Since art exists in time, it is unthinkable that it be separate from space. As we become absorbed in the duration of a record, a new space is imagined – or relations with our environment are infinitesimally altered. To some, ambient music may seem a kind of background texture devoid of action. But explorations of duration and location give it a distinctly narrative structure. It tells stories, in the subtle sequence of sounds, and the series of emotional resonances it solicits.
An aeroplane at night. You’ve reached cruising altitude. You close your eyes, insert your earphones, shut out the dislocations of modern travel. The new album by Moss Covered Technology begins. Ten kilometres below, a figure traverses the landscape. You watch, and like the viewer of a John Nash landscape painting, you pick a path through the hillside. Detailed swathes of ambient synth begin to build into slow motion melodies. At times, competing tones emanate from the natural world and from human activity. They eventually cohere, as the album dramatizes and resolves elemental tensions.
Slow Walking is a synth-based album of lush ambience by Greig Baird. Previously releasing music as Boomruin, he has worked under the Moss Covered Technology moniker since 2016. On this album, Baird’s ambient canvas is embossed with restively shimmering details, sometimes sounding like minimal guitar work. These sparks enliven our vision of the landscape and our journey through it. Is that the sound of stars appearing, or of lights switched on in cities below?
While Baird’s music sets us in motion, we needn’t be on a plane or a hillside for its narrative to take effect. This is the first vinyl release from Canadian label, Polar Seas Recordings: you may embark on its voyage from the warmth of your own turntable. After a meandering journey, and a satisfying arrival, you awake. Your metal vessel is embraced by rich lichen. The modern world remained so still for once. Creatures have nested in the overhead lockers.
Slow Walking is an album which demands to be heard as a journey. Kochi, the new album from Wil Bolton, seems to have already arrived in distant lands. As the album opens, birds squawk whilst bells ring like the clinking of masts. Bolton’s field recordings of an Indian port city are reframed by organic-sounding drones. Synth, glockenspiel, electric guitar, and other instruments are spun into delicate gossamer. As the overlaid sounds swell, the sun rises and the events of the day begin.
This is a luxuriously relaxing album. Its four tracks – “Reeds”, “Ropes”, “Tides”, and “Nets” – speak of a nautical idyll, whose hardships are glimpsed only in a languidly soft focus. At times, you seem to kick back on the shore, the seaside action washing over you. At other moments, you are wheeling above with the cawing gulls. On the third track, a sense of menace creeps in, as the sea reminds us of its sublime power to undo human endeavour. However, the tide recedes; you are left unscathed.
Returning home after 40 minutes, you may feel rejuvenated and refreshed. However, the material foundation of this album is not a deserted paradise. The distant voices of fisherman speak of the day’s labour. Car horns remind us of urban dwellers hurriedly at their business. There is a risk that their lives have been appropriated and misrepresented. Ultimately, the place and events we experience as listeners are not theirs. Bolton’s music is a dream or distant memory of a place – one which ushers a new world into being. Both of these albums summon a keen sense of time, place, and narrative. But the worlds they evoke exist only for the listener, in the fleeting emotional responses that sound commands. (Samuel Rogers)