2015 in review: Memorable Journeys in Modern Classical (Experimental/Ambient)

A look back at some of the most memorable journeys in music taken this year in modern classical with an emphasis on project that incorporated experimental and ambient elements to produce something mesmerizing and immersive, as rich in texture and imagination as is emotion (note there will be a separate list of albums focused on solo, ensemble, and chamber compositions). – Click on album titles in the list below for more information

Editors note: Few of the albums presented in these lists fit neatly into a single genre and we would not have it any other way, nor would the artists. The categorizations used here should not distract the reader from the joy of discovery. They are simply a way to organize and present based on my perceptions of compatible listening experiences and I was not above stretching the boundaries and making exceptions to fit in the most music possible. 

Hior Chronik – Taking the Veil [Kitchen Label]

Uniquely accompanied by a visual narrative in the form of an art book created by photographer Amber Ortolano and featuring such wonderful artists as Field Rotation, Sophie Hutchings, and Aaron Martin, Taking the Veil is collaboration executed to perfection to create one unified and achingly beautiful work of art. 

Featured track: ‘Simple is Beautiful’

From the Mouth of the Sun – Into the Well [Fluid Audio]

Each piece on Into the Well is beautifully composed, layered, and performed, deftly blurring the lines between modern classical and drone with a powerful emotional impact and was delivered in a spectacular deluxe release that enhanced the experience even further. Both an artistic triumph and a fitting homage to a brave and intrepid generation of people who took to the air. 

Featured track: ”Into the Well

Veronique Vaka – Erlendis [Moderna Records]

With this stunning album, Vaka masters the expansive embrace of mysterious ambient and majestic modern classical and leaves her own mark on the Icelandic musical pedigree shared by artists such as Olafur Arnalds and Sigur Ros. 

Featured track: ‘Vendari’

Wil Bolton – Marram [Fluid Audio]

Inspired by the windswept Scottish Highlands and constructed from loops taken from vintage classical records, Bolton’s foray into modern classical territory is just as compelling and beautiful than his electroacoustic ambient abstractions, if not more so. The deluxe art package by Fluid Audio (a quick sell out) looks fantastic as well. 

Featured track: ‘Marram’

Sean McCann – Ten Impressions for Piano & Strings [Root Strata]

“Slow moving cloud forms over corporeal landscapes”. This sublime collection of music realized over a four year period was for me a late discovery, but one that elicited an instant fondness and reveals more depth with each listen. 

Featured track: ‘Guardian’

Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow [Hammock Music]

One of those rare records that “slowly infiltrates” into the most intimate and vulnerable places in the mind and heart of the listener – the places within us where our memories, sadness, hope, and longing reside. The dynamics may be restrained, but the emotion is effusive and poignant and the music immaculate in the purity of its grace and sincerity.

Featured track: ‘Linen Garden Part 1 (featuring Hammock)

The Frozen Vaults – 1816 [VoxxoV]

The creative and collaborative potency of this quintet is on full display in this album that revolves thematically around one of the coldest years in recorded meteorological history. A moving narrative exquisitely conveyed in musical terms. 

Featured track: ‘Frozen Streams’

Goldmund – Sometimes [Western Vinyl]

An exquisite collection of seventeen meditative improvisational sketches that resonate with emotional urgency. A satisfying return for this beloved Keith Kenniff project. 

Featured track: ‘Sometimes’

Ghost Harmonic – Codex [Metamatic]

With its cavernous, glacial tones, resonant strings, and evocative imagery, this sumptuous offering, this collaboration by pioneering musician John Foxx, electronic music artist Benge (Ben Edwards), and classical violinist Diana Yukawa is a place for the ears and mind to linger and explore.

Featured track: ‘The Pleasure of Ruins’

M. Ostermeier – Still [Tench]

The overall effect elicits the same gratification one experiences seeing a piece of fine contemporary architecture – streamlined, modern, and organic. Think Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry set to music. Subtly bold, but equally unobtrusive with a real sense of stillness.

Featured track: ‘Inertia’

Madeleine Cocolas – Cascadia [Futuresequence]

A gorgeous and beguiling collection of tracks built around pristine piano lines, tender melodies, and beautifully layered vocals of an ethereal nature that begs favorable references to the sublime work of Julianna Barwick.

Featured track: ‘If Wisdom Fails’

William Ryan Fritch – Music for Film Vol.1 [Lost Tribe Sound]

A generous 30 track collection of select works of acoustic and modern classical music from soundtracks, commissions, and multi-media works composed by Fritch in 2014 which comes together amazingly well as a single album experience. Dazzling, evocative, and gorgeous.

Featured track: ‘Processional’

Michael Price – Entanglement [Erased Tapes]

The film and TV composer (“Sherlock”) follows his experimental muse as he creates his own musical world using chamber music recorded direct to tape with vintage microphones along with field recordings, tape effects, and other electronics questing after a sound “like a dark, Berlin record store discovery from the 30s”.  Spellbinding. 

Featured track: ‘Budapest’

Olga Wojciechowska – Maps and Mazes [Time Released Sound]

While it pulls from various projects in her body of work, it comes together nicely as a single album experience, very much like a soundtrack to an imaginary film. It serves a fine introduction to a composer and performer who clearly has a tremendous amount to offer on par with the most notable talents in this field.

Featured track:’Number of Possible Words’

Bersarin Quartett – III [Denovali]

The glorious and long-awaited return of Thomas Bücker’s Bersarin Quartett project once again gives us lush, cinematic soundscapes meticulously crafted from orchestral and electronic elements. Like a walk through a misty steampunk cityscape in the dead of night. 

Featured track: ‘Jeder Gedanke umsonst gedacht’