Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Masters of the Power Ambient and Drones

By Eyal Hareuveni

Ambient or drone music often carry the infamous new-agey badge of simplistic, one-dimensional, numbing kid of music. But these are just artificial definitions. Given the creative, strong-minded musicians, who know how to improvise and sculpt a fascinating sonic range out of their instruments and such music can be arresting, even disturbing music, with surprising spiritual tones. The recent releases of YODOK III, Dirk Serries and the new duos SAW and PUUL suggest that there is much more to explore within such loosely-defined genres.

YODOK III - The Sky Flashes, The Great Sea Yearns (A New Wave of Jazz, 2015) ****½

The YODOK trio - Norwegian, Trondheim-based drummer Tomas Järmyr and amplified tuba and flagbone player Kristoffer Lo (who began YODOK as a duo) with Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries, already sold out its limited edition sophomore only Double LP album. This release expands and enriches its debut sonic universe. Powerful drone-ambient pieces, all spontaneously improvised, all developed methodically and patiently as mysterious, otherworldly rituals.

Within this loose framework this trio does wonders. Järmyr exquisite work with the cymbals charge this patient interplay with dark tension and Lo and Serries highly creative usage of effects and pedals add layers upon layers of detailed and rich sounds. All the instruments adapt new, much richer, deeper sonic forms with a fascinating, profound resonating quality that deepens the feeling that these soundscapes do not subscribe to conventional definitions of time and space.

The emphatic and open interplay suggests a great focus in sketching the ritualistic spirit. Still, each of the four extended pieces on this album has its own distinct sound and color. Despite its ritualistic, even trance-like nature, none of these slow pieces sketches a peaceful, meditative narrative of the ethereal kind. Its focused interplay and rich, voluminous sound form a massive and all-encompassing presence that demands surrender to its grandiose energy and sheer, often innocent beauty.

John Dikeman / Dirk Serries  Cult Exposure (A New Wave of Jazz, 2015) ***½

This free improvised sax-electric guitar duo has nothing to do with previous duos of similar instrumentalists. The meeting between the muscular Brötzmann-ian sax wails of American, Amsterdam-based sax player John Dikeman, known from the free jazz bands Cactus Truck and Universal Indians, and the reserved, serene playing of the effects-laden guitar of Dirk Serries forced the two to transcend any possible comfort zone.

On the first piece the two still struggle to find for a possible ways of interaction without seeking a common ground. Dikeman plays his tenor sax in a powerful, nervous mode confronted with Serries structures of spare, noisy textures. But on the second title-piece Dikeman patiently taps his wails to the fractured loops that Serries structures and the two form a restless and tense, yet much more restrained soundscape. The third piece, “Whisper Edge” already morphs Dikeman extended breath techniques and gentle squeaks with the subtle, meditative of Serries atmospheric guitar and on the last piece,  “The Monolith Song II” , the two offer another collaborative pattern that brings the two back to the starting point but in a less confrontational interplay. Serries creates an intense, noisy pattern on which Dikeman can expands on with fiery, emotional blows.

Dirk Serries - The Origin Reversal (Projekt, 2014) ****

The album title suggest a kind of return to the basics. Indeed, Serries revisits the time when he created hypnotic ambient soundscapes under the alter-ego moniker vidnaObmana, a name he used since the mid-eighties until the the middle of the last decade, often for the same label. Serries uses his extensive experience and employs his effects laden electric guitar to sketch patiently on real-time, nuanced layers of gentle and warm sounds that transform into meditative textures. Each of the five serene, resonant soundscapes has its delicate dynamics and defined spirit and all sound surprising rich in detail, depth and color.

SAW - No Way Black (Lamour, 2014) ***

SAW is the new duo of Tomas Järmyr, who plays percussion here, and fellow Trondheim-based improvising guitarist Eirik Havnes who adds electronics and amplified circular saw-blades to his sonic arsenal. The minimalist, cinematic drones on Saw debut album, mastered by Serries (who goes here by the his other ambient moniker, Fear Falls Burning), reflect the the wild scenery of the northern Norway, where the sun either never rises or never sets. The sonic textures sound timeless, even static, but patiently more colors and shades are revealed and morph into powerful, dense walls of sounds. The longest piece, “Black”, stands out with its enigmatic, dramatic progression, like a timeless-mystic-hypnotic ritual that convey  threatening yet fascinating scenery of wild, remote parts of Norway.

PUUL - Puul (Optical Substance Records, 2015) ***

Puul is the another new duo of British bass player Tim Harries, known for his collaborations with British Brian Eno and Bill Bruford’s Earthworks among many others, and Norwegian sound designer and electronics artist Terje Evensen, known for his collaboration with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær. The two first met in British drummer Martin France Spin Marvel band (Molvær played in Spin Marvel second album, The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James, Edition Records, 2010) and worked together as a duo since 2011.

PUUL offer eight short contemplative and minimalist ambient soundscapes, each with its own subtle, dramatic dynamics. Harries electric bass usually suggests a certain spacious, fragmented bass mode and Evensen expands it with dark, mysterious sonic undercurrents with distant percussive touches, all accumulate to a haunting audio-cinematic experience.

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