Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: Andrew Lahiff - A Perpetual Point In Time

Here's a question for you: what exactly is "ambient" music? What does the word make you think of? In its most literal, synonymous sense, it means "background" music, but a large number of ambient musicians (and listeners) would bristle at this definition. Brian Eno, who is so often credited with inventing the term in a musical sense, has the slightly more nuanced definition:

"[Music that can be] actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener"

Still, Eno's definition is still imprecise and subjective - after all, I know plenty of people who listen to pop music and mainstream radio as a background noise while working to drown out distractions (which strikes me as a misuse of time that could be spent listening to ambient). A lot of people coming from a dance music perspective seem to use "ambient" as a synonym for "beatless", and you'll be hard pressed to find a piece of beatless electronic music that isn't ambient. But equally, lots of ambient music still has percussion of some form or another, sometimes even a steady thump that might distantly resemble a dancefloor beat.

For what it's worth, my hastily bullshitted definition of ambient would be music that emphasises the creation and maintenance of a powerful surrounding mood above all other artistic goals. This doesn't have to involve a lack of beats or even a lack of energy, but generally these things are used to make people dance (or flail wildly around if they have long hair and wear black). Again, there's always subjectivity in interpreting what a musician was trying to do with any given track, but defining music entirely by objective characteristics like tempos, instruments and scales is boring and doesn't make for interesting music journalism. Especially as I'm a talentless hack who can't tell my melodic minors from my major pentatonics.

I'm rambling on about all this because Andrew Lahiff makes what I would consider the purest form of ambient imaginable - or, at least, the closest to what we all think of when we hear the word "ambient": the kind of floaty, spacey, wibbly-wobbly tuneless electronic noise-stuff that brings to mind Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and other bearded synth hippies who wandered around 1970s West Germany in a lysergic swirl whilst laying down the foundations of the genre.

Lahiff is an online musician who gives a lot of his stuff away for free and releases thousands of albums every year, furthering my oft-stated suspicion that ambient is the easiest kind of "credible" music to make. From what I've heard, most of his albums sound pretty similar, which is why I'm only reviewing one even though I've listened to a hatful recently. This might make his music sound forgettable and cheap, but the  sumptuously evocative titles like "Canyons Of Lanterns", "Solar Awakenings" and "Gallery Of Glacial Thoughts" make my nuts tighten up, and there's something in the galactic sweep of his music that makes it more interesting than a lot of the aimless pad-noodling space muzak that passes for self-released ambient online these days. Believe me, there are endless free online labels who absolutely churn this shit out, and most of it is dull as ditchwater.

Unlike some of his other albums, the tracks on A Perpetual Point In Time segue into each other, creating a seamless atmospheric journey into the wonders of the somewhat generic but still ear-tickingly pretty cosmos. It really is nice without being particularly memorable, but as I mentioned earlier, there is something about his music that does make it more interesting than your average ambient album, and as such it fulfils Eno's premise that the music should stand up no matter how closely you zoom in on it. So next time you're at work and you need to drown out the irritating, ant-like scurrying of your idiot, white-collar coworkers and their depressingly pointless existences that sometimes get so far under your skin you feel like screaming and enacting a horrific office-based automatic weapon killing spree, don't turn to commercial radio but instead fire up Spotify and pipe in the soothing outer space space sounds of Andrew Lahiff. His music might not be terribly original, but it does everything you'd expect from ambient.

Genre: Ambient
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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