Multi-instrumentalist Ian Tamblyn is best known in Canada as a singer/songwriter. His album Angel's Share
(North Track, 2004) was but the latest in a long string of releases that keep the folk storytelling tradition alive. But Tamblyn has always looked farther afield, with an almost insatiable appetite to absorb all things musical and assimilate them into his larger vision. As early as the mid-1980s, for example, Tamblyn had composed soundtracks for a local theatre company that reflected strong appreciation for the ambient music of Brian Eno.
An intrepid explorer who has literally travelled the world from the Artic to the Antarctic, Tamblyn also possesses a longstanding interest in finding the nexus point where made music blends with found music. Both Over My Head (North Track, 1985) and Magnetic North (North Track, 1991) seamlessly blended his own instrumental writing with field recordings, including bird sounds found near his home in Chelsea, Quebec, glaciers breaking in the Arctic, and whale songs also found in the far north. But while his own naturalist tendencies have drawn him to the music of an ever-shrinking world untarnished by man, he's also been paradoxically drawn to those sounds coming most directly from man. Such sounds are the foundation for Machine Works, an album with a vivid narrative flow and such surprising beauty that it's hard to believe these sounds come from sources like steel mills, subway trains, garages, and steam trains.
Where Brian Eno's ambient music aspires to blend into the surrounding fabric of sound, Tamblyn's approach is to take that inescapable fabric and pull it into the foreground. Rather than affecting the listener on a subconscious level, Machine Works demands attention, using the concept of travel to link together the extant yet unnatural sounds that have become so much a part of our everyday audioscape that they are often ignored.
"Blast Furnace opens up with an almost hymnal ambience, a plaintive melancholy that builds dramatically as the sounds of a blast furnace at a steel mill segue into the more jagged sounds of "The Caster. "401 conveys forward motion as trucks and cars pass by, while "1/8 Khlebnikov suggests the open vistas seen from the bow of an icebreaker, where the rhythmic looping heard is not artificialit's the unedited sound coming from the engine room.
Aside from employing his own wide range of instruments, Tamblyn recruited local artists like guitarist Fred Guignion, bassist Ken Kanwisher, trumpeter Chris Whitely, and drummers Peter von Alten and Ross Murray to create these soundscapes, ranging from the haunting pastoral beauty of "Leaving to the surprising calm of "Night Shift, built around sounds in paper mills, trucks, and machine shops.
Tamblyn's detailed liner notes provide not only the specifics about the recording of each piece, but how he views the paradoxical beauty and threat of such artificial disruption of nature. But Machine Works succeeds best on its own termsas an evocative and personal work that sometimes finds warmth and tranquility in the most unlikely of places.
Personnel: Ian Tamblyn: synthesizers, piano, field recordings, acoustic guitar, hammered dulcimer
loop, shakuhachi sample, percussion, vocals, widget loop, tongue drum loop, cello
harmonics, Australian bullroarer, kannel; Fred Guignion: lap steel, electric guitars; Ross
Murray: drums; Marty Jones: treatments; Ken Kanwisher: bass, electric bass; Peter von
Alten: drums; Chris Whitely: muted trumpet; Matthew Tamblyn: bed tracks, loops/rap,
conversation on subway car; Walker Tamblyn: conversation on subway car; Angie:
conversation on subway car.