Keith Berry: Towards the Blue Peninsula
Strom Noir: Urban Blues
A single long-form setting of forty-nine minutes duration, Celer's Zigzag was borne out of Will Long's interest in the minimalist music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and its steady, seemingly never-ending pulsation. A convincing homage to that tradition, Long's piece floats like a softly whistling breeze, insistent enough to maintain a conspicuous presence yet also vaporous enough to recede from conscious awareness. There is a connection between the music's rhythmic pulsation and the real world, specifically the heartbeat that Long heard at the doctor's office in mid-2013 of the child that would subsequently be born to him and his wife. Zigzag was actually created years prior to that event, but circumstances forced the recording to be set aside as other projects assumed precedence. The coincidental timing of the album's release and the arrival of new life struck Long as fatefully connected, and certainly the conjunction of the events can be seen as serendipitous, even if one dwarfs the other as far as ultimate importance is concerned. No instrumentation or production details are provided, but suffice it to say the music, a quietly entrancing shudder that ebbs and flows in peaceful yet nevertheless purposeful manner, exudes a clarity and purity consistent with minimalism of the most stripped-down kind.Recorded in 2010, Keith Berry's Towards the Blue Peninsula is like Zigzag in a couple of respects. Like it, Berry's recording is similar in length (his is fifty minutes, to be exact) and eschews production details, too, though info accompanying the release clarifies that Berry has retreated from the computer-based approach of his 2005 Crouton Music release, The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish, that utilized Akira Rabelais' Argeiphöntes Lyre software to “something a bit more windswept perhaps or at times aquatic and organic-sounding”; unlike Zigzag, Berry's piece is presented as twelve indexed tracks, even if the music presents itself as uninterrupted flow. Compared to Zigzag, the sound design of Towards the Blue Peninsula is more assertive and blurrier, too, though, once again, it shares with the other a natural quality of development that's akin to breathing, and Berry's ethereal material also unfolds with an insistent forward momentum that suggests footage of cloud formations billowing at double speed as opposed to a slow-motion drift. It's anything but unchanging, either: during the fifth track, a descending theme surfaces through the haze to impose upon the work a melancholy melodic dimension absent in the sections preceding it, while a darker cloud mass renders the eleventh more threatening. Other parts also add different shadings and dynamic contrasts to the whole, with the sixth and eighth resembling clusters of piano notes transformed by heavy fog into gauzy masses. Berry's latest Infraction outing makes for a fine addition to a discography that includes releases on Trente Oiseaux, Twenty Hertz, Elevator Bath, and Non Visual Objects.
While Urban Blues, the ninth full-length Strom Noir collection created by Bratislava, Slovakia-based Emil Ma'ko, often perpetuates the meditative style of the Celer and Berry releases, it also sometimes plunges the listener into a darker realm. Another key distinguishing detail is that Ma'ko primarily uses guitars (electric and acoustic) and effects pedals to generate his ambient-drone drift (field recordings also work their way into some of the material, most noticeably the title track). He's been producing music under the Strom Noir name since 2007 and has issued work on labels such as Hibernate, Dronarivm, Rural Colours, taâlem, and U-Cover—a detail that by itself should convey an impression as to what the listener can expect from Urban Blues. On this recording, Ma'ko tries to evoke the feeling of unease that sets in as one undertakes a trip through a city with which one is familiar yet also feels disassociated from at some level. With multiple layers of long, shimmering trails of luminous tones stretching out for minutes on end, flickering like distant lights in the night sky, a track title such as “Night Blooming” seems particularly well-chosen; not surprisingly, “Textures” also makes good on the promise of its title in its rich pastoral-ambient design. In contrast to those generally peaceful settings, “Zavtra” and “All Souls (Will Be Born Again)” come closer to realizing Ma'ko's stated goal in presenting material that as it grows progressively louder and fuzzier begins to suggest the onset of disorientation. More often than not, however, the fifty-five-minute Urban Blues hews to an ambient-drone sound design that's more likely to soothe than startle.