The other day I spent a while listening to a couple of free ambient netlabel releases that turned out to be just OK. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many excellent free netlabel releases. These were just not two of them. They brought some interesting sounds together, but lost any sense of the space between them, ending up projecting a kind of mushy hum with various little noises floating stickily in the porridge as it gurgled thickly by. Returning after that listening foray to Kane Ikin’s new EP on 12k records was an exercise in contrasts. Anything that comes out on 12k is going to be painstakingly assembled and mastered, and this recording is no exception. It too works with stretched tones and assorted small sounds, but especially on headphones it opens them up into a delicate and spacious conversation.
As the EP begins and the title track unfolds, small percussive noises are set against contrasting high/low tones to create an envelope, and then plucked guitar notes and small buzzes enter the space and stand out precisely against the warm background wash of sound. There’s a clear sense of things happening at different places in the sound field, and the arrangement of the elements creates a palpable sense of space even as the composition flows unhurriedly onward.
Ikin has released a number of excellent recordings as half of the Australian duo Solo Andata. This use of acoustic guitar as a focal point against a background of more ambient sounds is a little reminiscent of Solo Andata’s debut, Fyris Swan. Since then, Solo Andata have specialized in gathering small, evocative, organic sounds from field recordings and weaving them with instruments into darkly atmospheric sound worlds, culminating thus far in the recent (and rather creepy) Ritual. For me, their 2009 self-titled CD on 12k remains a favorite, especially the magnificent opening track, ‘Ablation’, which assembles drones, cello, piano, sounds evocative of insects and water, angelic voices, and what I always find myself imagining as the chugging of a barge engine on a river at night, and orchestrates them flawlessly into a magical journey for the mind.
Contrail proceeds with a somewhat different aesthetic. There is less of a sense of narrative, with a warmer, hazier, more shoegazey atmosphere and a greater sense of stasis in place of the suspense of many Solo Andata tracks. The overall feel is lazy and relaxed, but with small details bringing the foreground alive and slight shifts of tone keeping the background from lapsing into immobility. Sometimes the plucked guitar returns, sometimes the detail is provided by percussive sounds or guitar scrapes and drones or a gentle crackle, all carefully located in relation to one another and against a soft, deep field of ambient sound. The listener is offered both soothing relaxation and scope for attending to precise shades and gestures; the effect is at times rather like reclining in a warm bath while letting your eye rest on the detailed tracery of an etching hanging on the wall.
If you’ve followed 12k’s recent evolution, you’ll find Contrail continuing the tradition of thoughtful, high quality releases. If you are new to the label, but think you might enjoy being serenaded with careful, delicate sounds, this might be an inviting place to begin.
David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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