2 Midnight Rain
4 The Last Technicolor Dream
6 Receding Pool
7 A River In Retrograde
8 Left of the Sky
Limited edition of 300.
“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” – Sir Francis Bacon
Synthesist/multi-instrumentalist Forrest Fang’s mesmerizing and emotive electronic-ambience glides upon hypnotizing impressionistic floating formations. Spacemusic, world music and deep atmospheric zones combine and organically dissipate into a flow of drifting vapor trails. With a rich range of unconventional acoustic instruments, the 73-minute album is a fascinatingly filigreed multi-layered work.
Virtuoso Chinese-American sound-shaper Fang moves from the aquatic depths of his previous release, 2016’s The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, into the open sky of Following the Ether Sun. The result is a refined hybrid of Western and Eastern influences: a complex imaginary world of mysterious yet engaging melodies, textures, and rhythms.
“This release grew out of my work on ‘Sleepwalker,'” says Fang. “I developed several rhythmic ideas that I ultimately shaped into a larger sonic environment filled with ambient and ethnic touches. The sounds are both acoustic and electric, some treated, others not, but with an open-endedness I associate with the continuous sky above. In this space, the ‘ether sun’ represents a personal ideal or goal that I continuously try to attain but never quite reach. The fun is in following it and trying to harness its energy and warmth, if only for a short time.”
Besides synthesizer, violin, and an array of hand-based percussion instruments, Fang also plays uncommon stringed instruments such as the dan bau (Vietnamese one-stringed monochord), cumbus (Turkish lute), Japanese palm harp and kora (African lyre).
Forrest Fang has conjured a fantastical auditory realm which unites ever-shifting soundworlds through a distinctive global approach.
This item is out of print, and here for historical reasons.
Reviews Editor –
Forrest Fang wears many hats, but during this interview over coffee in the Mission, he’s not actually sporting any haberdashery. Instead he projects the comfortable ease of the longtime employment lawyer he is. Though not a native — he was born and raised in Southern California — he’s called the Bay Area home for over 30 years, living in North Berkeley and currently working for a firm in Hayward. Many families would be proud of someone succeeding in law, he notes with a laugh. But Fang was going against his family’s grain.
“My whole family’s in medicine,” he says. “I worked one summer in a lab with mice and it just wasn’t for me. Tried it out, didn’t like it, more power to people who can do it!” A friend from high school first turned him onto philosophy and debate; he eventually graduated from Northwestern University’s law school, and went on to become a litigator with an expertise in employment law.
But while his clients may know Fang for his day job, another set of music fans worldwide know him for something else entirely. By the time he graduated from law school in 1984, he’d already self-released two albums of avant-garde ambient music. In the ’90s, he moved on to release through the Cuneiform label; since 2000 he’s most associated with Portland’s Projekt label. His sixth album for them, Following the ether sun, was released this February. It’s his 16th album overall.
Following the ether sun is the latest example of Fang’s elegant and serene way around composition and performance. Working with electronic elements and a combination of instruments from around the world — ranging from synthesizers to such traditional music makers as the Japanese palm harp and the cumbus, or Turkish lute — Fang creates a fusion that resists the stereotype of the term. Instead of a forced marriage or the soggy middle-of-the-road character that afflicts some commercial ‘new age’ music, Fang’s work creates an enveloping flow of rich sound and understated experimentation. It doesn’t sound like one specific style, nor a mix of them all at once — but something else distinctly his own.
“The new album started,” Fang notes, “with some very unconventional ways of trying to finish something that I had started and abandoned. Once I got those pieces down, then I felt better about sensing where it would go. This may be a pre-streaming era way of thinking about things, but I still think of albums as a whole rather than individual songs. I’ll finish those songs, but it’ll always be in the frame of something larger.”
Over the course of our hour-long discussion, Fang references figures who have excited his musical imagination over the years: the still vital work of John Coltrane; the continuing explorations of legendary English guitarist Robert Fripp and Arizona synthesist Steve Roach; and another longtime local stalwart, his fellow sonic experimenter Robert Rich, with whom Fang has collaborated over the years.
Fang also gives a good deal of credit to another group of local performers when he discusses his musical development in the Bay Area: “I joined a group of Asian American musicians,” he recalls, “who were primarily into jazz — Miya Masaoka, Mark Izu, Francis Wong.” They invited him to participate in the San Francisco Gagaku Society, “a sort of a workshop Miya founded” in 1990. (Gagaku itself is an orchestral form of royal Japanese music developed over centuries, combining wind, stringed and percussive instruments in large ensembles.)
“What made it interesting to me was that we had a sensei [Master Suenobu Togi] who was originally a member of the Japanese imperial court,” recalls Fang. “He was in residence at the time at UCLA, so the bargain he struck with our group was that if we paid for his plane fare, he’d come up on the weekends and teach us! So I’d regularly go over to our small apartment practice space in Pacific Heights, at Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu’s place.”
While Fang’s legal and musical careers are both in good health, there is, of course, the question of whether the latter would be financially possible without the former. Fang admits to more than a little concern over where the Bay Area is headed when it comes to a wider civic sustainability. He only lived in San Francisco for a few years before moving to the East Bay, but like so many longtime residents, he’s seen the gradual changes that preceded the current economic reality of life in the area; he’s not entirely sanguine about the future.
“A lot of artists have gotten the short end of the stick with the push to develop the area, without a clear plan except to replace a lot of existing housing,” Fang concludes, which is “damaging for the community as a whole.”
“The arts are really a community’s backstop,” he concludes. And not to put too fine a point on it, “A lot of people draw their strength from the arts at difficult times.” -Ned Raggett
Reviews Editor –
From Ben’s Big Blog
On 2016’s The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, Forrest explored the raw power and movement of water, notably the aura that water possesses when combined with darkness. “Night Ferry” was an expression of wonderment, “Geiger” was a deep ocean dive guided by the slight tock of a hand-held navigation device, and “Lumin” was the introduction of light as a foreign concept, a gentle but unfamiliar presence after plunging such sonic depths in the first 6 songs.
It seems Forrest isn’t quite ready to let go of the importance of water. On Following The Ether Sun, he turns the Earth’s energy source into liquid, drinking deeply from the inherent warmth and finding even more experimentation and inspiration. It’s not quite as diverse as 2015’s Letters To The Farthest Star, instead, it toes the line between his atmospheric Sans Serif project, and the rambunctious elements of songs like “The Luminous Crowd”. There’s a re-introduction of piano (notably on “Midnight Rain” and the Eno-esque “Receding Pool”), and he’s dusted off the percussion section for “Hinterlands” and “A River In Retrograde”, creating a soundscape that blends exotic elements from multiple continents. “Hinterlands” especially indulges his worldly leanings. The drum machine traces an African rhythm, as Asian and Middle Eastern instruments merrily traipse away on top of it. It could be the soundtrack to any number of international adventures, and it’s probably the closest an artist has come in 2017 to representing the cover art of an album in song.
Forrest mentioned in a February 2017 interview that he’s lost two close family members recently, though mortality doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme on the record, nor is it a blatant celebration of life. It feels like the evocation of what a creative mind goes through when experiencing isolation. Forrest’s doesn’t perform live, and despite branching out with a number of collaborations (notably with Robert Rich) over his accomplished career, there’s still a sense of loneliness attached to his music. Films commonly portray solitary children or teenagers, locked in their room, using literature to live the kind of full and exciting life they aren’t able to in the real world. This is not to say Forrest is a recluse, rather that his music explores the transportive power of the human mind; the ability to be adventurous with merely a Forrest Fang CD and a decent set of headphones. All the best ambient music takes the listener on a journey, with track titles as a guide. Following The Ether Sun is a blueprint for sustaining a helpful and focused attitude when the outside world may not be conducive to it. Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reviews Editor –
From Guts of Darkness
N’entre pas dans l’univers de Forrest Fang qui veut! Un peu de curiosité et de ténacité sont nécessaires afin de découvrir quelques belles perles cachées derrière une muraille de panoramas et de décorations d’ambiances brumeuses qui enveloppent une approche tribale des plus syncrétique. Après une incursion dans les mythiques profondeurs des océans avec The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, le sculpteur d’ambiances sino-américain propose cette fois-ci un lourd voyage dans l’ADN morphique du Soleil en Following the Ether Sun. Enveloppé dans une pochette en format digipack, et dont la très belle illustration dépeint à merveille la folie, de même que la complexité des textures d’ambiances de l’album, Following the Ether Sun est aussi poétique que son inspiration, soit une citation de Sir Francis Bacon; In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present… Moulé dans un lourd velum de brume anesthésiante, “On the Edge of a Moment” peine à faire entendre ses tambours et percussions du monde qui dansent dans des lignes parfumées d’une saveur de trompette, et/ou saxophone tellement les complaintes s’allongent. Le duel entre les percussions et les intenses strates ésotériques oblige l’auditeur à ouvrir les oreilles tant la masse de son devient impressionnante. Par moments on dirait Mark Isham égaré dans une jungle luciférienne où il rencontre Steve Roach dans une finale aussi sombre que sa série Immersion. L’impact dans une salle de musique est assez intense et addictif.
La trame d’ambiances sombres reste omniprésente tout autour de Following the Ether Sun et il faut plonger afin d’y entendre de beaux moments qui resplendissent comme ces délicats carillons et cette mélodie secrète qui coule au travers les ambiguïtés méditatives de “Midnight Rain” où cliquètent des percussions aborigènes. “Chiaroscuro”, tout comme “Receding Pool” et “Left of the Sky”, sont des passages de délicatesse ambiosphériques qui cachent de tendres passages de mélodies fragmentées et aussi secrètes que dans “Midnight Rain”. J’aime bien “Chiaroscuro” qui me rapproche plus de l’univers soporifique de Steve Roach. Après cette délicatesse tissée dans les mailles atmosphériques de “Chiaroscuro”, “The Last Technicolor Dream” s’éveille dans un lit d’effets pour proposer une structure de rythme ambiant plutôt suggestif avec une belle et vicieuse ligne de basse dont les roulements gras ondulent sous une nuée de percussions et de cliquetis aborigènes. Les vents, et leurs voix absentes, encerclent cette fascinante danse qui plonge dans une courte phase d’absentéisme avant de renaître avec tous ses charmes. Un très beau titre perdu dans un univers qui saura charmer les oreilles hasardeuses et insistantes. “Hinterlands” est un peu dans le même genre, mais avec plus de luminosité et de parfums asiatiques dans le mouvement, notamment avec la Kushtar, la harpe Japonaise et les violons chinois. L’introduction de “A River in Retrograde” épouse la lenteur de “Receding Pool” mais avec plus de luminosité dans les ambiances. Un rythme ambiant aussi intense mais moins festif que “The Last Technicolor Dream” infiltre nos oreilles après la porte des 3 minutes. Tribales et exotiques, les percussions sont le lit de charmes de ce titre où rayonnent des lignes de synthé qui flottent comme des nuages multicolores. “Left of the Sky” conclût ce dernier épisode musical de Forrest Fang avec une symphonie de brises et de vents creux dont les lentes harmonies convergent vers une intense phase méditative. Une musique de documentaire sur la sécheresse des océans ne serait pas plus appropriée qu’ici où se perdent des fragments de percussions sur un univers aride. Les oreilles curieuses seront comblées par cette diversité sonique, la liste des instruments utilisés par Forrest Fang est aussi impressionnante que le résultat en musique, de Following the Ether Sun. Influencé par les ambiances et les rythmes tranquilles de Steve Roach et Robert Rich, Forrest Fang pousse sa réflexion encore plus loin en proposant de fascinantes mélodies secrètes et des rythmes de feux qui forgent l’envers de ce décor sonique absolument féérique de Following the Ether Sun. De loin l’album par lequel il faut attaquer pour se laisser charmer par l’univers unique de Forrest Fang. Encore là, un peu de curiosité et d’ouverture sont nécessaire mais la musique est plus facilitante à sa découverte.
Reviews Editor –
The thing that differentiates Forrest Fang’s music from all the other ambient guys is his extensive use of acoustic instruments. This has always been the case, at least going all the way back to the early 80s, and his list of instruments – mostly unusual stuff from around the world – seems to grow with each new release. Assuming that CD labeling is a little like food labeling, the synthesizer is always at or near the top of the list, keyboards, violin, and mandolin are always there too, but then a easily dozen or more ethnic instruments from Africa, Asia, and South America make up the balance, all added to the magic stew as needed and heavily processed to give the desired, and unique results, that are his recognizable his own.
The eight pieces presented here range from around five minutes to album side length, and give a listener a whole new world to get lost within. The shimmering textures that the listener is thoroughly immersed in seem to be created via walls of processed acoustic sounds with synthesizers supporting, with or without percussion, and then the melody instruments will emerge out of this fog, first subtly and then boldly, and carry each piece forward. At certain points the textures may subside and expose the melodic content to a greater degree, as a way of achieving a more powerful dynamic. Melodies within the mist tend to be repetitive, minimalist, and somewhat cyclical in nature, as each of the pieces proceed, garnering a strong and evident emotional content that is at once fresh, pervasive and dreamlike, much like a weightless walk through an limitless garden. All of these elements coalesce and commingle on all the pieces herein, but probably none more powerfully than “The Last Technicolor Dream,” where pristine and colorful melodies, almost sounding like the voices of angels, emerge out of a dark sonic miasma, with percussion soon to follow. Special note must be made of the adorning cover image by artist Kinga Britschgi, which fits the music perfectly, and packages this collection that was well over a year in the making. -Peter Thelen
Reviews Editor –
From Synth & Sequences
Another strong opus which blends the dark sides of Roach and Rich in a fascinating duel between Asian moods and world percussions.
A little of curiosity and tenacity are necessary to discover some beautiful pearls hidden behind a wall of soundscapes and of decorations of foggy atmospheres which wrap a tribal approach of the most syncretic. After an incursion in the mythical depths of the oceans with The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, the Sino-American sculptor of atmospheres proposes this time a heavy journey in the morphic DNA of the sun in Following the Ether Sun. Wrapped in a digipack size artwork, and the very beautiful illustration of which depicts marvelously the madness, as well as the complexity of the textures of atmospheres of the album, Following the Ether Sun is also poetic as its inspiration, either a quotation of Sir Francis Bacon; In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.
Molded in a heavy curtain of anesthetic mist, “On the Edge of a Moment” has difficulty in making its drums and world percussions heard which dance in synth lines perfumed of a flavor of trumpet, and/or saxophone so much the laments stretch out. The duel between the percussions and the intense esoteric strata obliges the listener to open his ears so much the mass of sound becomes impressive. At times one would say Mark Isham lost in a luciferin jungle where he meets Steve Roach in one finale as dark as his Immersion Series. The impact in a music room is rather intense and addicting.
The framework of dark moods remains omnipresent all around Following the Ether Sun, and it’s necessary to dive in order to hear those good moments here and there which glitter. Like these delicate carillons and this secret melody which pours throughout the meditative ambiguities of “Midnight Rain” where clink some fascinating aboriginal percussions. “Chiaroscuro”, just like “Receding Pool” and “Left of the Sky”, are passages of ambiospherical delicacy which hide soft passages of split up melodies and as so secret as in “Midnight Rain”. I like “Chiaroscuro” which gets closer for me of the Steve Roach’s soporific universe. After this delicacy weaved in the atmospheric stitches of “Chiaroscuro”, “The Last Technicolor Dream” wakes up in a bed of effects to propose a structure of rather suggestive ambient rhythm with a beautiful and vicious bass line of which the fat undulations are rippling below a thick cloud of percussions and of aboriginal jingles. Winds, and their absent voices, surround this fascinating dance which dives into a short phase of absenteeism before being reborn with all of its charms. A very beautiful title lost in a universe which will know how to charm the risky and insistent ears.
“Hinterlands” is a little bit in the same style, but with more luminosity and more Asian flavors in the movement, in particular with the Kushtar, the Japanese harp and the Chinese violins. The introduction of “A River in Retrograde” espouses the slowness of “Receding Pool” but with more luminosity in the ambiences. An ambient rhythm, as intense but less festive than “The Last Technicolor Dream”, infiltrates our ears after the door of 3 minutes. Tribal and exotic, the percussions are the bed of charms of this title where shine lines of synth which float such as multicolored clouds. “Left of the Sky” ends this last musical episode of Forrest Fang with a symphony of breezes and hollow winds of which the slow harmonies converge on an intense meditative phase. A documentary music on the drought of the oceans would not be more suited than here where get lost fragments of percussions over an arid universe.
The curious ears will be filled and pleased by this sound diversity, the list of instruments used by Forrest Fang is as much impressive as the music result, of Following the Ether Sun. Influenced by the ambiences and the quiet rhythms of Steve Roach and Robert Rich, Forrest Fang pushes his reflexion even farther by proposing some fascinating secret melodies and rhythms of fires which forge this absolutely magic sound decoration of Following the Ether Sun. By far the album by which it’s necessary to attack in order to be charmed by Forrest Fang’s unique universe. Still there, a little of curiosity and opening are necessary but the music is more facilitating to its discovery. -Sylvain Lupari (February 25th, 2017)
Reviews Editor –
From Everyday Ambient
The album opens with soft, swirling synths, plucked strings, and soft percussion. Low beats enter and violin comes into the mix until we have busy, dense layers of sound. The second track follows seamlessly and features some shimmering melodies and nice electronic sequences. From there, the third track has gliding, melodic synths, some twinkling bits, and a drone in the background. As it evolves I hear touches of water-like sounds, some plucked strings, and a general feeling of peacefulness.
Track four is a turning point for the album. Halfway through it becomes heavily percussion and groove-driven, which is not a bad thing. I find myself further engaged with the album at this point. The fifth track changes moods to a slow violin melody and some exotic instruments that are difficult to pin down. There is a highly emotional feel to this track that I enjoy.
The next track has some warm synth tones and rich melodies. I do drift off a bit here until the seventh track comes in with a piece of synth ambience that gives way to a string-based rhythm and some strong percussion. The final track seems to strip back the acoustic instrumentation and rhythms for pure ambience. There are some soft synths, miniature melodies, and bell-like tones on this track. The album closes out by pushing the melodies to the background and giving way to careful, pulsating textures.
This is a very fine album that I enjoy greatly. It is too early to say if it tops Forrest’s phenomenal album from last year, The Sleepwalker’s Ocean. The feeling of this album is distinct from that one and may be more immediately accessible to some listeners due to the shorter length. If you enjoy adventurous, ambient-leaning music with a wide variety of instrumentation you should find much to appreciate here.
Reviews Editor –
From Sonic Immersion
Besides synthesizer, violin and an assortment of hand-based percussion instruments, Chinese-American sound-sculptor Forrest Fang also plays some far lesser known and uncommon stringed instruments on Following the Ether Sun, once more blending a refined hybrid of Western and Eastern influences.
This time around though (and contrary to his previous recording The Sleepwalker’s Ocean) the listener is invited to travel upwards into the grand, infinite spaces of the skies above through an intriguing imaginary world of mysterious yet engaging melodic lines, ethereal textures and compelling rhythms.
Moreover, the sound pallet of the eight tracks incorporates the organic (“The Last Technicolor Dream”, “Hinterlands”) and fluid-cosmic (“Midnight Rain”, “Chiaroscuro”, “Receding Pool”), staying true to the infectious electronic/acoustic formulae with progressive, ethnic, folk and classical influences known from Fang’s other works addressing the fantastic with warm, enthralling and ever-shifting worlds of sound.
It curls up in a most mesmerizing fashion on “A River in Retrogade” and the epic 17-minute “Left of the Sky”. Especially on the latter piece things are in slow transformation while the continuous sky dissolves in liquid form. -Bert Strolenberg
Reviews Editor –
From Sequenzer Welten
Um eines vorweg zu nehmen : Die Following The Ether Sun sollte sich wirklich jeder EM-Hörer zulegen …. warum? Sie ist schlicht und einfach klasse! Dieses gute Gefühl hatte ich schon nach wenigen Minuten, denn diese schönen Ambientklänge mit fernöstlichen Instrumenten nehmen den Hörer mit auf eine fantastische Reise. Und diese Reise geht nicht nur ins Gehör, sondern erreicht, wie auch die The Sleepwalker´s Ocean, die eigene Fantasie! Hier sind so viele, feine Klänge zu hören, da wird automatisch die Konzentration sensibilisiert – da möchte man einfach alles aufsaugen und bloß nichts versäumen 🙂
Es ist immer wieder schön, wenn dem Hörer die Musik so sehr erreicht und man den Wunsch hat, das es noch stundenlang so weitergehen möchte. Diese Art von elektronischer Musik, mit einem hohen Anteil an ethischen Elementen und fernöstlichen Kulturen, ist schon etwas besonderes. Mit dieser Musik hat Forrest Fang einen großen Beitrag dazu geleistet, dass es doch immer wieder spannend wird, was neues zu hören!
Wirklich tolle Arbeit! -Uwe Sasse
Reviews Editor –
A review from Italy’s Rockerilla Magazine
<---- Click the small image over there to read the review.