It’s rare these days to find new additions to the sphere of ambient music that go beyond being merely extended, superficial, one-dimensional platitudes. So it’s been a relief to spend a mixture of active and passive time with Verdant, a recent album from US composer David Dunn, which taps into the heart of what makes ambient tick, presenting a fresh take on familiar techniques. Turning to his immediate surroundings – specifically his Santa Fe backyard – Dunn has pieced together a simple but engrossing sonic mobile intermingling natural, acoustic and electronic sounds.
Verdant effectively consists of a number of superimposed layers, some inhabited by a variety of bird sounds, songs and calls, others featuring pitched tones with different but essentially quite rudimentary electronic timbres (clearly a deliberate choice, i suspect to highlight the distinction between acoustic/natural and electronic/artificial). The bird sounds are sporadic and vary considerably over time, sometimes occupying the foreground, other times more distant and for some stretches apparently dropping out entirely (or at least falling largely silent). In this respect it’s easy to believe they derive from the natural presence and absence that a long field recording would yield. The electronic tones are more omnipresent, bleeping quietly in pretty, consonant fashion (though remaining harmonically moot), with some notes stretching out behind, moving at different speeds in relation to the quicker-moving bleep texture. There’s also a subtle deep bass element that’s easy to miss (especially if you’re not using good speakers or headphones) and from time to time some real or artificial chimes appear.
All of these elements are held together by that most quintessential ambient force, the steady state: behaviourally, nothing changes over the long term, while undergoing continual change as it progresses moment by moment. It’s really quite beautiful, and over the course of its 79-minute duration i’ve found myself drifting in and out of focus, making for an ideal balance of ignorability and interest.
Released by Neuma Recordings, Verdant is available on CD and digital download via David Dunn’s Bandcamp site.