Various Artists: Convergent Evolution

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Ambient music has been around about 25 years now, and has become a recognized genre, which even has its own subgroups such as "dark ambient", "drones," and "techno-ambient." The basic requirements for the "core" ambient style haven't changed much in those years: long, minimal note lines drifting through an ocean of reverb, accented with bits of percussion here and there. And yet even within these restrictions, musical creativity can shine forth, and ambient has developed over the years. Some of this is due to the influence from other genres such as "classical" minimalism, or trance-rock; other changes come from technical innovations like the use of computer-generated "fractals" to determine rhythm and tone-color.

This compilation from the up-and-coming ambient/space label Greenhouse is a good measure of what ambient composers are up to at the end of the century. There are pieces from well- known artists like Vidna Obmana and Steve Roach, and there are some others from people I've never heard of who use strange pseudonyms like "Mono No Aware" (a Japanese phrase meaning an aesthetic concept which combines melancholy, transience, and beauty,) "Samsa," and simply "Me."

Obmana opens the set with his optimistically titled "Euphoric Bliss." This is one of the best short Obmana pieces I've heard to date, with its bell-like accents tinkling through audible clouds of microtonal notes - perhaps a sound-picture of Obmana's perpetually foggy native land, Belgium. A piece by the mysterious "Samsa" (the name of the poor guy in the Kafka story who turns into a giant roach - an allusion to Steve?) follows, rather darkly and aimlessly clanking away with metallic tones. After that, there is an up-tempo piece by "Vir Unis," who is perhaps the most exciting newcomer to the ambient field in the last five years. This piece, "Beneath the Hive," shows off his "fractal rhythms" which have so revolutionized the newer work of Steve Roach (in their collaboration BODY ELECTRIC for instance). In my opinion this is the best cut on the album. After this, there is a very slow, spooky track by "Exuviae" (Latin for "spoils taken from an enemy" or "sloughed-off skin"...?) that builds up to one of those shuddering electronic "walls of sound" that you either love or hate.

If you were put to sleep by the first few pieces, "Mono No Aware" will wake you up. This piece has nothing to do with the Japanese quality of the artist's pseudonym. It begins with a loud snarl of retro- electronic roars and whistles, and builds into a banging techno- rhythm before beeping off into space. The Steve Roach piece which follows, "Resolution Point," is certainly good and very characteristic Roach, but it does not cover any new ground for him. The next piece, "Becoming Light" by Jayme Washburn, is a European-sounding meditation with a mournful, out-of-tune synthesizer melodic line. The compilation ends with the drone- filled "Holus Bolus," by "Me." (no, not this writer.)

Convergent Evolution gives you a sample of what's going on in all the sub-genres of ambient these days, as well as the "core" style. It's a mixture which ranges from very good to mediocre, but you, the listener, will have to decide which is which.

Record Label: GreenHouse Music

Style: Ambient


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