Ambient music. As a rule either you dig it, or you just don't get it. However, I've managed to find myself in the odd position of straddling the fence on this issue - I've heard some very cool ambient CDs such as Fayman/Fripp's Temple in the Clouds, and I've heard some stuff that quite frankly just puts me to sleep. So, with an open and undecided mind I dove headfirst into The Maskit Chamber's The 4th Wave, and I'm afraid that despite some interesting moments - and plenty of birds chirping - this one falls into the "puts me to sleep" column. Not that sleep is always a BAD thing mind you, it just tends to get in the way when you're trying to review an album.
The Maskit Chamber is actually a solo effort from Gayle Ellett - member of underground proggers Djam Karet. The 4th Wave consist of exactly ONE song - a 50 minute+ whopper named after the album itself. Unfortunately, 50 minutes was about 40 minutes too long for this reviewer, as the piece never really goes anywhere. I know that ambient music is all about emotion and subtlety with its long drawn out chord progressions and droning meditative keyboards, but I expect at least a decent amount of stimulation out of my music and I just didn't experience anything very interesting on The 4th Wave.
The track kicks off with something that sounds like a child's music box, but quickly enters familiar trance territory with a low didgeridoo (did I spell that right?) sounding keyboard note that lasts around a half an hour. On top of this drone, Ellett provides minimal (but at times effective) melodies using various string instruments, a mellotron, and a potpurri of digital samples. Actually, they could ALL be digital samples for all I know, it didn't specify in the liner notes.
Anyway, while Ellett does manage to create some interesting ideas within The 4th Wave, the problem is that the ideas are only interesting for a couple of minutes, while in actually they last about 10 minutes apiece. Nice Pink Floyd-esque swirling keys topped off with about three occasional chords from a rhythmic acoustic instrument is cool with me - but not over and over again for 10 minutes with much change. There is some trippy mellotron added into the mix for flavor, but it's not enough to save The 4th Wave from becoming a casualty of the mundane. Things actually get a little interesting at around the 36 minute mark, where the piece takes a Tangerine Dream inspired turn complete with some groovy percussion. But again, things simply descend back into "insert wacky sounds... re-start the low drone" school of ambience.
Perhaps connoisseurs of the genre would find some pleasure in the relaxing tones of The Maskit Chamber. I would've myself preferred a CD with perhaps a number of shorter tracks, but I do respect Ellett for accepting the challenge to write a piece almost an hour long. Like I said at the onset, ambient music is definitely an acquired taste; but The Maskit Chamber is definitely a taste that I have not yet acquired. The 4th Wave is not for the uninitiated!
1. The 4th Wave (50:25)
All music performed, arranged, and composed by Maskit Chamber