Focus On: gterma | Undara – Traveller | Last Industrial Estate – Last Industrial Estates [English]

gterma is an independent ambient label based in Sweden, run by Johan Rehn. Apart from its admirable consistency in presenting releases nothing short of excellent, it maintains a nature-centric, spiritual philosophy with regard to the artists it harbours – many of them linked to Tibetan Buddhism, spiritual exploration through travel or meditation, ethnic and ritual influences, or simply the concept of merging the human with the natural factor (such as in the works of cold-isolationist Norwegian artist Havdis). The list of musicians in its roster include Mathias Grassow, Parikrama, Urenga, Havdis and Seetyca. In this double feature of two of gterma’s lesser known releases, we invite you to share our love for this wonderful label, and to re-discover its material.

Read our interview with label runner Johan Rehn here

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undara

Undara – Traveller

[reviewed by / autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]

Undara is a collective of musicians hailing from Portugal, and “Traveller” is their only release so far. Released in 2012 by the Swedish label gterma, that seems to be specializing in the discovery of these little gems of the ambient world, it rightfully takes its place in the label’s meditative pantheon. Not as eminent a deity as Mathias Grassow, Parikrama or Havdis, but still a very intriguing release that will provide you with numerous enjoyable listens.

The main idea here, as stated by the artists themselves, is the amalgamation of electronic ambient and acoustic sounds such as wind instruments, flutes and traditional percussions. In some of the tracks found sound elements are also incorporated, at least according to my impression. The relaxing, contemplative nature of the music is the first noticeable characteristic. Waves of ambience crashing gently on the shore, cool breezes of background aurals ruffling your hair, while you lie on the proverbial deserted beach with your eyes closed, enjoying the scenery – a traveller as the title suggests. The perfect summer setting, inspired by natural terrains and expanded landscapes, unpopulated and unpolluted by any indication of human presence. No concrete buildings here, no highways full of noisy vehicles, no tension-filled urban environment. Just you and nature having a vacation together.

The second thing that drew my attention was the impressive ease with which the project fuses its largely diversified musical influences. There is a distinct ethnic, almost tribal character that is dominant in the music, yet at the same time you can find space/deep ambient passages, drones, ethereal sequences and reverberations that could have easily spoiled the atmosphere of the recording, or rendered its concept-based function useless. If the journey was at some point to be interrupted or derailed, the album would have failed its purpose. But in “Traveller” everything falls seamlessly together, the pieces somehow fit and our course remains smooth and floating throughout.

“Traveller” is an unusually long album, containing 11 tracks in total and reaching a duration of 70 minutes. On the label’s website the track listing is divided into 4 chapters – I’m not sure whether it’s a coincidence, but the recording does seem to suggest a loose division of the journey into smaller “paths”. The first three tracks for instance are more minimalistic and may serve as an introduction to the rest of the recording. “Archaic Deserts” with its lounging melody and subtle percussions, “Seed Of Storms” with its repeating patterns of tribal instruments and “Morphing Spaces” that traverses many different stages – from the underlying melancholy of the first part, reminiscent of some prog-rock/shoegaze projects, to its more melodic middle section and the almost dark ambient finish, where the sounds of the forest intervene to complement the music. One of the most beautiful tracks in the album.

In “Hearts Of Darkness” the tribal/ethnic character of the project is fully revealed, emphasized mostly by the percussions that become more apparent from this point onward. This intensely tribal element can be found in other tracks such as “Perpetual Motion” and “Cosmic Drift”. Other tracks that stand out are “Dawning Ecstasis”, rendered remarkable mostly by its psychedelic strings that drove me to an unlikely comparison – The Doors’ “The End” in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” famous sequence – and the album’s closing track, “Ascension”, a 10-minute long suite of sweeping drones, atmospheric synths, looping rhythms and overall sense of an open landscape, that ends the album in the same minimalistic, spacey tones that it began. A great way to land after floating in zero-gravity conditions for an enjoyable hour plus. “Traveller” is the type of album that one eventually returns to when in need of a little musical escapade outside the confines of everyday routine. And a very good example of marrying different ambient elements to create one whole.

Undara – Traveller
gterma
CD, 2012

lie

Last Industrial Estate – Last Industrial Estates

[reviewed by / autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]

Last Industrial Estate is one of the musical outlets of Swedish musician, sound engineer and music label owner Anders Peterson, who runs Ghost Sounds based in Stockholm, and also offers professional mastering services for other musicians. Among other things he is responsible for the audio mastering of all gterma releases – so it is clear from step one that we are dealing with a highly experienced musician, possessing technical skill in abundance. That is at once evident in the crystalline clarity of the production, and the way he manipulates the various layers of sound and effects to create an atmosphere so specific, that it borders on clinical accuracy. Not that it’s a bad thing in this case, quite the contrary in fact. Being a Twin Peaks fan, I first came across his work in 2009 with his “Variations Over Laura Palmer’s Theme”, an obscure one-track 12” that somehow found its way into my record collection.

“Last Industrial Estates” is heavily conceptual, based on the images imprinted on the artist’s mind with regard to industrial landscapes and their progressive dilapidation through time. The structures are examined long after their usefulness has been terminated. Devoid of human presence and the utilitarian functionality it carries along, their components have melted away into their surroundings, artificial and natural outlines blending into a series of monumental edifices, standing in the desert, like totem poles of a bygone era. The artist respects and admires them, and as we close our eyes and imagine ourselves facing these megalithic structures, these hallmarks of our modern gods, they acquire a life and soul of their own just as any old, pagan facsimile would do. These are the idols of the new aeon, and the new aeon has already slipped into the past.

The album is an expansion upon a previous release, presented on the Kalpamantra net label in 2012. The physical release is a re-mastered version of the four tracks on the Kalpamantra release, plus two extra tracks, “Restricted Areas” and a variation of “Garden Therapy” found in Peterson’s same titled EP from 2011. The tracks span over a period of time going back as far as 10 years, so technically speaking this isn’t a homogenous musical entity. But I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t know it in advance, as all throughout the tracks the same musical consistency to minimalism and cinematic expression is found. Peterson has an identifiable, personal style of narration that he maintains in all the tracks. The music possesses an remarkable amount of mass and expansion, with extensive use of drones, sound effects and organic elements. This is pure industrial minimalism, ‘untainted’ by any sort of melody or suspicion of musical composition in its traditional form. The landscape is allowed to take charge, and lead the artist and with him, the listener, to whatever impression might be formed. The music is a free-flowing, evolving entity just like the structures it describes. It changes in the slow and heavy manner that metals rust, nails are unhinged, machines stop working.

From the six tracks in the recording “Restricted Areas” really stands out – a beast of a track running in somewhat over 22 minutes, its first part comprised almost entirely of faint drones and sudden, unregulated bursts of percussion. The lack of a rhythmic pattern, the stripping down of all other aural elements and the artist’s ingenious play with the sound volume make this one of the most impressive and memorable tracks I’ve generally listened to. Killer. In the second half it becomes more atmospheric – although I must admit after the first half the second has become kind of a blur – to blend nicely with the final track of the album, “Garden Therapy”, that as you can imagine is more mellow ambient, with samples of birds signing, leaves rustling and all those other soothing things one finds in a garden – don’t be fooled however, as the clang of a broken machine still echoes in the distance, and behind the surface of this serenity, lies a sort of subtle worry.

Although I personally prefer the darker, more drone-based tracks of the album such as “Pine Of Angels”, “Restricted Areas” and “Black Fields”, “Last Industrial Estates” purity of concept and composition, technical perfection and refreshing, non-restrictive minimalism are nothing short of admirable. An album for multiple listens and deep contemplation that I highly recommend.

Last Industrial Estate – Last Industrial Estates
CD, 2012
gterma, gterma021

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