Fall Music Preview ~ Ambient & Drone

Get ready ~ we’re about to cover over 365 albums in five days!  Today is the first day of meteorological fall In the Northern Hemisphere, and the release schedule is already packed to the gills.  This week, we’ll list all the fall releases we’ve been privileged to hear.

Today we cover ambient and drone: two sides of the same coin.  If ambient music is designed to calm and soothe, drone reflects the anxieties of dark days and insomniac nights.  In the middle lies dark ambient, which exposes the ghosts and dark undercurrents of society.  The rapidly changing events of summer 2021 have created an emotional whiplash; some days we seek quietude, while other days we want to scream. Perhaps the panacea can be found below.

Room40 Takes the Field

David Toop, Akio Suzuki & Lawrence English pool their talents on Breathing Spirit Forms, a musical meditation on memory injected with a healthy amount of field recordings.  The album’s companion is English’s A Mirror Holds the Sky, a single longform piece recorded in the Amazon jungle, concluding with a powerful thunderstorm (Room40, September 3).  A week later, the label will release Megan Alice Clune‘s If You Do, an experimental suite of clarinet and voice, recorded in isolation.  Our favorite title:  “The Worst Coffee in the Best Cup” (Room40, September 10).  Also forthcoming on Room40 (and just the tip of the iceberg): Marina Rosenfeld‘s Teenage Lontano, including a pair of polychordal works performed by teens, published for the first time (October 15); a second disc from Rosenfeld, Index celebrates the artist’s relationship with turntables and dub plates (November 5); Toshimaro Nakamura‘s Culvert – No-Input Mixing Board, which sounds like its title but is inspired by rivers that have turned into pathways (October 8); and Robert Takahashi Crouch‘s Jubilee, a melancholic work that reflects a long personal journey through surgery and addiction and includes a monologue about an attempted suicide (October 15).

Philip Samartzis + Eugene Ughetti are releasing a pair of interrelated works.  Array combines Antarctic field recordings with live performances, chronicling life at a remote research station. Polar Force is a CD, installation and art work that builds to a white-out event (Room40, October 15).  Over on Omnempathy, Michael Begg uses Arctic readings to compose a score representing climate change.  Light Water Is Black Water is populated with field recordings, violin, and the incremental changes of ambience, which mirror those in sea ice (October 29).


Not ready for winter?  Nikki Sheth‘s Sounds of Mmabolela is as hot as it gets, with birds, frogs, hippos, crocodiles and cicadas vying for sonic supremacy (Flaming Pines, September 3).  Francisco López returns with Hidden Island Music, which bears the ironic subtitle Untitled #398.  This dual release (Keroxen and Discrepant) contains recordings made on the isle of Tenerife (November 5). Tomoko Hojo + Rahel Kraft suggest the life of a grazing horse on Grass Eater Diary, a sound walk with field recordings and festival song, reflecting a placid, yet rewarding approach to life (LINE, September 10).


Thoughtful and Reflective

While vocal pieces appear on Peter Broderick‘s The Wind That Shakes the Bramble (yes, that’s a Joyce reference), the highlight is the amazing 22-minute title track, a shimmering instrumental piece that sounds like aural poetry.  The piece uses the blackberry plant as a symbol of resilience in tough times (Erased Tapes, September 10).  Cucina Povera‘s Dalmarnock Tapes was recorded in a snowstorm: fragments of music and shards of voice, like shattered icicles on a bed of snow (mappa, September 7).  The (mostly) lyric-free voice of IKSRE wafts across the ambience of III, a set whose peace was hard-won following a time of tragedy.  A cover of “Song To The Siren” is an early highlight (Hush Hush, October 15).  Maya Sheffield‘s In Free Fall lies across the borders of ambient and modern composition, yielding no hint of her punk roots.  Tape loops, sine wave and organic brass imitate the feel of an echo chamber (Thrill Jockey, October 22).


On notebook, jason calhoun (also known as naps) travels lowercase in name and sound.  The set reflects on time in a Trappist monastery and reaffirms the value of human connection (Dear Life, September 3).  Marv‘s Keyboard Suite I imitates the intimacy of a cave as a place to collect one’s strength.  French horn also makes an appearance (enmossed, September 3).  Perila will release two related works on Vaagner, each inspired by the isolation of the past year.  7.37/2.11 is the primary album, while the EP Memories of Log was recorded with Ulla.  The two form a comforting diptych (October 15).  Lonely trumpet is graced by hints of dub on Sleeping with my worries, recorded by Joshua Trinidad for his family as a last will and testament in case he was struck down by COVID.  Fortunately he lived, and his music does too (Subcontinental, September 10).

Comparing pandemic lockdown to sci-fi movies such as Silent Running, Memorybell offers a soft serenade in the form of Glass Garden, highlighted by a pair of quarter-hour tracks (Hidden Shoal, September 10).  Expanding the theme to include both pandemic and politics, Timothy Corpus offers his quiet reflections on MMXX. Don’t be alarmed by titles such as “Screen Time,” “Is This What Democracy Looks Like?” and “Elegy for Justice,” as this is an instrumental affair (September 10).

Pianist Midori Hirano has a lovely album slated for release next week; Soniscope is packed with texture and sports a remix (albeit not a club remix) by Robot Koch.  The album soothes as well as inspires (Dauw, September 10).  Byron Westbrook returns with the intricate architecture of Mirror Views, packing the background with more curiosities than the foreground.  The field recordings are only part of the scenery (Ash International, September 17). With ten one-word titles, Otaru‘s View seems an exercise in simplicity.  But the smudged nature of these recordings, made on battered instruments, yields a surprising depth.  As a bonus, the album is preceded by [Re]View, an EP of reinterpretations by label founder David Newman, recording as Volume Objects (Audiobulb, September 15).  An Act of Forgetting is the fourth in an ongoing series of nostalgic works from Heavy Cloud, augmented by videos, voiceovers and a generous limited edition packed with evocative ephemera (September 2, pictured below).

A long out-of-print CD3″ subscription series is getting the box set treatment this October.  Adam Pacione‘s synth and tape loop excursions from 1999-2009 have been remastered and two new tracks added for the 4-disc souvenir Any Way, Shape, or Form on Elevator Bath (October 22).  U.S. band Requiem joins forces with the U.K. artist Simon McCorry on Joy; Division, creating a sound between ambient and shoegaze, with an obvious reference to a seminal band (Woodford Halse, October 16).  Stray Theories resurfaces with the comforting This Light, folding in tones of modern composition and including alto horn.  The transparent copper LP is quite lovely (n5MD, October 8).

Eight études based on floral studies by a 19th-century French photographer?  This has to be ambient.  Blue Chemise‘s piano-based Flower Studies folds in quiet chords and occasionally distorted notes to provide a bit of an edge (B.A.A.D.M., September 24).  Zpell Hologos paints in abstract, dissonant tones; Birmania is a reflection of Brazil’s out-of-control year, in which authoritarian politics met rampant disease, and nobody won (October 4).  It’s been a while since we last heard from Students of Decay, but the label makes a triumphant return with Marja Ahti‘s intricate Still Lives, where micro-tones and magnetic tape dance between thin strokes of paint (October 7).  Lina Filipovich’s Magnificat is the latest album to receive the Time Released Sound treatment, with special limited edition packaging.  The music warps Rachmaninoff’s “All Night Vigil” into still-recognizable, but greatly altered shapes (September 3).


The concept of Physical Silence took on new meaning during the pandemic.  Cody Yantis‘ album is a reflection on The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, as well as a response to hand-made art cards received during lockdown.  The music is soft and warm, and nearly landed in our Rock and Post-Rock category, but we think it fits better here (Round Bale Recordings, October 8).  In related fashion (although adopting a different timbre), Razen offers Blue Rot, which covers the concept of stillness through glass harmonica, harmonium, recorder and serpent (we don’t think that means a snake), and is inspired by 19th century Symbolist art (Hands In the Dark, September 24).  Kraut Sounds (Polaroid Notes) offers Silence, an intentionally calming set on Whitelabrecs, released alongside label owner Spheruleus’ oceanic Absent Frames (September 3).


The mini-supergroup of Alister Fawnwoda · Suzanne Ciani · Greg Leisz coats ambience with a gentle post-rock glaze.  Night Bunny is the first taste of Milan, a smooth blend of pedal steel and synth (AKP, September 24).  While Forest Robots has some great post-rock titles (for example, The World Is Held Together by the Beauty of Humble Places and “In the Aftermath of Rain No Grain of Sand Remains Unstirred,” Horst & Graben is ambience in the Eno mold, an enveloping album on the Elm label (September 1).  Lost Rarities become found on Dionisaf‘s analogue collection, which draws inspiration from the Siberian wilderness.  On this album, the artist continues his evolution from rock guitarist to tape loop maestro (élan vital, September 1).  After a multitude of releases under other names, Greg Keller is finally releasing an album under his own.  The calming Greg Keller Music, Vol. 1 is out September 24 on Stickfigure.

Simon McCorry‘s Flow sounds like its name.  Visits to stone circles, moorlands and rivers inspired these untitled pieces, which remain in constant motion without drawing attention to themselves (See Blue Audio, September 10).  Autodealer‘s piano makes drone sound like ambient; Structured Living for Young Minds portrays a clash between light and dark, but the two end up being friends (Somewherecold, October 29).  Conversely, Caustic Reverie mixes ambient into Chamber Drones in the full-length follow-up to January’s Chamber Sketches EP, stretching orchestral chords like salt water taffy (September 3).  Husband and wife awakened souls and From Overseas fold shoegaze into the mix on Keep the Orange Sun (Past Inside the Present, September 24).  Also on September 24, Consouling Sounds will release a dark set from Insekt Art; Side B of Future Fossils is a side-long live improvisation.  Cahill/Costello offers more active ambience on Offworld, a partially improvised set inspired by the geography and people of Scotland (Gearbox, September 10).

New Age Timbres

Only someone as accomplished as Vangelis could offer a major work on box set in time for the holiday season.  In association with NASA, the composer combines samples, vocals and orchestra on Juno to Jupiter, a gorgeous suite of space exploration (Decca, September 24).  myndstream Collection Volume 1 offers responses to the question, “What does mindfulness sound like?”  Artists as diverse as Daniel Lanois and Rick Wakeman answer the call (myndstream, September 24).  The words “mystical,” “consciousness” and “peace” are bandied about in the press release for Son of Chi & Radboud Mens‘ The Transition Recordings, which gives listeners a clue of what to expect from these intricate, side-long pieces (Astral Industries, September 10).  MIDI sequencing grants JU4N‘s Enhanced Interior Landscapes a retro futuristic sheen; the album draws from new age and jazz (Holodeck, September 17).  Mark Tranmer resurrects his decade-absent GNAC moniker for a cinematic suite that reflects his prior score work.  Afternoon Frost is due October 29.  Luce Celestial makes its debut with Discepolato Nella Nuova Era, featuring synth, tape and a bit of ocarina (Artetetra, September 1).

Electronic Ambient

Devotional drone colors Antiphonals, a Mellotron, organ, piano and synth opus from Sarah Davachi.  Focusing on repetition and the use of “negative space,” the music carves out a pew for meditation (Late Music, September 10).  Drawing on ambient, electronic and modern composition, Klein is about to make a quiet splash.  Organic instruments mingle with electronic on Harmattan, out November 1 on Pentatone.  The Metamorph‘s lovely Return to Splendour is not only Werra Foxma’s first foray into vinyl, it’s presented in the rare 10″ format.  The EP was first recorded for a radio show, and early copies come with an art print (September 3).  The label will follow this with the bubbling, sparkling Nectar from Oceanographer (September 30).  There are already a lot of water sounds on “Ininland,” the first single from Brin‘s Water Sign; we expect to be inundated by October 15 (sound as language).


Ezekiel Honig‘s Falling Close to Memory is a long-distance collaboration with vocalist Trevor De Nógla, who appears on four of the tracks.  The voice is wrapped in layers of gauze, non-linear music and found sound (Anticipate Recordings, September 3).  The macro-lensed video for “In Apertures” makes a fine introduction to Luca Formentini‘s Intra-, which combines micro sound and handmade instruments to create an in-and-out-of-focus world. The spoken word sample on “Molecules” may remind some of The Orb (Subcontinental, September 7).  Famous friends can be a boon, and the Immersion duo (also pretty famous themselves) are joined by Ulrich Schnauss, Laetitia Sadler, Tarwater and Scanner on Nanocluster Vol. 1.  There’s no telling whom future volumes will include, but this is a great start (swim ~, September 4).


Ian Boddy celebrates the 100th release on the DiN label with Nevermore, a live concert for modular synthesizer.  The music was first presented at the Soundquest festival in the early days of the pandemic (October 15).  Beginning with “How We Got Into The Mess,” Luton tackles weighty questions of memory and imagination, heaven and hell: a soul-searching exercise prompted by the pandemic and preserved by isolated chapel recording sessions, with fasting and sleep deprivation.  The ironically-titled Eden breaks curfew on September 17.  If you haven’t yet tired of pandemic music, you may wish to revisit the early days of the disease with Distant Fires Burning‘s Inperspectycon Vol. 1, which recalls the panic and “crushed hope” of 2020.  The second volume may be more cheerful, but it all depends on us (Audiobulb, October 6, pictured above).


In case you’re wondering, LŪP does mean loop!  Lemond Campbell constructed his own device, which captures 10 seconds of sound that degrade slowly as they are played.  A future release on tape will give fans the opportunity to try their own hands at sound editing (One Little Independent, October 22).  Half of Martina Lussi‘s Balance was recorded pre-pandemic, the other more recently.  The full set serves as a meditation on fluctuation and equilibrium.  The album also inspires a scent by Niklaus Mettler, incorporated into the artwork (Präsens Editionen, September 3). Bon‘s visual album Pantheon is introduced by a soft and soothing video featuring Laraaji, enough to put even the most troubled soul to sleep (Spatial Awareness, September 10).  Still tossing and turning?  A pair of twenty-minute tracks with soft drums and birdsong may make the difference, thanks to Russian producer X.Y.R.‘s Anciente (Possible Motive, September 3).

Venja‘s third installment of Galactic Underground is set for release on September 3.  Volume 3: Music for Astronauts continues the sci-fi excursion, offering glimpses of an alternate universe in which there is no COVID (although there are other intergalactic problems).  555 Sounds‘ audio-visual album Live from Dirtmall rolls around in glitter and beads, venturing into abstraction but looking none the worse for wear (Ingrown, September 7).  Theath Manning‘s Abstract Hymns for Theoretical Physics Vol. 2 honors its name with wandering textures and patterns (Spear Thrower Owl, September 7).  Modular synth is the order of the day on Empathy, the latest release from Joel St. Julien.  We could all use more empathy right now (October).  Not all of Frank Rabeyrolles‘ albums are instrumental, but A ghost by the sea drops the lyrics in favor of soft electronic soundscapes with an 00’s flair (Wool, September 17).


Dark Ambient and Drone

Robert Curgenven‘s Beyond Enclosures is an ambitious three-disc set for pipe organ, piano and turntables, exploring the natures of music and air.  The third disc holds a live concert from the Sydney Festival.  The set is tricky to categorize, as it has an experimental approach and takes the form of modern composition, yet has the tone of drone, which is why we’re placing it here.  The outside sounds (church bells and passing traffic) lend the project a solemn authenticity (September 17).  Another organ album this season comes from Lawrence English, who does not seem to have slept much during the pandemic (see the Room40 stable above).  Observation of Breath is about “presence, patience and the spirit of time,” and is much more meditative than the morbid cover art suggests (Hallow Ground, September 10).

It’s amazing to note that Daemonum & Daemoniacum marks the thirtieth anniversary of Peter Andersson’s raison d’être project.  An untold volume of dark ambience can be traced back to the work of this influential composer, who remains as inspired as ever.  The album and bonus album celebrate the “inner genius” or daemon.  There’s also a single-disc edition available, but why deny one’s self the full experience? (Cyclic Law, September 17).


April Larson returns with the moody Heretical Wrekollections this fall; her singles collection contained 62 tracks, but we’re confident this one will be shorter (Not Yet Remembered, October 8).  The new Veins Full of Static album contains some great titles: “A Home for Scared People,” “She Held Onto Me Like One of Us Was Sinking.”  The music follows suit, with timbres of slow descent (This Is It Forever, September).  With a title like Death Mycelium, it’s clear that Caldon Glover‘s album arrives in the dark ambient vein.  A Coil influence is present and acknowledged (September 20).  Abiura‘s Hauntology is a single half-hour track broken into six parts: a guitar work that references the rise and fall of the capitalistic state (Moment of Collapse, September 10).  We think Negative Libra is more ambient than drone, but since the artist is called Droneroom, we figured it was safer to place his music here (Somewherecold, October 1).  With tracks such as “Don’t Eat the Spines of Your Dead Relatives,” Adderall Canyonly is definitely getting ready for Halloween.  Stand Alone and Burn is filled with guitar squall, dark drone and synth destruction (Opal Tapes, September 3).

The Obscure & Terrible label returns this Friday with a pair of darkly appealing curiosities.  The first Orgone Donor show was a victim of the pandemic, originally scheduled for March 13, 2020 at the opening of a paranormal museum.  The band then stayed together and recorded Two Maps as Parallel Mirrors, a set of saxophone drone accompanied by piano and synth.  RN White (Rachel N LeBlanc) started her career as a funeral director during the pandemic, and recorded Cerebral Split as a response to mental health issues.  The result is harrowing, a maelstrom of noise.


Concussed dedicates Precipices of the Void to victims of the pandemic.  The sci-fi tone remains down-to-earth, as the album closes with “Grey at the End of the Tunnel” (Somewherecold, October 8).  William Selman‘s Saccades is dark ambient with an experimental bent.  The three quarter-hour pieces explore the dichotomies of active v. passive and nature v. the machine (Critique of Everyday Life, September 10).  In two long tracks, “Fog” and “Lighthouse,” en creux presents an exercise in “illusory drone.”  The Water mimics its titles as the timbres of one track cut through those of the other (Hard Return, September 1).  While it’s hard to tell from the foreboding single “Dead Ahead,” Sone Institute‘s After the Glitter Before the Decay seems brighter than prior works, the hauntology toned down for softer, guitar-based textures (Mystery Bridge, September 6).


Arigto‘s dark and moody Pretense continues the filmic sensibility of the duo’s Persona, released earlier this year.  The cello stalks the listener down a dark alley, while the drones descend like a fog (late September).  Cello also features strongly in Poltrock & de Roover‘s Vacuum, composed for choreography and quadraphonic sound.  Spectators (and listeners) are led to “a field of constantly shifting tension” (Consouling Sounds, September 17).  Harmonium and violin color “Lockdown” with layers of drone; it’s the first single from Catherine Graindorge‘s striking Eldorado, which bears political motifs yet ends with a tribute to Eno (Glitterbeat, October 1).  Contrabassoon, snare drum, drum machine and synth share space on Thomas Stone‘s HOST, a work in five parts, recorded live, and finally set to be played live once more (September 15).


Bedroom Community’s winning streak continues with the debut album from Heliochrysum.  The mixing and mastering of Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurdsson complement to the music and underline the fact that We Become Mist straddles the worlds of modern composition and drone (September 3).  By recording in the “post-industrial sites” of Chicago, Norman W. Long has produced an outlier in the Hausu Mountain catalog.  Drones and field recordings are melded to a live performance on Black Brown Gray Green and plunge home listeners into the heart of dilapidation (September 10).  Black metal, thick and twisted, snakes through Paradiso Infernal, a self-titled collaboration between CHRA (Christina Nemec) and Christian Schachinger (TROST, September 10).

Saffronkeira + Siavash Amini join forces on The Faded Orbit, a dialogue between nations and sonic approaches.  The sound lies as thick as mist (Denovali, September 24).  On the same day, the label re-introduces a familiar name under a new moniker, as The Lovecraft Sextet takes up where The Kilimanjaro Doomjazz Ensemble left off, albeit with a touch more melancholy.  In Memorium sounds like a funeral, with a particularly astute, wordless eulogy.  Kinematik’s Anthony Sahyoun appears as himself with the mournfully modern Proof by Infinite Descent, co-released by Beacon Sound and Ruptured, the opening of the Corrosion series.  Amulets and Sary Moussa contribute remixes (November 17).


New n5MD signee Idlefon makes a big splash with the title track from Coldstream, which begins in a trickle and ends in a torrent.  The full album will be released November 5.  Also on n5MD:  the long-delayed but well-titled From Stasis, by label frontman Mike Cadoo recording as Dryft (October 22).  Fragments of Yearning is the latest album from Arash Akbari, who is now the third Iranian artist on Karlrecords.  The melancholic music is a reminder that life may be ephemeral, but matter is eternal (September 15, album art pictured at top of this article).  David Lee Myers‘ Reduced to a Geometrical Point leaves out the ending of the phrase (“before God”), but offers a framework for understanding scale, especially when it comes to our place in the universe.  How important are we, really? (Crónica, September 21).

Room40 has really expanded its tonal palette.  In addition to the ambient works and field recordings above (and an experimental album that we’ll get to in a couple days), the fall roster contains a gloomy album from Nasturtium (Geneva Skeen and Erin Dawson).  Please Us draws on the darkness of the past year, welding emotional disturbance and doom metal, but it’s not without glimmers of light (September 24).  Similarly droneworthy is HEXA‘s dense Material Interstices, in which Lawrence English and Jamie Stewart explore the byproducts of human industrial noise as it relates to disruption and dreams (Room40, October 15).  Kristof Hahn‘s Six Pieces is a work of dense solo guitar from a member of Swans, a perfect way to start the foggy season (Room40, November 5).  And for those who may prefer the all-out assault of noise, Merzbow returns (he’s never far away) with the caustic Flare Blues, as far away from the blues genre as one can imagine (Room40, October 8).

Richard Allen

One comment

  1. Pingback: A Closer Listen’s Fall Music Preview ~ Ambient & Drone – Avant Music News

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