Tag Archives: Ambient

A Second Act for the Penguin Café

Penguin Cafe

Few bands have been as difficult to categorize as England’s Penguin Café Orchestra. Their songs traversed folk, minimalist classical, and various indigenous styles, particularly from Africa, and showcased a delicate group interplay, the loose edges of which made the music feel even more human and vital. Founded in 1972 by composer and multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann, PCO were marked by shifting membership and instantly ingratiating tunes.

When Jeffes died of a brain tumor in 1997, that seemed to be the last of the Orchestra—and, strictly speaking, it was. But 10 years ago, Jeffes’s son Arthur reconvened some of his father’s old compatriots for a trio of memorial shows in London, then began a new group under the name Penguin Café, minus the Orchestra, to showcase both Simon’s classics and his own new tunes. The group self-released A Matter of Life… (2011) and The Red Book (2014), but their new album, The Imperfect Sea, comes out through the sharp-eared British experimental label Erased Tapes. (The album was one of Bandcamp’s Essential Releases the week it was released.) Broader-stroked and more sonorous of tone than his father’s work, The Imperfect Sea is nevertheless a frequently gorgeous successor to the Orchestra’s poky beauty. We caught up with the 38-year-old Arthur Jeffes, who was in the midst of a house renovation in Kentish Town.

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How The Arizona Desert Shaped Karima Walker’s Nomadic New Record

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Learning about an artist’s place of origin provides context on their creative upbringing. For the impressionistic music of Karima Walker—her latest album, Hands In Our Names, is a potent combination of sound collage, tape loop, atmospheric noise and soul-bearing Americana—place is not just context, but a participating force. Field recordings stomped and mulched through effected cassette players reflect the red desert around her hometown of Tucson, Arizona.

Punctuating the ambient passages are moments of more traditional, yet no less emphatic songcraft, often featuring Walker’s golden yet melancholy mezzo-soprano looped ad infinitum. Lyrically, Hands In Our Names finds Walker taking in her surroundings. “Night points you as a compass,” she breathes on “Holy Blanket,” “Venus rises o’er the mountains.” Later, on “We’ve Been Here Before,” “there’s a place you’ve never seen/Where the trees at midnight ring/’Neath diamond skies and soda springs…”

Throughout April, Walker performed on a double-headliner tour with label-mate Advance Base (fka Casiotone for the Painfully Alone). We caught up with Walker as she finished her tour, and discussed her latest release, favorite places to write, how to balance the imaginative with the traditional, and more.

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A Massive Survey of Contemporary Ambient Music

Ambient

Nicole Ginelli

Ambient music has been on its second (or third?) rise for a little while now, but at present it’s rivaling the wave of the mid ‘90s, when it soundtracked millions of ravers’ comedowns and backroom conversations.

Brian Eno, founding father of the genre, has just released his first ambient album in an age—the literally never-ending (if you play it in its app form) Reflection. On The Orb’s C.O.W. (Chill Out World) from 2016, they return to pure ambience (plus, they’re hosting a huge celebration of ambient music in London this April). Scene-defining London DJ Mixmaster Morris has just made his first album as The Irresistible Force in two decades, set for release later this year.

But it’s not just that the old greats are back at work. Threads in new music that were formerly hugely disparate—elements of post-rock, noise, dubstep, neo-classical, gallery installation music, documentary field recordings, even grime—are increasingly finding themselves woven back together into endlessly spaced-out tapestries. From the misty minimalist compositions of Bing & Ruth, to the grime-inspired sci-fi cityscapes of Yamaneko, some of the most exciting music being made right now exists free from traditional rhythm or structure—and plenty of the most cutting-edge DJs are bringing these together into sets that are completely cut free from the dancefloor. Here, we present just a small overview of the oceans of ambient sound to be found on Bandcamp right now.

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Music for Relaxation: A Meditation Journey

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Nicole Ginelli

This was supposed to be one of those eight-hour nights of sleep. You were in bed by 10pm, but now, as you reach for your phone for the third time, the device stoically informs you that it’s 12:46am. Maybe you flick open a popular meditation app (it rhymes with deadspace) and wait for the man with the ever-so-slightly British (or is it Australian?) accent to talk to you off the ledge. But this time, he’s not helping; neither is your brain, which continuously presents you with items to add to your daily to-do list, offering worst-case scenarios for the stressful day that’s now just a few hours away.

Sound familiar? In this era of non-stop connectivity, the constant barrage of information is nearly impossible to tune out. Your phone, which is likely the culprit of your anxiety, is, in a cruel twist of fate, also your alarm clock. We have become a well-connected society of masochists who are unable to relax.

There’s no choice, then, but to turn to the experts: The composers and musicians in the business of making music specifically designed to help you disconnect, unplug and, eventually, calm down. These are the people who have found enough peace that they can share it with others. They make spoken-word guided meditations, 30-minute ambient tracks, songs with Tibetan singing bowls, meditation for aligning energy, sleep aids—the list goes on. After spending a few weeks rooting around in the meditation tags on Bandcamp, I’ve discovered that there truly is a path to peace for everyone.

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Robert “ÆOLUS” Myers and The Forgotten Beginnings of Hawaiian New Age

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Since 2010, Aloha Got Soul has made waves by mining Hawaii’s undiscovered musical past. On its first two LP releases, the Honolulu-based rare-soul label, run by Roger Bong, has reissued forgotten gems like Mike Lundy’s 1980 funk-soul album, The Rhythm of Life and Aura’s self-titled disco debut.

For its third full-length release, Bong, 29, decided to broaden his original vision for Aloha Got Soul, moving beyond 1970s and 1980s funk, soul, and disco from the Islands to include electronic music.  One night back in 2014, Bong was browsing the ambient blog and record label Sounds of the Dawn when he came across ÆOLUS’ ethereal second album, Rays. Digging further, he realized that Global Pacific, the New Age label that originally released the record, was once based in Hawaii.

“I jumped around the room for a few minutes, freaked out about finding ÆOLUS’ music and the notion of a New Age or experimental scene in Hawaii,” he recalls. “Until then, I’d only been familiar with ‘70s and ‘80s jazz and soul.”

Bong got the phone number for Robert Myers—the man behind ÆOLUS—from Sounds of the Dawn and, over the next two years, the Bong and Myers collaborated on a comprehensive retrospective of Myers’ four solo works, including 1982’s Aeolian Melodies, 1985’s Rays, 1989’s The Magician and 1993’s High Priestess. The result is a 13-track magnum-opus: ÆOLUS: A Retrospective.

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