Lights in a Fat City
City of Tribes (www.cot.com)
Ambient sound is, by its own terms, resistant to description, let alone evaluation. Its intent is to employ musical and other aural textures to set a mood, to facilitate a state of mind, perhaps even dreaming or meditation, it is most successful precisely when least explicitly noticeable. The sounds on Memory Ground come from Stephen Kent's didg and animal horns, Eddy Sayer's percussion and hybrid harp, and the many noise-makers of Kenneth Newby, including bells, synths, sulings (Javanese flutes) and piris (oboes from Korea and China). These six tracks are well described as soundscapes, more wide than deep, more the cumulative construction and perfection of static images than the telling of stories.
The first track, "Gone," is a good introduction, a shivery background punctuated by didg and horns, far off in the distance; not quite gone, but certainly receding. "Aluna" is more complex, a distant two-note horn figure suggesting Beethoven out a-hunting, scrapy, shattering glass sounds and thunder accompanying the moon-howling of crystal wolves. "Night Journey" features deep-reverb low flute above droning didg, the ghost of a lively beat, the touch of a hurry. "Surya," the tonal novel at the heart of the recording, begins with a screeching sound like an overblown soda bottle, little rustling background clinks invoking a breeze. Didg adds anchoring imminence, while jazzy piri figures compete with pseudo-chants as a dark wind disturbs the bell and gong forest.
"Memory Ground" is not New Age, perhaps something more, and not so much relaxing as an aural incitement to visual imagination. - Jim Foley