Sculpted Silence #3: A Column By James Turrell

March brought with it my birthday (27 years ancient), me interviewing ambient genius Sarah Davachi and the glorious return of Ajax to the pinnacle of European football. At least until the next round. March also saw the release of new albums by such ambient heavyweights as William Basinski, Fennesz and Mary Lattimore. But will any of them be crowned album of the month? Tune in below to find out.

Album of the Month: Porya Hatami, Aaron Martin & Roberto Attansio – Sallaw

Sallaw is an album by the triple-threat of ambient artists Porya Hatami, Aaron Martin and Roberto Attansio – each an interesting and dynamic composer in their own right. Sallaw is the Kurdish word for time passing, and each of the four songs represent a season, giving each track a unique tone. Sallaw is a mournful and nostalgic record, with each seasonal representation feeling like a yearning for a past state that may never exist again.

The record starts on Xakelewe (Spring), and it’s a plaintive beginning. Wistful running water blends with a forlorn synth and delicate violins, each one melding together for a lovely opening. Pûşper (Summer) is equally gentle, violins swoop with tender grace as a luminous drone hums beneath. Rêbendan (Winter) feels appropriately glacial, the droning synth and baritone strings evoking the feeling of winter mornings devoid of sunlight. It feels stark but not anguished; as the track pars down to the sound of fraying static and gently twinkling piano, it feels ultimately hopeful.

Sallaw is a gorgeous, heart-rending work filled with a deeply felt sense of time. Hatami, Martin and Attansio have come together to create a staggeringly cohesive record, with each track an independent entity existing within a codified structure. The seasonal representation is a way for them explore a nostalgic past, one in which months of the year felt distinct, like a mini-world of their own. This is a record of complex emotions and ideas executed with precision.

Other Good Stuff

Mary Lattimore – New Rain Duets

Mary Lattimore’s latest album, New Rain Duets is a collaboration with Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan. Presented in a four movement symphonic structure, New Rain Duets is a record that flows and builds, shifting tones across a liminal sonic space. Opener I is jarring; discordant, free-form piano collides with Lattimore’s lilting harp which in turn crashes into space-age synths. It creates something compelling rather than convoluted. III is equally uncompromising; Lattimore’s harp this time is plucked with venom as McCaughan’s unrelenting synths seem to screech with terror. New Rain Duets is a surprisingly brutal but fascinating album from Lattimore and offers a new dimension to her songwriting which she has never fully explored before.

William Basinski – On Time Out of Time

William Basinski has released his second album in six months with On Time Out of Time. Originally commissioned for the 2017 installations ER=EPR and Orbihedron by artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, the album uses sound from a scientific instrument that captures the merging of two distant massive black holes, 1.3 billion years ago. This leads inevitably to a cosmic feel and stretched, sci-fi tones proliferate the record. The 40-minute-long title track is the bulk of the record; it’s a supremely dense track fused by layers of synths and mellotrons. There is a definite sense of narrative to the track which contains on opaque but distinguishable emotional journey. What begins as intensely brooding slowly morphs over forty minutes into a gorgeous, star-drenched piece of lilting ambience. Another interesting record by an unquestionable master of the form.

Pêtr Aleksänder – Closer, Still

Closer, Still is the stunning debut album from Eliot James and Tom Hobben under the moniker Pêtr Aleksänder. It’s a record of scope and grace, propelled by often warm, heart-rending harmonies reminiscent of Slow Meadow. Opening track No Better Time is a swopping, piano-driven song which feels light and spacious with a violin that screeches but never feels discordant. There, Before Me is a slow, beautiful but elegiac track whose central violin line imbued with an overwhelming sense of longing. Standout track Closer, Still is a complex collection of layered violins backed by a reverb-soaked drum machine that skips with ease from intensity to levity. It’s testament to exquisite production that given the complexity of the record each instrument is given chance to breathe and exist independently.   

Fennez – Agora

Fennez released his first solo album in nearly five years through the intense, remarkable Agora. The record is classic, midnight comedown ambience, and it’s utterly captivating. Opening track In My Room sets the stage of an album defined by a blissful melancholia; a dissonant, woozy bass underpins gorgeous fraying synths. We Trigger the Sun is driven by a euphonic, curving synth and builds, reaching a crescendo of perfectly layered noise and the pound of drums before slowing down to a dreamy reverb finish. A low-fi, deeply emotional welcome return.

Ana Roxanne – ~~~

~~~ is the debut EP by LA’s Ana Roxanne, released on Leaving Records. It’s an intriguing record centred on analogue synths, and it contains a rarity among ambient albums: lyrics! It’s a Rainy Day on the Cosmic Shore begins with fraying static and the sound of sweeping waves. A discordant, stretched synth fuels the track along as looping keys dance over the top. Lead song Nocturne is a haunting ode to heartbreak. Based around a soft drone, the track is driven by Roxanne’s glacial and lamenting vocal and the lyrics are equally mournful: “And though the world sleeps, my eyes are wide. And for your name, my heart cries.” ~~~ is a strong first release, with a startling album cover, by an artist who is certainly one to watch.

So there we are; March had a staggering amount of great albums. Will April be able to compete with such a multitude of amazing records? Or will it collapse under the weight of the oceanic pressure? You’ll have to join me next month to find out.