Forrest Fang: Ancient Machines (CD)

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1 Ancient Machines
2 The Celestial Diver (I. Winds of Betelgeuse)
3 The Celestial Diver (II. Shooting Star)
4 The Celestial Diver (III. Traceries)
5 In Air, It Seems
6 Firefly Run
7 Smoke Rings
8 A Recursive Tale
9 The Other Earth
10 Zone One
11 Night Swans
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The ambient music of Ancient Machines — the eighteenth album from veteran Bay Area electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Forrest Fang — embraces an arc of mysteriously complex moods and emotions. Fang’s latest work reflects both his Western influences as a classical violinist and his Eastern influences as a player of Javanese gamelan and other Asian instruments. The pieces are imaginary narratives that gradually reveal themselves, incorporating the sounds of both electronic and acoustic instruments.


On his 2019 Projekt release, Fang found inspiration reflecting on one of his early influences — minimalist classical composers. “During the early 80s,” notes Fang, “I was fascinated with the trance-like effect of pieces like Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach and Terry Riley’s improvisational Persian Surgery Dervishes. For this album, I use the repetition of minimalism as a point of departure. However, what follows in the pieces is a hybrid ambient style that invites interaction between Western and non-Western instruments that are not ordinarily used together in a way that I hope conveys my love of sound in its many manifestations and permutations.”


When asked, Fang purposely leaves the “ancient machines” referenced in the title open to the listener’s interpretation. However, he may well be referring to the internal “machines” of all sentient and nonsentient life on this planet that evolve and mutate as part of the symphony of change.


The sonic atmospheres on Ancient Machines are diverse. The album begins with the title track — a short exploration of gentle elongated rhythms and floating electronic textures. The energetic minimalist suite, “The Celestial Diver,” follows with three pieces dedicated to the late Italian minimalist composer, Piero Milesi. The juxtaposition of spacey textures and overlapping polyrhythms in the pieces, including the occasional sounds of a harpsichord, introduce a new dimension to Fang’s stylistic voice.


The album continues with “In Air, It Seems,” a delicate and pensive piece for piano, violins and quiet background ambiences that provides a calm resting point midway through the album. This is followed by “Firefly Run,” a dreamlike soundscape of luminous figures and vivid movements suggestive of flight, and “Smoke Rings,” a short interlude featuring processed balafon and gamelan that bring the listener back to terra firma.


Next, the piano-based fractal piece, “A Recursive Tale,” provides the transition to the last three pieces forming the closing arc of the album — “The Other Earth,” “Zone One” and “Night Swans.” “The Other Earth,” a melancholy and contemplative piece is reminiscent of classic electronic space music but with occasional hints of minimalism at its quiet core. The mood is lifted with “Zone One,” which combines a slowly evolving melodic rhythm with shifting orchestral clouds which hint at promises of the future. “Night Swans” closes the album with the quiet sound of an electric piano against an ambient background of electronic night spirits.

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  1. padmin

    From 3 Quarks Daily

    This is the longtime Bay Area ambient composer’s 18th release, inspired in particular by his 80s-era fascination with minimalist classical composers like Philip Glass and Terry Riley, although as he notes, the sound of the record is more of a “hybrid ambient style” than a direct homage.

    When asked, Fang purposely leaves the “ancient machines” referenced in the title open to the listener’s interpretation. However, he may well be referring to the internal “machines” of all sentient and nonsentient life on this planet that evolve and mutate as part of the symphony of change.

  2. padmin

    From Synth and Sequences

    Always enchanting, the universe of Forrest Fang flows with these multiple layers of reverberations from synth lines and from the multiple effects of gongs and of traditional percussions to which the mystery is grafted with piano lines, guitar riffs and filaments of violins. A long formula to paraphrase the 73 minutes of ANCIENT MACHINES! Structured in a minimalist approach which pays homage to the pioneers of the genre, the music of the Sino-American composer is rich in its Buddhist tradition where many drummed percussions on clay twirl. The shapes and the colors of these percussive containers are the basis of a musical richness conducive to our reveries with its cinematic as well as electronic approaches, and its panoramas which fix the music of Forrest Fang in a universe where the doors leading to the roads remain buried in our imagination.

    In this universe of his own, the title track sets the tone with a structure enlivened by a mesh of Asian percussions twirling in a dense sound fabric. Rumblings take refuge there and they thunder in mute with a complicity between the more ethereal synth layers which will last throughout ANCIENT MACHINES. Winds of Betelgeuse begins the saga of The Celestial Diver with a rhythm driven by acoustic guitar chords and various drums performing on clay. The ambiences, overshadowed by this continual mesh of dark lines and of resonances from the percussions, breathe the hymns of gypsy festivals. Shooting Star counterbalances with an ambient introduction filled of nostalgia. An acoustic melody grips it, freezing a less intense and catchy rhythm than that of Winds of Betelgeuse. And if I’m not mistaken, I even hear distant hums whose surreal approach is dancing with these synth lines which have more iridescent tones on this track whose eddy’s effects, here like at its opening, ultimately give a glaucous appearance to the little universe of The Celestial Diver. Appearance denied by Traceries and its melody sits on a rhythm between the first and the second intermission of this long fable dedicated to Piero Milesi. And this rhythm, more melodic than dancing, although it’s possible to dance on it, weaves an earworm that will refuse to leave its cocoon. Even if In Air, It Seems makes floating its moods around a dark and very moving melancholy. A tearful violin on a piano and its funeral structure that turns into a delicious musical monument worthy of the funeral of our heroes in Game of Thrones. We are here in the most beautiful moments of this album.

    In a setting favoring a symphonic orchestra tuning its instruments, Firefly Run propels its winds of sonic dust in a heavy dull veil with movements propelled by these winds. We hear a string instrument wandering a melody that suffers from its anonymity in a structure as opaque as that of In Air, It Seems. Melody less. This universe reminds me a lot of Ray Lynch’s music in Deep Breakfast. Smoke Rings makes us jump with this dance of Tibetan percussions which drumming a structure of transcendental meditation with Asian essences. The rhythm is ambient and is filled with a limitless imagination at the level of the textural layers of the percussions coming from multiple local tribes. The sound is exceptional in this title which surprises by the diversity of the percussion sounds. A Recursive Tale offers a good refrain revolving like a lullaby with piano notes sculpted alongside other percussion phenomena in different colors of clay. The atmospheres are as dense as in Smoke Rings with synth sails filled of secret whispers. The Other Earth follows with a long range of ambiences where the music drifts between the wiishh and the wooshh in a slow morphic ballet. The particles of the mists dry between sky and ground, creating dust of sounds which are propelled between the multilayers of the winds whose songs of percussive chords end up by charming our interrogation. Slow but catchy, Zone One offers a lascivious rhythm well nourished by the percussions’ arsenal of Forrest Fang. The envelope remains very electronic with this mass of layers of foggy and misty synth whose mesh of these two elements weaves a thin line of astral voices. Night Swan puts an end to this album with a vision that breathes a little that of Firefly Run and its opaque mantle of orchestrations where however filter out the harmonic tingling of clay tones’ percussions. A beautiful album which is much more attractive on the first discovery than the vast majority of Forrest Fang’s albums. -Sylvain Lupari

  3. padmin

    From Darkroom Magazine

    Album singolare per il progetto Forrest Fang, che unisce in questo Ancient Machines lo stile e il fascino della scena minimal americana – capitanata da Philip Glass e Terry Riley – con l’imprinting personale fatto di tappeti ambient e soundscapes dilatati e morbidi. Ne viene fuori un lavoro diverso dal solito, in cui l’autore evita scimmiottamenti e citazioni per fondere sentori simili ma a suo modo diversi. Il punto di contatto rimane la poetica soffice e magicamente allusiva: l’effetto ambientale permane superando immagini prevedibili, così come le strutture minimali ma evocative dove la ripetizione dei motivi e delle note crea uno stato di trance probabilmente ancor più distensivo, sebbene meno sperimentale rispetto ai grandi nomi a cui si rende tributo. La sinfonicità si fonde coi tipici rimandi orientali e antichi, come di norma nei lavori precedenti, e, laddove in passato potevamo osservare delle cartoline oniriche, ora si assiste ad una circolarità ipnotica ben inserita tra le maglie stratificate di elettronica e strumentazione. La semplicità compositiva, fatta di dilatazioni continue, sa unire temi perpetui a motivi tonali in evoluzione costante e lenta, tentando di far coincidere modernità e classicità; collimano al pari l’insistenza dell’ambient moderno, puramente descrittivo e riflessivo, con la circolarità essenziale del minimalismo, introiettato in schemi che trovano inizio e fine in sé stessi. Ancient Machines è un album di grande effetto, diverso da altri lavori di Forrest Fang, capace di sfruttare il filone che da sempre contraddistingue questo autore variandolo felicemente con uno spunto nato dalla passione per una scena musicale del passato. Confezionato nel consueto digipak a 4 pannelli dalle rifiniture scarne, in una tiratura di 300 copie, e disponibile anche in formato download. -Michele Viali

  4. padmin

    From Textura

    For his eighteenth album, Forrest Fang drew for inspiration from the early, trance-inducing minimalism of Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes and Philip Glass’s Einstein On the Beach. Don’t think, however, that Fang’s use of minimalism-styled repetition has dramatically altered the trajectory his output has followed to date: Ancient Machines is instantly recognizable as material by the Bay Area-based multi-instrumentalist, who again combines acoustic and electronic sounds into a stylistically diverse presentation spanning Eastern and Western musical traditions. While Javanese gamelan and ambient electronica are conspicuous reference points in the eleven productions, the typical piece resists simple categorization when Fang’s various influences are integrated as seamlessly as they are.

    Sweeping synthesizer-generated washes merge with the sound of acoustic instruments and percussion, Fang’s luscious, multitiered music checking classical, ambient, gamelan, and other boxes as it wends its mystical way through the recording’s seventy-plus minutes. An early standout, the three-part The Celestial Diver begins with “Winds of Betelgeuse,” a World Music-styled soundscape exercise rooted as equally in Eastern percussion as vaporous ambient. As engulfing ambient winds howl in the background, hand drums and harpsichord patterns combine to arresting effect, after which a clanging, dulcimer-like instrument offsets the otherwise serene ambiance of “Shooting Star” and “Traceries” threads intricate harpsichord patterns into a 7/8 rhythmic framework.

    Whereas the album’s gamelan dimension advances to the fore during the percussion-heavy interlude “Smoke Rings” and synths-drenched soundscape “Zone One,” the meditative effect of the ambient-electronic space music setting “The Other Earth” is bolstered by its ten-minute duration and the lulling swirl of its ethereal tones. Certainly one of the album’s prettiest and most memorable settings is “In Air, It Seems” for its peaceful, contemplation-inducing melding of piano, violin, and ambient washes.

    The title and cover imagery Fang selected for the release are in keeping with the music’s fantastical character. Given the depiction of biological organisms of some alien kind on the cover, the title could be interpreted as an allusion to the machine-like functioning of sentient life forms, human and otherwise, that’s been in place for millennia. As with all Fang releases, however, Ancient Machines holds up solidly on musical terms alone, the other aspects essentially supplemental to the experience. And, finally, one shouldn’t make too much of the aforementioned influence of Riley and Glass on the project; while subtle nods to minimalism are present, the album’s panoramic character is consistent stylistically with others preceding it in Fang’s discography.

  5. padmin

    From Stars End

    What is Forrest Fang doing for this world? With the release of Ancient Machines (73’06”) he asks us to hear what he hears. By listening to this album we take our first steps into a larger realm – a zone expressly for those desiring to encounter things outside of themselves. These new territories are reached with each of his successive efforts. The 11 luminous, graceful, self-assured tracks found on Ancient Machines seek a timeless space. Reconnecting us with life as it should be this music thrives. The most absorbing material may be compositions that feature violin or piano, which have been plucked, picked, bowed, struck or strummed. Propelled gently by tempo energy their voice and structure heaves under atmospheric weight. In a simultaneous sounding of tones a feeling of rest, of no need for further resolution is produced. Yet on some realizations clashing frequencies produce mildly moody results. A balance of opposing tensions, the connection between disparate sounds may lead us to better connect with unfamiliar ideas. In a slowing that sinks us back in time each piece is an exploitation of carefully chosen and contrasted tonal qualities. Under a building torrent of reverberating electronics this tech-tinged hybrid work seems from a primitive past, somehow beamed to the present day. With its masterful emotive shading Ancient Machines will be good for listeners, and even better for dreamers. Synthetic sonorities are combined with groupings of acoustic sounds and instruments in a specifically composed manner – and form a unity so as to convey the message of the artist. In a blend of art and technology he arranges timbres, pitches, and rhythms in a way so well that it stirs the emotions of the listener. All musical activity by Forrest Fang is the reproduction of the world that surrounds him, by means of the world that is within him – recreated in a personal form and an original manner. As for the listener, meaning is elusive… out where this music’s thousand dreams softly burn. -Chuck van Zyl

  6. Reviews Editor

    A review from Avant Music News
    Forrest Fang’s music exists in a singular space between the traditionalists (if there is such a thing) of electro-ambient music and a combination of Western and non-Western acoustically-based classical. As such, Ancient Machines – his latest in a run of 18 albums – incorporates the influences of minimalists such as Glass, Riley, and Reich, who were themselves influenced by music from multiple hemispheres.

    The album is based on floating synth washes and drones that include gamelan-infected stringed passages and/or percussion in polyrhythmic patterns and interlocking motifs. Fang also offers gentle piano-led pieces that combine with his atmospherics. A sense of optimism and hope exudes from these efforts, emotions that are perhaps more needed now that ever before in Fang’s four-decade-long career.

    Indeed, Fang’s work is very much in contrast to the dark-ambient works often discussed on these pages that have grown to evoke the menacing sounds of age-old technology and industry. His title appears not to refer to mechanical devices, but instead to the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA, proteins, and organs – that have carried out their repetitive functions for millions of years. And like those biological mechanisms, these countless iterations over time give rise to newly-evolved forms and structures.

  7. reviews editor

    A review from Exposé Online:

    Early on, which for Forrest Fang would be the 80s, much of his music was textural and minimalist, all things moving slowly through an ever-evolving listening space. Albums like Some Brighter Stars, Migration, and his first CD, The Wolf at the Ruins, all create a variety of ambient sonic fabrics over which sounds and feelings evolve, sometimes within powerful atmospherics, using all of the instruments he had at his disposal including violin, synthesizers, percussion, and numerous stringed instruments from around the world. In the liner notes to his latest release, Ancient Machines, Fang acknowledges those early sounds and influences: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley, and attempts to revisit them here, though now, thirty plus years on, the sounds are subject to his expanded imagination and equally enriched and enhanced arsenal of sound sources. Bands of sonic color and muted shades weave throughout the shimmering fabric that flows forward creating an immersive space for the listener, a meditative soundworld that changes and evolves just enough to remain interesting throughout the journey. There are eleven tracks, most primarily synth oriented to varying degrees, although some, like “Smoke Rings” are almost entirely based on bamboo percussion with some studio enhancements. “A Recursive Tale” features a bold melodic piano thread enshrouded in a fog of heavenly electronic voices that grow in strength as the piece goes forward. The three-part suite, “The Celestial Diver,” dedicated to the late minimalist composer Piero Milesi, spans almost nineteen minutes, and uses an exotic blend of massed zither, gongs, violins, percussion, and synths to open a panoramic soundworld, with what sounds like ghost voices under the surface trying to break through, while the second movement captures more serene percussive elements and features the same stringed instrument (some kind of lute) used on those early recordings, all swimming in a beautiful liquid ocean of sounds. The closing movement gets going with another familiar stringed sound that grooves along while powerful ambient electronics build slowly as the piece goes forward, adding some world percussion to add to the magic. There’s plenty more here that longtime listeners of Fang’s work will find intriguing, a deep sonic dive mixing old concepts with new.

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