Prairie Fire Tapes
Something really quite different tonight. I am currently writing several pieces for The Wire, and entrenched in all kinds of music, flipping from one end of what I tend to write about to another with quite a bit of frequency, so tonight I thought, for a change, I would challenge myself by listening to, and writing about, something a little outside of my usual tastes, recorded on a format I am far from comfortable with. So I have been playing a cassette tape containing three piece of music that I can only really describe as ambient drone by a Canadian musician named Adrian Dziewanski, who also, incidentally, writes the very good blog about music Scrapyard Forecast.
Now, for a short period of time, in my early twenties, around the time of The Aphex Twin’s first Warp outings I had something of a brief dalliance with ambient music, hoovering up early Eno discs, Harold Budd, even some of Holger Czukay’s dodgier output for my sins. The Isolationist compilation that appeared on Virgin records, compiled by Kevin Martin of The Wire had quite an impact on me as well, bridging the gap between this area of dark, gloomy ambient drone and the likes of AMM, who were placed alongside people like Scorn and The Aphex twin on that album. So I do have some kind of distant pedigree with this area of music, but while I left it alone years back because I discovered other music that seemed to have more depth and expression to it, returned to what I perceive to be a similar area of work this evening feels like little more than a pleasant nostalgia trip. I still couldn’t listen to this kind of thing for very long.
There are three tracks on this tape, which is named Archival Anthems and appears on the Prairie Fire Tapes label, two on the first side and a longer piece on the second. All three have a very similar feel, produced (I think) using some kind of synthesised organ sound, with long tones fading in and out, mostly gradually, but with some swelling up and dying away in rhythmic patterns throughout. The music has a morose, grey feel to it, and according to the press released alongside the disc it is meant to evoke the atmosphere of long cold wintery haze. It certainly does this, and having the tape play very quietly in the background does work well as a kind of faint transparency cast over the house here very late on a miserably weathered Thursday night. The problem for me remains that, beyond this every basic, not at all demanding sensation of atmosphere, I take very little from this music that stimulates me in any way. Actually, when I play the first side of the tape, for the first five minutes of so of Pointed Logic, the first track, a gentle slow tapping noise can be heard as the tape winds its way through my cassette deck. This tapping, the result of the cassette shell rocking back and forth slowly actually caught my ear and intrigued me more than the music I am afraid to say, particularly as it always seemed to stop around the same time on each run through the tape, not get quieter or less regular, just stop altogether, at near enough the same spot every play, as if part of the composition itself. I guess that if the mechanics of the playback system attracted my attention more than the music then maybe this area of music still isn’t for me.
The obvious question that some will undoubtably be asking, is what makes this music so different and unfitting with my current tastes to say, the music of Asher, or Eliane Radigue or other composers that, to many, also make similarly dreamy, drone music? My answer can only be a depth, a feeling of purpose beyond simple atmosphere, and a quality of sounds that is more interesting than the organ like tones here. Its a shame to be so negative, and doubtlessly I am not the right person to really be reviewing this music, so there are probably better informed opinions to be heard out there, but while Archival Anthems served as a suitable diversion from other matters tonight, it isn’t one I’ll be likely to turn to all that often. Very nice cover image though.