So, there I was, sitting in front of my computer, working away, with my usual writing playlist on in the background. Tweet Deck was in a little window at the top of the screen and, as I glanced up, a tweet at the top said ‘Free bandcamp codes’. Well, I’m as easily distracted as the next man, and free music is always an attraction, so I minimised word, clicked on the tweet and, two minutes later, had added an album by a band I had never heard of to my Bandcamp collection.
And you know what? It was pretty good. So I went looking for some more codes and, for the next week, downloaded every single free Bandcamp code release I saw on Twitter.
Here’s what I thought of the first five…
LATE 11 : Dreamwork by Leit Motif
I suspect this is exactly what those who never listen to ambient think about when they think about ambient. Long, languid waves of sound which, in the words of the artist, ‘flirt between serenity and intensity’, with more emphasis on the serene than the intense. And there’s nothing wrong with that – there’s no need to re-invent the wheel every time, and this is a very mellow trip, indeed.
The Hopley Moor Incident by Haunting the Atom
It’s a short electronic single, the first side of which is the soundtrack to an equally short movie:
It’s pretty upbeat electronica, and nicely fits the mood of the film (which made me laugh out loud twice in two and a bit minutes, which is not bad going). The flip side ‘Journey Off World’ has a pleasingly scifi feel to it, appropriate for a track which imagines a voyage through the atmosphere of an alien planet.
Aicha by Maalem Mahmoud Gania
Now this is wonderful. It’s my first exposure to Gnawa music which, Wikipedia informs me, is a body of Moroccan and sub-Saharan African Islamic religious songs and rhythms. What that means in practice, is a set of tracks on this album by a master of the form which combine hypnotic three-stringed lute playing, Arabic singing and rhythmic drumming. It’s something anyone with any sort of interest in music should hear, and I’ll be picking up more in the very near future.
Tape Shaping by Manuka
Well, this is interesting, and not entirely for the music itself. The four tracks on here were created live using generative eurorack patching, which is the process by which the composer sets up a system that will interact with itself and create music with little or no further human involvement. What it created in this case is, first, four minutes of what my 8 year old niece described (with obvious approval) as Minecraft music, followed by two tracks of what sounds like Japanese influenced plucked strings and gentle synths, which reminded me unexpectedly of another Scottish ambient musician, the sublime Caught in the Wake Forever.
Point of Impact by Reversed Reference
As a concept, this has a lot to recommend it. Recreate the sense of wonder which came with iTunes in the early 90s, and of being able to sequence your own favourite tracks with ease. Chuck ‘em on a cdr and you could ‘curate’ an individual playlist of only the songs you loved, with no special theme or purpose other than your own taste. In practice, though, this makes for an album which lacks an identity and wanders about a bit. Which is a shame because some of the music on here is excellent (especially Opening Up, the album…well, opener, and later on, the title track) but a bit too much of the rest is (for me) overly poppy IDM when I was hoping for something more like Boards of Canada or Oneohtrix Point Never.
When this method of hearing new music occurred to me, I have to admit I assumed that I’d hear a lot of lazy found sound noodlings pretending to be ambient, a fair amount of random keyboard tinkling labelled electronica and perhaps one release which I might listen to more than once, if I was very lucky. To my surprise, however, everything I heard had something to recommend it, and most of them had several things. I’d have happily paid the standard price for pretty much everything on this list, and in the case of Maalem Mahmoud Gania I’m absolutely gutted I missed out on the limited pressing of 500 vinyl copies of the album.
I think I might repeat this exercise again quite soon…