Sunday 4 July 2021

A slow Sunday

Not to be too cliché, but me and Summer don't get on. A big part of that is northern European housing being designed to trap heat which makes the nights stifling. But it's been a lovely stormy couple of days, bringing with them a cool breeze that's much more palatable. So with that in mind I've set my sights on things much more ambient once again.
Elaine de Kooning - Sunday Afternoon (1957)

Starting with another tale from the 'recommended' pile - someone calling themselves 'Survival Spheres' who specialises as the name would suggest in ambient soundscapes inspired by the more ambient pieces from survival horror game soundtracks. It's a style I'm surprised hasn't been co-opted more often actually thinking about it now, look up any 'save room' theme from any game in the genre and you'll find plenty of comments waxing lyrical about how much people love them. If people find out they love ambient through soundtracks like that then all the power to them.

Back to the output of Spheres though. They are decent, but I have some complaints. The first would be the sheer amount of stuff there is on them, there are 3 of these compilations of their ambient work and each clocks in at around 100 tracks each which is perhaps a touch too much. Far be it from me to criticise the amount of work that has gone into each of those 300+ tracks but perhaps some curation (or even better, separating them into the specific games they're mimicking as Spheres does on YouTube) might have helped a touch. Similarly, my other complaint is the length, while they top out at around 10 minutes long I can't help but feel like some of them don't need to be stretched out that much.

Not to be exceedingly negative though, there are moments on here that are great. I've picked Channeling for my first one as I think it does a downright fantastic job of capturing that PS1-era style of sound that its going for. It's one of the Silent Hill inspired ones and it does a decent job at that too, the opening rush is very Yamaoka-esque - though it does stray a little from then on it still does a great job of nailing the overriding atmosphere it's going for. It didn't need to be 10 minutes though, it could have wrapped up in 7 like the Youtube Promo version does and not lost anything.

Moving onto something a little more befitting of stormy weather with another bit from Susumu Yokota's Sakura. It was the first album of his I checked out after finally getting around to listening to a bit of his stuff via compilations - I knew he'd done some ambient work and was interested to see how it'd shake out, especially after being exposed to his House work first. And the answer is given with the first track of Sakura, Saku. It's very different from the kind of ambient I'd normally post, not quite as melodic in the usual sense. 'Heady' would be the way I'd describe it, the contrast between those hazy pads that dominate the runtime and the little sparkling flourishes that shine through every now and then is just lovely.

It's interesting to look at this one and hear the influences come through: the hallmarks of tracks from Eno's cinematic work on Music For Films and Textures are most certainly here, as are touches of the more downtempo parts of Another Green World. Coming back to it though, I'm struck by how much it has in common with some of Daniel Lopatin's work under the Oneohtrix Point Never alias, tracks like this share a lot of structural and sound choices with the kind of stuff he was making between the original release of Rifts and Returnal - albeit more drone in OPN's case, but you can certainly hear similarities between this and Stress Waves for example. But we're straying from the point a bit there - a brilliant opening to a brilliant album.

Finally, Sachi Kobayashi. An artist I found in my little dip into the world of indie ambient on Bandcamp. when I first found the EP that caught my attention Ephemeral Beauty, the discogs page was pretty lacking and I assumed that it was perhaps their first release. It's since been populated a lot more and I have since found out about the other releases that I couldn't find as they were on different labels. I've gone way back to Moon & Sea for this post, one of her first.

Like Kobayashi's other releases there are plenty of lush soundscapes on offer here, but I've chosen one that stood out to me as a little different. There's nothing in the rules that says ambient music can't have a percussive element, rare though it may be, and I'm a firm believer in it being possible to have both. On Construction, Kobayashi does a fantastic job of showing that off - while not a 'beat' in the traditional sense, it certainly goes a way to spice things up a bit beyond your standard ambient fare. Isolated from the rest of the tracklist it sounds a little like a downtempo interstitial from a regular electronic album, but as long time readers will know they were always my favourites. Kobayashi has been consistently been releasing things since both this and her debut album last year and I will most definitely be keeping eyes on what she's releasing, just wonderful.

And so ends our little ambient jaunt for today, I don't go on them often but it's always a pleasure when I do. I didn't talk about the Yokota album as much as I would have liked but I cut it short as it was getting fairly long - it can be a bit daunting given the sheer amount of releases Yokota has available, and to complicate things even more not all of them are readily available either physically or on Bandcamp either. Sakura is a good starting point for his more ambient side though, with a brief dip into his House & Techno background with tracks like Genshi and going almost trip hop in spots for the latter half - I very much recommend checking it out.

And as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


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