Emanuel Mieville can be described alternately as a field recording artist who creates drones and a drone artist who uses field recordings. On Ethers, he attempts “to lower drone music from the skies”, and succeeds; their earthbound nature is clear. This makes the album an unusual artifact, as familiar sounds are mulched, processed and layered until their original context is obscured in the steam.
With this in mind, it’s appropriate that the album begins not with any recognizable sound, but a hint of static, an electronic squeal (similar to the central synth of “Jump Around”) and a wave of feedback. This leads to waves of a different nature: a splash, a silence, a slowdown and, when the artist is ready, breakers on the shore. But one shouldn’t mistake “Fertile Drone” as a mere ocean recording; it’s a composition that uses water as texture and tone. Nor is Mieville satisfied with a single set of sources. Before long, the sounds of transit appear, and in the most effective section (beginning at 3:24), a series of percussive pings, like freezing rain falling on xylophones. Neither pillowed nor harsh, the piece scrapes and spackles in equal measure.
“Sur Le Pont” is more straightforward, opening with footsteps, rail conversation and the sound of approaching and passing trains. Most commuters have experienced the rhythms of mass transit, but few have translated them into a composition such as this. Mieville finds the hidden rhythms of the rails and converts them into a mini-symphony of sound. The result is not what one might actually hear, but the amalgamation of all that one might hear. When construction sounds emerge late in the piece, one remembers the non-glamorous side of the rail system; it’s always in need of repair. And when the rain enters, one may as well curse under one’s breath and say, “it is what it is.”
These forces continue to collide on “Watt Station”: nature and humanity, water and steel. But there’s also some music involved in the early going, at least some notes in obvious keys. The brain struggles to find context in sounds that were once random and have now been reorganized. In this case, there’s no telling where the notes originated, or if the artist’s intention is to offer contrast between the real and the imagined. Suffice it to say that this is like no station or sea that the listener has ever encountered. And then in the closing minutes, “real” chords, as if the trains had sprouted trumpets. All of these threads meet in the closing piece, “Island Ferryism”, which revisits themes from the preceding works, even at one point hammering them together so that no sound can escape the collage. When the ferry announcement is made, seven minutes in, one realizes that one has just completed a similar, metaphorical journey, with a guide who speaks only in sound. (Richard Allen)