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“I’m not even here,” Landsman says. “You’re just imagining me.”
Let’s be up front about something. I cannot review Within That Aura by Widesky (aka Seth Chrisman) like I would others. Records of ambient soundscape are difficult to survey precisely because they push away the very notion of review. Like great mystery novels whose details reveal bits of their evolutionary process, the value of ambient recordings lies in the personal. Whatever I say to discourage or uplift the work is highly insignificant against the engagement one can have with the material.
To review this like any other record disregards this reality. It disregards the process. It pays no mind to the actual conception.
As previously stated, the new album from Widesky is called Within That Aura and as the write-up for the album describes, it “is sculpted from processed instruments such as; ukulele, mandolin, chord organ, and piano.” When I was preparing to listen, that sentence got me interested in the project.
“…the more we believe the rules of story are inherent, the more they are”¹ and so can be said of the opposite. I thrive on live instruments. Choosing to utilize them for purposes other than what we’ve identified previously layers the process with difficulty, but allows for results that can be quite something.
Chrisman has done something here. He has presented a series of ideas that, at times, take a while to develop, but altogether frame an experience that I have yet to shake.
Before listening I started with the track names:
This was my way in. I had no prior experience with the music and when asked to review I thought better to get an idea before taking ownership. The words got to me. And then the work took it ten-fold.
All too often names of tracks can be overlooked. They become superfluous in light of the larger sonic experience. But, in this case, they are especially important. They provide the most overarching idea of what each track signifies. It’s the closest you might get to meaning or intent (if you want to worry about such things).
But, I’m not going to tell you what I think is their importance. That would defeat the purpose. They are important if you want to make them important. If you want to listen to the album with that door opened.
This is of course assuming you will listen in the first place.
Beyond the titles lies subtlety. Nothing is overwrought or beaten down. Tracks begin. Tracks end. One can start anywhere in the track and get a certain experience. Though the time allotted plays a crucial part in the experience undertaken. If you stick with it from beginning to end, a narrative can be identified. Not necessarily a narrative driven by the author, but one driven by you – the listener.
You can isolate certain sounds and ideas. You can obsess over what they are and what role they are playing in the larger device.
Part way through the album the dialing of a radio plays an important role. The track evolves into selection process and the way one used to discover ideas. When the dial is turned, static emerges. Voices break through. They mix together forming weird cohesion of the world at large.
Amidst this vast landscape of experience lies the inexplicable. The wonders just outside your reach. These brief moments lend us to frivolity and how, for all our control, things are ultimately out of our hands. Things will do what they mean to.
If this calls to mind a certain religiosity, you are not far from it. “…if pop music follows the narrative constraints of the Classical mythology and dramas, then ambient music follows the traditions of both the Eastern religions and those of most Bronze Age peoples. It becomes the split between the Heroic and the Mystical.”¹
Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to ‘brighten’ the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and leveling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.
Within That Aura can become trancelike. Meditative. I found myself quite often lost in what track I was listening. There is not such an easy transition. They tend to move without making aware.