I had a series going of netlabel album highlights (not just lists), which I got sidetracked from. See my Lucette Bourdin, Altus, VACVVM, Phillip Wilkerson and Saffron Slumber pieces. Well, as the Governator says, “I’m back.”
Darren Harper is an ambient sound artist from Colorado. A bio I came across says “He has been a musician for twenty years, originally in the realms of punk and esoteric space-rock jams.” Which makes him pretty similar to me, if you replace punk with “seventies-style boogie-woogie” (ahem). He is “obsessed with electronic music”. Why, so am I! It’s no mystery then, as to why I would be attracted to his sonic adventures.
He continues to record and release, but I’m woefully behind on his work. But the nice thing about writing this stuff is that netlabel albums can get lost in the mists of time due to the massive amounts of content being chucked up on the net every day. Just because they’ve been out for a while doesn’t mean that they’re not as good as they were when fresh, or as good as that obscure Italian progressive rock album from 1972 I’ve been meaning to review one of these days. Allow me to introduce you to some recordings you should have. They were mainly released on the Earth Mantra netlabel (now archived, thankfully). I intend to catch up on Mr. Harper’s work when I get a chance.
Harper is not an easily pigeonholed ambient artist, since his style encompasses drone pretty and ominous but also some more experimental, less “melodic” (and I use the term loosely) and more challenging material. Each album, though, is a seamless listening experience that sits right up there with the very best the genre has to offer. Contemplative without being too somnolent, beautiful without being cloying — it’s evident Harper is a very spiritual being. In my ambient alternate universe, he has gone platinum and has all the sexy ambient groupies his heart could desire. And a laser light show. He’s that good.
Here’s a selection of his albums for you to discover and enjoy. Click on the album title for the goodness.
Time Forgotten is a very special release of four really lovely drone pieces. The closest approximation I can come for the first track, “The Path Home”, is the work of Thom Brennan – while it’s not as busy with the electronics as Brennan’s work, there’s the same mood of peaceful contemplation to be found in this music. There’s a misty haze over the sounds, which range from eerily beautiful to a little dark and mournful, but always with that gently reflective air. The eighteen-minute “The Long Goodnight” is excellent for bouts of meditation or just for staring out at the rain. This album is a genuine ambient classic.
This album is a bit more varied than some of Harper’s other releases, seven tracks exploring different moods. The opener, “Tones”, is almost cheery for Harper, light and airy. “Approach” returns to darker ambient territory and “Drifting Leaves” is downright experimental, more like Matt Borghi’s sound art than pure drone ambient. Things get prettier again on “Found” before the twenty-minute “Always Changing; Forever the Same” takes us on a mental journey of shifting, undulating guitar tones. Another awesome release.
I’m cheating, since I did a nice paragraph on this album here. Go read it.
This is a darker album, with the distant, chiming piano-y sounds of “Distant Desire” and the cavernous dark ambient droning of “White”, “Waves” and the even darker “Particulate”. As per the cover art, there’s a distinctly autumnal mood to the proceedings, the slow decay of fallen leaves and the smell of earth and coming snow. Descent effectively blurs the lines between dark ambient and sound art.
Harper branches out on this one, using guitar, synthesizer, chimes, Tibetan singing bowls, kalimba and field recordings as his sound sources, which takes him more into the territory explored by 12k artists. He proves as expert at this as everything else he tries. The bell-like tones of “Crystal Ships” are delightful. “Moments With Moon” resembles his other darker drone work. “Softly” is one of the moodiest pieces he’s done, a subtle, melancholy drone. And the delicate beauty of “Will My Memories of You Hold True?” fits with any playlist of classic ambient peace.
Frequent Sync – Coalesce
Frequent Sync is a collaboration with fellow ambient artist Jacob Newman. This album is dark ambient that would be a nice soundtrack to the opening of one of the Alien movies. If you have a thing for Lustmord’s slabs of nasty outer spaceness, you’ll want this. Big, bassy drones thunder, airy pads spread out as vast as the cosmos, subtle beats provide an eerie rhythmic underpinning. You’re lost on the decks of an abandoned spacecraft and the sounds are echoing off the metal walls. Really an essential acquisition for dark ambient aficionados.