In The Pendulum’s Embrace
Oren Ambarchi has made a new step in his continuing meandering solo-output. In the pendulum’s embrace is a new turn in the river. The water keeps on streaming, the swimming has never been so sweet.
The following text is a composition of some ideas on the new record, with some of Ambarchi’s own words in between. The conversation was done via e-mail towards the end of 2006. Read this as an expanded review or a limited interview. Well, it doesn’t really matter how you read it. Just read it. Thanks.
We have to admit something: we like Oren Ambarchi. Not that he knows about it, but the first time we encountered him (Geneva, in the magnificent and sadly lost Cave 12 2003), his live performance left an unforgettable impression on us. There we were, fascinated from the first tone to the last, not knowing what we just heard. Was this all so new, was it all so different? Maybe not. But what we knew was this: Ambarchi wasn’t just producing interesting sounds and putting them after one another. He wasn’t just trying to move his audience with an easy approach on harmony and emotion. What devastated us, was his ability to do all this, to integrate all these equally important parts of music, to take us for a ride into his landscape and deliver us safely home. His presence in the room remained unnoticed, until the music was gone.
Before we start, let’s make sure we’re talking about the same guy. Are we talking about the guy who works with key electroacoustic improvisation figures as Keith Rowe or Toshimaru Nakamura? Are we talking about the guy who likes his share of drone and metal attitude, and shares this love on stage with no one less than US outfit Sunn O)))? Is this the same guy who holds the drumsticks in another band called Sun – their name being the only similarity (what’s black in Sunn is white in Sun – what’s gloomy in Sunn is happy in Sun)? Well, yes, yes and yes. Ambarchi does it all, armed with one red guitar and some 30 kilo of electronic devices. He’s making music since 1986, has released over 10 solo recordings, lives and breathes music, and travels the world to share his talent. Talk about a rock star!
The swing of the Pendulum
All of the above is present on the new album. In the Pendulum’s Embrace is a very natural step for Ambarchi, as over his several solo albums, he’s always expanding his tone language and instrumental occupation. “I had made quite a few purely ‘solo’ recordings” he tells us, “and after a while, especially after working with Chris Townend on the Sun record, I was interested in incorporating additional instrumentation, colours and textures in my solo work. This has continued to evolve on my recent solo recordings.” On the new album, this evolution pays off. In Inamorata, Ambarchi works with strings, building a very tight suspense. The abstractness doesn’t stop him from actually telling a story, something he deliberately focuses on: “I like the music to have some sort of narrative and I like it when a piece is ‘epic’, even if it’s ‘abstract’ or ‘experimental’. Exploring one idea with all its detail and possibilities really appeals to me. I’ve always loved long, drawn out pieces or improvisations that start off simply and then goes on some sort of search, such as Indian Ragas.”
For the first time, this raga influence is actually audible in the music. The third and last song, Trailing Moss In Mystic Glow comes closest Ambarchi has ever come to clear guitar playing. Bells, acoustic guitars and voice (!) make of this song a very relaxed and peaceful listening experience. The long-spun guitar melodies remind sometimes of NY-based Mountains. Beautiful melodies, bells and a lot of sound are the main ingredients. That is, if we neglect Ambarchi’s singing, which of course, we don’t. This would be the first time we actually hear him use his voice on a record. Not that this melancholic mesmerizing is the album’s main point, but it’s remarkable at least. Call us chauvinistic, but what we heard, reminded us of Belgian lofi singer Ignatz. And do we need to say all of this is accompanied by heavy guitar loops on the background? Didn’t think so.
A map to an unknown place
Where does Ambarchi start off? Improvisation or experiment? “I think they are both completely connected,” he says. “Whenever I record, a piece usually starts off as an improvisation and then I shape it via overdubs or by removing layers, only including what’s essential.”
His working method has remained the same, Ambarchi says. “Even if I am improvising in a group context, I take a similar approach as I do when I play solo – composing some sort of narrative, shaping a piece of music in real-time via improvisation. I’m involved in many diverse musical projects such as The Four Gentlemen Of The Guitar (with Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz & Toshimaru Nakamura), and as a guest with US band Sunn O))), These two projects utilize improvisation and they may seem completely different from eachother but there’s definitely a common thread that connects the various so-called ‘diverse’ projects I’m involved in and their approach to improvisation; I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think many of these projects approach sound as a landscape and, they also explore the concept of ‘music as time’.”
Ambarchi’s involvement in recent metal combos has not gone unnoticed. His appearance in bands like Sunn O)) or the Burial Chamber Trio (with Greg Anderson and Attila Csihar) only proved his ability to put on different hats (or should we say masks?) and adapt his working method into different environments. The baseline for all of his musical output remains the same though. Not sound, or production, but the moving aspect, is what motivates our favorite Australian. “To a certain extent I’m not really interested in what it is or how it’s produced – the most important question is, does it move me? Is it personal? I don’t care if it’s made on a 1-string guitar, a laptop or whatever.” The earlier mentioned harmonic aspect may be linked to this.
Has Ambarchi’s solo work changed because of his metal-pals? We would say yes. Listen to the new album’s first song, Fever, A Warm Poison and compare it to doom-icon Earth’s output. In a way, these collaborations are a big enrichment for his music. Subtle drums and guitars bring us a saddened mood. The clear sound unmistakably refers to the doompioneers without copying them. Controversly, Ambarchi incorporates the Earth-legacy in his own world, as if he is inviting them to check it out. Who would say no to that?
Digging a bit deeper in musician’s motivations for making music can be hard. Sometimes, you just do what you got to do, no questions asked. Intuition and searching seem the most important motivations for him, but why does he do it? What does he want to bring across? “To quote Gene Simmons: ‘There are no messages, there’s no inner being striving to express itself through music. We all picked up guitars because we all wanted to get laid. Plain and simple.’ I don’t think about it (why he makes music – red) too much but I do know that since I was very young I have always been completely obsessed with listening to and being involved in music &/or art. I buy records, books, DVDs etc on a daily basis, I continually need to hear new things, discover artists I’ve never heard of etc. It’s like food or air for me, I need it to survive (although sometimes I think it’s a sickness).”
Is In The Pendulum’s Embrace a necessity for you? Let’s hope by now you know the answer.
Article by Maarten