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Tag Archives: ambient

Capsule Reviews, June 2014: From the Vault

Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)

[originally posted 12Dec2001]

Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law dominate the movie poster.

War is hell. But war is pretty hell.
photo credit: Wikipedia

It’s hard to tell what you’re going to get when you find yourself watching a Jean-Jacques Annaud film. Some of his output deserves instant classic status; some should never have seen the light of day. Enemy at the Gates balances on the thin line between the two, but does eventually manage to fall on the side of the former.

Annaud teams up with Alain Godard (as in most of his truly fine efforts) to offer up a screenplay about two snipers, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) and Major Konig (Ed Harris) during the 1942/43 siege of Stalingrad. The two are backed by a solid cast of minor characters, including the off-kilter-genius casting of Bob Hoskins as Krushchev. And while Annaud and Godard use the story of Zaitsev to examine the pros and cons of propaganda, they thankfully never lose focus on the real story– two guys trying to kill each other while a war rages around them. It doesn’t sound all that interesting when stripped down, and there are certainly a few places where the film drags, but overall it works much better than one would expect it to. Jude Law is, as always, a pleasure to watch onscreen, and Ed Harris gives one of his better performances (though he can’t seem to decide if he’s supposed to be speaking in a German accent or not). Worth a rental. *** ½


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Cremator (2000): Burn the Flames

Subklinik, Cremator (Slaughter Productions, 2000)

[originally posted 15Jun2000]

photo credit:

Thirteen years later, I believe I may have reversed the ratings on these two albums accidentally, ’cause this is not just one of my favorite Subklinik releases, it’s one of my favorite dark ambient albums ever.

The mind behind unbelievably harsh noise outfit Arise hands us his first full-length offering under the new name Subklinik, a project whose output is classed by aficionados as “dark ambient.” But don’t let that put you off. Subklinik may not be as earth-shatteringly loud as Arise was/is, but that has less to do with the volume level than the way in which the tracks are recorded, I think. The album opens with “Dementia,” another track (they seem to be cropping up everywhere these days) that sounds as if it were recorded in some kind of huge space, like an empty airplane hangar; it’s not so much the reverb, or the echo, that gives that feeling, as much as it is… well, okay, it’s indescribable. Just trust me on this one. The tones are low, low, low, not subaural but relatively close to it, and even out of little computer speakers, this isn’t stuff you want to play after a dose of ex-lax. In fact, it could BE a dose of ex-lax. Yes, it’s that low, that loud, and has that much physical effect on your body. (Warning: do not take Subklinik with Chinese food.)
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The Dawn of Desecration (2000): You Are Now Free to Move About the Cabin

Subklinik, The Dawn of Desecration (Live Bait Recording Foundation,

[originally posted 15Jun2000]

photo credit:

The artwork on mine is B&W. Go figure.

After long years of sitting in limbo, this by-now-legendary 1997 album, slated for release on another label who shall remain nameless and yanked because of its creator’s philosophical stance (forget that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the music contained therein!), has finally seen the light of day on Cleveland’s Live Bait label. It’s all one long (69-minute-plus) track divided into six movements. Very very low-key stuff, almost subsonic in places (I had to REALLY crank up the volume to hear a few things), never gets overly loud and aggressive. Once again, just like with Chad’s contribution to The Abominari, I am not only surprised that this kind of controlled, low-key work can come from the same camp that gave us Arise, but I’m also surprised that something this minimal can be this good. I probably shouldn’t be, as I get familiar with the works of the Swedish minimalist movement, but for now, albums like this pretty much define exactly what works for me. **** ½


Subklinik live in 2010.

Incoming (1994): The Mind of a Missile

John Duncan, Incoming (Streamline, 1994)

[originally posted 8May2000]

photo credit:

Chemtrails for Dummies.

By now, anyone familiar with experimental music is probably familiar with the name John Duncan, the country- and citizenship-hopping pioneer in shortwave sound who always seems to be one step ahead of the law. One is forced to wonder, after a while, if performance art is really worth getting chased out of so many countries. The guy should just stick to nice, easy music instead of having sex with corpses and throwing a bunch of naked people into a room with all the lights off.

On second thought, maybe I’ll join him on the next tour.
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Regel (1982): This Is Sirius Business

Maurizio Bianchi, Regel (Sterile, 1982, rereleased with bonus tracks EEsT, 1998)
[originally posted 22Feb2000]

photo credit:

Ah, the lure of minimalism.

Bianchi’s fourth album continues the “why is this guy considered powerelectronics?” trend, and actually goes much farther into the realm of the ambient. I mean, look, it’s two pieces entitled “Part I” and “Part II,” each over twenty minutes long. It’s gotta be either ambient or space-rock (a la mid-seventies Yes), right?
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Unclean Spirit (1999): What If He’s Guilty?

Umbra, Unclean Spirit (The Rectrix, 1999)
[originally posted 19Jan2000]

photo credit:

Into the black…

A collaboration between Gruntsplatter and Murderous Vision, Umbra’s second release is also the first from the fledgling Rectrix label. And for a first release, it certainly looks damn good. Murky pseudo-gothic photography that’s actually reproduced with high quality, a jewel case that looks as if it might actually hold up (when was the last time you saw a decent jewel case where the little prongs in the middle didn’t bend down within a week?), all-around above average packaging. Attention to detail is one of the things that keeps a label afloat, sometimes.
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/livingroom (2002): Turn Off the TV, Ma, Damion’s Whispering

Damion Romero, /livingroom (Banned Productions, 2002)

[note: review originally published Apr2005]


photo credit:

It looks so unassuming.

I really can’t say enough good things about ex-Speculum Fight frontman Damion Romero. Romero has taken the world of deep-ambient field recording and made it something even more wonderful than it usually is. On /livingroom, according to the liner notes, the music was generated by “…the sound of the floor within the space, creating a large-scale acoustic feedback circuit….” No, it doesn’t sound all that interesting, and to be honest it does pale in comparison to hearing Romero do this sort of thing live (if you ever get a chance to see him perform, run, do not walk), where you get the full effect of the frequencies generated. But /livingroom is an amazing experience for all that, a piece of low-key, almost subsonic ambient that shifts and moves (as, one assumes, people moved around the space and vibrated the floorboards). Some of you will find this exceptionally good stuff to fall asleep to. Others will find its subtle shifts and changes excellent for active listening. Others will find it makes excellent background music for meditation, work, or what have you. What I can’t imagine anyone doing, however, is not liking it.

The only reason it gets four and a half stars instead of five is that I wished it, like the set he performed at No Fun Fest, had been considerably longer. **** ½