Artist: Ghost Nebula
Title: Whispers And Cries In The Abyss
Keywords: Experimental, Improvisation, Noise-Art
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
There was a time awhile back that I turned on the couch and sat on a tv – I wrote it that way by accident, but I’ll leave it because it makes more sense – and on the tv there was this guy. For the sake of readability, I will refer to him in the text from now on as… This Guy. So, This Guy was on the television, I believe it was as part of some program about food, and they were showing him and Some Other Guy as they had a walk around at a farmer’s market. Shortly thereafter, as television is typically edited that way and frequently, they came upon a tomato stand and started chatting. Presumably, they were chatting. They could have just been moving their lips to suggest speech, I can’t rule that out. Seemingly out of nowhere, because I had the volume down which may have helped clue me in to what was going on but such is life, he picked up a tomato and produced a paring knife. Maybe it was a machete, actually. Hm, yes… that would seem to make this re-telling more dramatic to my ear. He took the machete then, and started peeling away the skin of the tomato very carefully. Then he cut a sliver out of the tomato and showed it to Some Other Guy. It looked like… a piece of raw meat, or sashimi; it was very beautiful and delicious in appearance, the flesh a bright red colour. Very suddenly This Guy just engulfed the thing. Actually, he might have made Some Other Guy swallow it. I can’t remember which. All I can remember is the look of that sliver of tomato, like the wet flesh of a tuna… and that someone hungrily, sloppily let it enter his mouth, swallowed, and followed it up by giving the camera a big shit-eating grin. A tomato-eating grin, if you’d rather. I turned the television off at that point. Or maybe it was the couch. Either way, this tube-memory has stuck with me for some reason over the few years it’s been since I witnessed it. Perhaps it was glued to the back of my brain so that one day I could pull it off and insert it into a music review? Even the most trivial information can sometimes serve a function, even if that function is simply to be a bizarrely lengthy allusion within a music journalism blog. This is my belief. It is the relevance of such an illustration that can seem elusive, so I will now attempt in a roundabout way to explain it’s inclusion. I may even find a way to do it in the passages that follow without ever once mentioning the story overtly, without coming back to it at all. We’ll see. It could even just end up a subliminal note of relation, buried as it is in my digressions or, worse, a visual tale that gets caught in your mind as well, to share in your own music review blog one day.
Ambient music. Minimal music. They’re like two very good friends who meet up occasionally to do things together but also spend a lot of their time alone, but doing more or less similar things, striving toward somewhat similar goals, and writing each other every so often. What is it they want, what is it they do? Ambient music has for a long time been something of a wallflower. It wants to shrink away, into the background… not so far that you don’t know it’s there, but far enough back that you won’t notice that it’s woven itself deeply into the fabric of your life in the moment it was playing. At other times it likes to be a more audible factor. Like, when you’ve decided you want to take some time for introspection, contemplation. Within other forms of music that have taken the term ambient into their genre description (ambient rock, ambient techno, etc.), these are often the tendencies you notice. Minimal music is about stripping away the layers that other forms of music depend on for their sense of complexity. The aim is focus, I think, in the best examples of the genre. Having just one, two, three sounds, you don’t have to worry in production about making room in the mix for too many voices of other instruments. You can expand, fill out. It is like an appreciation for specific tones, harmonies, frequencies, without busying everything up with the structures preferred in other types of music. What both of these genres have in common is subtlety, space, and a ‘spection of some sort.
This album, titled Whispers And Cries In The Abyss by artist Ghost Nebula, has become one of my favourite examples of Minimal Ambient music. Ever. Looking at the Bandcamp page, you find that Ghost Nebula are artists Ryan Edwards, playing guitar, piano, dulcimer and also providing vocals, and Doug Falk, who plays double bass, trumpet and… flugelhorn. With that assortment of instruments, this doesn’t really sound like it would be a minimal album, and yet it is – and in such a marvelous way! The key is the use of space. One of the Rules of Music, and perhaps the most important one, that you may come across as a musician is this: “Silence is the most important part of any song.” Not just silence as absence of sound (though that is what is meant) but also space. Every instrument in a song is a voice, every voice in a song must be heard. Silence provides gaps; space. Crucial stuff here, but very well understood in the music of Ghost Nebula. I can’t postpone our getting to the heart of the review any longer, waxing music-philosophic. The album makes me glow, and I’m looking forward to writing about it and sharing the link so that you can let this music into your heart as well.
Each piece on this record is over 10 minutes long. The first is ‘Is It A Trick Of The Light, The Way Its Spirit Strays Like Cosmic Dust’. Dusts of stringed harmonics shuttle us into space. The plucked instrument glimmers like a star. We hear traces of trumpet coming from out of the darkness. So much cosmic love here! Aztec geometry unfolding itself in my mind. The horn is perfect. You only hear it when you need to hear it, when it makes sense for it to be there, and it only plays what is perfect for you to hear at the exact moment it enters… at any given time. It disappears when it must, returning when it can. It is love, and it is universal. These guys, Doug Falk and Ryan Edwards are self-evidently masters of form and function. The stringed galactic dirge continues underneath, the guitar shifting perceptibly in the mix as if moving us along… eternal, forever-lasting. Cosmic cool jazz machines, moving in a self-actualized universe, a microcosm within the macrocosm. The deep thrush of a blown instrument comes in later for just a few moments. Was that the flugel? I know I’ve heard of a flugelhorn, thought I’d maybe even heard one, but this was alien to me. Kind of like brass, but also kind of like a pan flute in the character of it’s sound. Anyway… so amazing! Time to move on to the next three tracks.
‘The Celestial Agitation Of The Red Giant’, in title, forces the expectation that I may soon become audience to the explosion of a sun-star. It comes in with a breath, some whirring mechanical noises, and plucks of either guitar or dulcimer. Very sparse playing with the stringed instrument, often more percussive and atonal than melodic… it’s easy to sit back and just let the sounds work their magic. So simple, yet effective. You sway back and forth from attentiveness to a more relaxed, liminal state. As time goes on, you notice how the sounds seem to become more and more expressive, scream, then fade back quickly. Gases are released and we hear the siren nebula under duress accompanied by what surely must be the dulcimer, though it sounds more like a violin with tightly wound strings, threatening to snap at any moment. Here, the background is of more central importance, it’s changes and movements more exciting… we hear the slow death of galaxies, dimensional crackling, occasional star scream, the voices of planets. Abstract horror, computational errors.
After this is ‘Upon Approaching The White Dwarf’. There is white background noise, sparse acoustic guitar at first. Shimmering stringed echoes… clicks… like a moody day on Mars. The electric guitar work on this is really nice. Sliding, with effects that suggest waves on a beach, but something like the opposite of Dick Dale style playing, so minimal, wandering, content to let notes trail off into the aether. It’s disappointingly sloppy at times, but all is forgiven. It’s the mood that counts, the strangeness, the peculiar vibe. While listening on headphones, the feeling I get is that I wish I had this elsewhere, playing out of speakers in a car while I stand outside watching stars and having a cigarette for instance. In another instant, I’m imagining myself occupying a playa in moonlight. The guitar becomes discordant, frenetic, abstract. The background, for me, faded long ago. Still can be heard, underneath the guitar, and only now grows louder. You gain an appreciation and new perspective on surf style guitar sounds after hearing playing like this. Focused into pure tone, diffused, then deconstructed.
The final piece is ‘Within Range Of The Pulsar, Certain Aberrations Were Detected’. It begins with unsettling arrangements of stringed tones, sounding in a way much like the strings that began the first song, but tense. Deep plucked strings intonate. There are whispers of a ghostly horn. Bass infrequently creates a scattered pulse of a rhythm, not really keeping time so much as unnaturally mimicking the pace of a slow-beating heart undergoing palpitations. An acoustic guitar’s strings sound as if they are being beaten. The background sounds as if it might like to swallow us alive at times, but is currently too far from us to do it. Spacial cackles, dirges of noise. Shrieking strings. Arhythmic guitar strings sounding off like fire from a submachine gun. Everything screams at once. I hear a trumpet playing free jazz among the thirsty roars of 3,000,000 beasts. This is like, some kind of cosmic horror jazz, H.P. Lovecraft smoked a spliff and hit a jazz club. Sounds die off, return more deranged than before. Ends with a strange juxtaposition of clicking, trumpet, indescribable noises of the abyss.
If you were to decide to pick this up, they even let you name your own price, haha! So, I will recommend you pick it up for whatever you can get it for. It’s a very well made, subtle piece of work that achieves at times emotional transience even while at others feeling cold, put together to inspire thought, intellectual analysis. A very unusual album in that regard, at least! Certainly one of the most interesting gems of sound we’ve been sent for review by request. Here is the link, as promised: