Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’ album (“ambient emotional blackmail”)

24 Aug
Aqueous: 'Tall Cloudtrees Falling'

Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’

One thing ambient music is supposed to do is to be passive and let you play the unlistener. That way, you know where you stand. Put on an ambient record, flood yourself with the pastel light or shadow of your choice, lie back and just relax into it like a big cushion of sound waves. There might or might not be some gentle beats involved, you might get the odd trumpet or whale-song, it might be dark or it might be light… Whatever it is, you’ve got control and it’s tailored to one-size-fits-all. No problems. No thinking necessary.

Aqueous: ‘Catching Sight of Land’

At first hearing, Aqueous’ ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’ sounds as if it’s going to be one of those archetypal ambient throw-pillows. Listening to Andrew Heath and Felix Jay gently ping and buzz their way through Catching Sight of Land (whole-tone scale digital abstractions; robotic bass blobbing up in gentle ruminant belches) or Under a Heavy Sky’s dewdrops of Rhodes piano and wowing buzzes, you can settle down, open your book, drift off…

Hang about. Brain message, confused. Surely there should be something here to latch on to? The reassuring melody-ette, the heartbeat to the ambient womb? Either someone’s made off with it, or Aqueous have folded it up like origami – all the expected angles in the wrong place. You can’t read the book; there are gaps in the music which your subconscious is forcing you to listen to. Ambient emotional blackmail.

And eventually you have to respond. You put down the book, and you listen to this wandering, gentle collection of electronic shapes. A third of it makes sense. The remainder refuses to stay in your grasp, melting off into the air like an evasive scent. The ice has melted in your drink.

Back to the book. This time, the music creeps up behind you and gently, insistently – maddeningly – tugs at your shoulder. It demands, ever so gently that you listen to it: but as soon as you turn around, it’s gone again. Sub-audible – in the night-breaths of Antarctica as insubstantial, yet as unmistakeably there, as the shape a leaf-laden branch makes in the breeze. In Les Trois Jours D’Ete, capturing the silence of a sun-washed garden… with the eyes drawn up over the top of the wall in expectation of sudden, silent summer events. You shelter in it. It slowly sags and gives way at unexpected angles beneath you: turning you round, dropping you into Sweet Santoor’s zither of icicles and Stylophonic buzzes (amid snatches of disintegrating Satie).

Aqueous: ‘Within This Dream I Awake’

This carpet-slippered game of cat and mouse could go on for ever, while you attempt to either pursue or ignore Aqueous’ essence. You can draw a few comparisons if you like. The mingling, exchanging, misty patterns in Leaving Alexandria in the Cold Light of Dawn mixes Harold Budd’s still-air vistas with the insidious kind of fluting, droning analogue shapes that Vangelis cooked up during his mid-’70s Nemo peak, during quieter moments. The whole album has echoes of Cluster.

But attempting to pin Aqueous music down to absolutes is as futile as trying to pull that unlistening ambient-consumer’s trick on it. Like the various states of water, this music can both give and refuse to give; and it infiltrates the environment it enters, with the insidiousness of transient vapour or with the unyielding fragility of an ice sheath over a pond.

Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’
Hermetic Recordings, HERM 2222
CD album
Released: 19th August 1996

Buy it from:
Aqueous homepage store

Aqueous online:
Homepage

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