Thursday, October 7, 2010

Languishing in the sun

Over the past year I have reviewed three albums on Glacial Movements, an label from Italy that furthers the exploration of isolationist music. The label's most recent release is The Art of Dying Alone from bvdub, who DJed in some of San Francisco's deep trance and techno raves in the 1990s before relocating to China, where he worked as a translator and recorded this album. The artist's moniker derives as a nickname from his initials (Brock van Wey) and not from any overt dub influences on his music, which in this case is a spacious ambient album of gentle loops and sustained crystalline strings and voices.

At first listen, and despite the rather bleak track titles, I found it difficult to place this album in an isolationist context. The six tracks, ranging from eight to twenty-one minutes, are all very thick and lush, languid sustained string pads often underpinned with gently moving beats. I felt that I was in the tropics rather than the glaciers. The album's instrumentation is unspecified, but wordless ethereal female vocals give tracks like No More Reasons Not To Fall a light and fluffy feeling, white clouds on a sunny day. Van Wey builds the tracks gradually from short loops on guitar, voice or piano, accumulating layer upon layer swirling into a hypnotic soup. Nothing From No One starts from gentle piano meanderings set against the background rustles of a late-night, nearly empty bar, before the last gesture loops to an infinite repeat, sustaining sounds gradually filling the spectrum, yet the original seed remains at some level of audibility. A guitar loop in No One Will Ever Find You Here shows its seams with a slight rhythmic hiccup, which propels the music forward with a sense of urgency, always slightly ahead of itself.

The title track, which closes the album, is especially poignant. The female voice is especially prominent, from the sustained choral voices in the opening to a sighing solo briefly separating herself from the crowd. Unlike the other tracks, which proceed by accumulation, the chorus here is an introduction to a harp and voice duet. The voice here almost sounds like lyrics, dancing a slow elegy with the harp and piano. This piece gets thick too, but at its height the voice is still prominent with disembodied syllables, female sibilants almost sounding like banshees above the quiet piano and sustained pads.

With all of its layered profusion, The Art Of Dying Alone is a maximal sort of isolationism. Perhaps the album's cover provides a clue. As with the other Glacial Movements releases, it's a gorgeous photo by Bjarne Riesto, but it's the first time that a Glacial Movements cover has featured any kind of human trace, a lonely fishing cabin on the edge of a snowy inlet where the artist comes to make his last work. Van Wey has captured the wistful culmination of an imagination, dying alone in a land of midnight sun.

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