Headphone Commute’s Best of 2018: Music For Bending Light And Stopping Time
Post Ambient Lux: 100 Best Ambient Albums of 2018
Les tribulations microsound de Yann Novak se poursuivent, et se ressemblent faussement autant qu’elles continuent inlassablement à séduire. Préférant cette fois Touch à son label Dragon’s Eye Recordings, sa dernière édition explore des espaces plus grands que ceux auxquels il nous a habitué, permettant d’y deviner l’inhérente inertie qui les accompagne. Un requiem ralenti sur les cordes du temps.
— Tartine de Contrebasse: C’était en 2018
One could wax philosophical on humankind’s propensity to ignore the lessons of history or its insatiable need for progress regardless of cost. Ultimately, Novak may just be encouraging us to be mindful of the now. These four glacial pieces certainly afford the space for such meditation. Synthesized drones are focused on the mid and high registers, while scratching and rumbling textural irregularities emerge as though from the primordial soup – nature’s music that is both fascinating and easy to ignore, unless you take a moment.
— Chris Redfearn-Murray, ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Drone
Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Yann Novak recorded this work of characteristically droning minimalism as his second release for esteemed UK label Touch. In contrast to the single track of his previous Touch release Ornamentation, The Future Is a Forward Escape… is comprised of four shorter tracks. (Short for Mr. Novak is in this case around ten minutes, admittedly a fraction of his usual hourlong excursions.) In Touch’s press release, Novak elaborates in his own words on the album’s title and concept: “For this album I was interested in expanding into a more emotive compositional style and palette. In doing so, I was reminded that this was territory I had covered early on in my career — the whole process became a way to reconnect with my own past and history.” That tipping of his hand toward a more emotive style will come through more obviously for seasoned listeners of Novak’s œuvre, but that does not mean that The Future Is a Forward Escape… is not still largely shapeless and droning. It is both of those things, and Novak does them here as effectively as ever.
“Radical Transparency” manages to be serene and yet bristles with a tension that feels palpable, like a Rothko painting in aural form. “The Inertia of Time” feels like a flipside to the opener’s flared temper, a gloomy chord anchoring it for the duration. Some of its minor chord drones feel like a purification and sustained still from the 20th century minimalists, a second suspended in time. The same can be said about “Nothing Ever Transcends Its Immediate Environment,” whose droning chord also feels like a dense cloud, unmoving in space. But some of the most interesting sound design of the album is in its layering of these more evocative tones with field recordings and acoustic sound. Those often serve as the bridging elements between the more overt tonal segments, whether in the form of light bird chatter or a tiny Geiger-like crackle. The entire album feels like one continuous work, despite its discrete tracks and titles, and that is a plus for this listener. It features some of Novak’s most emotionally immediate material that I’ve heard, but feels like a lateral extension of his strengths and ethos rather than a diversion. Recommended.
— Ear Influxion
Artist, composer and researcher Yann Novak has in the past released works with different labels such as Murmur, Hibernate, Estuary, his Dragon’s Eye Recordings, Infrequency, Line and Farmacia901. Now it’s the turn of Touch for his new interesting album, The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past, a project focused on the relationships between memory, time and the context of the compositions. What we can’t ignore of this work is the care for the details, the refinement and the coherence of the audio micro-emergencies, the balance between the parts and the continuity of the sound captures, their harmonies and their disturbances. The unavoidable progression of time, our relationship with the past and our memory’s imperfections, create new realities, “the future”, a different syntony which finally has a new mind space to progress and spread out.
Uitermate minimalistische drone, dat krijgen we voorgeschoteld op het album “The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past”. 4 tracks staan erop van rond de tien minuten en ze lopen bijna ongemerkt in mekaar over in één lange soundscape. Yann Novak is een multidisciplinaire artiest en componist uit Los-Angeles die sinds 2005 al een onoverzichtelijk aantal van bijna 50 releases op zijn naam heeft staan, eerst vooral voor Dragon’s Eye Recordings. Dit is nu zijn tweede album voor het Britse label Touch Music.
Het centrale concept is de relatie tussen geheugen, tijd en context. “The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past” is gecomponeerd als een quadriptiek, een vierluik, eigenlijk een grote compositie in vier delen, die mediteert over de onontkoombare progressie van de tijd, onze relatie met het verleden en de ruis die op het verleden zit door de imperfectie van het geheugen.
“The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past” (4 tracks, 41 minuten speelduur) is een conceptueel album gebaseerd op “The Archaic Revival”, een werk van de Amerikaanse etnobotanicus en psychonaut Terence McKenna. In dit werk ontwikkelt McKenna de theorie dat wanneer een cultuur dysfunctioneel wordt, er krachten ontstaan die pogen om terug te gaan naar een gezondere periode in zijn historie. Hierbij suggereert hij dat uitingen als abstracte kunst en expressionisme, body piercings en tattoos, het gebruik van psychedelische drugs, seksuele permissiviteit en de rave cultuur voorbeelden zijn van hedendaagse uitingen van dat teruggrijpen naar een gezonder verleden in deze zieke maatschappij. In de jaren 90 werd Novak erg begeesterd en beïnvloed door dit werk, maar vandaag zien we die hang naar het verleden vooral in de opkomst van allerlei duistere vormen van nationalisme en een beetje progressieve mens kan dat bezwaarlijk interpreteren als teruggrijpen naar ‘betere tijden’. Ongeacht van de interpretatie van ‘betere tijd’ benadrukt McKenna’s idee toch ook vooral onze neiging tot selectief geheugen, waarbij de geschiedenis vooral wordt gezien door de bril van het geheugen in plaats van als objectief feit. Novak keek hier voor dit album met zijn bril naar zijn eigen oudere werken als inspiratie.
De eerste track “Radical Transparency” laat een minimale langgerekte drone horen, gecombineerd met vogelgeluiden. Bij de overgang naar de tweede track “The Inertia Of Time” valt de drone even stil maar kwetteren de beestjes gewoon door. Een nieuwe en al even minimale drone steekt de kop op. Iets voor halverwege deze tweede track zwijgen ineens de gevederde vriendjes. De ultralanggerekte drone wordt nu gecombineerd met een zacht knisperend geluid. Tegen het einde van de tweede track sterft de drone weer weg en bij de overgang naar de derde track horen we enkel het zachte geknisper waarna een nieuwe drone de kop op steekt. De drone van deze derde track, “Casting Ourselves Back Into The Past”, doet me denken aan een overvliegend sportvliegtuigje. Het geknisper is nog steeds aanwezig maar dooft langzaam uit. Op de laatste track “Nothing Ever Transcends Its Immediate Environment” treedt erg geleidelijk een vocale sample steeds meer op de voorgrond, een vocale sample die eigenlijk maar bestaat uit een langgerekte klank en eigenlijk amper als dusdanig herkenbaar is. Deze laatste track gaat aardig richting drone dark ambient en benadert zelfs een beetje goede oude Cold Meat Industry sferen.
Ik vind alle vier de tracks erg goed en hoewel erg minimaal van opzet gebeurt er toch vanalles en vervelen ze me geen seconde, dit is sublieme meditatieve drone waar je echt gebiologeerd naar blijft luisteren. Het zal jullie wellicht niet verrassen dat mijn favoriete tracks de eerste twee tracks zijn met de vogelgeluiden. Het album is digitaal beschikbaar en op cd in een oplage van 500 stuks.
— Henk Vereecken, Dark Entries
The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past vibrates ever so slowly, dilating like a time-traveler’s portal. Listeners reaching deep into the crackling speakers will watch one’s body dissolve into sound waves, emerging in a universe resembling our own, in every way, except for one small point: It’s devoid of humanity. Neither a Star Gate episode, nor an astrophysics thesis, Yann Novak’s dystopian reality, quite chillingly, could be our future.
Whether humanistic or mystical, Novak’s four glacial, noise-specked recordings urge evolutions of mind through revolutions of heart. In order to better see ourselves, The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past claims clarity in stillness, quietly mirroring our collective reflection.
“Radical Transparency” creeps within a murky bog. Buoyed by a chilly drone, the pressure increases, snarling static squeezed by throbbing vises. Birds—the only creature left in sight—sing brightly, oblivious to the looming storm.
The birds persist on “The Inertia of Time,” clouds clearing to reveal uprooted trees, roofs stripped of shingles, cars crushed beneath power lines. Silky organ wafts over the wreckage. A Geiger counter sweeps flooded streets as rescuers—their Hazmat masks fogging with breath—lead survivors into a fallout shelter.
Signaling the end of sun-warmed skin, “Casting Ourselves Back into the Past” resumes with the same eerie clicking. A pendular bass pulses beneath mechanical drones: Is that the humming of distant traffic, as evacuees flee with family house pets, or the whirring of an underground air duct? The miasma crescendos: distortion tapers to a drizzle.
The morning after evacuation, “Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment” rustles from cold ashes. White noise scours synths clear as contrails. Merging voice with airy vibrations, a sudden deluge purges Novak’s wordless chanting.
While bearing hope amid a market crawling with sound bites, mangy memes and Twitter tantrums, Yann Novak spares no nerve for the cynic. Until our minds mirror our hearts, some leaders of the free world wag tail at shirtless autocrats while barking at rocket regimes. Until our minds mirror our hearts, failure to grasp time’s circularity will forecast our downfall. Pondering sanctions and a nuclearized peninsula, The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past rumbles with reflection, revealing portals to what we’ve neglected. Before it’s too late.
— Todd B. Gruel, A Closer Listen
Artiste pluri-disciplinaire, Yann Novak travaille essentiellement sur le ressenti temporel et émotionnel, composant des titres aux évolutions drone et aux lentes ascensions vers des sphères aux questionnements intrinsèques.
The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past fait appel à la méditation et au temps qui passe, long fleuve faussement tranquille fait d’incidents effleurants et souvent imperceptibles.
On est absorbé par les quatre plages aux évolutions lentes qui appellent à la pause, moment sacré où l’on se relâche pour se concentrer sur un vide libérateur des tensions quotidiennes et environnantes. Un opus relaxant aux vertus apaisantes.
— Roland Torres, SilenceAndSound
In which Yann Novak muses on ‘the inevitable progression of time, our relationship to the past, and our distortion of the past through the imperfections of memory,’ themes extrapolated from re-visions of US psychonaut Terence McKenna. The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past (Touch) references that ‘cyclone of unorthodox ideas capable of lifting almost any brain out of its cognitive Kansas’ (Tom Robbins) whose The Archaic Revival (1991), an old trip transmission made theory, sees the functionality of a culture, once exhausted, as tending towards a sort of nostalgic reversion. New skin for the old ceremony of memory curated by Novak, and a point of departure to make his way back into the heart of his material.
Abstract expressionism, body piercing and tattooing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, rave culture… That was then. This is now: making sense in the present tense at the dead end of late modernity, the artist recovers the concept of ‘selective memory’, re-reading history through its own magnifying glass. ‘Expanding into a more emotive compositional style and palette,’ the artist finds reconnection with his own past, reminded this was territory covered earlier, ‘looks back at his own older works though this lens as inspiration,’ seeking to syncretize reason and emotion, to synthesize different sonic fragments into a whole. Taking from drone, concrete, found sound and electroacoustic music, the Dragons Eye man’s recorded fields are laptopped and trailed into sonorous stases that seem to stem from the liminal to an ineffable occluded vastness; chthonic sub-bass and tone-mass shift and surge under distortion grain and echo revenance. With a stillpoint of focus on the moment, from within come slow reveals, elements linking parts in sequence—fields with substrative oscillations, trans-harmonic cyclicity, discreet interference, animate samples.
For all Novak views his materials as affordance structures for mindfulness of the present, exhorting to ‘reclaim the present moment as a political act,’ the music, more coded than loaded, bespeaks différance. But while posties may fly free semiotically, no hors-du-texte (hi, Jacques), talk of ‘darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’ suggests we take it outside. Seen as if through a glass darkly, its quadriptych is spread for a heavy freight of significance: “Radical Transparency,” “The Inertia of Time,” “Casting Ourselves Back into the Past,” “Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment”—titles turn into takes on what to make of the opaque. The Future is a Forward Escape… resounds with the hum of disquiet at the back of everyday hyperreality.
— Alan Lockett, Igloo Magazine
L’inevitabile progressione del tempo, il rapporto tra l’uomo e il passato, la distorsione della memoria. Temi estrapolati da “The Archaic Revival” (1991) di Terence McKenna, la cui teoria verte sulla c.d. funzionalità di una cultura: una volta esauritasi, tenderebbe a imporsi una sorta di ritorno nostalgico, il medesimo in atto, ad esempio, nel quadro dei nazionalismi contemporanei. “The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past” (2018), via Touch, fa perno sul testo dell’etnobotanista statunitense, un ottimo punto di partenza per Yann Novak che, con quattro lunghi brani, compie il suo percorso a ritroso all’interno di materiali pregressi. L’artista recupera, inoltre, il concetto di ‘memoria selettiva’, cioè rileggere la storia attraverso una propria lente d’ingrandimento, a discapito dei fatti. L’album si pone, dunque, come il tentativo, a metà strada tra ragione e sentimento, di sintetizzare in un unicum differenti frammenti sonori. Straordinario il risultato finale.
Yann Novak è un musicista e curatore di mostre e già dai primi minuti di questo disco lo si può chiaramente intuire: la ambient scura di The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past, in pieno stile delle migliori uscite Touch, ha quel gusto “museale” che fa emergere il suono dal sottofondo di accompagnamento per portarlo in primo piano, magari accompagnato da elementi multimediali. Si tratta invece di sola musica, concepita a partire da una interessante rilettura del pensiero di Terence McKenna: le sue tesi degli anni novanta secondo cui una società si trova a guardare indietro quando è in decadenza sono interessanti, ma oggi più che orientare verso un neo primitivismo fanno pensare ad una rilettura che porta a nuovi nazionalismi… e il panorama si fa tetro. Disco allegro in effetti questo non lo è, con la sua quarantina di minuti di campioni cristallini e incedere lento ma costante: niente di nuovo nel campo della sound art e della ambient più “concreta”, ma la qualità di queste registrazioni è davvero sopraffina e ben sopra la media delle produzioni che trovate in giro. Un aspetto interessante è quello che i quattro brani, sempre in relazione alle tesi di McKenna, sono basati su una rilettura del passato musicale dello stesso Novak: ciò aggiunge benzina al tema della rielaborazione del pensiero e della musica attraverso il tempo, ma questi aspetti possono anche essere tranquillamente ignorati e si può fare spazio alla musica, che da sola la fa da padrona in questo gran bel disco.
Before listening to this new Yann Novak album – his second title for Touch -, it’s good to reflect a bit on its somewhat enigmatic title.
“The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past considers the relationships between memory, time and context. […] The album’s conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival‘ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. In it, McKenna theorizes that when a culture becomes dysfunctional it attempts to revert back to a saner moment in its own history. The text’s idealism was influential to Novak in the ‘90s, but today the theory bears a darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism. […] McKenna’s idea highlights our propensity for selective memory, seeing history through the lens of memory instead of fact.“
The impact of Novak’s music is coloured by the context of this philosophical background. The overall atmosphere in these four parts (the album is best played in one continuous sequence) is dark and sombre – which may very well be my own personal association with ‘the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’. But at the same time you can listen in a completely different way, realising that Novak “looks back at his own older works though this (McKenna’s) lens as inspiration”. Or, if you prefer, you can have your own associations with these timeless deep drone tracks combining sub-bass with subtly detailed distorted effects and some distant fieldrecordings – a sound that seems to originate from an immeasurable vast space too big to comprehend.
“The album is a study in perception and alteration, manipulation and awareness, effectively capturing Novak’s command of emotional texturing.“
— Peter Van Cooten, AmbientBlog
Music and politics — what could sit together more easily? From the rousing patriotic hymns of emerging 19th-century nations, through the provocative ballads of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, to Stormzy’s Grenfell-themed ad lib at the recent BRIT Awards ceremony, music has long been seen as a potent political force. From the titles and press blurb for Yann Novak’s “The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past”, it would seem that the Los Angeles-based artist is intent on making his own critical statement on “the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism” he sees in his native United States — but can he make his ambient drone weapons pointy enough to do damage?
‘Radical Transparency’ kicks things off with a very gradual fade-in, a low rumble joined by vague, tonally-indistinct chords. Rough noise is unexpectedly juxtaposed with melodious birdsong, but is this the assertive, truthful voice of Mother Earth, or a false ‘harking back’ to a mythical primeval oneness with nature? The birdsong continues into the next track, where a solid rush of air comes and goes and organ-like chords crack round the edges. In ‘Casting Ourselves Back into the Past’ another rush of air sounds like a jet plane passing overhead, except it doesn’t pass — it hangs there in the sky, burning fuel yet motionless, as faint, indistinct tones glimmer with azure. Final piece ‘Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment’ is an urgent one, tugging on the sleeve with its buzzing tones and grave, wordless vocal intonations.
Novak certainly seems to be aiming for a political ambient music, but the music’s abstraction (or sometimes its concreteness, as with the birdsong) perhaps poses a challenge when it comes to making specific statements, leaving the titles to do much of the work. However, this indefiniteness may well be the most honest approach to take in an era where the line between truth and falsehood is constantly being blurred by all comers, and where the longer you look at a situation, the more complex and entangled it appears. “The Future is a Forward Escape” echoes the vague disquiet and unease that seem to be constantly murmuring in the background of our everyday hypermediated lives. In refusing to allow us to settle on false certainties, whether nostalgic or utopic in nature, perhaps political ambient can be a powerful affective force after all.
— Nathan Thomas, Fluid Radio
Put on the circuit via Touch on February 23rd, 2k18 is “The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past”, the latest album effort by Los Angeles-based composer Yann Novak which also is his second release on the label. Split into four pieces and stretched over an overall playtime of approx. 41 minutes this limited to 500 copies release, influenced by Terrence McKenna’s “The Archaic Revival”, caters a study in carefully crafted Ambient / Deep Listening Music, incorporating genre typical, slowly moving pads and shifting dynamics as well as tweeting birds and Field Recordings present in the opening tune “Radical Transparency” which seamlessly transfers into “The Inertia Of Time” which combines an underlying layer of uproar from either a faraway ocean wave breach or the very beginning of the universe with carefully layered strings, beautiful atmospheres of droning intensity and static crackles. “Casting Ourselves Back Into The Past” drifts away into a realm subfrequent movements, continuos crackles and icy winds before “Nothing Ever Transcends Its Immediate Environment” takes Ambient to a more vibrating, yet fragile and partly unsettling level, emitting oscillating frequencies that make glass jangle and cause thoughts to dissolve. Not necessarily a highly innovative release in terms of Deep Listening Music but still recommended for die-hard diggers or those looking for an entry point into their personal exploration of the genre.
Drone- und Soundartist Yann Novak lebt wie Chartier in Los Angeles und hat mit ihm auch schon kollaboriert. Sein enigmatisch betiteltes Album The Future Is A Foward Escape Into The Past (Touch) lässt allerdings geringfügig mehr Licht in die dräuende Düsternis. Novak ist ein Meister der subtilen Kunst in einem vermeintlich gleichförmigen Wulst aus Klang kleine Soundereignisse geisterhaft aufscheinen zu lassen, die aber bevor sie richtig erkennbar sind schon wieder verschwunden sind. Die Geister denen er hinterherjagt sind die der Erinnerung, der vergehenden Zeit.
— Frank P. Eckert, Groove
It has been a while since I last heard music by Yann Novak, as long ago as Vital Weekly 881, but I see (on Discogs) other releases that have been released by Dragon’s Eye Recordings (his own label), Eter, Line and a previous album by Touch in 2016. Here is his second release for Touch of which the “conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival’ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna’, in which he claims that if things go bad in a culture it wants to go back to a saner moment in its own history, which perhaps has very much to do with the times we live in, with all the nostalgia of ‘our culture is the best one, but the past of that culture was even better, now getting to lost…’ (Fill in whatever enemy you prefer’ doing its rounds worldwide. Novak goes back to his own musical past and make (re-) connections again with sounds and techniques he used before on his older works and how to put that into the new work. This is, mind you, not a remix of course of old stuff. The four pieces of drone music here are however something that I would expect from Novak. These computer-generated drones built up like deep organ tones, reach a climax and then go via a likewise slow ascend down again. In between these pieces there are field recordings, especially at the end of the opening ‘Radical Transparency’, or at the beginning of ‘The Inertia Of Time’, which follows after that; each of the four pieces seem to merge right into next one, giving the album an excellent flow. Novak’s special feature, a very refined yet effective distortion is present in all these pieces; one should not think of this as something heavy or noisy, but a gentle, brittle touch that has been carried out to all of these pieces, a rough edge to gentle drones. I am not sure if it is enough to say that Novak really does his own version of microsound, but he produces music with some fine delicacy that is just different enough for me. Some very meditative stuff here for sure.
— Vital Weekly
Dragon’s Eye Recordings proprietor Yann Novak unfurls a mesmerising, meditative suite of processed field recordings on Touch. Imagine the elegant protagonist of Richard Chartier’s Pinkcourtesyphone took a stroll at dusk with Biosphere in the L.A. ‘burbs…
A sentence in the press release contains a pivotal clue. [Yann Novak’s] “work is guided by his interests in perception, context, movement, and the felt presence of direct experience”.
Direct experience is the prime counsellor in one’s aliveness, well beyond the hypocrisy of sinisterly inadequate “divine” guidelights. This simple fact should be obvious to any individual whose encephalon has not been rented to someone else’s infirmity. However, it is the concept of “felt presence” that is crucial here. As always we’re dealing with the essential, if inexplicable murmur of deep-rooted awareness which seems to frighten so many credulous specimens.
The stochastic recurrence of an event; the “infinite repeat” mode of the sea waves; the frequency that – among millions – causes the mind to freeze and the heart to slow down almost to a standstill. Just three examples of the aforementioned “felt presence”. How can anyone explain that to people in dire need of being lulled into psychological coma by recycled narratives about extramundane maths and featureless entities acting as impeccable draughtsmen of nothingness?
You can’t. There’s no time left to waste with neurologically induced nonsense. As frequently stressed on these pages, certain levels of inward discernment must be respected by their blessed owners (who, too often, throw away the gift received at birth for unhealthy ego-inflating purposes).
Novak chases the opportunity of a privileged observation between the varying stages of an actual process of growth. He does it by assembling resonant materials that put a pragmatic listener in the condition of probing unthinkable depths, in this case starting from a theory by ethnobotanist Terence McKenna (you are cordially invited to do your homework).
In strictly sonic terms this is an exemplary instance of static subtlety, intermittently (and coincidentally) reminiscent of Keith Berry and Klaus Wiese’s analogous sonorities. A commendable balance gradually revealing shrouded details, inaccessible elements of continuity linking the parts in an affecting sequence. The acoustic modules combine field recordings with subsurface oscillations, trans-harmonic cyclicalness, moderate interference and human samples. It’s the symbolization of a trek outside the body limits while standing – firmly conscious – on the ground of the circumjacent materiality.
A final and somewhat expectable warning: do not use, and do not categorize this substance as “ambient”. It would be an authentic offense to the composer’s painstaking accuracy in rendering the phases of apprehension clearly particularized by the audible matter. Paraphrasing the album’s title, Novak challenges the average being’s exigency to envision the “excuse of future” as a method to flee from the responsibilities of the present. In other words, the “here and now” of Buddhist descent – so voguish in places where the talk is talked without walking the walk – is still too troublesome a proposition for vanquishing corporeal and psychogenic obligations once and for all.
— Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes