I joked to my trainer the other day that he should bring in some new-age pan flute music for his stretching class, since we spend a lot of time sitting in uncomfortable positions trying to relax. I felt funny even as I was in the middle of saying it, because the truth is I’ve been listening to ambient stuff – without cringing, even a little – for a couple of years now, and loving it. And, frankly, not relaxing very much. Try these discs, which have very little in common, even, and see if you understand why I’m an evangelist, even if only for new age pan flute music.
It just isn’t fair. You’re allowed to be great at the kind of post-punk-funk that Reinhardt’s Mask Of The Maker disc almost single-handedly resurrected from premature death-by-trucker-hat. But you can’t also be great at the seething, intense ambient throbbing perfected on Ganymede. Usually, superior efforts in one thwart the possibility of greatness in the other; if you’re especially unlucky, splitting your energies between the two dilutes your overall talent. (It sounds convenient but having reviewed hundreds of promising mediocrities, this really does happen.) But Reinhardt is just that good. He can compose a white noise ballet that pirouettes along an undulating ribbon of brightness (“A Young Colossus”); he can summon a shadow of a melody from whose depths emerges a shard of dull crystal, refracting the light out in gently moving rays (“Lox Moon”). He can do it all and then some.
It’s sickening, it’s enraging and I demand to know who’s responsible, on behalf of all lazy, untalented people such as myself.
I’m slightly wary of calling this ambient since there’s a strong rhythmic drive in pretty much all of it (see also: most other L.I.E.S. releases), but you’d be hard pressed to call these beats. They’re more like kalimba jams from another planet. Most of the textures are hollow and percussive, like metal pipes banging together – but shot through with reverb as though it was recorded down a long concrete corridor. I know, I know – where do I sign up, you ask? But there’s more musicality in these orderly noises than in a lot of comparably easy listening discs, even if the only dance that suits “Crickets Dance” is a junkie’s awkward shuffle. The slow yawwwwwrrrgghhh phaser effect in “Punta II” is a perfect example: basic, raw, arresting. And strangely pleasurable, though it’s hard to imagine why.
There are times when you feel like a record is made just for you, and that nobody else is going to dig it. (Funnily enough, I felt that way about Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, and The Sheepdogs’ Learn & Burn. So, I’ve been wrong, to put it mildly.) Maybe it means something more personal when it’s in a genre you’re far from expert in, and drone music is definitely that for me. Regardless, I was transported back to my pleather-covered, foam-stuffed couch in my undergrad dorm when I heard Kevin Drumm’s latest. For one thing, there were the organ-derived tones – the first track sounds more pipe-organ-y, while the second has a bit more grit, suggesting some kind of reed. Both put me in mind of John Cale’s Sun Blindness Music, which I discovered and tripped out to as a starry eyed (and relatively sober) college boy. Of course there’s nothing as harsh here as Cale’s busted old Vox, but the steadiness of the tones drags me back to those days. Then there’s the monkeying around in the high harmonics of the sound, which seems very Tony Conrad circa Four Violins – a crucial disc in my own development, and probably also the reason why most of what classical musicians call “minimalism” I find far too busy, and dull, and unimaginative. In short, I hate Philip Glass. Most of all, though, it reminds me of Eno’s Music For Airports in its totally innocuous, downright forgettable lack of harmonic movement, yet somehow it’s not at all relaxing or soothing. The second half is as tense as anything Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle have done on one chord, and yet there’s nothing that scans as aggressive, at least at a glance. Still, hang in through ten minutes of the second cut and tell me you don’t think someone’s head is going to explode, Scanners-style. Or maybe Mr. Kool-Aid is going to bust through the wall. Is it scary? I just don’t know anymore.