The second instalment in Virgin’s Ambient series arrived in shops on 6 December 1993. We got a reminder of the manifesto in the sleeve notes: “A Brief History Of Ambient – past, present and future volumes – is exclusively compiled from recordings available on Virgin.” So any exclusions are down to practicalities rather than for aesthetic reasons.
Going back to November 1988 and I still vividly remember the noisy fuss about The Last Temptation Of Christ. I bought Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel with the intention of reading it before going to cinema. 32 years later, it’s still unopened. But for me, the real draw was the music. The Passion soundtrack was fantastic and was followed by Passion – Sources later in 1989. This was a compilation of songs from Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, and Turkey. Peter Gabriel does not perform on this album, but produced or co-produced several tracks. Here were start with Baaba Maal from Senegal and his performance of the traditional Call to Prayer which appeared in the film during the scene of The Last Supper. It’s a stirring and memorable opener. Scene set.
Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land provides the source for song #2. Tal Coat is a reference to French expressionist Pierre Louis Jacob. “My intention was to make music that was like figurative painting, but without referring to the history of music – more to a history of listening.” Next are contemporary heroes Amorphous Androgynous and the reflective In Mind before we sample something from the Tangerine Dream menu, 1975 style. Their Rubycon album consists of two long tracks, each just over 17 minutes long. We get an excerpt from Rubycon Part 2, still enough cosmic power to drive it along to a very joyful conclusion. As it was on A Brief History Of Ambient Volume 1, we get a Gone To Earth track from David Sylvian. The Healing Game is a revelation, a brooding soundscape which starts with the voice of Joseph Beuys.
“That has to be the age of overcome
The systems which are on the ceiling
Which are on the run to destroy
Human kind’s nation
Human kind’s inwardness
Human kind’s ability
What for me is a true capital
And which is a side effect
Last not least destroys the nature and us”
March 1993: A clear vinyl 12″ from was spinning on Comet’s turntable. It was The Grid’s Crystal Clear (The Orb Remix: Clear, Like An Unmuddied Lake). It’s cut slightly but still retains a hypnotic groove. Your palate will then be cleansed by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s earthy Nuages before the restrained beauty of Wind On Water, taken from Fripp & Eno’s Evening Star. Neatly next is Wildlife, the exquisite honeyed tart from the Penguin Café Orchestra, reduced from 10:54 to 8:11. That was 1987; this is 1991 – another collaboration, this one is ex-Japan, Steve Jansen & Richard Barbieri with When Things Dream. It’s followed by the brief interlude from Gong and their 90 second Magick Mother Invocation before we are entranced in brightness. Fripp & Sylvian – Bringing Down The Light was released earlier that year, lifted from The First Day. A transcendent miracle & also featured on TV’s Jam.
1980: Year Zero. Jah Wobble’s Not Another which sounds just like a dub mix of Public Image Limited’s Graveyard from the previous year’s Metal Box. Some more provenance according to Barry Waller – “The source of this song’s basic track is a PIL song called Another, initially a B-side containing vocals, which was later remixed as an instrumental for Metal Box and re-titled Graveyard.” Either way it’s deadly. After The Guo Brothers’ blooming One Flower, we go deep on God’s gloomy & thought provoking Black Jesus, closing track on 1992’s Possession. Finally CD1 drifts to a close with David Byrne & Brian Eno’s wonderful Mountain Of Needles from 1981. File under soul acupuncture.
CD2 begins with three shortish pieces from Phil Manzanera, Prince Far I & –The Dimitri Pokrovsky Ensemble. You Are Here is an emotional soundscape, worthy of a television series while Bendel Dub is a savage concoction of mighty vibrations. Meanwhile Daevid Allen’s epic Euterpe Gratitude Piece has been called “Music for birth, music for life, music for death.” (Mryodna) Robert Fripp’s Water Music leads into the sublime resurrection that was Rain Tree Crow. New Moon At Red Deer Wallow is the sound of woodland isolation, Northern Exposure meeting Twin Peaks at night. Next: the fascinating rhythms of Bass-o-matic’s Attack Of The 50 Foot Drum Demon and creepy bassline of Jam Nation’ Mekong. And given that I was absolutely caning A Storm In Heaven through much of late ’93, the inclusion of Verve’s almost spiritual Endless Life makes perfect sense here.
Klaus Schulze’s The Dome Event was released the same year as this compilation. Nacht Musik Schattenhaft suggests James Last to the unwary listener but is a synth heavy piece. Next Voyager or Anthony Thorpe and the shorn edit of Arrival, build up and fall back. Repeat, repeat. From Pinnacles, Edgar Froese’s trippy Specific Gravity Of Smile, perfect for bed on a bright June evening. We go back to the opening vibe for The Tsinandali Choir’s mournful Orovela. Then a taste of Ambient 3, Laraaji’s radiant Dance Number 3. And doesn’t that David Sylvian get around? He joined forces with Holger Czukay Plight & Premonition; we get an edit of the latter now, spectral and ghostly. To the end and Captive, a 1986 Anglo-French film loosely based on the experiences of Patty Hearst. Its soundtrack was provided by The Edge and Michael Brook working with Sinead O’Connor. While Heroine is the most well-known track from the album, here we get the haunting Island, a worthy bookender to a fantastic selection from the Virgin archives. Roll on Volume #3.
Daevid Allen – Euterpe Gratitude Piece
The Grid – Crystal Clear (The Orb Remix: Clear, Like An Unmuddied Lake)
David Sylvian – The Healing Place
Verve – Endless Life
Lest we forget
Jah Wobble – Not Another