The tumult of the world creates an ongoing need for quiet music. From soft piano to synthesized pulse, soothing brass to languid guitar, the ambient genre displays an amazing versatility. And if ambience is yellow and drone is red, dark ambience is the orange overlap. This preview will segue smoothly into the next, as the tone darkens to match the season.
In early September, certain geographical regions continue to bake and boil while others are beginning to feel the chill. In the Southern Hemisphere, spring is on the way. When weather of either extreme pushes us indoors, our ears grow better suited to minute and subtle sounds. No matter where you are, we hope you’ll find something here to calm and soothe!
Yes, It’s a Video Game!
We’re big fans of Ian William Craig, and we’re big fans of video games, but we never thought that the two would meet … until now. Music for Magnesium_173 is the 80-minute score to Steam’s “elegant puzzle game inspired by quantum mechanics,” but stands well on its own. Don’t expect bouncy synth or Atari gymnastics; filaments of choral beauty are draped across pillows of hand-woven sound (Fatcat, September 23).
Few perfumeries score their own soundtracks, but Reykjavik’s Fischer is the exception. It doesn’t hurt that Jónsi’s family is in charge. We trust that Sounds of Fischer Vol. I will be so much better than the company-curated playlists unspooling at the local Starbucks, thanks to Jónsi, Sin Fang, Alex Somers and Kjartan Holm (I N N I, September 16). Pushing the scent concept even further is Tenka, whom most readers also know as Meitei. Hydration can be purchased along with a vial of fragrance designed by Ryoko to accompany the album. Ideally, one will enjoy scent and sounds together (Métron Records, September 14, shown above).
Last year’s Label of the Year, Austrailia’s Room40, continues its ambient dominance (is that an oxymoron?) in 2022. Their fall slate is already packed with intriguing possibilities. First out the gate is Steve Roden (w/Jacob Danziger)‘s Dark Over Light Earth, a reflection of Mark Rothko’s paintings through harmonium, glockenspiel and violin (September 2). Manuel Mota and David Grubbs follow quickly a week later with na margem sul, a document not only of their first live performance, but each artist’s first indoor performance on the heels of the pandemic. Six days after that, Bill Seaman & Stephen Vitiello will offer The Other Forgotten Letters, a prequel to a forthcoming album, containing improvisations, fragments, and collaborative contributions. The boss himself, Lawrence English, enters the fray on September 23 with Approach, inspired by the classic manga Grey and memories of the artist’s tough teenaged years. Ben Glas‘ Superpositional Melodies is more dronelike, with high-pitched frequencies vying for attention (September 30). We first covered Peter Knight‘s Shadow Phase in our Modern Composition section, but we’re re-listing it here for completion purposes (October 7). On the same day, Eric Griswold‘s Sunshowers will see the light of day, the title track sounding exactly like its name, with “cascading arpeggios” of piano. And a giant collaboration will appear on October 28, as The Prey and the Ruler features Senyawa + Lawrence English/Aviva Endean/Peter Knight/Helen Svoboda/Joe Talia, a new supergroup! Finally, J.WLSN‘s 1993 is a series of loops culled from a box of cassettes found on the side of the road during the pandemic. The sources may be familiar, but the sounds are not (November 11).
Low Beams and Nightlights
picnic‘s creaky little branch is a wee hidden gem (perhaps not after today), with appearances by Craig Tattersall and a host of collaborators, along with a bonus disc for those who order early. The sound hearkens back to the classic Cotton Goods recordings that usually sold out within hours of release (Daisart, September 15). In like fashion, Dispositions teams Bill Seaman and Dave Howe with musicians from across the globe, and is released October 7 on oscarson. Another homespun set comes from Yara Asmar, a puppeteer who turned to home taping during the pandemic, using broken instruments, field recordings and music boxes. Home Recordings 2018-2021 is out September 16 on Hive Mind. Discrepant’s Aquapelago: An Oceans Anthology combines field recordings with history, legends and music from artists including Mike Cooper, Sculpture and Sugai Ken. The first in an ongoing series, the album is out September 30. The latest collaboration from IIKKI Books pairs the music of The Three Oldmen’s Birds with the photography of Simon Vansteenwinckel, released September 29 as Rustine. Sister label Laaps is represented by Ecovillage, who reflects on The Road Less Taken. This pensive album arrives September 19 on red vinyl.
For Sundays When It Rains is a great ambient title, courtesy of Robert Rich & Luca Formentini. The combination of lap steel, flute, piano and more produces a lulling effect (Soundscape Productions, September 30). Holland Patent Public Library is a place, and it’s also a performer. The dangerously titled Songs to Fall Asleep at the Wheel to is actually a score to “unconscious driving,” when one is traveling a route one knows by heart. The album travels from the upper Hudson Valley down to Brooklyn, crossing the Whitestone Bridge along the way (Dear Life, October 21). In contrast, Cleared‘s Of Endless Light is a long walk through city streets, a bemoaning of industry launched and deserted, and a retreat to the comfort of nature: a message delivered without a single word (Touch, September 23).
We love the description of Apertura as an invitation to the artist’s “private tavern.” Braulio Lam‘s album is released October 7, just in time for the tale-telling season (Dragon’s Eye Recordings, shown right). Japanese environmental music was once a micro-genre, but now it’s nearly a genre of its own. Taro Nohara‘s Poly-Time Soundscapes / Forest of the Shrine is the latest example of aural forest bathing (WRWTFWW Records, September 30). New Words’ Neuro-Defragmentation compilation is an attempt to step away from the artificial and return to the organic; the only confusing part is that the cover seems computer-generated (September 2). volume settings folder recorded weekly songs during the pandemic, posting them on Instagram, and is now releasing a collection called Ghosts in the Heat. The double disc arrives with sweet packaging, as seen below (September 1). Littoral is beautifully described as the interplay between light and “small wavelets by the side of a shallow lake.” The album, by the suitably named Ecotone, is out October 7 on ur audio visual.
Slow Tone Collages, sister label of Shimmering Moods, has put its fourth bundle up for pre-order. The albums may be bought together or separately, and include Andrew Sherwell‘s Invocation of Deities by Working of Ritual Instruments, Knower‘s In Search of Nothing and Trent Hawkins‘ Generations, 20200612. All are released on September 13, the awesome art for the first album is shown to the right. Whitelabrecs releases a constant and reliable stream of music, and this fall will be no exception. The early entries will be Polaroid Notes‘ Cloud Anthems and Andrew Heath & Simon McCorry‘s perfectly titled A Is For Autumn, both out on September 10.
Before Tapes & Topographies, there was Sonogram. On Compendium, the artist compiles a selection of his softest pieces, adding one new track (September 2). Careful Now, says James Murray on his first album in three years, a photo of what may be the young artist on the cover (Home Normal, September 2). The label follows this on October 7 and 21 with two albums from anthéne; frayed and hope remain, the second (as one might expect) a touch more optimistic than the first. Christopher Willits‘s Gravity is “a prayer of gratitude” and an invitation to healing, a personal album that grew from the artist’s struggles while on the way to an inner peace (Ghostly International, September 9).
Erik Mowinckel‘s Flere steder samtidig (Many places at once) combines ambience and weather, folding in field recordings for an authentic, forest-worn sound. The soft storm of the title track is particularly appealing (Dugnag Rec., October 7). First Snow of the Year released Norwegian White this past June, and will follow it with Awakening of the Pines, ideally as the first snow starts to fall. The calming Skylines is the early sample of the new set. As befits the name Moss Covered Technology, Brick and Air is a love letter to suburban soundcapes, fed by “distant traffic noise and the hum of air-conditioning outlets behind shopping precincts” (Audiobulb, September 28). Ambientologist’s Sustain Series, Vol. 3 continues a tradition of cooperation and collaboration. This time around, dozens of artists salvage discarded ideas and trade files across 27 peaceful pieces (September 2). Three beautiful albums just popped up for pre-order on Vaagner, all in shades of gray. Together they proceed from light to dark, beginning with Thme‘s dreamy A Grasp of Wonder, expanding to The Humble Bee‘s looped and abraded An Opposite Fall and ending with the aggressive Inneterre, Reborn from Appropriate Savagery (September 23).
With tracks as long as a quarter hour, Empty Sky has room to breathe. The artist ~ Absence ~ even has a matching moniker. This will be the first artist album from label Imaginary North, landing September 2. OdNu has fallen in love with Dolby Atmos, which forms the basis for My Own Island. Instruments such as clarinet and charango make guest appearances as well (Audiobulb, September 3). Moving Furniture has two releases scheduled for September 30. Scanner & Modelbau team up for the bright and swirling Loess, which was composed through a long pandemic tape exchange, while Jacazsek, Romke Kleefstra, Jan Kleefstra collaborate on IT DEEL I, whose sombre tone confronts the ongoing threat of environmental degradation.
Christina Vantzou, Michael Harrison and John Also Bennett present a self-titled album inspired by ragas and just intonation, the piano notes an invitation to immersion (Seance Center, September 2). On the same day, Rob Winstone will release I dreamt we found a way, a reflection of music as spiritual practice, and a meditation on love and loss, drenched in sonic decay (Warm Winters Ltd.). Sofie Birch & Antonina Nowacka play, coo and dream their way through Languoria, sounding like the dance of morning dew (Mondoj, October 7). Field recordings, synth and guitar flitter about the room on Tenderness, producing a feeling akin to the title. This collaboration between Yumi Araki and Carlos Ferreira is out as of September 2 (Modern Obscure Music).
What’s Nils Frahm doing here? On the three-hour Music for Animals, the artist abandons the piano to focus on elongated tracks and electronic textures. This is such a big change for the artist, we’re wondering if a Synthesizer Day might be in the plans for 2023 (Leiter, September 20). Sam Prekop (The Sea and Cake) continues his love affair with modular synth on The Sparrow, where the title track fills the entire first side. We’re already enamored with the brass-inflected first single “Fall Is Farewell,” as we love songs whose titles match the time of year (TAL, 30 September). Seven years have passed since Asmus Tietchens‘ last album, and Parallelen is his seventh for LINE. Coincidence? The artist is patient in composition, a master of the minimal (September 9).
Muzan Editions will release a Late Summer Batch on September 16, taking advantage of the gap between meteorological fall (September 1) and astronomical fall (September 22). Three countries, three artists and three very different timbres are represented. Yukari Okamura‘s Theory moves through a thick haze, while Sara Berts‘s Braiding Fragments plants a garden of pointillist notes and Endurance‘s Verb dives deep into tempo and pulse. Constellation Tatsu has three releases scheduled for September 22. Tarotplane‘s Aeonium offers an extended meditation for synth and guitar; Andy Aquarius travels “from the forest to the sea” on La Force Aquarienne, showcasing the sound of the Celtic harp; and Inknose dedicates four songs to the Spirit of Water, guaranteeing a meditative vibe.
Surya Botofasina drapes Everyone’s Children in a blanket of comfort. The set sounds like a temple, decorated with piano, synth and chimes. A number of guest stars stop by to worship as well (Spiritmuse, November 4). The first single from Greg Keller Music, Vol. 2 is called “Chimes,” but we’re looking forward to hearing the second track, “Fall.” The author of a meditation podcast, Keller is now also making music to fit his (here unspoken) words (Stickfigure, September 30). The new album from ATŌMI is a deeply textured work that incorporates a bit of modern composition for a mature and slightly melancholy feel, inspired by the concept of the fetus. Little Flowing Oracles will be released on Lady Blunt Records on October 7 (pictured right).
Blue Glass is a wonderful name, yielding no hint of the artist’s former post-punk leanings. Les Jardins Éternels is the sequel to Jardin des Étoile, their common thread being the films of Chris Marker. The appropriately cinematic sound is more ambient than electronic, although the first single flips the script (Two Roads Records, October 21). Some tracks are swifter and more active than others, but overall, Massimo Discepoli leads his listeners to relax. On An unusual way to disappear, organic instruments frolick in electronic fields (DOF, September 3). Erik Buschmann is set to expand his Worthless EP into an album; Blue Spells is out September 23 on Reflektor, and contains all three of the original tracks. Starting from the other side with a three-track EP, Saul Allerton offers Trembling, Sleeping, which makes fine use of recorded dialogue to produce a mood that is simultaneously realistic and dreamy (Night Time Noise Service, September 1).
“Memory, nighttime and narrative” inform Cate Keenan‘s The Arbitrary Dimension of Dreams, in which pedal steel and analog synth create a new age swirl (Post Present Medium, October 20). (Past Present Medium, October 21). Of a similar mindset is tarotplane‘s The Ektachrome Dawn, which might be played just after Keenan’s disc to extend the sweet sensation (September 9). Seahawks (no relation to the Seattle football team) share a chill vibe on Infinite Echo, inviting listeners along for the drift (Cascine, November 4). We’ve heard of singing in the bathtub, but not recording instrumental tracks in the bathtub. Leave it to Roméo Poirier to invent a new way to combine leisure activities. The (perhaps ironically) titled Living Room is out October 7 on Faitiche.
“Lakes, fire, leaves and birds” can all be heard on OHMA‘s jazzy Between All Things, which honors the elements and seeks to soothe with sax and flute, drum machine and synth (Colorfield, September 9). Also making use of field recordings, Gus Tomizuka seeks to highlight the contrast between nature and urban sprawl on Prospect & Refuge, an album anchored by warm, expressive guitar (Transitory Tapes, October 23). With zither, shruti, tanpura and chime, there’s no mistaking the eastern vibe of Aura Gaze. Great Moon Essence also includes guest stars, among them The Corrupting Sea (Somewherecold, September 16). World music and lyric-free vocals lend Gracia a Buddha Bar vibe. Joël Dilley and Bett Butler‘s album also features a cover by Ukrainian artist Olesya Hudyma (September 25).
Lo.Sai adopts hundred-year-old piano pieces on Mompou: An Intimate Impression, transforming them into synthesized works. The album is both homage and reinvention (MFZ, September 30). In contrast, philip golub creates piano loops for filters, pursuing the goal of “endless repetition” (greyfade, October 28). Coldplay sings, “I wrote a song for you, and it was called ‘Yellow’ … Matt Christensen & P.M. Tummala have turned the color into the inspiration for Yellow Works, decorated with synth, vibraphone and Fender Rhodes (Monastral, September 2). James Varghese recorded Ambient 1 at SMEM, the largest synthesizer museum in the world. A sense of history is borne by its notes (Quiet Love Records, September 14).
We believe Asher Levitas when he says, I’m Not Smiling, since we trust that’s him on the cover. But with a last name like that, we also know he can’t stay down for long. The album is a mix of vocal and instrumental pieces, synth a constant presence (Line Explorations, October 21). Briana Marela also mixes vocal and instrumental, often slipping into manipulations of spoken word. You Are a Wave teeters on the precipice of pop before falling back toward experimental ambience. The album reflects a deep loss and the struggle to recover using any tools necessary – in this case, rubber bands, egg cartons and Buchla synth (September 9). Stuck at home, crys cole experimented with household objects, folding them into expansive compositions along with the sounds of birds and occasional drum machines. The result is Other Meetings, an album which may never be played in concert but serves as a conceptual diary (Black Truffle, October 14).
Elif Yalvaç‘s Green Drift is ambient, until it isn’t; a couple of the pieces delve into drone, while the Turkish synthesist even ventures into dance on “Shadow Dog” (Expert Sleepers, September 23). Floating Shrine tags itself as ambient, but touches on bright drone, with titles like “Warmth” and “Norway” keeping them in the light. Growth and Decay is fittingly released on Decaying Spheres on September 9. zakè and Ossa offer a sci-fi journey on syntheticopia, where the cosmic sounds of NASA probes are folded into ambience and drone. There’s even a micro-story to accompany the release (Zakè Drone Recordings, September 2).
The Descending Dark
Christos Fanaras switches between ambient and drone on A Cry for Help, often within the same piece. Organ tones provide an undercurrent of foreboding (Adaadat, October 2). With pings on one slab of vinyl, drones on the other, field recordings scattered about and a smattering of voice, ROUTE 2 is difficult to categorize. Roland Schappert‘s album is a sequel to another release earlier this year on the same label (r-ecords, September 23, pictured left). Time Released Sound returns with In Lingua Mortuorum, inspired by the frozen figures of Pompeii. Tiziano Popoli‘s extended piece has been dusted off from 1989 and given new life, offered in a lathe cut edition with scratched x-ray, akin to the old “bone music” recordings (September 1).
With struck bells and rustling curtains, Nabelóse‘s OMOKENTRO is shrouded in mystery, French horn and piano only serving to deepen the intrigue. One is not quite frightened, but remains on edge (bohemian drips, September 30). Dark ambience, ghostly voices and disembodied piano make Daniel McClennan‘s Unfurling Redemption a fine choice for the darker months; the tape was released on Cruel Nature September 2. Slow echoes and undulations characterize Threads, where Mattie Barbier plays the trombone in a water tank, far from the madding crowd (SOFA, October 14). Finally, Alphaxone dives into the depths of dark ambience and the intersection of drone on The Infinite Void, where we will pick up tomorrow in the last installment of our 2022 Fall Music Preview!