The Art of Noise – The Ambient Collection, 1990

One final send-off to a perfectly nightmarish year. This technically isn’t an album but rather a compilation, mostly of tracks from The Art Of Noise’s 1986 In Visible Silence and 1987 In No Sense? Nonsense (both of which, if you’re unfamiliar with the group, are incredibly generous places to start). It’s been reworked with some tasteful mixing and transitions by regular AON collaborator Martin Glover (aka Youth).

This isn’t exactly what we think of as ambient these days, but boy oh boy is it a prime early 90s time capsule. If you’re an Art of Noise fan, you’ll love hearing favorites like “Crusoe” and “Ode to Don Jose” in slightly more vivid hi-fi. Try not to be put off by the language excerpted below–these are brilliant songs, and they make a lot of sense tweaked into an explicitly balearic context, given that a lot of AON signature synth textures and environments feel like very direct precursors to what is described below as ambient house. Includes “A Nation Rejects” and its successor “Roundabout 727,” the riff from which has famously been sampled in too many rap tracks to count. Choral samples, ocean waves, hypnagogic percussion, and cotton candy synthesizers. It’s almost embarrassing how up my alley this is, so I hope it’s the same for you.

Enjoy, thanks for reading, happy new year, and may we all be on the up and up.

With the advent of the nineties a new decade of clubs and DJ’s have floated into our consciousness. Their trip is a journey into peace. An ambient ecstasy. The creation of a new musical travelogue. A minimalistic embrace of everything good about the hard and uncompromising trance-dance of house and the surrealism of ambient instrumentalism.
Ambient or ‘chill out’ rooms have been set up in clubs all around the country as an alternative to the dance floor. Pure ecstasy escapism. Rooms for day-dreaming, fantasising or hallucinating.
This ambient collection is a sound step into the future. A collection of tracks alternatively known as ‘New Age House’ or ‘Ambient House.’ Everyday sounds, noises and atmospheres we’ve imagined and heard all our lives but never consciously listened to. An unfocused daydream with no background or foreground. A sense of not being yourself, or being apart from what you’re listening to. A draft into tranquility, in and out of reality.
Oft played and more than often sampled, The Art Of Noise have long been torchbearers for this form of ambient instrumentalism.
So…chill out.

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Andreolina – An Island In The Moon, 1990

Sublime collaboration between Silvio Linardi (who’s collaborated with David Sylvian, Hector Zazou, Roger Eno, and others) and Pier Luigi Andreoni (whom you may know from The Doubling Riders). Ricardo Sinigaglia makes a few appearances too, first on piano and then on an Akai S 900. This was their only release as Andreolina.

Sprawling, weightless instrumentals that never stay soporific for too long. You can hear Andreoni’s classical training in much of this, and not just because of how much oboe there is, but structurally too. The name of the album comes from an unfinished piece of William Blake prose, and some of the song titles are Blake references as well–so while it might be power of suggestion, there seem to be tinges of romanticism dotted throughout, whereas other moments veer off into jazz. Lots to love here for Elicoide fans.

As an aside, this was released on ADN, the same label responsible for Tasaday’s L’Eterna Risata and the aforementioned Sinigaglia record. Depending on who you ask, ADN can stand for A Dull Note, L’amore del Nipote, or Agnostic Dumplings Nursery.


Zann – Strange Ways / Inside Jungle, 1990

Something for everyone on this mysterious left-field self-release recorded in Germany in the spring and summer of 1990. An onslaught of percussion, wind, and string instruments from around the world (heavy use of tabla and gong), alongside excellent synth programming. Wide variation between tracks, but all contain Arabic harmonic modalities. Some tracks, like “Gaya’s Gone,” are quite percussive, reminding me of a rougher, more frantic, and more sinister Mkwaju. Also good for fans of Popul Voh and Tri Atma. A phenomenal work!

I included the track below in a mix I made for the Ambient Tent at this year’s Sustain Release. Keep your eyes peeled for the entire mix available soon!

Gavin Bryars – The Sinking of the Titanic, 1990

A piece with a long, dense backstory, and many different iterations. As such, The Sinking of the Titanic feels very much like a living work-in-progress, just as contingent on the live performance as on composition, which is part of what makes it so special. Bryars explains the piece’s inspiration here and details its growth and performances here. The piece is a consideration of the sounds generated by the string sextet who played on the boat deck of the Titanic as it sank, and what the sounds would do if the music had continuously played into the water:

Bride did not hear the band stop playing and it would appear that the musicians continued to play even as the water enveloped them. My initial speculations centred, therefore, on what happens to music as it is played in water. On a purely physical level, of course, it simply stops since the strings would fail to produce much of a sound (it was a string sextet that played at the end, since the two pianists with the band had no instruments available on the Boat Deck). On a poetic level, however, the music, once generated in water, would continue to reverberate for long periods of time in the more sound-efficient medium of water and the music would descend with the ship to the ocean bed and remain there, repeating over and over until the ship returns to the surface and the sounds re-emerge. The rediscovery of the ship by Taurus International at 1.04 on September 1st 1985 renders this a possibility. This hymn tune forms a base over which other material is superimposed. This includes fragments of interviews with survivors, sequences of Morse signals played on woodblocks, other arrangements of the hymn, other possible tunes for the hymn on other instruments, references to the different bagpipe players on the ship (one Irish, one Scottish), miscellaneous sound effects relating to descriptions given by survivors of the sound of the iceberg’s impact, and so on.
Bryars began writing it in 1969 and recorded a 25 minute version of it in 1975 as a first release for Brian Eno’s Obscure Records (Eno himself produced the recording). After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic’s wreck in 1985, Bryars dramatically reworked the piece to include additional sonic elements detailed above, as well as two children’s choral ensembles. The work was performed at the Printemps du Bourges festival in Belgium in 1990 in a Napoleonic-era water tower, with the musicians performing in the basement of the tower and the audience listening on the ground floor. The empty top floors of the tower acted as a giant reverberation chamber. For this recorded version of the live performance, Bryars added the sound of other ambient spaces, including that of the swimming bath in Brussels where the piece was performed “live” on a raft in 1990.

Prefab Sprout – Jordan: The Comeback, 1990

Guest post by Nick Zanca (Mister Lies)
Anyone who has heard Prefab Sprout’s music at length knows that they are a band with zero-percent middle ground. You’re either enamored by their theatricality and ebullience or you find it incredibly irritating – but that’s not to say they aren’t a taste worth acquiring. For those uninitiated, the band was at the forefront of the British “sophisti-pop” movement alongside Scritti Politti, The Blue Nile and Aztec Camera – meaning heavy use of MIDI programming and plenty of early digital production gymnastics. What set them apart from their peers was frontman Paddy McAloon’s consistently highbrow songwriting chops – which, at their best, were wittier than Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter combined. Admired by the likes of Phil Collins, Arthur Russell, and Stevie Wonder (who would contribute harmonica on their song “Nightingales”), they are easily one of the UK’s best kept secrets.
On first listen, Jordan: The Comeback can be overwhelming – it’s deeply intricate, it covers a lot of ground sonically (gospel, samba, doo-wop and vaudeville) and plays more like a original cast album of a forgotten musical than a conventional pop record. For a songwriter who refers to himself in his own music as the “Fred Astaire of words,” McAloon dances around ambitious subject matter like nobody’s business – over the course of 19 tracks there are songs about the fall of Jesse James and the resurrection of Elvis before he assumes the character of God (!) on “One Of The Broken.” Along for the ride is the band’s longtime friend and producer, Thomas Dolby, contributing the technicolor digital synthscapes that act as the record’s constant.
This is an album full of surprises by one of my all-time favorites. Anyone who isn’t down to get cheesy might want to skip, but fair warning – you’ll fall head-over-heels for this album if you let yourself. Easily up there with Clube da Esquina or Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 as one of the most rewarding deep listens over an hour long.
(For anyone who hasn’t dived into their work yet, I might suggest checking out their album Steve McQueen first as it’s a little easier to digest – but know that most of the Prefab die-hards I know consider Jordan to be the magnum opus, myself included.)

Woo – Into The Heart Of Love, 1990

UK collective Woo delivers a masterpiece of microcosmic proportions with their under-heard landmark Into The Heart of Love. Although they use readily identifiable instruments, the music is truly hermetic, coming from nowhere and made with feeling instead of genre or artistic points of reference.  The work flows together with the soft beauty of a field at night with stars so bright you can see the path ahead.

It’s predominantly an instrumental record, peppered with a few lyrics that beckon closer listening. “Make Me Tea,” for example, will make anyone feel the warm and fuzzies.
The group has remarkable finesse with synthesizer and effects. Although almost every track uses synth, rather than letting it take center stage it acts as a kind of textural enabler, often disappearing into the background or morphing into a soft bed supporting the intimate sounds of the other instruments. There are even moments where the synth acts as a hammer dulcimer.

Woo makes new age (secularly spiritual) music which one can’t help but hold with care and reverence, but they maintain an element of fun, curiosity, and experimentation that is missing in a lot of new age. This is exemplified most obviously in a burst of laughter at the end “When You Find Your Love,” reminding the listener to not take life or music so seriously, that people are just playing, just as Woo is playing song after perfect song. If I ever have kids, this will be on heavy growing-up rotation. Essential.

Seaside Lovers – Memories In Beach House, 1983

Today is a celebration of internet access to amazing things. This one-off collaboration of chiller-musical-god Hiroshi Sato and the relatively unknowns Akira Inoue and Masataka Matsutoya — appropriately called “Seaside Lovers” — is some of the most succulent fruit of this access. It’s a trophy of Youtube’s intercontinental ubiquity, and these three musicians are pressing all the right beachy chilltime buttons in all the right ways. Soothing flute, funky bass riffs, and sweeping synths, all saturated in reverb.
On the flip side, this is one of the rare times where we’ll post an album with a few questionable tracks. The majority of the album is ridiculously listenable, especially the new age/funky soul/smooth jazz tracks, but there are 2 or 3 that require a very specific mood. If you are a jazz fusion fan, though, you will be PSYCHED. Plus, just look at this album cover! Below is their most famous track, but download to hear so much more…

N.A.D. – Dawn of a New Age, 1990
Guest post by Dru Grossberg

In 1990, Mustafa Ali had little under his belt before he began recording his sole 8-track LP as the perfectly suited nom-de-plum New Age Dance. Predicting several of the new decade’s themes and tones for Detroit, it’s not hard to imagine this as the precursor to Drexciya’s subaquatic sensibilities; here, however, synth washes that would be reserved for diving instead mimic interstellar flight. Displaying an otherwise distinctly American sound for a British record, Dawn of a New Age cameod his native isle’s bleep techno before Warp established a serious audience. It was prime for reissuing on Rush Hour, following the like-minded Virgo Four, Larry Heard, and Dream 2 Science.

On Dawn of a New Age, disillusionment with the modern world, primarily its spiritual state, runs rampant. Each composition opens and repeats a bar emulating archaic visions of cosmic technological disclosure in sound, strewn with a variety of samples from dinosaurs to the day the earth stood still. Tracks like “Everything Seems Different” and the eerie coda “Let There be Light” emulate the hauntingly simple NES sci-fi side scrollers. “Soul Search” delivers even bleaker synth waves, yet also draws attention to how N.A.D.’s narration co-dependently pairs to its musical counterpart: his repeated mantras weave in and out of the track’s minimal flourishes.
Much of this album plays like a disaffected, dystopian sermon in one’s own private diary. At its end, Dawn of a New Age leaves you exasperated, carnal, and dispirited. While the masses may never sip this brew, part of Dawn‘s ambitious thesis has triumphed by predicting spiritually imbued curation all throughout dance music culture. Mustafa left behind the sense he’d die more than happy pouring his soul into this recording, placing it as an unknown artifact never to be found again. Lucky for us that wasn’t the case.