Switched On – Loscil // Lawrence English: Colours Of Air (Kranky)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This collaboration between Canada and Australia, between composers Loscil and Lawrence English, was born from a long-running conversation on electronic music. It gives both musical minds a chance to explore together the sounds of a pipe organ from the Old Museum in Brisbane. While Lawrence English’s work of the past decade has centred on the sounds of instruments such as this, Loscil’s has tended towards less analogue keyboard instruments.

Here the two combine their unique and deeply personal approach to music, taking the source recordings and manipulating the organ sounds into personal and uniquely colourful responses – hence a different shade for each of the eight tracks.

What’s the music like?

Perhaps inevitably, colourful. However there is something about the way Loscil and English bring colour into their music that sets it well above the ambient ‘standard’. These tracks really do live up to their names, and with eight different hues throughout the album it is certainly one for the mind’s eye.

The Brisbane instrument makes a major contribution, but not just through its resultant music. The mechanical actions are part of the recording process too, so on occasion the very instrument is inhaling and exhaling, providing a white-noise percussion along with the pitches.

Without ado, Cyan allows us to dive straight into these wonderful textures, a glittering array of musical shades that soon become punctuated with soft chimes. The music shimmers in a way that the organ music of Philip Glass does, but the motifs are blanketed, the shape shifting chords taking place like billowing clouds.

As the eight-part suite progresses, so we get to hear more of the nuances of the Brisbane instrument, with varying levels of attack and depth. The pitches stay relatively static, often in a drone-like stasis, but some allow for greater, mysterious movement – such as Aqua, with its ethereal sighing motif. Sharper tones are used for the brightness of Pink, a vivid contrast to the relatively withdrawn colours of Grey and Black that went before.

Black, the longest track of the eight, is a majestic piece of work, dark as space itself but panning out to the edge of perspective. Of a similar dimension is Magenta, whose slight pitch bends create a drawn out and very intense sonic drama.

Yellow is another standout moment, and it just so happened that I experienced this piece of music during a sunrise, which it most certainly evokes – one of those wonderful moments where sound and nature are as one.

Does it all work?

Yes. There are some fascinating processes at work here, and the feeling persists that the outcome is an equal musical agreement between the two parties. The listener still gets Loscil’s uniquely wide, weather-beaten panorama, but the pipe organ adds something special, Lawrence English securing his timeless response in a different and slightly more mechanical way.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. A mandatory purchase for fans of either – and for those in need of some musical balm to mark the end of January.

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Switched On – Matthewdavid: On Mushrooms EP (Leaving Records)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Matthewdavid has been busy, with new album Mycelium Music readied for the end of April – and the On Mushrooms EP is a taster ahead of that release.

What’s the music like?

The title gives a strong implication of where this EP sits, but as with other releases from Matthewdavid it works of its own accord, as music that enhances mental wellbeing.

The tracks are cleverly structured, divided by bursts of white noise that mean they can segue into one another comfortably. The music teems with life, in spite of its relative stasis, and on tracks like Under A Tree the green shoots are easy to discern. Matthewdavid works his electrical material with all sorts of intriguing twists and turns.

A New Ambient swirls across the stereo picture, gone all too briefly, but Too High To Play Bear’s Campout is like a musical whirlpool. One4G starts in a calmer place before twisting upwards and away.

Does it all work?

It does, with very little weight – this is music for recharge and reparation.

Is it recommended?

It is – maybe not as a way in to Matthewdavid’s music, as earlier releases are more immediate and more obviously ambient. However On Mushrooms doesn’t need any extra curricular stimulant to work its magic.

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Spotify link tbc

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Switched On – numün: Book Of Beyond (Shimmy-Disc)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

numün have a rich musical pedigree. The trio are based in New York, and comprise Gamelan Dharma Swara‘s Joel Mellin and Christopher Romero and Bob Holmes of SUSS. Their first album in 2020, Voyage au Soleil, received wide acclaim for its marriage of a wide range of ambient musical forms.

The new record builds on the explorations made by Voyage au Soleil. Produced by Kramer, it includes a fusion of Eastern and Western musical stylings and instrumentation, listed on the press release to include Balinese gamelan, gender wayang, and cumbuz (a 12-string fretless banjo). These exist alongside the country and folk music-based instruments of slide guitar, baritone, mandolin and violin.

Adding to the musical pot are guest appearances from members of Brooklyn Raga Massive, Dharma Swara and Black Sea Hotel.

What’s the music like?

Trippy, in a good way!

Beyond sets out the colourful stall, with shimmering textures and pitches fluttering in harmony above the drone note. The open strings of the violin help present a rustic, outdoor picture. The following Steps picks up an easy, walking pace rhythm, led by guitar, and this same pace transfers to the lazy thrum of a mandolin for Sideways. Around the main melodic parts there are other hazy instrumental lines, complementing the rhythm while maintaining a heady atmosphere.

The use of bells on Eyes Open creates a richly coloured dream sequence which is sustained through Vespers, though here the colour comes from guitars and drones. The woozy Voices is like an aural mirage, shapes dancing on the horizon, while Lighter is led by softer flute tones. Arguably the most evocative track of all is left until last, the lower register of the violin providing velvety cushion as the lead for Lullaby.

Does it all work?

Yes – as a colourful musical backdrop rewarding different levels of Immersion on the part of the listener.

Is it recommended?

It is. Book Of Beyond staves off the winter chills with music of an appealing warmth, creating exotic pictures as it does so.

Listen

Spotify link tbc

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Switched On – Liela Moss: Internal Working Model (Bella Union)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Former Duke Spirit vocalist Liela Moss has big plans for her third solo album. Co-written with her partner Toby Butler, Internal Working Model sees her ‘imagining a tribe, navigating away from our very centralized culture, dismantling it and revising the way I think things work’.

Central to her principles are the idea of cooperation rather than competition, and the idea that we should be speaking out more against global manipulators, greed and corruption. To that end, her and Butler chose a more upfront, electronic sound than she has used previously, and also some notable guests – Gary Numan, The Savages’ Jehnny Beth and Dhani Harrison.

What’s the music like?

Sticking to its brief, Internal Working Model presents a bold musical language. Moss is a compelling vocalist, taking charge from the outset and making her points with poise and conviction.

Empathy Files is a very strong opener, both musically and lyrically, with a sinister undertone as the chorus notes, “We’ve got data for miles on you”. Another standout song is Vanishing Shadows, where Moss and Gary Numan have a compelling frisson between the voices, not to mention a standout chorus. Ache In The Middle presents stronger tones of regret (“I could have been so happy, there would have been peace”), while the preceding The Wall From The Floor also speaks with anguished tones. “I can’t tell the wall from the floor any more”, she sings.

The drums play a bit part on Internal Working Model, adding power to Come And Find Me and ballast to the final call to arms, Love As Hard As You Can. With guest Dhani Harrison, Moss signs off on a high, looking to the future with renewed optimism and a steely gaze.

Does it all work?

Largely. Moss has a powerful message to bring, and delivers it with wholly convincing vocals. The electro production has bags of attitude too. On occasion more distinctive melodies would be welcome in the songs, to match the fine production.

Is it recommended?

Yes. As a statement of intent, and a rousing call for the start of a new year, Internal Working Model is a resolute piece of work. Moss is a compelling singer, a voice pushing to be heard.

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Switched On – Moby: Ambient 23 (Always Centered At Night)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Moby is a man of many musical genres, but ambient music is the form that pulls him back most regularly; the style of music in which he feels most at home. His first Ambient release, titled as such, was in 1993 and made subtle waves with its undulating textures and slightly mournful soundscapes, presenting the vision of a man at home in a bedroom studio. As time has progressed so the ambient forms have become longer, culminating in the Long Ambients release of 2019, written to accompany yoga sessions, and a volume of improvised Live Ambients in 2020.

This release is made, in Moby’s words, ‘almost exclusively with weird old drum machines and old synths from my collection, inspired by my early ambient heroes’. By these he means Brian Eno, Martyn Ware, Jean-Michel Jarre and Will Sergeant.

Released for the new year, Moby also says Ambient 23 was written to ease anxiety, with the accompanying wish that ‘we all stop looking for validation from a culture we don’t respect’.

What’s the music like?

As soothing as you can imagine – and an ideal complement to the previous Long Ambients releases. The colours fashioned from the older equipment are a factor of this, and Moby finds a wide expanse of space by writing very slow moving melodic lines. The sounds will be familiar to long-time Moby listeners, with fuzzy textures from the surrounding white noise, elegant piano playing and broad string-based sounds.

The pieces have functional titles, but different characters. amb23-3 has a poised melody from an electronic cello equivalent. amb23-4 feels like a living and breathing organism, before ushering in a slowly dancing treble line amb23-6 has calming chords returning regularly like waves. amb23-9 is ideally weighted, alternating between two thick chords that are nicely weighted, but by contrast amb23-5 floats effortlessly, with ambient white noise in the background. The dappled piano figures of amb23-10 are softly affecting, amb23-11 is like a distant breath of wind, while the piano strokes of amb23-12 are like distant bells.

Does it all work?

It does, provided the listener’s expectations are for pure ambience and nothing more! That said, Moby knows how pace a longer musical structure, and each of these gets into a zen state very quickly.

Is it recommended?

It is – the ideal antidote to the January blues and any accompanying pressure. The serenity of Moby’s ambient music can get you through.

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For more listening and purchase options, head to Moby’s website