exponentiation ezine
exponentiation en ezine

exponentiation ezine: issue [6.0:culture]

[ music | books | film]

Artist: Steve Roach
Album: Midnight Moon
Release: Projekt Records (2000)

Midnight Moon, being the partial break-off from the otherwise so common New Age- themes sparked by this artist, is a gloomy dark record of ambient spheres and full moons.

Slow, gazing layers of insomnia define these ambient stages of both earthly and unearthly existence. Co-working with occasional glimpses of fretless bass and bows, this listening experience is full of life, full of night. Where many ambient works achieve full effect from the beginning of the songs, Steve Roach's "Midnight Moon" is the complete opposite to this. By slowly emerging one layer, and letting that define the basic theme of the song, he then breaks in more layers as the maturity of the comprehension of each fragmented idea moves ahead, hence the lengths of each piece.

What characterizes this work, is not so much the clearness of vision and impact of intentional motive, but the strong sense of something lively wanting to break free from the calmness, yet keeping itself in shape and order by the space and time allowed to play. This is most times felt when the processed guitar makes its appearances to enhance and provoke a certain mood within an already established general feeling or atmosphere. It's obvious where Steve Roach hints on this, and so he admittedly does very well.

Surprising to many, the overall technique used on this album is that of drone, yet, the music in many ways does not convey an experience like that of drone masters such as Lustmord or Maeror Tri. On the contrary, "Midnight Moon" safely accelerates within frames common to the ambient artists that instead of presenting an immersive illusion through the subconscious, aims on that which to the mind is known, felt, perhaps experienced many lifetimes before. Listening to this work does in most cases not baffle or surprise, but instead play on things familiar with emotions induced at solitary moments of peace and inner harmony, and as such, the vision is always clear and honest, while still keeping its integrity of wondrous space travels intact.

The atmosphere is dark and wondering, contemplating over its own soul. The nature of this music can best be described as repetitive, but like artists of a similar musical standpoint such as Ildjarn or Beherit, this in no way intrudes on a hope for something profound and beautiful. Steve Roach drags each piece out until there is no beginning or end, until each ongoing melody and droning layer becomes relevant in itself to the larger picture of the whole presented. Through the constant recycle of slowly vibrating dark ambient layers, magical guitar melodies defined by five or six notes taken to their extreme lengths and the continuing echoes of these moments combined, something wondrous, longing and seeking takes shape.

Indecisive, yet only to its benefit, as these special times of midnight moons are as taking long walks through a dead and sleeping city where the stars shine bright on the majestic nightsky; there is no disturbance -- only a clear sense of that which is unknown, but felt years ago. This paradox never makes itself a disturbance while listening to this ambient-tribal opus, as it becomes a natural part of its own creation, e.g. it wants to seek and find something unknown while alone with the memories of the past.

But while these strange sounds and feelings are obvious to any listener, the actual content or theme present in each piece, is that of timeless, spaceless experiences. "Ancestors Circle" and "Deadwood" are songs that define this idea, and whereas other parts of this dark ambient work are both lucid and hallucinating, wisdom of souls now dead and gone come back to life, yet, only inside the mind of he who is willing to listen and trust the soul of his intuitional voice.

Almost disturbingly unknowing, Steve Roach on this album presents what should be his most worthy opus to date. The absolutely beautiful and entrancing visions produced as a result of tiny magical melodies and out-of-space ethereal key layers, send the listener, either deeply out of space or shortly into the mind of things that previously were dead and waiting. Haunting and encompassing a worldview beyond the current materialistic acknowledgements of those with ignorance and betrayal of the past wisdom gained, nothing can save this work from being a welcome experience a looming evening of afterglow wonder. - Alexis


Artist: V/A
Album: "Looking for Europe: The Neofolk Compendium"
Release: Auerbach Tontrăger (2005)

"Neofolk" has always been a genre plagued, or possibly injected with, a certain underpinning of ambiguity, be it musically, in imagery, in attitude, and/or ideologically. It is ostensibly the goal of the "Looking for Europe" compilation to help provide - or maybe obscure, depending upon your perspective - the meaning of Neofolk as a genre, and to give ample historical context to its development and relevance. According to the tastefully presented, 100-page bilingual (Deutsch/English) perfect bound book included as the centerpiece of this tome-like package, Neofolk is "defined more aptly in [such] thematic commonalities than in a common musical language." This statement makes sense when one considers what is often classified as Neofolk: everything from traditional acoustic-folkish acts (the most oft-cited type), industrial, gothic, noise, synthpop, classical, and ambient influenced creations, and a myriad of other styles and hybridizations. Most, if not all, of these are represented in some guise on this massive 4 CD, 53-song volume.

The included text goes on to define the "thematic commonalities" as "romantic, 'anti-enlightenment,' [with] and explicit demand to again make room for a mythical worldview in this modern world," which appears accurate upon examination of the booklet; perhaps more famous to the uninitiated, though, is the (crypto-) fascistic imagery that some of the more established and recognizable bands such as DEATH IN JUNE and DER BLUTHARSCH have often used. Unfortunately for the "genre" as a whole, though not unexpectedly, this fact has managed to overshadow many of the deeper currents expressed in Neofolk worth exploring, such as traditionalism (Julius Evola seems to be one particularly admired figure) including paganism/heathenism and other pre-Christian themes. Many other themes are also common, ranging from the extremely esoteric to the frivolous; at their core, these themes are oft of introspective and ascetic-type principles or pursuits; highly "intellectualized," literate, and studied presentation of mythological, are most celebrated. These themes tend to be mirrored in this regard fairly consistently by the corresponding musical presentation despite some of the above-mentioned attempts at more martial overtones, which are often understated. An interesting, and somewhat related, side note to this is that females are relatively well-represented for an "underground" genre of music, often in highly vocal or creative roles. This also seems to be a reason for much of the aesthetic and musical variety flourishing beneath the broad Neofolk canopy.

The music on "Looking for Europe" is, thanks to such distinct variety of presentation, aurally interesting and aesthetically appealing. Most compositions can be described as melodically driven and focused, with a plentitude of instruments (both traditional and modern) and - principally - voice, used to color them, depending on the act. In the more folkish acts, as would be expected, percussion is often eschewed wholly or reduced to mere accent, in favor of more open, simple homophonic style working under its own momentum. This includes SOL INVICTUS, FIRE+ICE, CHANGES (a remnant of an era before "Neofolk" was completely germinated), and some inspirational precursors given tribute with tracks on Disc 1 such as SCOTT WALKER or THE STRAWBS. Opposite on the spectrum is the school influenced more by industrial/noise and synthpop, where percussion rises to the forefront as pulsing ambience or in militaristic rigidity (including marching snare or tribal drums). This approach is utilized by the above-mentioned DER BLUTHARSCH, and can probably be seen as a page from the books of early industrial/noise acts NON or PSYCHIC TV, both of whom also show up on this compilation as widely-recognized influences. In an approach bridging these percussive styles, DEATH IN JUNE betrays their earlier post-punk influence in their included track (from "The Brown Book"), which uses a modern drum kit configuration to offset a gentle acoustically-strummed melody in repetition.

Other acts forge paths that cannot be described neatly by the above dichotomy; often these are some of the most musically and artistically interesting. These acts often borrow heavily from a number of traditions, creating what at first seems tragically recombinant stylistically, but surviving on pure breadth of experience. BLOOD AXIS is the most prominent example, an act that has successfully pursued ambient, folk/traditional, electronic, and others simultaneously while managing to avoid sounding like awkward piecemeal. Their unreleased track "The Ride," which appears on this compilation, is unfortunately not their best, but it is representative: martial rhythms, commanding vocals, pre-Christian themes and a great sense of musical movement. Although this sounds dangerously similar to the criticisms already leveled, it is assuredly better than that in the whole. Another standout band included on the compilation is SCIVIAS. More in the Eastern European folkish tradition, in their track SCIVIAS enlist the aid of a violin playing a sad countermelody over picked acoustic guitar, interspersed with gently-spoken lyrics and light marching snare to create a desperate and unique atmosphere.

Bands such as the aforementioned BLOOD AXIS and some others on this compilation fall under what could broadly be called "Neoclassical" as opposed to "Neofolk," which would better betray what is a more general array of influence. However, similar problems arise with the use of this marginalized term as well: it is not so much the specific musical approach, but overarching themes and threads of common tradition that are binding, no matter what they may be called. What the term does avoid, however, is the inevitable (and agreeable) contention among true folk-enthusiasts that the more folk-oriented of these bands represent, at best, a departure from the true folk tradition in all but some superficial ways. One might argue that such a tradition has been less relevant since the advent of recorded music, but this seems another strike against the heart of certain "Neofolk" types: for all their rallying behind tradition, some go a long way in unintentionally mocking it with some contrived music and image, always trying to sound "dark" in the mode of the more contemporary musics from which many of them have arrived, but managing to sound like diluted and soft rock-influenced music in the meantime. Some of this need not be bad in itself, but to settle on such a term as "Neofolk" for a style which clearly has little in common with "folk" seems like pandering, maybe an attempt to unite many disparate bands for the purposes of "scene," or at least simply a poor idea. This compilation does well in making it clear that the more aesthetically folk-influenced bands ("World Serpent" bands) do not (or do no longer) necessarily comprise the majority of what should be considered "Neofolk," which further begs the question of the need for such a term and the oddfellow pairings that come with it.

Semantic issues not withstanding, a few listens through the compilation and a leafing through of the booklet gives one the sense that as art, much of this, ironically, comes off as too inorganic to function well. There seems to be a pull from too many sides to bring all of it properly to fruition; it is not quite popular music, nor trained or traditional, nor something of universally grand intellectual standing, but not much of it seems to possess an obvious creative joy or spontaneity either. While it is tempting to like a lot of these acts on the basis of the combination of attractive thematics and palpably enjoyable music, it is equally tempting to brush all of it off altogether as too diverse in means and methods to wholly appreciate at a greater level. As a compilation, "Looking for Europe" serves its purpose well by making these difficulties clear in attempting somewhat clumsily to unite everything in a single large volume, though it seems the effect could be more alienating than was originally intended. -kontinual

copyright © 2007 mock Him productions