Sunday, 29 September 2013

Discovery: John Puchiele Ensemble - Life Cycle


There are those genres, particularly in the electronic field, that come to lie associated with a given time of the year. Chillwave, dream pop, downtempo; many more to add to that list of sub-fields seem to encapsulate a feeling of summer, a unmitigated warmth and refreshing spectacle to the comfort and clarity that the middle ground of any calendar year, usually brings for us. Summer however is over, and we find ourselves - perhaps unknowingly - shifting our attention to more colder, more secluded sounds to take us up until the end of 2013. The benefit then of ambient music is that it has no seasonal limits; there are no do's and dont's to what a characteristically 'ambient' record should sound like. There are many forms to which this particular (and quite rewarding) field of music can take: in one form they can be warm, inviting, sensual; the next they could be cold, isolating, connotative. To categorize the music of John Puchiele Ensemble as lying somewhere concretely on the mercury scale, would be foolish. Not that the illusion of heat/cold isn't something I underpin as being a thought-provoking element that defines ambient music.  Rather it's one of many gifting comparisons one can take to a genre that brings with it as much mystery and challenge, as it does understanding and realization to the more simpler effects in life.

It's no surprise that Life Cycle, as its name might suggest, acts almost like both a summary and a pinnacle of how far ambient can traject in its basis of ideas, as well as in its musical content. Neither over-stepping the mark when it comes to emphasizing the shroud of atmosphere, nor leaving the listener with too sparse an idea as to its position, the album is coaxed by pieces varying in length (the shortest being a few seconds shy of two minutes, the longest a slight over the double-digit 10 mark), yet in each and every corner managing to encapsulate a specific degree of relayed effect. Whether it be the fine air of spaciousness and simplicity on opener From There To Here or the clunky, heavy drops of piano on a brief piece such as Foundations, Ensemble treats these initial offerings with a delicate cut of directness yet one that isn't entirely dictive of its message or its context. It's the best way to work around such minimal, over-arching usage of classical instrumentation, and in effect, the serene violins or the voided cellos that subtlely glide amid the track's space, gather much more physicality and presence for moments such as these where length and delivery seem not to weigh down a piece's given potential.

But when taken to a much longer composition, the prevalent mystery and sense of intrigue on a track like Thinking (which is a great name for a track of this vibe) shows little struggle - even awareness - to such a prolonged length. Ensemble's finer tonal qualities in the vocal layering and use of echo and distance act so as to redefine the track's length as being more a reference to the sound's own vast scope, as opposed to the musical's own length eing intentionally offered. Likewise on the two-part Life Gets Busy, the direction taken appears to be more about emphasis on the supposed musical negative space, while combining the previous attempts at texturally identifying classical instrumentation to invoke tension, let alone emotion. The result then, quite brilliantly, is a pairing focusing on the psychotic effect of a surrounding onto its listener, as much as there's an everlasting perception on the mystery/anxiety of said location caused only by the very indivdual and his/her own self-initiated line of thought. Yet these drastic shifts in intensity or attention-grabbing don't come off as intrusive to the other tracks' differing takes on space as an extension, as opposed to a catalyst for conflict. The latter remnants of the album just as equally illustrate a more questioning concern, yet one that's rightfully met with calm and assurance.

 
Amid the gentle sweeps of string instruments and frequent, inflating bass frequencies, there's hardly a moment where Ensemble doesn't manage to sustain the musical aesthetic as being one of ease. Life Cycle then has no identifying place on the spectrum - it is as much a warm and inviting record, as it is a cool and challenging one. Taking from past 80's line-of-thinking from the likes of Eno, Fripp & Rich to name but a few, there's an almighty showing that even in this digitized, synthetic of ages, there's never a dull moment where the more classical, nostalgic, and visually-invoking of ambient sounds, truly do take prominence in approaching the listener's more internal mind-set on a vulnerable level. A great argument then for a surge in classical ambiance, but to end with the notion that ambient isn't something entirely dictated by its feeling of temperature, this is an album that strives for a sense of honesty, and succeeds in using such simpler, finer treatment of orchestration, to bring that forth onto a more direct, and longer-lasting, plain of reflection. With it, the imagery it conjures leaves many with a lasting hunger for answers, but ones that the listener I'm sure will stride to seek for themselves. Life Cycle is out now via the artist's bandcamp.
~Jordan

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