Ambient 4: Isolationism (Virgin, 1994)

In a remarkable deviation from the formula, the fourth in Virgin’s Ambient series looks beyond the label’s roster for its material. While not entirely successful, it makes for a challenging and often difficult listening experience. “Well it’s 2.35 in the afternoon…”

Under the direction of Kevin Martin, the opening track is from KK Null & Jim Plotkin who set the scene with the relentlessly grim Lost (Held Under). It’s a spectacular drone, some would describe as hangover holocaust. Jockeying for the next thrill is John McEntire, Jim O’Rourke and eerie Flat Without A Back. Meanwhile Ice are made up of Justin Broadrick and the aforementioned Kevin Martin. For future reference, Justin is also involved with Final, Lull, Techno Animal, and Scorn while Kevin also records under Ear and Techno Animal. The Dredger reminds me of Heuston Station as dusk falls and no trains move, just a cavernous emptiness accompanied by a squall of noise. Raoul Björkenheim’s Strangers is less likeable, a dissonant piece and is beaten into submission by the majestic sweep of Zoviet France’s Daisy Gun, experienced drone industrialists. Six tunes in, a more pleasing melody arrives in the shape of Labradford’s taut Air Lubricated Free Axis Trainer.

Movement 2 begins with Techno Animal’s almost wailing Self Strangulation. Outside the outer limits. Next Paul Schütze and the circular rhythms of Hallucinations (In Memory Of Reinaldo Arenas) which neatly lines up beside Scorn’s Silver Rain Fell (Deep Water Mix) complete with wicked bassline and dark, Hackers-like samples. Staying bleak are Disco Inferno with the grim Lost In Fog. Check this explanation of the dialogue samples used at the beginning and end of the track. Meanwhile Total’s Six and Nijiumu’s Once Again I Cast Myself Into The Flames Of Atonement are mournful laments for terrible loss and the death of civilizations. Truly horrifying if endured in one sitting. Music has rotted for many notes.

CD2 launches with the jarring fuzziness of Aphex Airlines. Over to Dan Wilcox: “Richard was commissioned by Virgin Airlines to write a song for a television commercial, and he came up with the track Aphex Airlines. According to him, the song is supposed to represent how a jet engine feels at take off. Not surprisingly, the Virgin people didn’t feel that the song would be very appropriate, they thought it would make people think of airplane crashes.” Next are AMM and the spectral Vandoevre while Seefeel gradually build momentum with the lean Lief. O. Rang’s Little Sister has more going on than most, a sort of psychedelic Eastern strain, all full of clattering effects. +E.A.R. who bring the spacecraft back to a more ambient earth along with Desert Flower’s nicely bubbly Sufi.

I am still haunted by Burial Rites (Phosphorescent Mix), credited to David Toop & Max Eastley. An unfathomable whisper, like delving into a manhole and capturing the sound of stillness, dripping water. Elsewhere Robert Hampton remixes Main’s gaping Crater Scar (Adrenochrome) into a spacey and circular minimal riff with Final’s Hide reminding me of the stairwell from Last Exit To Brooklyn, Georgette falling to his doom. And from the end of times, Lull and the searing molten Thoughts. Lastly it’s Thomas Köner; Kanon reminds me of a lonely walk around the deserted first floor of UCD Arts block. A winter’s evening, close to 6.00pm, the half-buried melody staying faint all through the 10 minute duration. Stretching moods. “Like listening to wind blow on glaciers in the Arctic.” (Morning Bell)

Ambient 4 is not an album I played too often over the last 26 years. However I did return to it earlier this year, primarily during the initial Covid-19 lockdown. Its many themes of isolation being particularly apt and the tracks worked during those solitary moments, particularly if listened while taking a walk in late evening. Now that darkness has really set in and we have regressed back to Level 5, it’s on again. “Surrendered to self-preservation.”

Favourite tracks
Zoviet France – Daisy Gun

Seefeel – Lief

Thomas Köner – Kanon (Part One: Brohuk)

Lest we forget
Scorn – Silver Rain Fell (Deep Water Mix)

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1 Response to Ambient 4: Isolationism (Virgin, 1994)

  1. Pingback: Volume Twelve (Volume, 1994) | A Pop Fan's Dream

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