Like the seminal Swans album, this column contains an eclectic collection of experimental music recommendations, all of which provide sonic landscapes for the listener to lose themselves within. Expect offerings from the genres of ambient, drone, electroacoustic, free improvisation, post-minimalism and more.
Ambient music has fascinated me since I stumbled upon Pitchfork’s review for William Basinski‘s Disintegration Loops. I’ve always been enthralled by the genre’s ability to create sublime soundscapes with sparse instrumentals, providing the sonic equivalent of a Mark Rothko painting. Well-composed ambient music allows the listener to determine their meaning for themselves, forgoing direct compositional cues to instead focus on the rise and fall of minimal motifs, as well as the space present between each note. In his review for Huerco S.‘s excellent For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), Pitchfork writer Philip Sherburne provided some added context for modern ambient music’s trajectory. Sherburne describes the album as “ambient music through and through—though it’s informed by a memory of club music, which hangs over it like a ringing in the ears.” Whereas looped acoustic instruments define ambient classics like Brian Eno‘s Music for Airports, modern ambient music often feels like the reverberations of melodic electronic subgenres played in slow motion. As a result, artists like Huerco S. create ethereal dance music for a club full of phantoms; a soundtrack for floating in a blissful atmosphere brimming with muted exuberance.
As Terekke, Matt Gardner executes this approach to ambient music flawlessly on Improvisational Loops, painting a pristine canvas with shades and hues of tangential electronic subgenres. Using just a synth, looper and generous helpings of reverb, Gardner creates a unique ambient blend that marries the atmosphere of Huerco S. with the eclecticism of Visible Cloaks or Tim Hecker. The inspiration behind Improvisational Loops fits this narrative perfectly; Gardner composes “in the spirit of past ’New Age’ or Minimal music, [aiming] to open up space within the room and giving the listener a chance to explore inward or outward.” With eight tracks built around the 20-minute core of “Nuwav2,” Gardner produces a gorgeous journey that soothes and awes in equal measure.
As is the case with any successful ambient track, “Nuwav2” establishes it’s commanding synth melody from its first moments and allows the shimmering reverberations to ebb and flow like snow through the wind. It’s the type of melody that mimics the feeling of burrowing in a gratuitously sized coat while walking in a roaring blizzard. The chords feel like a house track without the percussion played under a vast ocean, with shimmering chords bouncing off rays of light piercing through the water. At the tail end of the track, flurries of notes begin to accent the proceedings with a vague retrowave flair. These moments also add mild echoes of minimal techno and microhouse, which Gardner explores more directly on tracks like “arrpfaded” and “l8r h8r.” Throughout, he works off everything introduced in “Nuwav2” with shorter bursts, further building on the narrative of steady ripples. What Gardner birthed with the 20-minute epic is distilled down to concentrated portions to allow the album to gracefully fade into a fond, constantly resurfacing memory.
With its relative ease of composition, ambient music is a genre replete with plenty of albums that fall short of being memorable. The key to crafting an ambient piece that resonates with listeners is to write an enticing, malleable melody that listeners can flood with their own meaning. Improvisational Loops is an exceptional case study in why ambient music can be such a powerful, commanding force. Fans of the genre should certainly keep Terekke on their radar, as Gardner demonstrates an adept understanding of what makes ambient music work at its highest level. In a sea of loops and endless melodies, Gardner’s compositions stand out as ambiance at its most earnest, necessary phase of being; he crafts soundscapes that arrest listener’s attention until the afterthoughts of its final note cease to exist.
Improvisational Loops is available now via Music From Memory.