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 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.