Switched On – Ian William Craig: Music for Magnesium_123 (Fatcat Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Often, when considering a new score for a TV show, film or game, the listener is presented with a series of short, inconsequential cues, with little of musical substance to make for satisfying listening. Ian William Craig is on a mission to change that, returning with a bold approach to soundtrack writing.

The Vancouver-based artist has written a substantial piece of work to accompany a computer game, Magnesium 173. This creation from Graham Johnson is described as ‘an elegant puzzle game inspired by quantum mechanics’. In response, Craig has fashioned a dozen pieces of music running for 80 minutes. The tracks evolve with the use of modified tape, electronics and Craig’s own voice, multitracked and manipulated to create a series of choral perspectives.

What’s the music like?

Haunting and otherworldly. There is a peculiar intensity here, taking hold as the sound begins to grow in volume at the start of the soundtrack, and barely letting up throughout. The presence of the human voice is deeply powerful, for although there are no obvious words the vocals command the music’s direction and colour.

Blue Suit Glitch finds a glitchy response from modular synthesizers, while a haunting choir hesitantly rises up out of the weather-beaten tundra on It’s A Sound, Not An Ocean, their sonorous voices soon dominating the landscape on the album’s longest track. A Crack And A Shadow is much shorter, but benefits from a distinctive, sighing motif that gets cut up and worked against a steady rhythm of snowy footsteps.

Viridian is another ambient yet intense piece of work, with falsetto and deeper bass vocals set in contrary lines. The music drifts through thick electronic clouds, as it also does in the weightless Sentimental Drift. Prisms is warm and fuzzy, while Attention For It Radiates exhibits a brighter, wide open choral sound. Meanwhile a wall of bright musical ambience awaits the listener on Sprite Percent World Record, richly coloured with heat-soaked drones, pierced on occasion by a solo voice.

Does it all work?

Yes, it does – and although the emphasis is on the ambient properties of Craig’s writing, there is intensity and poise throughout, along with a keen sense of direction. In spite of its slow moving trajectory, the music is always travelling somewhere.

Is it recommended?

Yes, enthusiastically – fans of Tim Hecker, Fennesz or the Glacial Movements label, to name just a few like-minded sources, will love it. Ian William Craig has made something rather special here.



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