What beautiful days we had been having ~ gorgeous, sun-dappled afternoons, warmth on upturned faces, a sense of an early spring. But then without warning, the Arctic cold descended once more. The three newest releases from Shimmering Moods are a reminder that despite frost’s final stand, the earth has already begun its annual tilt toward the sun. To listen to these releases in the order below is to relive winter’s last battle and to mourn its eventual, inevitable defeat.
The photos provide a reminder of winter’s beauty ~ the dappled blue of twilight trees, the dignity of hoarfrost, the contrast between the sun’s warmth and the snow’s cold. Solstice is pure winter, honoring the very first day. The artist Rime Trails is inspired by “snowbound huts, weathered stones, colder winds, a hushed creek, and the occasional glimmers of the winter sun.” His forlorn piano plays over hushed drones that roll like loose snow over light drifts. At the end of the first “Refrain”, church bells toll over bellows of wind, implying a call to meditation, reflection, the great indoors. Now is the time of gathering in. The music is lovely, cut off from the outside, yet divine; with the right mindset, we need not fear the cold encroachment. When the piano vanishes in the third “Refrain”, the listener is momentarily lonely, but trusts it will return, just as the birds do in spring; and indeed it does, in the very next track. By the end, the notes have grown clearer, more confident. The season has not yet changed, but the attitude toward it has.
As Vibrancy begins, we can hear the frost continuing to spread, the crunching footsteps of a winter traveler, the soft drone of low light. Gallery Six (Hidekazu Imashige) offers two contrasting aural images: frozen tones and notes in movement. The album is a reminder of life in the midst of “an invincible winter” (to paraphrase Camus). Wildlife migrates, burrows or fends for itself; seeds pause, preparing to sprout when the time is right. The title suggests life where little is seen. The music provides a score to stasis while suggesting a deeper level: the bottom of the lake, where fish still move. Yet even in ice, there is life, and the tiny pops of static offer hope: dashes of color in a field of white. The fourth track offers early evidence of flow, both literal and metaphorical; the landscape is alive. By the fifth, the soundscape is growing dense. The melt arrives in the sixth, while the flocks return in the seventh. The world is unfolding as it should.
Water flows all over the set from Snufmumriko. The melt is now in full force. The sun shines brightly on the ice-draped branches. Ingmar Wennerberg describes his inspirations as “dawn and new beginnings,” and the fact that these pieces were primarily recorded in the early hours of the day underlines his theme. At First Light is the promise of a new season, the snow and ice melting, returning to the sea; the rain falling in place of snow. Gently these pieces unfold, implying a gradual transition. In contrast to Solstice, the wind is light and warm: still bracing, yet inviting. Now is the time to reemerge. When an electronic beat appears in “Exile” ~ the first to grace any of these recordings ~ one is certain that the spring has arrived. Even when the weather subsequently seems to go back and forth ~ as it has in my own little town ~ it does so with an aura of sadness. Once the first warm day arrives, one never knows when the last cold day will be, but their days are numbered. The birds of “Still Early Days” sing a happy song, while the mayflies of “Kingdom of Lost Summers” offer a reminder that not everything about warm weather is good ~ perhaps we can hold on for a little while longer, and appreciate every season as it happens. (Richard Allen)