1 Gone To Ground
2 Message In The Sand
3 – 8 The Sleepwalker’s Ocean
iii. Night Ferry
10 Not Forgotten
1 An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea)
Limited second edition of 300
“Fang distinguishes himself from his contemporaries… with a rich instrumental presentation and by integrating into his work elements associated with gamelan music and other Eastern musical forms.” – textura
Forrest Fang – synthesizer, keyboards, violin, Marxolin, electric guitar, electric mandolin, saron, lavta, càntaro, treatments, Virtual ANS
Robert Rich – flutes on “Message In The Sand”
Forrest Fang’s 2015 The Sleepwalker’s Ocean was his first 2CD studio album. It’s a hypnotic deep-ambient exploration of the fantastical and elusive realm of the subconscious. Fang gave free reign to his intuitive and instinctual side allowing the sonic landscape to drift into his interior world of elusive and impressionistic thoughts and images.
“To me,” Fang says, “the ocean is not only a symbol of emptiness and space, but also one of unknown depth and mystery. It is much like a dream that seems so real and vast yet is formless because it originates in the mind. For this release, I took a more open-ended approach, allowing in more spontaneous sonic ‘accidents’ and textures, especially on my first long-form piece, ‘An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea).’ The layered soundscape of my ‘ocean,’ populated with these accidental characters, ebbs and flows in a vast imaginary sonambulent space.”
While Fang embraces the American minimalists and the ambient soundscapes of his contemporaries, he also draws on the gentle percussive textures of Javanese gamelan and on pentatonic scales used in traditional Asian music. Besides using violin, electric mandolin, electric guitar, keyboards and various textural treatments to create complex layers of sound, Fang also plays lesser-known instruments such as Marxolin, saron (Javanese gamelan), and lavta (Turkish lute). Robert Rich contributes his otherworldly flutes to “Message In The Sand” and mastered the release.
The album opens with “Gone To Ground,” a spacey, multi-layered electronic track that combines tape-delayed violins and lavta with an unfurling ostinato of interlocking synthesizer parts. The second track, “Message In The Sand,” emerges from a relaxed ambient bed of sustained keyboards and electric guitar to form a cross-cultural rhythmic gumbo of saron (Javanese gamelan), bamboo flutes and cántaro (Mexican clay pot). Next is the album’s centerpiece, “The Sleepwalker’s Ocean,” a six-part ambient suite which travels from primal intensity to radiant placidity—moving through rain clouds, a thickened bog, a nocturnal ferry and a luminescent band of light. In this universe, a gamelan shares space with the familiar sounds of a mellotron, and a virtual Geiger counter shares space with an angelic organ. The first disc concludes with the contemplative and bell-like soundscapes of “Driftwood” and “Not Forgotten.”
The album continues on the second disc with a single long-form electronic track, “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea).” This 54-minute piece offers an alternative view of the imaginary ocean suggested in the title track. The “ocean” is more sustained and celestial than its cousin with an inward focus and a hint of Asian influence that brings the album to a state of quiet repose. For Fang, this extended piece “gave me the chance to realize my virtual world on a larger and more organic scale.”
Artwork by Kinga Britschgi, kingabrit.wix.com/kinga
First edition: January 22 2016, limited edition of 300
Second Edition: June 4 2021, limited edition of 300
Richard Gurtler –
Review also posted on ello.co | The Sleepwalker’s Ocean double album is the latest offering by Forrest Fang, a Chinese-American virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, who undoubtedly belongs to the most unique electro-acoustic innovators constantly perfuming his sonic sculptures with fascinatingly piquant and exquisitely filigreed Middle and Far East insignias and masterfully amalgamating them with Western-charged atmozones. His two previous albums Animism (June 2012) and Letters To The Farthest Star (March 2015) are perfect examples of such soundsculpting bravura, but these words can be easily applied to Forrest Fang’s complete discography counting around 13 solo albums, one collaboration with Carl Weingarten and additional two recordings released under his Sans Serif moniker. The Sleepwalker’s Ocean is out since January 2016 on Projekt in limited edition of 300 copies, packaged in a 4-panel eco wallet featuring stunningly gorgeous images by Kinga Britschgi, in Idaho based visual artist. Additional credits go to kindred Bay Area resident Robert Rich for his mastering wizardry, while Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal is responsible for additional design work.
Utilizing not only traditional instruments like synths, violin or electric guitar, but also a line-up of richly fragranced instruments such as Marxolin (bowed psaltry), electric mandolin, saron (gamelan instrument), lavta (plucked string instrument) or càntaro (clay pot), this uniquely transporting journey unfolds with 8 and a half minutes long composition “Gone To Ground”. A thrillingly exotic palette of magnificently weeping and mesmerically tinkling strings is precisely coalesced with soothingly embracing blankets hanging above. A truly nectarous listening experience, Forrest Fang is back at the very top of his extraordinary musicianship!!! “Message In The Sand”, only at few seconds longer than its predecessor, moves through more enigmatic terrains at the beginning, but then the scenario is again stolen by euphoric rhythms, where glitteringly ear-tickling gamelan signatures meticulously commingle with delicately hypnotic tribal drumming. This aural splendor is permeated by Robert Rich’s intangibly serpentine flute patterns. Another utterly immersing ride!!! Then follows the main theme, “The Sleepwalker’s Ocean”, which is divided into 6 parts and clocks over 33 minutes. The first “Cloudburst” glides into warmly expansive horizons counterpointed with glimpses of distant rumbles and delightfully airy gossamer clinks. “Bog” dives with its perplexingly serpentine drone alchemy deeply into intriguingly subterranean Eden. “Night Ferry” inconspicuously sneaks in, where emerging serenity soon transforms into spellbindingly shimmering vaporous ripples contrasted by titillating stringed meridians. “Geiger” spreads the wings and glides towards gracefully immense panoramas, persistently propelled by diaphanously pulsing subtleties, while clandestinely permeated by ethereal biotic traceries. What a beauty!!! “Lumin” is slightly lighter in its drifting intensity, yet still keeping safely on strikingly amorphous path. Shorter “Waywards”, the last part of “The Sleepwalker’s Ocean”, reveals with lyrical piano with additional, lushly poetic embroideries, all guarded by balmily engrossing sheets reinforced here and there by calmly sinuating chiming ephemerons. 7-minute “Driftwood” is ignited by intensely expansive drones, which are instantly illuminated by subtle gamelan contemplations. “Not Forgotten” is driven by voluminously monochromatic stratum, imbued by shimmeringly tinkling undercurrents and masterfully reinforced by awe-inspiring panoptic magnitudes with stirringly mind-bending vertexes. An epic, 11 minutes long conclusion of the first disc, bravo, Forrest!!!
The second CD features “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea)”, a long-form piece clocking over 54 minutes. It emerges with gorgeously sonorous driftscape, gliding, rising and ebbing with multidimensional grandness through jaw-droppingly immense horizons. Monochromatic magmas, solitary organic glimpses, nebulously rumbling fragments, evanescing quietudes, intriguing transitions, surreptitious crescendos, ear-piercing climaxes, transcendental ecstasy…, it’s an all-inclusive drone amalgamate at its most transporting and presenting Forrest Fang at the peak of his dronescaping trickeries!!! I won’t hide it, this composition is certainly one of those phenomenally immersing, intensely enrapturing and mercurially chameleonic long-form zones. A true eargasm!!! Bravo, Maestro!!!
The Sleepwalker’s Ocean double album meticulously showcases a gamut of distinguishably infused signatures of its sole protagonist, not only his infinite virtuosity in sculpting richly blossoming sonic perfumes, but also unlocking the gates to the deepest realms of enigmatically-driven droneforging. The Sleepwalker’s Ocean is another tour de force recording by Forrest Fang and due to its ambitious magnitude, a truly triumphant accomplishment!!! So I am not surprised the 2CD is already sold out at Projekt’s webstore, but I believe there still might be available some copies through other sources. And who knows, maybe Sam will consider in the future a possible re-print of this milestone. And by the way, Forrest Fang is now working on his newest album, so definitely stay tuned!!! -Richard Gürtler (Sep 11, 2016, Bratislava, Slovakia)
Reviews Editor –
From Star’s End
Few musicians reach as high as Forrest Fang does. Our restless traveler presents the double CD The Sleepwalker’s Ocean – his exercise in imaginative and formal invention. Fang’s charismatic musical vision is arrived at through the accumulation of experiences and encounters with an intriguing range of acoustic and electronic instruments. The Sleepwalker’s Ocean portrays the unifying effect of these multiple influences. An intriguing sonic palette helps make it as stimulating to the ear as it is to the mind. Each track uniquely glows with a self-generated light, and easily activates our mental mechanics. The audible carrier of contemplative messages, this compositional style originates from a more intuitive and personal process.
As time withdraws the music unfurls like a gorgeous dream. Fang’s impressionistic work is multi-layered, beautiful and serene, and encourages non-conscious thought. Alternately, the power pieces rouse the listener into Fang’s own dream of percussion and patterns – as he plays to the front edge of the listener’s senses. Beyond these sections our sense of time seems to stretch. Beneath cavernous reverberations, ghostly traces of sound writhe in shadowland interludes. The second disc in this set presents a work composed in an expanded minimalistic style. The continuously lulling long-form piece gently drifts through more Ambient realms. This quieter, sustaining experiment takes its time developing its idea, an interesting contrast to disc one’s title track – which creates something greater than the sum of its six connected tracks. The effect is impressive. In a great structure of thought Forrest Fang has conjured an idealized world of sound where Spacemusic, World Music, New Age and the Avant-Garde all share a common spirit, and sound connects everything. -Chuck van Zyl
Reviews Editor –
Interview with Radically!
Your new double album “The Sleepwalker’s Ocean” deals with many symbols, especially the ocean. What is water to you? Doesn’t it seem sometimes that (as we’re all from water) we are a water civilization, water people with water religion deep inside? What inspired you to create the album?
The “ocean” of my album is an impressionistic one in which I rely more heavily on intuition in making music. Sometimes my pieces are more deliberately structured. For this project, I tried to let the sounds I was creating through improvisation shape the album, rather than relying on a particular compositional structure or form. More generally, I think of water as a representation of life or as a life force. I know that water can be an important part of religious practices, as in India.
You worked with a plethora of artists over the years. What collaborations were/are the most interesting and important to you and why?
I tend to work solo, though I occasionally collaborate with other musicians and have worked with performing artists in the theater. In some of the collaborations, I’ve shared the work equally, while in others, I play more of supporting role. The collaborations I have found most interesting and meaningful have been those with my gu-zheng teacher, Zhang Yan, and with my friends Robert Rich and Carl Weingarten. Years ago, I performed with my teacher and she helped me with arrangements of several of my pieces for her ensemble. Yan also played zheng on two of my albums. I recorded an album with Carl (“Invisibility”) and Robert and I have performed on each other’s albums. My work with each of them has special importance to me as it is an extension of our friendship.
What are the main ideas are behind your music? Could you name your favorite compositions / albums / collaborations? Ideas that came to mind?
I see my music as an ongoing experiment using the studio as an instrument, much like Brian Eno has described his musical process. I like to layer ambient textures and tonal colors, with both real and imagined instruments weaving in and out of my pieces. When I started releasing albums in the early 1980s, I was inspired by the American minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley and 70s progressive rock. Over the years I have become increasing interested in and influenced by traditional Asian musics, including Chinese classical music, Japanese Gagaku, and Indonesian gamelan.
Probably my favorites of the albums I’ve recorded are “The Blind Messenger” and “Gongland,” because they were both departures from what I had been doing before. John Cage proved that there’s no silence. Also, the sound is magic. But, what ends, when there‘s no sound? I think there will always be sound. Whether there will always be a sentient being to hear or perceive the sound is another question!
What is and what is not a sound art?
I think that any combination of sounds formed or shaped by human intervention can be sound art. But there are also internal standards each of us apply to that “Art” that drive our preferences.
What do you think about relations between the old art and computer art? Are they compatible?
Yes, the “old” art and computer art are compatible, but the internal standards we use for each may be different. This reminds me of debates during the 70s about whether electronic music was any less legitimate than acoustic music. Why is it necessary to choose one when you can have both?
What do You think about thousands of neofolk/industrial/ambient/tribal/electroacoustic/avangarde etc. bands/projects? Is it a kind of trend, or just a tendency towards better music?
It’s great to see so many independent musicians participating in the scene these days, especially in the ambient and experimental genres. The downside is that there’s almost too much to hear, including material that might have been better left on the cutting room floor. But every period has great and no-so-great music, so I wouldn’t say the music is necessarily getting better or worse.
What do you know about Lithuania? What Lithuanian and foreign musicians do you value most?
I know Lithuania is a Baltic State, but I have not been there before. A long time ago, I heard an interesting compilation of Lithuanian ambient musicians on the Surfaces netlabel. I found that release through archive.org. I probably haven’t heard enough Lithuanian music to have favorites from there. If by “foreign” you mean non-Western, some of my favorite non-Western musicians are Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Japanese composer Yamashiro Shoji and Malian Kora player Toumani Diabate.
You are a multiinstrumentalist. What do you think about field recordings?
I generally don’t use field recordings in my own pieces, though I’ve enjoyed hearing the work of others who have done this. Eric La Casa, Simon Fisher Turner, Fred Frith, Kit Watkins, Alio Die and Robert Rich come to mind.
Reviews Editor –
In past reviews of Forrest Fang’s work, I often focused on the range of ethnic instruments in the mix and the signature cross-cultural vibe they bring to the music. But for
The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, Fang’s first-ever 2-CD release, all my focus is on the overarching sense of dreamy calm, the way lightly rhythmic lines melt into graceful ambient waves that carry me off, and the welcome invitation Fang extends to do nothing but drift and listen for two hours. “Gone to Ground” opens the disc by coming toward us like dawn through a misty fog. Then a deep, reverberating note of mallet-struck strings signals a change in tone. It’s sudden and surprising, but but not unpleasantly jarring. That dulcimer-like tone then slips back under a thick wash to become points of brightness. If you are familiar with Fang’s work, it probably goes without saying that the layers on this album run very deep and complex, so do get in for a close listen. On “Message in the Sand,” Fang gets an assist from Robert Rich on flute. This track picks up the rich chime tones that work through a lot of Fang’s music. It’s the sound that first turned me on to him on Gongland. This is a catchy, percussion-nudged ambient groove with a softly serpentine Eastern flair. Rich’s flutes course in like a vocal, airy and ghostly. From there we enter into the first disc’s opus, the six-part title track. Covering just over half an hour, it opens by putting us back into a cloud-soft space of deep pads and flecks of electronic twinkle. Each piece shows its own distinct face, from the eerie airs and dark-ambient density of “Bog” to the calm washes and telltale clicks of “Geiger.” The shining, energetic open of the final part, “Waywards,” is a fantastic wake-up call to a mind gone wandering.
The second disc, “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea),” is genuinely magnificent. A single piece of classic ambient running nearly an hour, it is blissfully and completely immersive, a slow-moving dream made of soft sound. Fluidly dynamic, its rises in intensity and subsequent moments where it settles back down into breath-slowing ease come naturally and organically. The ride is uninterrupted even as it morphs through subtle changes. Let your mind’s eye take its time describing these vistas. Put this on repeat and let it go.
I would tell you that this is Forrest Fang at his absolute best, but having listened to him over the years, I feel that this is just the next amazing waypoint in a career that somehow manages to get better with every new release. Perhaps there is no apex for Forrest Fang; he just continues to find new ways to enthrall his listeners.
The Sleepwalker’s Oceanis destined to be a landmark ambient recording.
Reviews Editor –
From Ambient Blog
A 2-CD (over 2 hours) ‘exploration of the fantastical and elusive realm of the subconscious’. Most of the first CD is taken up by the six-part ambient suite that gave the album its name. It is completed with another four tracks. The entire second CD is filled with the 54 minute track An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea) – an ‘alternative view of the imaginary ocean suggested in the title track’.
Compared to most contemporary ambient music, which is often ‘arctic’ and ‘desolate’, the music on this album has the atmosphere of a fantasy world, as pictured on the cover. “While Fang embraces the American minimalists and the ambient soundscapes of his contemporaries, he also draws on the gentle percussive textures of Javanese gamelan and on pentatonic scales used in traditional Asian music. Besides using violin, electric mandolin, electric guitar, keyboards and various textural treatments to create complex layers of sound, Fang also plays lesser-known instruments such as marxolin, saron (Javanese gamelan), and lavta (Turkish lute).”
All of the music is performed by Chinese American composer Forrest Fang, with a guest performance by Robert Rich playing flute on one track. Rich also mastered the release. -Peter van Cooten
Reviews Editor –
Seems like just yesterday I was listening to, and writing a review of, Forrest Fang’s previous release, Letters from the Farthest Star. Not complaining at all, I enjoy his music and every new release has something new and engaging for the listener, somewhere he hasn’t been before. Unlike so many ambient artists whose stock in trade revolves around synthesizers and electronically treated guitars (and no less to them, every artist uses whatever tools are available and those that are most comfortable to them), Fang’s works employ an array of both electronic and acoustic instrumentation, and such has been the case going back to near the beginning. Here, keyboards and synthesizers mix it up with electric mandolin and guitars, lavta (Turkish lute), violin, flutes, Mexican clay pot (Cantaro), Javanese gamelan, miscellaneous mysterious percussive sounds, sampled voices, and the obscure Marxolin (a 16-string bowed instrument with strings of varying length, perhaps a distant cousin of the autoharp). The opening track on disc one, “Gone to Ground,” sets the scene over the course of around eight minutes, but it’s the second cut, “Message to the Sand,” that introduces many of the acoustic instruments, flutes (by special guest Robert Rich) and gamelan sounds, many heavily processed providing an evaporative wall of sound effect, over which the more defined instrumentation paints rhythms and coloration, all swimming in a vast and mysterious ocean. Often Fang’s music finds a melodic phrase or sonic event that lends itself to repetition, and that brings us to the six-part 33+ minute title track, which evolves over six distinct parts. Each section introduces an idea that comes forth amid a muted dreamlike fantasia, morphing slowly as it moves forward, crossing through a portal into the next section; it’s a piece that the listener can truly get lost within. The “Night Ferry” section in particular is a vivid and haunting melodic dreamlike sequence that moves forward slowly against a muted twilight backdrop. “Waywards,” the title track’s final section, with its criss-crossing melodic patterns, hints of the minimalist composers who are no doubt a big influence on much of Fang’s body of work. “Driftwood” blossoms forward with mysterious muted percussives overlaid on a wash of organically processed acoustic sounds, while “Not Forgotten” closes the first disc with what seem to be the sounds of Tibetan bowls, gongs, and bells, disguised deeply within a cloak of mystery.
Disc two presents a single long-form 54-minute piece titled “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea),” a highly introspective slower-morphing companion to the work found in the title track and other parts of disc one; it breathes and ebbs with vast celestial significance, marked by slow motion on a vast cosmic scale. An alternate ocean indeed. The effect of the two discs together represent a powerful force that moves the listener gently into subconscious realms. -Peter Thelen
Reviews Editor –
From Sonic Immersion
With his double album The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, that received some beautiful cover art, US-musician Forrest Fang has delivered a most mesmerizing and emotive ambient recording with hypnotizing minimalist elements. Compared to the works of Loren Nerell, Mr. Fang’s implementation and use of Indonesian acoustic instruments and the realm of gamelan music is a little less prominent.
Forrest’s sonic approach is more subtle alongside the expert layering of lush, dreamy and deep atmospheric textures. Focused and repeated listening reveals there’s a lot happening in this encompassing, complex and sometimes melancholic-flavored journey of accessible soundscapes that all wander into imaginary, pastel-colored and soft glowing dimensions fluidly. Forrest has outdone himself on several levels.
“An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea)”, a smooth and continuous 54-minute textural dwelling with quite an ethereal appeal and an added vintage touch in a later stage, fills the second cd. This drifter extends beautifully on the strong aural path sketched out previously.
If you like to hear some impressive, in-depth and well-made ambient, simply turn to The Sleepwalker’s Ocean. -Bert Strolenberg
Reviews Editor –
Forrest Fang’s Letters To The Farthest Star impressed mightily upon its 2015 release for a number of reasons, the strength of its compositional writing for one and perhaps even more the distinctiveness of its sonic presentation. Fang’s a master of many instruments, and the album’s “World Music” presentation was elevated considerably by the presence of violin, guitar, Japanese palm harp, hichiriki, gu-zheng, cumbus, baglama, and bandurria.
As the arrival of The Sleepwalker’s Ocean makes clear, Fang has wasted little time in crafting a follow-up to that special 2015 collection, and even more surprisingly the follow-up is not a single- but rather a double-CD set (123 minutes, to be exact). The range of instrumentation is as rich on the new recording as on its predecessor, with Fang this time credited with violin, electric mandolin, electric guitar, keyboards, Marxolin, saron (Javanese gamelan), lavta (Turkish lute), and càntaro (Mexican clay pot). Being a two-CD release, the project afforded Fang the opportunity to expand on the sound character of the 2015 release, and consequently one can hear the first disc as a continuation of Letters To The Farthest Star‘s approach and the second as a deep plunge into ambient soundscaping.
In the track that’s closest in spirit to Letters To The Farthest Star, “Gone to Ground” opens the recording strongly with graceful flourishes of tape-delayed violins rising alongside electronic washes and reverberating lavta plucks. There’s a pronounced dream-like character to the setting, to be sure, yet Fang also individualizes the track’s lulling flow in according prominence to the violin and lavta. A pronounced Javanese gamelan flavour emerges during the subsequent “Message in the Sand” when a saron-and-cántaro combination complements Robert Rich’s bamboo flute textures with a forceful rhythmic thrust.
Though the second disc symbolizes Fang’s fullest plunge into ambient waters, a number of tracks on the first disc explore ambient territory, too. While the six-part title track, for example, does, in keeping with the differentiating characters of its individual sections, travel down a number of different paths, it nevertheless registers as a powerfully evocative ambient suite. It’s anything but one-dimensional, however, and this luminescent exploration of the interior world associated with sleep states ranges between encounters with fog, mist, nocturnal travel, and Geiger activity.
The first disc also closes with two ambient settings, the becalmed “Driftwood” and “Not Forgotten,” a strategic move in that it provides a smooth segue into Fang’s first long-form piece, “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea).” If anything, the fifty-four-minute colossus ups the ante as far as ambient sound design is concerned, with Fang presenting the piece as an extended mass of multi-layered vapour trails that seems more celestial than aquatic (that it does so reminds us that we’re not dealing with a literal realm so much as an imaginary, virtual one). Similar to the titular suite, “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea)” isn’t static; to cite one example, clarion mellotron-like figures push to the forefront of the ethereal mass near the halfway mark to temporarily turn the material into a synthesizer-heavy prog epic.
On both Letters To The Farthest Star and The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, Fang distinguishes himself from his contemporaries by individuating the more generic character of his ambient material with a rich instrumental presentation and by integrating into his work elements associated with gamelan music and other Eastern musical forms. In a perfect world, the new recording would feature a greater amount of violin playing than has been included, but that’s about the only thing about it I’d prefer otherwise.