In January 2020, The Guardian published an article summarising the historical appeal of ambient music and forecasting a renaissance for the genre. It’s an article the newspaper seems to rewrite every few years, ‘predicting’ the rise of ambient music in 2009, 2013 and again in 2017. Beyond these rarely welcomed articles, mainstream media writers rarely highlight the achievements of musicians working within the genre, and therefore come across like safari-suited explorers, declaring a scene with established players, traditions and history now ready for mass consumption. As such, works of note are regularly denied a larger audience.
Leandro Fresco and Rafael Anton Irisarri’s 2017 collaboration La Equidistancia is one such work. An exceptional record by all accounts, La Equidistancia distilled the idiosyncrasies of both artists, culminating in memorable moments of fragile beauty. This month, the pairs return with the first essential listen of the decade.
Of the collaborators, Irisarri is the ‘known commodity’. The sounds on his records are consistently huge and enveloping. His music brings to mind the scene in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia that sees a rogue planet crashing into Earth – overwhelming, but in an otherworldly, oddly serene way. The album works well played quietly but better when loud. Though Irisarri is primarily associated with an almost industrial drone, his music is never noisy; it’s meticulously and mindfully produced to ensure each track is like a soundbath. Like viewing chaos from a distance, his works are introspective and punctuated with moments of uneasy clarity.
Leandro Fresco hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His solo career has been incredibly varied, encompassing vocal-driven pop, minimal electronica and ambient sound design. In 2005, he contributed keyboards and programming to a Shakira record, which is one of the more unusual résumé entries for a musician covered by this blog. In this way, it could be said Fresco is similar to Brian Eno; a musical nomad and something of a polymath, as comfortable with producing pop records as he is with slow-paced ambience. Irisarri has produced similarly accessible, albeit more shoegaze-influenced, pop, with his Orcas project alongside frequent collaborator Benoit Pioulard. Perhaps this tendency was one of the catalysts to this fruitful, cross-continental friendship and collaboration.
Una Presencia En La Brisa (A Presence In The Breeze) unfolds more slowly than the pair’s previous album. While the compositions are melodious in construction, the melodies are lighter, often requiring excavation from beneath layers of texture. The hisses, hums and field recordings that grace much of Irisarri’s recorded output are here in force, providing depth to each track. This characteristic attention to small details makes Irisarri’s work so evocative.
‘Mientras Más Me Alejo De Ti, Menos Me Importa Cuan Lejos Estoy’ is one of the album’s standout moments and certainly its most unusual, built around a thumping bassline that sounds almost orchestral. Reminiscent of Christian Fennesz’s brilliant symphony-sampling ‘Mahler Remix’, it offers a sinister contrast to the album’s many lighter moments.
While not uniform across its entirety, many of the self-contained tracks on ‘Un Presencia…’ follow a formula, building from quiet hiss to dramatic crescendo over the course of around six minutes. Fresco’s ear for subtly redolent melodic lines diffuses the tension suggested by the impressionistic textural layers, amounting to an immediacy, even an urgency, that’s often missing from modern ambient composition. This music sounds great in headphones and may be even better live.
Irisarri and Fresco are world builders, soundtracking landscapes both real and imagined. While the imagery conjured is often expansive, there’s a closeness and warmth to be found too, something undoubtedly attributable to the pair’s friendship and mutual respect for each other’s craft. While they have never met in person, they bridge borders and connect continents through compelling, emotionally charged music. (Jack Cooper)