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A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Too Beautiful To Be Believed: Ian William Craig – Thresholder album review

Ian William Craig album review

Vancouver Ambient composer Ian William Craig returns with an album of disembodied sacred choral music exploring the micro-mysteries and boundless space of the Universe.

What is mystery, in a world where everything is known? What place do shadows play when we obsess over casting every inch of the world in harsh, unflinching light?

In his influential poem “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond,” ee cummings reflects on the levelling power of the unknown.

“somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands.”

Cummings inherently understands the weight of The Real, The Unspoken, the essence which lies behind the ceramic surface of appearances, is mightier than ideas. Words, labels, conceptions, blow away like a handful of dust as the breath of the Spirit whispers through echoing corridors.

On Thresholder, Ian William Craig approximates this wordless state with 11 ambient compositions, built around aged recordings of Craig’s classically-trained vocals without succumbing to words or lyrics. It’s a sound and compelling conceit, which also serves as a map and a metaphor, drawing you into the undiscovered country of Craig’s mysticism.

Thresholder is constructed around vocal recordings Ian William Craig made over the span of a few years, between recording 2014’s A Turn Of Breath and 2016’s Centres. These recordings were treated, processed, and aged using a battalion of archaic electronic equipment, most notably 11 different reel-to-reel recordings. This process, and the inherent crackle that comes with it, automatically bring to mind electroacoustic composers like William Basinski, Philip Jeck, and Tim Hecker. As anyone in such haunted company, Thresholder deals with memory and The Self, with The Archives and The Greater World and, ultimately, how we relate to it.

Thresholder sounds like some Gregorian chapel in Deep Space, like Otomo Katsuhiro‘s Memories if they’d discovered the Chapel Perilous rather than an old opera house. It seems significant that Craig would experience such a religious epiphany listening to recordings of his own voice. It reminds us the main message of The Oracle Of Delphi was “Know Thyself.”

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Thresholder sounds like some Gregorian chapel in Deep Space, like Otomo Katsuhiro’s Memories if they’d discovered the Chapel Perilous rather than an old opera house.

In this troubled and confusing times, this is the first stage towards stumbling back towards the sun. When you know your own heart and mind, it’s much more difficult to be deceived. It also hints at one of modernity’s greatest paradoxes. On one hand, we are all self-absorbed and narcissistic to a fault. On the other hand, it seems we are investigating our own divinity, like some great and shining treasure to beautiful to be believed.

When you know your own heart and mind, it’s much more difficult to be deceived. It also hints at one of modernity’s greatest paradoxes. On one hand, we are all self-absorbed and narcissistic to a fault. On the other hand, it seems we are investigating our own divinity, like some great and shining treasure to beautiful to be believed.

“Too beautiful to be believed” is a good summation of Thresholder, as a whole. A ponderous concept doesn’t mean a thing if an album isn’t interesting to listen to – this is music after all, not a dissertation. Musically, Thresholder is actually much more interesting than even its thesis statement. It’s a welcome addition to the canon of crackling, haunting ambient music like William Basinski‘s The Disintegration Loops or The Caretaker‘s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. It evokes a similar sense of vast timelessness with just a hint of melancholy. The spirit seems less battered and bruised in Thresholder, however, like the sun could break at any given moment.

Lord knows it feels that we’ve been living in an endless night these last few years. With Thesholder, at least there is a hope that daybreak is at hand or at least possible.

Thresholder is one of the most beautiful, emotional ambient albums of the year. It’s also a step forward for both Neoclassical as well as electroacoustic music, offering hope that these traditions need not necessarily remain rooted in the past. It is to everybody’s benefit when they don’t.

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