Review of Mount Carmel [12k1090]

Drifting Almost Falling (BLOG)

M. Grig is the recording name of Durham, North Carolina based artist Mike Grigoni who first came to my attention at the beginning of the year with the track “Nod” on the Whitelabrec compilation “Sleeplaboratory1.0”. He has worked on a number of independent films with companies such as High Plains Films and Hand Crank Films, as well as session work for other artists. Prior to “Mount Carmel” he has put out the “Field Notes”, “Still Life” and “Millpond Way” releases on the Canadian label Other Songs. For his next full length release “Mount Carmel”, he finds himself on arguably the most iconic of any ambient/sound art labels in 12k. It would appear that music is more about story telling for M. Grig, the experiences of his life are at the core of what drives and inspires him with those earlier Other Songs releases much like “Mount Carmel” being about key moments of childhood.

“I’ve always been curious in my listening, searching for something in music and sound. I grew up playing the piano and played the uilleann pipes in college, spending a summer in Ireland taking lessons. I ditched the pipes for the dobro toward the end of my undergraduate years and discovered lap steel and pedal steel guitar a few years after that. I studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington where I learned about ethnography. Ethnography is a method for field- based research developed by anthropologists. The method involves spending time with people and learning about different ways of being in the world and taking notes while you do so—jotting impressions, observations, feelings, snippets of speech, sketching maps, landscapes. Putting experience to paper in the moment again and again over a lengthy period of time—for months, sometimes years. This sensibility colors my music; this layering of ideas, feelings, and textures. Something emerges, or is discovered or revealed,through this process. Combing sounds made with an instrument with sounds recorded in the field, blending and enfolding these sources, is deeply satisfying and grounding for me. Making and recording music in this way is somehow like ethnography.

“Mount Carmel” is probably my most personal record to date. I wrote it with the place of my childhood in mind. The neighborhood in which I grew up had only two streets, both of which wound into cul-de-sacs between an interwoven set of barren, gentle hills in Los
Peñasquitos, California.

Usually ambient based music is sourced from instruments such as synths, guitars and electronics. Within the genre confines you will find artists such as M. Grig (and those that appear in the Lost Tribe Sound catalog) who are interested in casting a new light on the genre utilizing a different type of instrument. In this case Dobro, Lap Steel and Pedal Steel guitars are his weapons of choice. In by doing this the music has a strong Americana feel and nicely compliments the 12k catalog alongside an artist such as Australian artist Seaworthy.

Interpreting music based on an artists childhood memories is one of trepidation. You can’t actually know for sure their experiences, but through things like tones, the amount of light vs shade and intensity in the music, you can gleam some feeling or information from the music. In the case of M. Grig the music is light and airy which presents a positive mood, one which informs how pleasant the memories are to him. The pieces of music are free form with laced instrumentation creating layers of tones and beds of melodies, some of which have a haziness that represents time.

There is a tactile organicness to the music that comes through with the wiriness of the instruments. M. Grig uses dense layering to build his soundscapes and then melds them to his chosen instruments. The texture of these recordings change from track to track as Grig blurs in some occasions, the instrumentation and in others sets about embracing them.

Opening with “Call” you get the feeling you are in for a pure Ambient release of layered drones. How quickly you realize this is not the case. The track takes Grig’s playing and manipulates into drones while he explores the various instruments (please excuse my non separation of Lap and Pedal steel versus Dobro sound sources) and it gives the track a strong textural feel, like a synergy of different sounds. The title track is a fusion of both the dense layering and distinct, but exploratory guitar work, while “Form” flips the mood of “Mount Carmel” to one of an introspective feel with a change in the tones to ones that are distant and on the darker spectrum. In between these two tracks is “B” a piece that feels positively electric and raw with a hum presumably captured straight from the amp. The way the sounds come out, with a sort of attitude detected, makes for a moodier and introspective feel with a hint of frustration laced in. The eerie twangs of “Capistrano” can’t help but have a relaxed warm summer vibe to it, but not totally warm and bubbly. With “Little Cliffs” Grig goes for a depth of sound with almost glitchy melodies bubbling underneath with a mixture of different guitar sounds flowing in different directions and what feels like a field recording like ambience that seems to fill in the gaps without being an obvious sound source. A track like the mysteriously titled “H” is definitely up my alley with its strong ambient core and the warm that comes across the track, it actually feels like a warmer cousin of “Capistrano” with a less eerie, finger picked sound. With the finale “Response” M. Grig seems to fuse elements that have come before to create a piece that is all about tones. Almost loop like in fashion, there is a delicateness to the piece that has equal measures of abstraction and presence resulting in a  journey through sound and a satisfying end to the collection.

As I stated before, knowing the actual memories and environment that inspires an artists work is a guessing game, but as M. Grig states about his childhood area “Feelings anchored to material things constitute my memory of that place: the ice plant in our front yard we would step on to crush out its juice; the lava rock beneath the pine trees; the Santa Annas – hot, dry winds that would suddenly blow in our backyard; the dry and barren hills without trees, only brush – chaparral and sage – that I constantly climbed.”, you definitely get the feeling of the weather and the way the winds would change the complexion of things, much like the free nature of this music.

“Mount Carmel” is available on CD and Digital from May 10 on 12k.

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