“Hidden Name” reviewed by Signal to Noise

German Stephan Mathieu may work with computers and instruments while Englishman Janek Schaefer uses turntables and field recordings, but the two men hold common values that no doubt contributed to the seamless quality of this collaboration. Each man shows a respect and appreciation for the sound sources they transform, and each has crafted music whose tonal appeal and atmospheric quality has invited the term ambient. But remember, according to Eno’s original definition, ambient music must be as interesting as it is ignorable.

The sessions that yielded Hidden Name took place in composer John Tavener’s farmhouse and use its contents and surroundings as both inspiration and instrumentation. Opening track ‘White Wings / Child Okeford’ blends processed church chimes, sustained organ chords, and the distant roar of air traffic into an imperceptibly changing ribbon of sound; on ‘Belle Etoile’ a rainstorm overtakes an idle piano melody. Schaefer’s peculiar brand of turntablism comes to the fore on ‘Quartet for Flute, Piano and Cello,’ which sounds like it was assembled from brief needle-drops on old classical records and compares favorably with Philip Jeck’s crackle-encrusted memorials, and ‘Maori Love Songs,’ which singles out some lovely vocal passages, then ties them in an elegant little knot. Sustained sounds drift and morph at a sunrise pace on the title piece and ‘The Planets,’ the blissful 19 minute-long album closer. They’re gorgeous, but if you’re looking for ambient music they must be counted as honorable failures; while they amply reward close listening, they refuse to be ignored.

Bill Meyer

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