Forrest Fang's run of exquisite releases continued in 2009 with Phantoms, showcasing his talent for open-ended ambient compositions that always emphasize an enthralling sonic beauty even at their most strange and alien-sounding. The arcing loops of sound that slide across the core tracks of the opening "Distant Fires" set the tone from the start, suggestive of the titular image in its sense of something captivating but far out of easy reach. Fang's list of instruments from "non-Western" sources, as he wryly puts it in the liner notes, further sets his work in an arena beyond easy classification -- the plucked strings and echo on "The Great Wheel" suggest deep, impossible to sense mysteries, while what sounds like strange bird calls makes "Slow Rise" an all the more curious, unsettled composition. The song that puts all these elements together at their most involved is unsurprisingly the longest -- at 23 minutes, "The Hallucinations of Hung Tung" gives Fang the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of percussion while tones and electronic sighs and echoes shape the results into a breathtaking collage of serene yet always active beauty.
Forrest Fang has been around since the early 1980's creating electronic tapestries filled with electronic soundscapes and acoustic spices. With Phantoms he has hit the mark perfectly and created a magical sacred music work that conjures up the spectre of Popol Vuh's early synthetic works. Hints of "Vuh" and echoes of "Aguirre" haunt the melodies and in habit the margins of the ethereal sonic tapestries he creates on several tracks. Whether intentional or not, this feels like, and is, an homage to the late, great Florian Fricke. Those who knew and loved his early work should be captured in the spell of this album. His music is "systematic" at times, this album feels like it comes from the heart.
Californian Forrest Fang is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist with a love of Eastern art and composition. Thus his latest album, Phantoms, explores ambient transcendentalist soundscapes that remain as organic as the music heard in nature. With the 23-minute "The hallucinations of Hung Tung" as the album's centerpiece, Phantoms is just the right remedy for a stressful day at the office.
With goosebumps I listened to “Phantoms” the first time, a release by Forrest Fang. Beautiful ambient that reminded me immediately of the earlier work of Brian Eno, Robert Rich and Harold Budd. And every time again when I put on this record I’m touched by the subtle combination of spheric ambient and traditional non-Western instruments.
The American-Chinese Fang uses a row of different instruments. Next to the synthesizers and violins he uses instruments like cumbus, khustar, saron, kora, sueng, kulintang, baglama, kendang and the Japanese palm harp. The use of these instruments knows his absolute highlight in the 24 minute long masterpiece ‘The Hallucination of Hung Fung’, which is perfectly introduced by the 11 minute long ‘A Walk through the Clouds’.
After searching the web for some information, I’m actually quite surprised that I hadn’t heard anything of Forrest Fang before: his music is being related to Brian Eno but also to the minimalism of Terry Riley, and he even performs on some of Robert Rich’s releases. To me, Forrest Fang is another grandmaster in the ambient music.
If you already know Forrest Fang, then you know what to expect and all that’s left for me to say is: this is ambient like it’s supposed to be. If you – just like me – are not familiar with his music, than all that’s left for me to say is: try “Phantoms”, because this is ambient like it’s supposed to be. Rating: 9/10 - Ergo
Early reviews of Forrest Fang's Phantoms, his eight-years-in-the-making follow-up to the superb CD Gongland, have been almost universally glowing. And I am going to have add my voice to that rapidly growing chorus. This is a work that melds earth and sky—the latter represented by windborne, drifting ambient textures that move and shift like clouds, the former by the sharp, rich tones and tactile solidity of a wide array of Asian and Middle Eastern stringed instruments. In touching both extremes, Fang creates a unified whole that resonates deeply.
“Distant Fires” opens the disc with pads that slip in as quiet as morning fog to calm the mind. “The Great Wheel” opens with a dramatic melody on a Turkish cumbus (thank you to Forrest for ID’ing that for me), the notes plucked with a distinct intensity over long chords. There’s an interesting sense of waiting behind the music, the music pending the arrival of something unknown. This moves into “Little Angklung,” which begins softly but soon becomes a courtly and exotic dance driven by the sensual tones of a sueng—a Thai lute—Javanese saron (a cousin of the xylophone), bronze pot gongs and kora, a stringed instrument from West Africa. (Musically speaking, Fang really gets around!) The aptly titled “A Walk Through the Clouds” is a perfect beat-less drift constructed in countless layers, warm and calming and hued with just a hint of voice to ground it. When this piece ends, you’re likely to draw a deep, involuntary breath as you resurface. But it’s just to prepare yourself for the 23-minute centerpiece of the album, the unspeakably beautiful “The Hallucinations of Hung Tung.” Bowed strings rasp gently behind a wall of drone at the outset as Fang begins his sonic story. Words will utterly fail to describe this piece, with its Asian overtones, sense of shifting drama and moments frozen in sound, all wrapped in a constantly changing, never intrusive drone-mist. Instruments rise from the mist to the forefront to speak, and then, having had their piece, fade to memory. The movements within “...Hung Tung” are gracefully yet notably separated and it all comes to a close that eases in as naturally as sundown. This is one of the most perfectly made pieces of ambient architecture I’ve ever heard. From there Fang sends up a sudden stream of high-pitched electronic bubbles to start “Slow Rise.” That initial moment borders on intrusive after the calm end of the preceding track, but the sound quickly becomes engaging as an easy current emerges from underneath it to pull you under gently and carry you off again. “Ebb in Winter” is an elegantly minimal track that moves at an appropriately glacial pace, the sound shimmering like sunlit ice. Phantoms closes with “Float,” bringing the strings back to the fore for one last dance over Fang’s drones.
Reviewers more musicologically astute than I have called out as important Fang’s gamelan-influenced structures (a beautiful example comes around the 14-minute mark on “...Hung Tung”) and the sheer number of exotic instruments that the artist has mastered and brought to bear here. But even the most casual listener can sense that there’s something beyond going on here. Fang’s attention to detail, the smoothness of his construction, the sense of soul and spirit and self that weaves itself through every moment... This is clearly a very personal CD, eight years in the making, and it imparts a well-deserved sense of reverence. We understand, as listeners, that we are standing witness to something that matters and requires our attention. And, in my opinion, the experience is somewhat humbling.
One other important attraction of Phantoms is that it loops absolutely seamlessly. As you come to the end of “Float,” you should barely notice as the circle closes with the first notes of “Distant Fires.” (I often find myself well into “Fires” before I notice!) Be careful—you may get so deep into Phantoms that you’ll never want to come out. This is not just a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD, it’s very likely one of the best—if not the flat-out best—releases of 2009.
Forrest Fang is an instrumentalist of many colours and notes. On his latest album, Phantoms, he has singularly created a sound of Eastern influence, under-girded by his eerie treatments on the synthesizer to produce an enchanting tapestry of songs.
Phantoms sets a dark mood throughout it's eight individual tracks. The longest piece is a 23-minute peek into a dream aptly called "The Hallucinations of Hung Tung". The song is an opium-drenched soundtrack to a clouded mind that is walking within the borders of strange places. The song that precedes it is the 11-minute "A Walk Through the Clouds," a paced music that accompanies a traveling thought.
I throughly enjoy the themed "Ebb in Winter," a titled rapture of the beauty and desolation of a greyed winter day (or night). There is nothing to fear within the blanket of haze and snow, but rather a joy at what nature has put in our lives.
There are plenty of gorgeous sound compositions within the catalogue of Phantoms. You'll find much beauty in them, plenty to fuel your dreams of other things.
This release from 2009 offers 70 minutes of tenuous ambience.
Forrest Fang plays: synthesizer, electronics, acoustic and electric violins, non-Western strings and percussion (cumbus, khustar, saron, kora, sueng, kulintang, baglama, kendang), mandolin, ukelin, marxolin, and Japanese palm harp. The recording was mastered by ambient pioneer Robert Rich.
Ethereal textures are seasoned by exotic strings, producing auralscapes of delicate substance.
Tenuous electronics formulate chilled expanses of airborne vapor. These harmonic structures blur into a gray environment composed of celestial sighs.
The strings lend a reverent demeanor to the ambience, generating a subtle sense of agitation that instills a soothing reaction in the listener. The strings manifest in two modes: strummed and sawed. The strummed instruments inject a Far Eastern flair to the harmonic flows, as if any moment the mists will part to reveal majestic snow-capped mountains surrounded by cherry blossom trees. The sawed instruments, i.e. violins, establish a haunting materiality lurking in the sonic fog, an elusive presence that merges with the mist while their resonance is conveyed on gentle zephyrs.
The percussion is faint, existing on the edge of perception, so that the beats elicit subliminal effects on the audience’s cerebellum. Their muted impacts serve more as inconspicuous punctuation than as any driving propulsion for the music.
These compositions manifest introspection with ease, each fragile passage designed to isolate the listener from the physical world and immerse them in a realm of pure psychological potential.
A couple of years ago, I was impressed by the album Forrest Fang made with Carl Weingarten, so it’s nice to see him now show up with a solo album, which took him eight years to finish. Building on gamelan-influenced textures, Phantoms
offers a multi-layered tapestry of rich, transparent atmospheres of fluid string soundscapes to which a wide variety of acoustic rhythms and instruments are added. More than once, the sonic outcome has a strong hypnotizing effect, especially on the soft waves of “Little Angklung” (with its gorgeous electric violin) or the elevating, minimal textural realms of “A walk through the Clouds” with dreamy, mysterious undercurrents. The mystic realms continue beautifully on the 23-minute ambient suite “The Hallucinations of Hung Tung” (inspired by the otherworldly paintings of a Taiwanese fisherman and outsider artist), of which the deep freeform atmospheres, mesmerizing gamelan sounds and assorted, multicoloured percussion make this track the highlight of the album.
The meandering softly cascading soundwave textures return on the contemplative, 9-minute “Ebb of Winter”, finding a nicely rendered ending in the minimal shapes of “Float”. Phantoms is a very fine release full of great in-depth atmospheres that any fan of Robert Rich, David Parsons or Steve Roach should absorb.
The excellent cd-mastering was done by Robert Rich. Bert Strolenberg
American ambient artist Forrest Fang´s ninth studio album is also his second release on Projekt, a label whose dreamy visual aesthetics jibe perfectly with Fang´s musical ones. Fang distinguishes himself from his peers by his heavy reliance on a plethora of Eastern stringed instruments and percussion, usually only tantalizingly glimpsed through a processed electronic fog.
The album opens soft as the petals of a flower tickled awake by morning sunlight, before a more percussive and attention-grabbing ”non-Western" stringed instrument in Fang´s arsenal plucks out a meandering melody over a bed of sighs. On ”Little Angklung”, the strings diversify and ring out in concert with the peals of percussion, a wash of synthesized sound dyeing everything bright orange and pink.
It feels as though the further the album progresses, the deeper into a personal, imagined Orient Fang journeys. The fantasy begins to blossom as ”A Walk Through the Clouds” is undertaken, a gorgeous eleven-minute taste of heaven. It comes to full bloom with album centerpiece ”The Hallucinations of Hung Tung”, inspired by the bright, arabesqued and unreal pictures of this artist-fisherman (1920-87). The twenty-seven minute opus is seductively all-encompassing.
”Slow Rise”, ”Ebb in Winter”, and ”Float” bring the listener unhurriedly down to earth, descending downward at the speed of a feather descending from on high, dancing through the clouds being left behind. The gamelan bell tones of the final track seem to indicate we have come to rest again.
With a number of true pearls already to his credit, Phantoms may just be the most perfect one on the string. - Stephen Fruitman
From out of the atmospheric backwaters of the World Music genre flows the fascinating soundworlds of Forrest Fang. His work combines native flutes, eastern strings and exotic percussion with synthesizers and digital processing to produce a music for our world but not entirely of it. His CD Phantoms (70'10") opens up and explores a minimalistic region of music where expressions are made through the gradual motion of textures and timbres - all churning beneath cavernous reverberation. Phantoms' eight tracks move between static drones and metallic cross-modulations to the tumultuous soundscapes of nocturnal ambience - where rhythms seem based more in ancient ceremonies than in computer software. Exceptional in its dark hued subtlety this work transports the listener to a cyber-jungle nowhereland. Alternating between the dreamy and the experimental, the primitive and the futuristic, this music conjures up an imaginary environment ruled by mythic lost tribes, technology and the vast continent of Forrest Fang's dark vision. - Chuck van Zyl/STAR'S END 2 July 2009
A review of the instruments Forrest Fang used to create his ninth solo album, Phantoms, says much about the sonic character of its eight ambient soundscapes. In addition to the expected synthesizer and electronics, the Chinese-American musician plays electric violin, mandolin, ukelin, marxolin, Japanese palm harp, and non-Western strings and percussion (cumbus, khustar, saron, kora, sueng, kulintang, baglama, kendang). Almost eight years in the making, the album catalyzes that wealth of sound materials into a seductive, seventy-minute tapestry that draws upon Indonesian gamelan music and Far Eastern exotica as much as it does standard ambient conventions. Fang (who also issued the Hypnos Secret Sounds recording Tones for LaMonte Young last year under the Sans Serif moniker) comes by such influences honestly, having studied electronic music and jazz improvisation at Washington University, zheng (Chinese zither) with the late Zhang Yan of Mainland China, gagaku with former Japanese Imperial Court musician Suenobu Togi, and gamelan with Balinese composer I Wayan Sujana.
Some of the album's pieces conform to the celestial tranquility one associates with the ambient-electronica genre: “A Walk Through the Clouds,” “Ebb In Winter,” and “Float,” for example, are all gentle, impressionistic soundscapes which focus on vaporous electronic formations and synthetic decorations. But other pieces step outside the genre for a more panoramic style. The music's exotic character comes fully to the fore during “The Great Wheel,” where the pluck of a zither-like string instrument is heard against a becalmed, tinkling backdrop, and “Little Angklung,” where a rich array of hand percussion patterns provides an anchor to a cloud-like swirl of strings and glassy electronics. All facets of Fang's musical interests come into play during the twenty-three-minute unfolding of the album's centerpiece, “The Hallucinations of Hung Tung,” which was inspired, so we're told, by the ethereal paintings of a Taiwanese fisherman and outsider artist. In its early stages, tones drift and exhale in unhurried slow motion as gamelan percussion sounds softly tinkle but the pace picks up considerably when a seeming army of hand percussion players joins the fray. Eventually the intensity subsides and the piece settles into a somnolent state to bring it to a peaceful close.
Info accompanying the release classifies it as “New Age,” an alienating designation for some given the “wallpaper” connotations the term carries with it, but Phantoms—despite the fact that some of the more celestial settings could be described as such—includes provocative pieces that render the term a little bit misleading.