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  • Tom H

Spotlight | Experimental, Instrumental and Ambient

I've always been a follower of ambient, instrumental and experimental music. During my graduate school days, I have clear memories of getting some of my best work completed, accompanied by the background sounds of instrumental, experimental and pioneering artists the likes of Dome, SPK, Recoil, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Pieter Nooten, and Michael Brook, to name a few. This was music that provided a release and subtle motivation to enable creativity and concentration.

This type of music continues to inspire and ground me in a similar way today. In this week's post, I highlight four albums from current artists that intrigue, enlighten and captivate my musical ear.

William Basinski / Lawrence English - Selva Oscura (Temporary Residence)

Dedicated to the memory of filmmaker Paul Clipson, who is closely associated with the ambient and drone scenes, Selva Oscura presents the stunning collaboration of ambient experimental composers and artists William Basinski and Lawrence English. I first became familiar with William Basinski through his career-defining work of The Disintegration Loops.

The album title is taken directly from Dante's Inferno and translates to "twilight forest." The two words that come to mind when I listen to Selva Oscura are "drifting" and "expansive." This is music for sleeping under the stars - an ambiance you can truly lose yourself within. The two main compositions ("Mono No Aware" and "Selva Oscura") each present continuous ambient soundscapes, drones and textures that create an emotional, calming and cathartic listening experience. Each soundscape gently recedes and transforms into another breathtaking atmospheric piece that takes its place.

Pieter Nooten - Stem (Rocket Girl)

Some of you might recognize Dutch neo-classical composer Pieter Nooten as one of the founding members of 80's alternative band (clan of) Xymox. From my perspective, Pieter was the driving musical influence that provided the classical depth and atmosphere to the band's sound through their Phoenix (1990) album. My earliest impressions of Pieter's musical influence were with (clan of) Xymox's eponymous Medusa (1986) album, and his first solo release Sleeps with the Fishes (1987), in which he collaborated with Michael Brook to produce this iconic ambient masterpiece.

Beyond the early (clan of) Xymox days, Pieter has continued to release an impressive series of albums in recent years. Following the outstanding releases of Surround Us (2012) and Haven (2013), comes Pieter's most recent album, Stem (2018). With a beautiful combination of piano, strings and subtle electronic textures, this album's deeply moving and emotional compositions create a delicate and expansive presence. Stem is yet another gorgeous, ambient masterpiece from this brilliant neo-classical composer.

Erudite Stoner - Artistic Ghost (self-released)

From the moment I first heard the self-titled debut album from Brazilian artist Erudite Stoner (a.k.a. Matheus Novaes), I immediately fell in love with this ultra-talented musician's moving and intricate acoustic guitar-driven compositions. Erudite Stoner's new album, Artistic Ghost (2018), follows in the same musical vein as its predecessor, with another stunning selection of beautifully composed and performed songs.

Benny Andersson - Piano (Deutsche Grammophon)

Finally, from the Swedish musical Mozart, probably best known as the one of the songwriting geniuses behind supergroup ABBA and musicals Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla, Benny Andersson released his eagerly anticipated Piano album earlier this year. This incredible album presents 21 tracks with nothing more than Benny and his piano, effortlessly and elegantly performing simple, yet stunning versions of his compositions over the years. We not only get to take in stripped down versions of a few classic ABBA songs, but also some of Benny's musical compositions from Chess and Kristina, and from his current Swedish 'dansband' Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO). Absolutely stunning - a true, timeless classical masterpiece.

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