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Heath/Jay/Roedelius: ‘Meeting The Magus’ album reissue (“a varnish of mysticism cracks”)

29 Mar
Heath/Jay/Roedelius: 'Meeting The Magus'

Heath/Jay/Roedelius: ‘Meeting The Magus’

Even by the standards of beatless ambient electronica, the work made by Andrew Heath and Felix Jay under the name of Aqueous specializes in being elusive. Their serene, virtually weightless debut album often gave the impression that it was hiding behind itself as it flowed gently out of your speakers: a slender, slightly icy haze of suggestion.

In this 1997 team-up with a longtime Aqueous hero, the Krautrock synth-alchemist Hans-Joachim Roedelius (formerly of Cluster, and to whose Aquarello project Jay had contributed earlier in the decade) their music took on a different kind of transparency. It became easier to follow: even eager to help you along. Reissued by Roedelius fourteen years later, ‘Meeting The Magus’ remains an album on which a varnish of mysticism cracks to reveal a quiet understated joy.

Heath/Jay/Roedelius: 'First Lesson – To Renounce'

Admittedly, at first glance the album can send out a cloying message of cloistered, monastic posing. There’s a four-part Aqueous/Roedelius collaboration of “Lessons”, with titles like To Renounce and To Remember. But beyond the holy smokescreen set up by Heath and Jay (via the buzzing chanting intro tones of This Waiting Earth) lies a clearly enjoyable session. It seems that the two British synthesists came to their inspirational German counterpart more for warmth and common purpose than for instruction. It’s worth remembering that even monks, as they move around the cloisters, meet and smile – and brew things up. The original sleeve sported a profundity of meditative sky colours. The reissue humanizes the package by substituting a photo of a sculpted head with soft lines, blind sockets and terracotta-pink tone. It has the look of an amused, enigmatic toe.

While on Aqueous recordings the roles of Jay and Heath tend to blur together, the Lessons see them more clearly defined. While Roedelius plays more heavyweight digital piano and sample-rendered tones via his Kurzweil rig, Jay offers analogue sounds on older synths; plus a direct, electro-mechanical edge in the shape of Rhodes piano. Heath mediates (and meditates) in the middle with both analogue and digital keyboards, providing the reclusive structures for his collaborators to build on. It’s Jay’s decorations of Rhodes notes which silver the solemn analogue tolling on First Lesson; and which add skeletal, hopeful chords to the monastic walls of atmosphere on Second Lesson and to the ringing glass textures on Fourth.

Heath/Jay/Roedelius: 'Third Lesson – To Remember'

Roedelius comes more into his own by Third Lesson, laying swathes of amnesiac melody under Jay and Heath’s electronic abstractions. On Fourth Lesson, he lets tunes drip lightly from a harp-string setting. Throughout the Lessons the sound is reverent but revelatory, and turns playfully rebellious on Magister Interludi, which provides a playtime piece. Heath chinks and jingles while Roedelius wallops away at his keyboard drum-pads, and Jay cheerfully flails a one-note piano as if he’d trapped his finger in the strings. If the Lessons are ambient plainsong, then this is ambient garage rocking.

Although he doesn’t play any further part on the remainder of the album, Roedelius’ influence is written all over the rest of the pieces. Heath and Jay make up for his absence by imbuing tracks like Easter Sunday and Vergissmeinnicht with a new, more direct warmth and romanticism than they would have chosen previously. There’s a sense of Roedelius (even in absentia) adding zest and fresh melodic curves to the sounds, like a twist of flavour melting out of an ice-cube.

In general, attempting to get a grip on this music is still like trying to pick up water with a salad fork. But whereas most journeys to gurus or sacred mountains can mean development at the expense of the honesty and flaws which render us human, ‘Meeting the Magus’ shows that this particular journey left Heath and Jay’s Aqueous work a little thawed – and with greater humanity.

Heath/Jay/Roedelius: ‘Meeting The Magus’
Roedelius Musik, ROEDM001 (9120047330425)
Download-only album
Released: 24th March 2011 (album originally released 19th May 1997)

Buy it from:
Aqueous homepage store (original version), Digital-Tunes, Boomkat and others.

Aqueous (Andrew Heath/Felix Jay) online:
Homepage

Hans-Joachim Roedelius online:
HomepageFacebookTwitterMySpaceLast FMYou TubeiTunes

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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