I’ve noticed since I started this blog that many of my posts are more career retrospectives that focus on one album as an example of the best of an artist’s work. I guess this is my “style.” Better to have one than not, I suppose. After all, who needs a track by track super-analysis of something, packed with adjectives plucked from the thesaurus? Not me. I want you to read about this recording then go get the artist’s whole body of work. [Homer Simpson shakes fist] Get ittttt.
Look, I’m digressing again. Matt Borghi is an ambient/sound art musician active for, it would appear, about a decade. Having acquired quite a few of his recordings, I feel qualified to pronounce upon his work. I judge him and find him eminently not lacking.
To be a real creative artist making original work, your personality must shine through. You don’t always have to be ploughing the same artistic furrow, but we need to know who you are. And Borghi’s distinctive work shows us that. His music is not “easy”, ie pretty ambient that sparkles like the noonday sun. It’s moody, sad, melancholic and hazy.
He has shown a few variants on the style, which, if I’m not wrong, is often primarily guitar-based. At least, The Phantom Light seems to be. His work sometimes eschews anything even resembling melody, focusing more on texture and a consistent atmosphere, as on recordings like December Impressions and Elegy for Time. When I say he eschews melody, I don’t mean you should expect a bunch of noise skronk, I just mean that these recordings are best appreciated as “sounds” rather than “music” in the traditionally perceived sense. He’s also put out a three-album series under the title Meditation Cycles that are quieter and prettier and are excellent for the purpose of, well…meditation, if you’re into that kind of thing. Which I am. I guess I’ve turned new age in my middle years. I can live with that.
The Phantom Light can also be considered part of a trilogy, with Huronic Minor and Ghost Ship on a Black Sea. He declares on his site: “The works are inspired by sailor’s tales of being adrift on The Great Lakes during storms, and catastrophic weather. Sailors, looking out on the horizon for a sign of life, a light of hope, aimed their ships towards the safety of these phantom lighthouses hoping to get to a safe harbor. Often times these phantom lighthouses just lead to a rocky shoal and a watery death. These “phantom” lights have been a thing of myth for as long as The Great Lakes freshwater seas have been sailed.” And indeed, if establishing a mood is the purpose of ambient music, these recordings do this in spades.
I’ve chosen this particular recording to bring to your attention because I feel it’s the most “accessible” of the works. This despite the fact that it consists of four long pieces, rather than an array of shorter ones as is often Borghi’s style.
The album really does bring to mind images of a vast expanse of water under a grey winter sky, with rocky promontories and barren islets the only intruders on the bleakness of the view. Despite this mood of sustained melancholy, I recommend it to the newbie because the sounds are primarily swells of gauzy tones that can really change your mood to one of happy misery (you may be able to tell by now that I kind of like feeling like that) in a snap. Track 2, “Manistee North Pierhead”, contains an actual melodic fragment, for those of you who require one. It’s magnificently sad. Track 4, “North Manitou Island Shoal” almost gets a melody going too.
But really, you shouldn’t need a couple of more conventionally pretty moments to appreciate this work, which, like all great ambient music, needs to be absorbed in its entirety to be most effective. Perhaps it’s because I also live in a cloudy, windswept city on the shore of a Great Lake that I can appreciate this work so very much. If you want to take a murky journey to the darker side of your soul, this recording will indeed do the trick, as will the rest of Borghi’s large and uniformly excellent body of work.