Ian Hawgood: Wolven (A Modern Interpretation)
Without wishing to disparage the original version of Ian Hawgood's Wolfskin that Hibernate issued as its inaugural release in 2009, this expanded version, newly re-christened Wolven (A Modern Interpretation), wholly supplants it. In place of the original release's seven tracks, there are now fourteen (none of the original titles remain): eleven on disc one—a rework by Hawgood aided by contributions from cellist Aaron Martin, Dag Rosenqvist, Spheruleus, Pillowdiver, yoto, and Hakobune—and three long-form treatments by Brock Van Wey aka bvdub on disc two. Available in a CD edition of 500, the collection comes as pretty close to being as quintessential an ambient-soundscaping collection as has been released, given the generous amount of material spread across its discs (approximately 144 minutes) and the personnel involved.
The original Wolfskin presented a series of sketches inspired by childhood dreams and nightmares, a concept the upgrade revisits if in more elaborate form. But instead of a harrowing plunge into dark ambient, the material's mood is largely serene, with the artists favouring a soothing kind of dream-state more than any other. Martin asserts his presence immediately (if subtly) in the opening piece, “The Dance,” when his cello playing floats across a shimmering ambient backdrop (generated via some combination of manipulated organ, keyboards, and guitar), after which Rosenqvist's treatment of “Blue Type III” slowly builds to a fuzz-toned climax in a manner not uncharacteristic of his now-retired alias Jasper TX. Pillowdiver's “Wolven IV” also situates itself on the more aggressive side of the spectrum, even if its industrial howl whirrs and hums at a steady, even-keeled pitch.
Spheruleus, yoto, and Hakobune instate the album's blurry ambient-soundscaping style in “Wolven II,” “Blue Type II,” and “Wolven III,” respectively, while at the same time expanding upon its sound-world by incorporating outdoors field recordings and large smatterings of crackle and hiss. The album often alternates between an artist's interpretation and a Hawgood-Martin treatment, with those in the latter group marked by the cello's prominence. In that regard, we're presented with “The New World,” a strings-heavy setting of plaintive character that's not unlike something Arvo Part might compose, and “Blue Type I,” a pretty cello-and-keyboards piece that exudes a sunlit, child-like innocence. At the same time, the seamless transitions between tracks tend to downplay the contrasts between the Hawgood-Martin pieces and those by the contributors.
The second disc's settings, which are titled in a style reminiscent of Van Wey's bvdub tracks (e.g., “These Memories Are Blue Type (Fields of Indigo Lights Are Where Your Love Used to Be)”), represent some of the most epic bvdub music on record, with the shortest of the three twenty-two minutes in length and the longest more than thirty-two. In recent days, Van Wey's been exploring a more uptempo and beats-based incarnation of bvdub, but the Wolfskin tracks are firmly rooted in the classic ambient style of earlier days. The disc gives new meaning to the word immersive, with the listener hypnotically drawn into the music's immense mass; for minutes on end, smudged strings, voices, and pianos swirl within colossal, billowing expanses of haze. In truth, the disc plays more like a pure bvdub creation than an interpretation by Van Wey of Hawgood's material, but that's no cause for complaint, given the oft-ecstatic result. So choose your preferred metaphor: Van Wey's ethereal sound can as easily be described as oceanic or celestial—it's certainly deep enough for the former, and heavenly enough for the latter. For the listener open to the hallucinatory effects of bvdub music, the material is amazing and exponentially more so when heard at peak volume.