taâlem's latest releases, which brings the label's total up to seventy, share many things in common. The three-inch format, of course, is common to all, but each release also features a single ambient drone-styled work of approximately twenty-minute duration. There are clear differences between them, however. Perhaps the optimal listening sequence is to precede the disturbing Ragel Gumm release with the less harrowing one by Encomiast and then conclude the session by basking in the serenity of Mark Bradley's.
The Encomiast project came into being in 1999, has had its work appear on Lens Records, Gears Of Sand, and others, and is now a solo endeavour overseen by sound artist Ross Hagen. What helps give the 2010 work Malpais its distinctive character are the melodic patterns that float overtop the shuddering, echo-chamber electronics, said melodic elements presumably originating out of an old folk song from which the new work is derived and that Hagen found in an archival collection he was working with a few years ago. The folk song itself is unidentifiable, of course, as Hagen's manipulations have long ago spirited away any obvious signs of recognizability. Glassy sounds and what appears to be muffled choir voices echo throughout the piece's haunted corridors, the material smothered in reverb as it drifts like a lost, vaporous entity.
Radically different in character from Malpais is Ragle Gumm's 2nd where streams of processed voices—phantom choral and a guttural croak, for starters—and industrial churn are violently destabilized by jarring ruptures, every one of which feels like a seething electroshock charge. After Gumm dials down the initial dark ambient intensity, another electrical blast appears, setting one's nerves on edge all over again. The piece twists and turns throughout its twenty-minute duration, and the listener is kept on pins and needles never knowing which part of the site—relaxation lounge or torture chamber—the piece will visit next (if the piece is a mystery, so too is the creator responsible for it, as taâlem received the submission with no accompanying details about the artist involved except for an e-mail address). If Malpais is relatively becalmed and soothing, 2nd is nightmarish and unsettling. Think Coil more than Eno in this case.
Mark Bradley's The Gloaming serves as the perfect antidote to Gumm's release, as Bradley's soft synth-based track—an example of his so-called “moonlight ambient” style—feels like a warm and soft blanket being draped over one's reclining body. Though the US-based Bradley, whose music has appeared on Basses Frequences and Ruralfaune, among others, keeps the intensity level down for much of the piece, it does undergo changes in volume without losing its generally hypnotic character. To his credit, the composer strikes an admirable balance in having the willowy ambient drone material hew to an overall mood without it becoming too static in the process.