Michael Santos
The Happy Error





Right at the beginning with his first album from 2006, Matters, Michael Santos has found his voice in Ambient music: warm, mellow synth scapes combined with cold, high-pitched glitch artifacts that are oftentimes razor sharp, not unlike the approach of Taylor Deupree or several Warp Records artists. Santos continues his chosen path with both his third album, The Happy Error, and the following one, Memory Maker in 2010, presenting mellow, loop-driven Ambient music with fragile, high-frequency sounds. To my ears, these albums are perfect for the darker days of the year, and this is especially true for The Happy Error, as all of the songs on here are more or less melancholic and thus depend on both your mood and your climatic surroundings.


The title track of this 11-track album starts out with what is probably one of the best tracks on the entire release, a one-second loop in two variations. Shortly after, Santos‘ iconic crackles and pops are introduced to the mix. On this track, the crackles are gentle and subordinate to the scenery the track is building, while the static sounds become louder overall, but don‘t distract from the skeleton of the track, namely the hypnotic loops. The track ends abruptly with an 8-bit fulmination. Swing Deluxe continues the spruceness of the mix, but adds a more melancholic vibe to the slow loop that, yet again, constitutes the heart of the track. Around 4 minutes, the song swells by adding loud glacial crackles that stay for only about a minute, after which the melancholy resumes. Ajax is a short, quiet 2-minute interlude with distinct crackles and low, toting synth sounds, evoking a feeling of distance and scarce moment of warmth due to the deep-set, reduced strings and the omission of intense crackles. Hopefully Helsinki starts with crackles and high-pitched bursts but shortly afterwards paves the way for a gorgeously vibrant tremolo loop of an electric piano that surely is the most satiating of this release. Even though the tremolo adds an ever so slightly pumping beat, this tune still sets a ruminative mood, but with a certain anticipation for some event or thing (probably Helsinki?).


After another quiet interlude called Bamboo Scaffolding, the album‘s second half starts with Big Shifty which is indeed big in presenting an effect to your ears that is similar to a pressure box: high-pitched, quickly paced vibrato loops and added glitch artifacts create an intensive listening experience that breaks with the former calmness of the release by using the same ingredients than before, but in a more irritating fashion. The last 2 minutes of Big Shifty are calm again, even though not much is changing; the click sounds vanish, the Ambient loop remains, but now that the vibrato effect is substracted, the loop become harmonious and soft a last time. Upper Cosh is the only letdown off the album I think. It simulates a tense storm with nervous minute-long noises, both deep and high, and introduces a frowning two-note Ambient loop to the noise. Thankfully, the album closer Returning Champion is a heavenly tune that ends things on a bright, relaxed and happy note with several layers of synth loops, both monotonous and frantically glittering. It doesn‘t have that fanfare feel to it, so it could be placed anywhere in the album, but it works as a closer without feeling like a last track if you know what I mean.


The Happy Error is a very good album, considering Santos‘ production value as well as the actual build-up and the ingredients of each track. Mixing lush, fragile Ambient sounds with swerving crackles is the domain of many a producer of Electronic music, but Santos manages to capture the winter mood of dark days and confronts it with high, sparkling glitch noises that sometimes take over the mix, but for most times remain in the background or add harmony to the mix despite being potentially irritating. As stated before, Michael Santos is not the only producer to create such moods, but he is one among the best in this glitch-experimental Ambient genre or whatever you may call it.




Ambient Review 006: Michael Santos – The Happy Error (2008). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at AmbientExotica.com.