i said before that there’s more to ambient than washes of sound, but of course this kind of texture is, for better or (more often) worse, very closely associated with it. Thankfully, having spent too many years trapped in the saccharine world of (God help us) “chillout” music, ambient’s potential for drift has grown up into something very much more mature and meaningful. In no small part, it has been affected by what some might regard as its nemesis: noise. It might be fairer to call the constructions found in noise walls of sound rather than washes, but these two extremes have been drawn together to forge something utterly new. i suspect, like most ostensible “opposites”, they’ve had more in common than was immediately apparent; both noise and ambient tend to place emphasis on broad gestures within long durational expanses; both tend to occupy dynamic extremes; and, of course, like any extreme, both have fallen prey to the moronic mumblings of the talentless who have purloined the style in the hope it might bestow upon them the illusion of something approximating ability. As a texture, noise is unavoidable, so for it to lend anything of value to ambient, it is going to need to be softened and tenderised, in order to retain some semblance of Brian Eno’s “ignorability” (the inability of the listener to “ignore” noise (in Eno’s sense of the word), perhaps explains why poor music in that genre is so incredibly irritating, whereas poor ambient is a mild irritation at best).
An interesting blend of these worlds can be heard in the music of Michael Perry Goodman, otherwise known as Implex Grace. He caught my attention a couple of months back when his self-styled “debut release”, Through Luminescent Passages I, became available as a free download. i say “self-styled”, because in truth there’s been a number of minor self-releases dating back to 2004 (they can all be streamed via the vibr website; link below); nonetheless, this album is his most ambitious release to date, worthy of being regarded as his “Opus 1”. Even before listening, the track titles are highly suggestive: “Gorgeous Pale Light”, “Starlight: A Distant Shimmering Particle”, “Beyond The Cosmic Gates”; nonetheless, many are the composers who have made astronomical connections to their work, only for it to fail entirely to live up to such a lofty association; vivid titles like these are best approached with caution. But it’s immediately clear that Implex Grace is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill composer. and it’s clear too that the radiance alluded to in those titles is not merely present, but omnipresent, permeating—no, saturating—the music with incandescence, often composed in roughly equal parts of ambience and noise. “Twilight: Diamond In The Sky” is an exercise in simplicity: a delicate fragment of material (the “diamond”?) is placed within a soft harmonic bath (the “sky”?), wherein it loops merrily away, glitching here and there; it’s as though we’re watching it slowly draw nearer to us, allowed a few precious moments of closeness, before it passes us back into the beyond. “Gorgeous Pale Light” is a tough title to live up to, but the music succeeds, presenting a sonic landscape that feels by turns autumnal and/or suffused with rain (a different kind of saturation). Even longer than the first track, it opens up the scope of the album, widening the horizons still further; it’s an epic pronouncement, almost a statement of intent. It’s therefore a little unfortunate that the remainder of the album is made up of relatively short tracks, all of contrasting character; this tends to break up the album somewhat, diminishing its ability to keep the listener buoyant upon its transparent surface; all the same, some marvellous music emerges. “Hyperstrings – Superspace” is very short, but almost blindingly vivid, so its brevity is no bad thing; “Constellation Pisces, Spiral Galaxy M 74” explores a similar idea to track 1, but in a more subdued vein. The next two tracks are something of a disappointment, “The Face Of An Angel” explores rapid loops that grind away over sudden harmonic shifts, which may be theoretically interesting but actually sounds rather uncomfortable; as for “Starlight: A Distant Shimmering Particle”, it’s just a little too delicate in the wrong sense, rather more (dare i say it) twee than its title would seem to demand, and with nothing particularly suggestive of “shimmering”. But these minor flaws are instantly forgotten with “In Space and Time We Travel”, a slow-moving loop of rich harmonic character; it’s like a cosmic chaconne, waxing and waning like the breathing of the universe itself. “Beyond The Cosmic Gates” is just a trifle suggestive of one of Pat Metheny’s guitar + reverb numbers, and sounds rather thin (in every sense) as a result, but the final track, “SAMSARA / Smoke And Mirrors” is a scintillating finale, its light seemingly refracted through a prism, sending noisy shards in all directions, before dissolving and dissipating into the nothing from whence it came.
The album is available for free download from Distance Recordings, in either FLAC or MP3 format; the webpage with all the info and links is here.
Hot on the heels of this fine album, Implex Grace has today released a new EP entitled The Black Tapes—if anything, more ambitious than its predecessor, despite its’ 20-minute duration. The five untitled tracks play without a break, unheard divisions in a hectically mobile tapestry that blends superbly the white-hot density of noise with the vast scope and oceanic grandeur of ambient. On a first couple of listens, it’s one of the most impressive things i’ve heard in a very long time. Without wishing to sound too paradoxical, The Black Tapes demonstrates a kind of gentle ferocity—despite its relentless intensity, the subtle, shifting aspects deep within the texture are clearly perceptible; and the all-enveloping noise at no point sounds abrasive or harsh. Nonetheless, “ferocity” is the right word; as the final track faded away, my head was left buzzing and my beguiled ears loudly ringing (listening through headphones is a thrilling but physically taxing experience!). It’s a brave, brilliant composition, and a searing demonstration of how much ingenuity can be brought to the “ambient tradition”.
It’s amazing that music of this quality should be available free of charge. Nonetheless, once again it is, and here is a direct link to it (MP3 only). There’s more of Implex Grace’s work out there too; links to most of it are below. Particularly special is the hour-long “Summertime Sleepy Theater II”, available in both formats from the Implex Grace website.