Cleveland’s John Daniel is Forest Management, a prolific ambient artist whose latest two releases were released in the same week. Played back-to-back, they form a diptych that stretches purposefully from early winter to early spring.
One of the aspects of forest management (the career) is to visit property that is crowded by foliage and to make decisions about what to keep and what to cut. The goal is to promote active growth; the culling is a favor to the forest. In like fashion, Daniel makes such decisions on a regular basis. None of his compositions are crowded, but this does not mean they are not full. Instead, each piece contains enough room for the elements to be heard and appreciated.
The opening track of the Sky Image CD3″ is extremely quiet, but it bears a perfect subtitle: “The Beginning of Winter”. The music is distant, awash in a digital wind. Twice Removed is located in Perth, so the timing is apt, and by this time, the Northern Hemisphere is more than happy to pass its winter down the longitudes. This peaceful selection is one of Forest Management’s best: pared down, sparse, intimate. The remainder of the EP is similarly sedate. “Itself” is barely more than a whisper, but it’s a beautiful whisper, akin to the work of Yann Novak. The title track coaxes melodies from static, while “Crystallize” does exactly what its title implies, tidying the previous elements into a neat little pile.
The Contemplative Life begins with the sound of the artist taking a shower. The tap is opened, the water falls, the soap is applied; then Daniel rinses himself, draws back the curtain and towels off. It’s a metaphor for a new beginning, but we’re relieved to know that there’s no video. In a contemplative life, every aspect is examined. It’s no surprise that the album is more active than its predecessor, although some of the subtleties have been lost. The ambient washes are louder, and piano notes feature prominently as texture. This is the sound of early spring, of minds and hearts and earth awakening. The smudges – like snow on earth – are receding, replaced by definition. “Glass Doors” is especially engaging, a challenge to the torpor of white. The fading finale edges forward in time and timbre, a harbinger of things to come. (Richard Allen)