If you were to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine Taylor Deupree – pick another ambient artist that we cover if that helps – the chances are you picture a man sitting or standing behind of a laptop. If it is in a live setting, his face will be tinged blue from the screen as he stares intently at it doing… well, something is happening even if we’re not entirely sure how much influence the operator is having. The crucial element here is the computer; it is the main tool of the trade for the ambient or experimental musician.
Deupree has been staring at a laptop for a long time – it’s 20 years since he established his consistently fascinating label 12k, and he was going for a few years before that – so it is perhaps understandable that he has decided to move away from computers on Somi. It’s a bit like the scene in Obelix & Co (bear with me here), where Obelix tires of being the wealthiest menhir man in the village and goes off to hunt wild boar with Asterix. In this instance, Deupree is going back to creating tape loops by hand – a more time-consuming approach but ultimately more rewarding. And, I think, ahead of the curve once more.
Due to its analogue nature, Somi is a particularly warm recording, full of sounds generated by the method of creation rather than being dragged and dropped there – the hiss you can hear on tapes builds up over the layers into its own ambient bed. The grainy effect so popular with producers occurs naturally here due to the sounds on the tapes. Glitches and small shifts out of time are just part of the process here. Deupree provides some delicate melody lines on his pieces so we’re not left in a morass of hiss, clicks and cuts, however, so there are discernible patterns to follow. There are chiming bells, plucked guitars and the occasional powerful bass note; at points there is a guitar that sounds like it was on a Talk Talk album (one of the later ones). The pieces develop subtly over time (aside from the opener “Minism”, the tracks are all over six minutes), with the loops changing their relation to each other over the duration.
The nearest comparison I can come up with for Somi is Brian Eno’s On Land, purely because Deupree is using a (presumably) similar method to his compositions. The tapes and loops both give off a similar ambience; there are ‘real’ instruments involved in the recordings and there are over-arching concepts behind both. Eno’s ideas gave psychogeographists plenty to ponder on, in the years since release. It may be that Somi is influential in its own way, inspiring other laptop artists to adopt the much more hands-on approach of manipulating tape loops. As in Obelix & Co, when menhir saturation point was reached in the Roman Empire, there was nothing else to be done other than go back to the way it was before – so for menhirs, read ambient music. By leaving behind digital and its own limitations, Taylor Deupree has made an analogue record for today; heartfelt, warm, real. (Jeremy Bye)