Review of Frame [12k1011]

The Wire (UK)

Ambient music is on the upswing: in the past year discs from Ken Ikeda, Kurt Ralske and Susumu Tokota have evoked the classic tones of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II.

What’s different this time around, though, is that microsound’s particular palette has rescued the genre from its new age nadir of the mid 90’s, when all it took to make an ambient album was a few synth pads and lots of delay. Dan Abrams’ first cd as Shuttle358, Optimal.lp, hinted at the way that microsound’s pointillist approach – coaxing rhythms and textures out of porous, pixellated bitmaps – might be grafted onto ambient’s fluid blueprint, and on Frame he realises the fruits of his experiment.

“If you put and empty frame against a blank wall, you suddenly notice the color, the patterns, the imperfection in the plaster,” notes Abrams. “The frame draws attnetion to what is within it – it magnifies it, you focus on it, it begins to symbolize the whole wall.” Appropriately enough, each track here takes a square of “wallpaper music” (as ambient has so often been described) and examines it inch by inch, tracing the details, the texture, the subtle discolorations. The sound throughout is characteristically hushed, featuring soft, transparent chords and gently undulating tones, rubbed raw with digital grit. A sense of suspension prevails, as cloudlike forms hover weightless and semi-opaque, holding time as well as matter at bay. Layering porous, pockmarked chords, he creates secondary rhythms from interference, permitting the briefest pinpricks of light to shine through.

Frame posits and inextricable relationship between the frame and the framed. The click, the pop, the microloop – all framing elements, in some sense, designed to cut away excess and highlight essence – end up puncturing the very sonic canvas they present. With a very different relationship between frame and content, “Frame” is also included as a quicktime movie, filmed and edited by abrams, shot in LA’s streets from a moving car and imbued with a sense of perpetual motion. A pensive, impressionistic take on anomie and urban nomadism, it underscores the frame of movement itself, seen through the eyes of an anonymous subject passing through the world with fingertips pressed up against glass. – philip sherburne

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