Brock Van Wey: White Clouds Drift On And On

Certainly the term “oceanic” has been used to excess in characterizing the Echospace and Deepchord music produced by Rod Modell and Steve Hitchell but it's almost impossible not to invoke it when confronted with their material. The latest Echospace release is epic in not just sound but in form, too, with its two discs—the first originals, the second interpretations of same—serving up nearly 160 minutes of ultra-deep soundscaping. Even the very title of Brock Van Wey's contribution to the Echospace imprint—White Clouds Drift On And On—captures the immense and oft-slow moving sound of the Detroit-based label's material.

Van Wey's material may catch some Echospace listeners off guard, as it's wholly beatless and thus focused entirely on grandiose ambient formations. In place of beats, the San Francisco-based producer (who also operates under the name Bvdub) adds voices whose extroverted, ululating counterpoint (on “A Gentle Hand to Hold,” for instance) proves more than a little entrancing. After “I Knew Happiness Once” gradually swells into a towering mass of strings and static texture, loudly chanting voices give the track an ecstatic quality and add to the material's hypnotic impact. Van Wey builds his enveloping cloud formations from what sounds like a blurry and gently hissing mass of flutes, voices, strings, and keyboards. As “Forever a Stranger” demonstrates, that sound mass can be awesome in its magnitude, as deep as a bottomless pool and as panoramic as the sky overhead. In “Too Little Too Late,” huge vaporous exhales and soothing melodies blur into one another, forming a breathing colossus, while phase-treated guitars and vocal accents deepen the already paradisiacal character of “A Chance to Start Over.” Even without titles like “I Knew Happiness Once” and “A Gentle Hand to Hold,” the material's melancholy character still would come through loud and clear. Listening to the first album is similar to the time-suspending experience of sitting on a cottage deck by a lake without a care in the world and enveloped by no other sounds than those of gentle breezes and water softly crashing ashore.

The bonus disc is a palindromic treatment of the first, with no other than Echospace manager Hitchell treating Van Wey's tracks to “Intrusion Shape” makeovers in a reverse running order. Prior to hearing the second disc, I half-expected Hitchell would toughen up the originals by adding a heavy bottom end but soon discovered—not objectionably—that he chose to stay true to the originals' restrained character, even if a beat dimension is now subtly present. He also expands on the originals' sonic palette by adding grand piano, field recordings, synthesizer, and congas(!) to the remixes. Not to be outdone in the epic department, the Intrusion mix of “White Clouds Drift On And On” unspools for a towering twenty-four minutes. With a soft metallic hiss snaking alongside waves of clangorous shimmer, the remix's loping sound is quintessential Intrusion, and Hitchell adds an almost subliminal rhythm dimension in the form of a softly beating kick drum and the faint pitter-patter of congas. The re-shapes of “A Chance To Start Over” and “I Knew Happiness Once” lull hypnotically too but “A Gentle Hand To Hold” is perhaps the disc's prettiest setting, as Hitchell strips the sound mass down to let the grand piano's chords and soulful main melody come forth powerfully while a samba-like rhythm sways underneath. It's a glorious moment on a release that contains more than its share.

Though it's obviously more ambient in character than the label's other releases, White Clouds Drift On And On is nonetheless a stellar addition to the Echospace catalogue. Think of it as a serenading counterpart and grandiose complement to the label's usual dub-techno.

August 2009