Not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2017

by Dave Maier

ReverberanteveningsIt’s that time of year again already – time to remind everyone that it’s that time of year again! I must admit I didn’t listen to a whole lot of new music this year, but I have definitely rounded up a good selection for you, even if there’s probably a whole lot out there that we won’t find out about until later. Such is life in the abundant times in which we live. The names here will be mostly familiar to regular listeners, but I’ve included a couple of oddities as well. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018 for all!

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Yagya – The Great Attractor [Stars and Dust]

Yagya is Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson from Iceland. His latest release is very much in the vein of his earlier ones, e.g. 2009’s Rigning, which is probably my favorite. Ambient listeners might have to get used to the dance-floor pulse of Yagya’s music, as inherited from his major influence, Wolfgang Voigt (a.k.a. Gas), but that’s easily done, given his exquisite spacial and melodic sensibilities.

FadetograySteve Roach – We Continue [Spiral Revelation]

Also rhythmic, but in a more familiar space music vein, is Steve Roach’s latest, which has, I hear, just received a Grammy nomination (along with Brian Eno) for best New Age album. Space music fans used to be very offended to be lumped into the same musical category as (actual) new agers, but that ship sailed some time ago, so congratulations Steve! Also noteworthy is Steve’s earlier release (okay, late last year, New Year’s Eve in fact) Fade to Gray, which is much more textural and headphone-oriented than this one.

Reverberant Evenings – Where were we, my friend? [same]

Reverberant Evenings is a single guy, I think, from Palermo, Italy, and his music is indeed reverberant, if not necessarily only appropriate for evening listening. On his website, which he seems not to have updated any time recently, he tells us that

A late afternoon some time ago I came home, sitting in the back seat of a motorcycle. Looking to my right the sun drew the silhouette of the outskirts, forcing me to close my eyes. I was very good. Every morning, opening the window, I see the sun again hitting the plants and now I can understand everything. Takes only a moment.

That instant the sound fills everything.

KatecarrKate Carr – we were the pulse of a wire pulled tightly [The Story Surrounds Us]

We last heard Kate on my recent mix dedicated to her Helen Scarsdale Agency labelmate Matt Shoemaker, who tragically passed away all too soon earlier this year. What I’ve heard from her so far suggests that she is a major talent. Many sound artists incorporate field recordings into their work, but Kate takes that idea to the next level, compositionally speaking. I’ll be investigating her back catalog while waiting impatiently for the next one.

Crimson Sails – Streets [Part I]

Okay, I confess: not only is this release from late 2016, but I actually have Crimson Sails’ 2017 release, which is called (… wait for it …) Part II. Unfortunately for our purposes, Part II is mostly guitar rock, so we stayed with Part I. Too bad, their drony stuff is excellent.

RimurTrio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen – St. Birgitta Hymn – Rosa rorans bonitatem [Rimur]

ECM Records started out in the early 1970s releasing progressive jazz records from the likes of Eberhard Weber, John Abercrombie, Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. (Just writing those names makes we want to go pull out The Colours of Chloë or Timeless.) They soon (or right away, depending on whom you ask) moved past jazz, and now we can hear all kinds of things on that label, unified only by producer Manfred Eicher’s rapturous aesthetic. Here we have a trio of classical vocalists singing a 14th century Nordic hymn, accompanied by trumpeter Arve Henriksen, known for his many experimental solo releases, as well as his work with the avant-fusion band Supersilent. And yet it works fine in the same set as Yagya and Steve Roach. At 3 A.M. anyway.

Federico Durand – El hechizado [Pavel]

Federico seems not to have been that active this year, in the studio anyway (I think he’s been touring a lot), but this release is from early 2017 so it counts. Plus I’m a huge fan. Here is what Federico says about Pavel:

This album is a musical approach to traditional children stories, which have a circular narrative, innocent and eerie at the same time. A haunting aura caught me while I was recording this music, in the attic of my home in La Cumbre, at dusk, as a fairy tale. Every piece of "Pavel" could be a company for rainy days, a train journey, in a park, walking under the stars after work, or during a nap: its melodies almost hypnotic will guide you towards to a dream state, as if you were inside your own legend of the forest.

VoidxivChihei Hatakeyama – odyssey [Void XIV]

Chihei Hatakeyama, on the other hand, has been cranking ‘em out like there’s no tomorrow. I’d be happy about this, as he’s one of the very best, but I actually prefer this release of earlier unreleased tracks to most of his current material. One commenter on the bandcamp page suggests that our man excels at the shorter forms, as on this release, as opposed to the long-form drones on some later releases. Maybe, but some of his longer tracks (e.g. on 2016’s Requiem for black night and earth spiders) are great too.

Kinephilia – Kyua (minimal mix)

Kinephilia is a new name in ambient music (even on me, as I just made it up yesterday). Yes, that’s right, this is a track I did myself. Kyua is the Japanese name for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 1997 horror movie Cure, from which I nicked two of the sounds we hear here (the others were made with Reaktor and a couple of iPad synths). That water sound in the middle I recorded myself with my trusty Tascam DR-07 digital recorder (it’s the creek down by the train tracks). I think this track sounds rather better on headphones, which probably means I need to figure out how to use compression and EQ (you could probably just crank it up though). I say “minimal mix” here because I reserve the right to add more stuff in there later (nothing much though, just to fill it out a little bit). But I’ve been listening to it a lot recently, and I think it’s ready to get out there in one form or other.

Scanner – Blank Canvas [From Here to Tranquility Vol. 7 (The Renaissance Continues) anthology]

Scanner is UK sound artist Robin Rimbaud, who began his career picking up various found sounds with a radio scanner (thus the name) and setting them to a techno beat (which is more interesting in practice than I am making it sound actually). No police dispatchers here though, this is straight ambient, albeit with some odd sounds in there too. This anthology, as its subtitle suggests, is part of the “reboot” of legendary U.S. ambient label Silent Records (and is another late 2016 release).

CrypsisDavid Tagg – Flecktarn [Crypsis]

David Tagg is one of many drone artists who utilize guitar as their main sound source (or guitarists who make drones – you decide), and the recently released Crypsis is his magnum opus: a four-CD set, sold out, but still available as a 4-hour download (8 half-hour tracks). One track I’m not sure about, but most of it sounds great, so check it out. Too bad we only have time for a brief snippet here! He’s also made a good deal of his large back catalogue available for whatever you feel like paying, so if guitar drone is your thing, you know what to do.

That’s it for this year, but I’ll be back next year (hopefully before December!) with more. Happy New Year everybody!