Bokeh feels like a true “environment”: ambient music that feels alive with the intelligence of nature. Wil Bolton has done quite a bit of sound work for art installations, where being sensitive to an actual environment is paramount. His compositions are often informed by visual cues (landscapes, architecture) where an initial field recording is made and then expanded upon with analogue instruments and a laptop. The fuzzy synth meditation “1887” opens with traffic, before the seagulls give another clue as to where we are (Spoiler! This one is in Liverpool). In fact, Bokeh on the whole is peppered with traffic and city sounds from various cities, inspiring serenity within a distracting urban setting.
The Japanese word ‘bokeh’ (say BOH-kay) refers to the way a camera lens renders the part of a photograph that is out of focus. Bolton was especially interested in parallels between the aural and the visual and between photography and sound. The abstract concept is perhaps best explained in Bolton’s own video below. Oh, yeah – Wil Bolton does photography and video work, too.
Best capturing the meaning of the word, the essential “Bokeh” could go on forever without any complaints from us. Bells and bowls are struck, then echo and tumble with a meditative cadence. Bolton is very playful with his treatments of these sounds: no two bell tones cascade or resolve the same way. Beneath the bells lives a rich blend of twinkling fragments, gulls and wind, and an amorphous yet deft weaving of analogue and synthetic sounds. The single step on a high-hat cymbal deep into the track continues to intrigue.
Throughout the album, synths weave between one another like wisps of fog, and it is this ever-changing patina that Bolton is so good at. He is using loops, but none of them are timed the same, ensuring unique combinations throughout. While this seems like a simple device, the attention to detail feels molecular. “Tremadog” sounds like Four Tet’s favorite kind of bells and field recordings, but the beats are left sleeping in the shade, encouraging the ever-manipulated bells to flit and stutter. “Moonlight (For Sophie)” is a lullaby for Bolton’s 1-year-old niece, and gosh is it pretty. The original field recording is from little Sophie’s toy telephone and rattle, which are treated with loving care as a circuitous melody cascades like starlight through a drifting curtain. The peripheral magic of this composition wonderfully captures the wonder with which we can view young children experiencing the world, reveling in another’s fresh experience, never really knowing as an adult what this time in our own lives was like.
The album feels like a memory yearning to be experienced fresh, but it is always out of reach. Wil Bolton’s work is truly wonderful and “bokeh” is an apt theme, playing with the idea that modeling our perception can never match how people truly experience the world. The camera lens produces visual “abberations” when elements run out of focus, but many photographic effects caught in the periphery strike us as sublime. Fire up the sensory deprivation chamber and put this one on to experience high quality ambient memories from a life you have never lived. (Nayt Keane)