank you,’ accompanies Long on his journey to Shanghai, where memories, imagined or very real, flood all his senses with grey passing rain. The deep inner longing, regretful nostalgia, and glum melancholia permeate every soft wave in a mist of the sound, captured in fast-moving trains, alongside sad doorways, or places of hope, where waiting in vain we lastly close eyelids, and rest in a dreamless, forever remembered, but sadly invented, reflected deep sleep. “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.” Be sure to read more words by Long on the Bandcamp release page to get a full sense of the atmosphere. The album was mastered by Stephan Mathieu with a cover design by Rutger Zuydervelt. Available as a 2×12″ silver limited edition, as well as on black vinyl, digital, and compact disc. A highly recommended meditation on the being and the past tense of all the memories to be.
Xièxie in Stationary Travels
Under the moniker of Celer, American musician, writer, & photographer Will Long has released a staggering amount of material – a wide assortment of drones, soundscapes, sketchworks, and processed loops. No doubt his many followers each have their own favorites, but personally I always find his work most compelling when he creates deeply immersive on-location narratives such as Sky Limits (2014) which presented a sense of daily commuter life in urban Japan, or Two Days and One Night (2016) which wistfully retraced the steps of an elderly uncle’s tragic visit to Tunisia in the 1984.
Long’s preternatural ability to capture scenes and emotions in a kind of musical amber and then turn it into a story comes to the fore again on Xièxie, in which he takes us on a journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou on China’s high-speed rail line. Like a cinematographer who slows fast-moving action on celluloid for dramatic effect, Long turns the journey into a mesmerizing soporific reverie punctuated by scene-setting cues like the bustle of a busy station or the whir of a speeding train. To deepen the immersion, he narrates the excursion in the liner notes with all the eloquence of a novelist.
As we settle into the journey, it becomes intertwined with memory and metaphor. There is a destination stamped on our ticket, but that is only part of the story as Long takes us not only forward, but inwards as well.
Past is prologue to the arrival and the arrival is a prelude to new memorires and even deeper introspections. The trip may come to an end, but the dream goes on and on…
As author Pico Iyer once said, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves”. By the time this album drifts to its conclusion, I felt as I had done a little of both. Xièxie nĭ, Will.