dw057 - abre ojos - elements

Furthernoise.org - Caleb Dupress (c) 2009
In 2004, Scott Baker was an art student in New South Wales when Alan Lamb came to build one of his wind organs. Baker, formerly inspired by the frantic skitterings of Pan Sonic and Aphex Twin, found a comfortable place for reflection and contemplation inside Lamb's wires and changed his musical persona. He adopted the name Abre Ojos, a watchword of the Spanish explorers on Australia's rugged coast to stay awake and keep one's eyes open, for his creative activities. As Abre Ojos, he has developed sound and video improvisation tools which he has used both individually and in collaboration with other artists. Elements is his first solo release and includes both audio and video. In an unusual move for a net label, Dark Winter has released Elements as a limited edition DVD with a bonus track, but four elements are available as audio and video on Dark Winter's site.

Besides Alan Lamb, Baker also claims kinship with the doom metal group Sunn O))), from whom he took the resonance and discarded any trace of rock, leaving a common approach in deep, slow moving drones resonant with impulses from distorted voices. Earth's surges stand like pillars in an austere industrial landscape, hovering into uncertainty and groaning with a Beckettian agony. Fire starts with a low murmur, then layers sudden sheets of noise over the bass and finds hidden harmonies in the decaying spirals of feedback. The voice is more prominent, albeit no more comprehensible, in Water, with slow chants mingled with the constant metallic drone. Air is episodic, with very calm and quiet sections leading without warning into rasping growls of sound, pushing ahead with single-minded intensity before dissipating.

But in addition to the audio, Baker improvises with video as well, in this case with cold war propaganda film clips. Each video is centered around a different triangular glyph, white on a black background at the boundaries, vibrating and shimmering against parallel kaleidoscopic images in the middle. Earth presents its muffled voices and unearthly harmonics with factory turbines chased into shadows, with its triangle becoming a beacon before dissolving into abstract organic forms, swirling into a rose window of color. Fire uses vintage films of smoke and explosions, a slow motion combustion that evolves into a beautiful red kaleidoscope, with the triangle brightening to become the heart of the sun. Water borders on the erotic with its mirrored waterfalls that shimmer and dissolve into oceans, clouds, and other mysterious organic forms. Air is a departure from the other three, dividing the screen horizontally instead of vertically as in a tunnel, then building to a frantic intensity not seen in the other videos.

Baker calls his hypnotic performances "dystopian meditations," which would seem like an oxymoron if we only had the audio. But in the videos, images from our collective past appear in mirrors, drawing the eye to the mandalic figure in the center. The focus is narrowed further with the deep drones that swell to fill the audio spectrum, ominous harbingers of a world pared to the primal elements. The fifth element, Spirit, the bonus track on the DVD release, could be the redeemer.

Digital:Meditation - (c) 2009
Amongst all the net labels out there nowadays, then and now I come back to the stuff found at darkwinter.com, as overall quality of these releases usually is pretty good. At the moment, however, I feel mesmerized by "elements", which, in my opinion, is an exceptional release even by darkwinter standards. One hardly could say there is a lack of dark, "drony" ambient music these days, as it seems creating this kind of soundscapes is trivial at least from a technical point of view, you're not really likely to need a lot of equipment and skill to get this kind of stuff. And still, listening closer to some (most?) of these releases, one quickly learns that indeed there are differences both looking at technical aspects and, even more, talking about originality and inspiration found in it.

Talking about this, "elements", the creation of Australian one-man project Abre Ojos, surely knows how to excel. Earth, fire, water, air: each of the "four elements" captured in one long piece of musical creation, in one great, musically evolving world. In the end, these four elements end up forming an acoustic universe dense and inspired, moody, electronic and yet evolving and highly "organic", directly next door to releases like the incredible "Zeit" album by Tangerine Dream, created in 1972, or, same as ingenious, Coil's "Time Machines" released a couple of years later. From this point, I dare to consider "elements" the logical successor to the both of these records at least talking about music.

But there's more: Along with the music, "elements" also does come with a video clip (or, better, a visual collage) for each of the elements / songs. Initially, I felt torn about this idea, given that this kind of music usually works best being a "soundtrack" for a movie to evolve in your mind while listening to it. But, however, after looking at parts of the clips I have to say that, fortunately, they indeed work out emphasizing the effect of the music itself, indeed working out as "sound reactive looping visuals and animated mandalas to create an immersive synaesthetic experience to give time for reflection and meditation", as the release liner notes claim.

So, coming to a conclusion, I have to say that 'elements' is one of the most outstanding pieces of drone ambient music I have been listening to in quite a while. Given it's available on-line for free download (and, actually, under a Creative Commons license), one shouldn't hesitate checking it out, listening to it, eventually drifting along through the worlds of Abre Ojos for while. And, if you decide you actually enjoy this one and want to show your appreciation to its creator, there's always a carefully packed and designed CD/DVD box available to be ordered online. Worth checking out definitely, I am thinking about creating a PayPal account. :)

IkEcht - Songsoverruins (c) 2009
Abre Ojos is the project of Scott Baker who currently resides in Melbourne, Australia. During May he released one track a week on the net label Dark Winter, based on the four elements. Sounds prestigious? It does, certainly when you realise this artist indulges in other artforms (installations, painting, digital art etc.) and simultaneously released an accompanying videoclip for each track. If you order the DVD you'll get an exclusive fifth track, dedicated to the element "Spirit". Exciting developments at Dark Winter!

All this results in four times fifteen minutes of meditative drones, with imagery responding to the sound. On top of that Scott uses his voice for what sound like incantations. The whole package would be very suitable for reflection and meditation. Well _that_ is certainly something I can agree with as I caught myself dozing off more than once while listening to this music; overall it is quite monotonous. For those who now think "drones and monotonous... well that sounds like an open door...", sure, true. But where other drone artists (I'll once again mention Moljebka Pvlse, but also the different projects on the Finnish label Aural Hypnox) can hypnotise me without much effort, this just doesn't quite cut it. I get the feeling that too little is being done with such a big concept as "the four elements". At the moment the same formula of drones with distorted vocals is applied to each track.

Admittedly, the video clips add another dimension, being a mixture of black-and-white imagery from '50's propaganda movies with more run-of-the-mill fractal and kaleidoscopic patterns that slowly morph. It's a nice extra, but as usual with moving images, they require your complete attention. And again, with about an hour's worth of material it fails to keep my attention for that long. Although an interesting project that must have taken a lot of time and care to put together it does not enchant me. For a debut such an all-encompassing project like this might still be one bridge too far, although I have to commend Scott for his passion and courage to go ahead and give it a shot. Seeing the foremost influences on his work that he mentions (Lustmord, Atrium Carceri, Robert Rich, but also artists like Coil or Underworld) this could become a project capable of producing interesting sounds once it fully fledges. And Dark Winter again shows itself to be a label willing to experiment with different forms of presenting and distributing its works.

Originally written for the Dutch weblog IkEcht (http://ikecht.web-log.nl/ikecht/), English translation by the author.

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