Is it possible to create an expansive and engaging full-length sonic journey around just four chords? If those chords are taken from the work of a master like Claude Debussy and subjected to the tender ministrations of an artist as capable as London based composer & sound artist Ed Hamilton, then the answer is a resounding “Yes!” and that is exactly what we find on Hamilton’s second outing on Futuresequence.
“On Arabesque, Hamilton takes the first four chords of Debussy’s ‘Arabesque #1’ and subjects them to various manipulations, reductions, elongations and strangulations. Continuing where ‘Sketches For Skomer’ left off, the resultant sounds are meticulously arranged, this time creating elongated compositions that envelope the listener in loops of minimal electronic tones and ambient backdrops, carefully aligned into repetitive melodic phrases.” – (from the Futuresequnce site)
What makes the album so interesting and absorbing are the inventive juxtapositions of acoustic and electronic instrumentation that create a wide variety of textures and fluid patterns. Just as an arabasque is an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, Hamilton weaves tendrils and volutes of sound into seamless arrangements that mesmerize and delight the ear. Strings, piano, percussion, and voice all float on viscous, oscillating ambient waves to create sounds that are alternately beguiling, contemplative, and even majestic.
Sometimes the transformation happens in the same piece as on the opening track ‘Rhaeadrau for RM’ which begins with what sounds like a decelerated music box which slowly decays before blossoming forth into string like swells. This pattern is reprised somewhat in the following track, ‘Blue Lagoon’, before a sunny warmth appears in ‘Cirrostratus’ by way of harmonium sounds and jangling percussion in a slightly off kilter marching cadence. This sets up the gorgeous centerpieces of the album, ‘Arabasque #1’ and ‘Waterlog’. Hamilton then brings the proceedings to a conclusion with the crackling textures of ‘Rake, Migrate’ and the ethereal ‘A Year in a Day’.
The idea of elongating and manipulating classic pieces of music to create ambient soundscapes appears to be becoming more popular. Other recent noteworthy examples are Freudvoll und Lindvoll by Sima Kim (on Dronarivm) and Ganymede by Danny Clay (on Hibernate Recordings). Hamilton’s Arabesque demonstrates that this is a fruitful, if not fallow, field in which to work and it is a delightful recording.
Arabesque will be available on vinyl, but note that it is a crowd-funded pre-order which will proceed only after a minimum number is reached. Pre-orders of the digital version can placed on the Bandcamp site. Links are provided directly below.
Vinyl pre-order: http://www.futuresequence.com/arabesque/
Featured track: ‘Arabesque no. 1’:
Note: If like me you were not completely familiar with the original piece by Debussy, here is a recording accompanied by a wonderful video visualizing the musical patterns: