A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Label: Organic Industries
Sounds Like: Sherwood Forest, English Class, Falling Asleep, Daydreaming, drum ‘n bass, Boards Of Canada, Troum
One of the subjects of which we are preeminently preoccupied with, here at HQ, is what makes for an outstanding ambient/drone/electroacoustic record. Let’s investigate…
We are limited by possibilities. The aspiring musician/sound artist can move in any direction at any time, with the whole of the akashic records laid open to sample and manipulate. The most humble looping pedal is probably more powerful and versatile than the entirety of the Black Ark Studios.
We are starting to see the fruits of a generation that have grown up listening to everything, with the brightest stars of every genre leading the way. Still, how to proceed? There are a few universities that offer experimental music programs, but very few, and they will lead you into the path of academia, of serious tape music, complete with artist statement.
But what of us that are doing things in our own time, on our own terms. This is, simultaneously, one of the most exciting and most frustrating times for art in history, with the archives thrown open and the mechanics of reproduction available for all. An artist must surely know what they are doing, what they are trying to do, if it is uncertain or flailing it will sink to the bottom of the sea of information like a lead weight.
So what makes something stand out? This is the question, and a very interesting one, at that, especially if one is only using the tools of logic and rhetoric. Because there is a FEELING, when an artist is onto something, when it seems like they know what they are doing, when their intentions and motivations are pure. How the hell can we know that? How can we even guess that? What are the signs and signifiers of excellence? If we distill that essence, we may drink of its elixir.
M. Beckman clearly knows what he’s doing, there is no sense of aimlessness or second-guessing on Ivan Hoe And Other Tales. The artist’s intention is straight as an arrow, and here strikes a dead bull’s eye, like another famed resident of the Sherwood Forest. If i had to posit a guess, and perhaps i am just projecting, i get the sense The Volume Settings Folder is investigating how to masterfully craft intriguing and poetic sound narratives out of field recordings, samples, and loops. It’s not as easy as it sounds. More than anything, the artist must know ahead of time what they are trying to say or do, even if that means intentionally leaving things open. On his bandcamp, its labelled ‘sketch and improv attitude for sudden ambience’. This leads me to believe that the nucleus of these tracks must be improvisation/jamming, then embellishment and editing.
The artist’s hands are fully in evidence on Ivan Hoe. One of the most common pitfalls of the modern drone artist is leaving everything permanently in-the-box (read:on the computer), relying upon software (the same software which is available to everybody) to quickly mass-produce and manipulate sounds. Take case in point, the ghost drone phenomena of anonymous internet producers slowing down audio to an infinitesimal crawl with PaulStretch. I love it, personally, but i am also a person who will listen to the electric kettle boil for 45 minutes, so am perhaps not the perfect focus group to model pop audiences. It is my hypothesis that the discerning producer, who takes the time to tune every individual component, is the mark of the master. Our ears gravitate towards it. Also, even a slight presence of something analog and tactile will make the album stand out beyond the uncanny impostors, as sounds originating from real air are more detailed, more compelling, more believable. The Volume Settings Folder state this intent right from the onset, with vintage books on tape being run through an obstacle course of effects (pitch shift, sampling, distortion and delay would be my guess). He comes out of the gate swinging, with something unique and handmade, and with a deft hand. He sets the mood, he transports you to the oaken gloom of 16th-century Sherwood Forest, or maybe a hologram of it.
Ivan Hoe & Other Tales is a world into and of itself, one that you can lose yrself in, over and over. It’s probably impossible to articulate all the tiny nuances that make this record so special. This is clearly a labor of love. One of Beckman’s greatest strengths is a musical ear, probably gleaned from years as a post-rock guitarist, and all the groans and drones are soothing, emotional, contemplative; like some grand pipe organ at the center of the galaxy. This record illustrates the greatest strengths of modern Ambient music: gentility, spaciousness, patience, imagination. We’ve had 50 years to learn how to get it right.
You really get the sense that M. Beckman is trying things out, an endless and tireless explorer of sonic airwaves. He’s one of the most accomplished found sound composers i’ve heard, and listening to Ivan Hoe has got me slathering to write some rickety, crackling loops of my own. Inspiring.
I would love to chronicle every little aspect and detail of this record, which would take quite a bit of time and space, and i’ve gone on quite a bit already. I wanted to mainly tell you of its existence. I became aware of The Volume Settings Folder while following his tumblr, then figuring out that he makes music also. Sorry to say it, but i was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t more faceless soundcloud techno bullshit (not that there’s anything wrong with that). M. Beckman’s a serious composer with strong ideas, that has been consistently chipping away at the muse for a while. I plan on investigating further, as Ivan Hoe And Other Tales has made my life richer and more intriguing since it landed in my lap. I’m actually sorry to be finished with the reviewing.
If you’d like to read some more poetic musings on the subject, i recommend this excellent review from The Ambient Exotica Blog.
Ivan Hoe And Other Tales is available digitally, and for free streaming, as well as in a bunch of sweet physical editions, from Organic Industries.