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Music Review: Various Artists – Air Texture Volume II

The Air Texture series of releases seeks to highlight relatively new artists in electronic music, with a predilection towards those in the ambient field. For each double-disc package, two producers are asked to curate a CD of “the best“ of the current crop of musicians. For the newly-released Air Texture Volume II, the curators are producers loscil and Rafael Anton Irisarri.

For the first disc of the collection, loscil has chosen 10 artists, while Irisarri’s CD features 12. My first inclination was to treat the set as sort of a “competition” between the two. But after listening to each of the 22 tracks which comprise Air Texture II, I realized that this was not the point. I would not be surprised if many of the musicians were approached by both producers. Since the nature of the set is to expose as many artists as possible though, there are no duplicates.

With 22 songs to choose from, I decided to check out the tracks included from the curators themselves first. “Else” is the title of the piece from loscil. As mentioned, there is a tendency towards music of an ambient nature that runs throughout the collection, and “Else” is no exception. But loscil seems to have an interest in the electroacoustic field as well. “Else” begins with a series of quiet tones, which slowly move into more abstract territories. The repetitive fades initially threw me, I thought my disc player was skipping at first. Then I noticed that the melody underneath was slowly shifting at the same time, and that the effects were an integral part of the composition. The piece brought to mind some of the music of the Audiobulb label, especially that of Autistici.

Rafael Anton Irisarri’s contribution is titled “Black Days Follow Me Around.” There is a pronounced difference in Irisarri’s music to that of loscil. His “Black Days Follow Me Around” is a beautifully melancholic tune, with the most traditional instrumentation of any of the 22 songs on the collection. I am assuming that Rafael is the pianist featured on the track, and the playing is very much in the “minimalism” vein of Terry Riley or Philip Glass. The cello accompaniment adds a brilliant touch of elegance as well.

This leaves us with 20 more artists and songs chosen by the producers. In keeping with their respective tastes, the remaining material is quite eclectic.
Of the nine artists and songs loscil selected, my favorite is Solo Andata’s “At Commissure.” The track is nearly 10 minutes long, and is a perfect example of what draws me to ambient music. This majestically atmospheric piece unfolds slowly and deliberately, absorbing the listener in ways that are irresistible. Meanwhile, there is a darkness underneath the bed of sound that never allows one to become complacent.

Chris Herbert’s “Naimina,” is a superb example of just how much can be said with such (seemingly) quiet music. Ambient fans know what I am talking about, but for those who dismiss it as “wallpaper music,” well, what can I say? The pieces often move at a “glacial” pace, which is one of the main points. It is not necessarily the destination, but the journey to get there that we as fans find so attractive.

Chris Herbert manages this feat effortlessly, as does Brian McBride with “At a Loss,” and Rob Bridgett on his “Field 3.“ The wildest ride has to be the closer, “Dirge for the Canon,” by Mitchell Akiyama. The song illustrates some the finest elements of electroacoustic music. The opening section evokes the environment of a busy airport or subway stall. This is followed by an evolving atmospheric bed of sound that soon spins (nearly) out of control. Like the famous crescendo in “A Day in the Life,” the instrumentation builds up to a frenzied climax, only to be “redeemed” by a church organ. The organ itself soon loses all control and climaxes in a wildly dissonant manner. The piece provides a stunning exclamation point to locsil’s fascinating 10 song compilation.

Rafael Anton Irisarri’s offers 11 artists and songs, in addition to his own. As noted earlier, the two producers have comparable, but certainly not identical tastes in music. Rafael makes this clear by using the 8:14 “The Eroding (Fairytale Music 3)” by Marcus Fjellstrom as his opening track.

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