Transcend With Time
The Calling Whisper






The Calling Whisper is the latest Ambient album by Mark Mendieta from Brownsville, Texas whose New Age-flavored project Transcend With Time correlates with – but also departs stylistically from – the Prog Rock band Subject To Thoughts of which he is a member of. When I was first asked by Mendieta to give The Calling Whisper a listen, I gave it a fair chance, so I thought, but in the end, I was wary about the strong scents of seemingly Balearic guitars and melodramatic synth strings that are spread out through all of its ten songs. However, I’ve decided to come back to the album additional times, for it draws a surprising and, especially for me, utterly intriguing connection to a sound phenomenon that is probably not calculated by Mendieta: since the album merges guitars, downbeat rhythms and auroral synths, it reminds me of the compositions by Nobuo Uematsu, a regular contributor to the circuitous role-playing game franchise Final Fantasy, especially so in regard to its popular seventh chapter. While most of Uematsu's compositions reach as far back as the late 80’s and thus belong to the 8-bit decade, his MIDI-comprised takes for Final Fantasy VII remain to this day the best and melodious arrangements of any video game ever, despite their technical limits and restrictive use of layers. The human brain adjusts to this sound in no time, and story, pictures plus music form a celestial symbiosis in which the player submerges. Of course The Calling Whisper is no video game. It doesn’t sound dated and isn’t dependent on the listener’s actions. But the fusion of its elements evokes these feelings of nostalgia and comfort in me. Even though there are a few songs on Mendieta’s album that cannot capture my heart, I will explicate why this is the case. Nothing is wrong per se with this release, and if you’re a fan of the progressive kind of New Age which presents developing song structures and clear climaxes rather than the interspersion of ethereal synth patterns, listen closely, as this coherent album might work for you even if you completely detach it from the aforementioned link to that video game series.


The opener is the titular The Calling Whisper, and it launches in medias res with surprisingly pressing and doleful synth strings, duskily bubbling pads and salving piano accompaniments, with crystalline four-note droplets enhancing the fragility of the arrangement. The many tone sequences in minor and the piercing exiguity of the high strings and the spiraling piano sections create a cinematic feeling. The song is majestic, and yet it evokes sadness with traces of solace. I don’t want to mention the comparison with Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions to death, especially so since Transcend With Time is a well carved out project of its own, but this song definitely contains vestiges of Japanese tonalities and settings. I draw this connection in my head only, it isn’t scattered throughout the song, and while there is no koto, shamisen or bold temple gong that would suggest such an perception, I cannot help it. The Calling Whisper provides for a good start. Its cinematic qualities cannot be denied, and its immediacy is unsuspected in the given genre categorization. Next is Through A Conscious State which merges an ever-changing warm three-to-four-note acoustic guitar loop with string bass accentuations, a downbeat with gentle beats and hope-evoking string ensembles. The guitar loop carries the whole track for me, and it is shimmering in golden nuances, transporting a warmth that fends off the occasional gloomy sections that are played in minor. As The Angels Tread revs the melodrama up a notch and can be seen as an addendum to the title track: glacial strings and plaintive pianos create a crestfallen mood, but it shifts after a minute when a new passage is advected that is much brighter and leads to a drum kit-accompanied climax with cherubic synth choirs and towering strings. I find As The Angels Tread a bit too long, especially since it doesn’t offer a particular new ingredient and tends to oscillate between the previous two songs. But that’s solely my problem, and I have to stress that its climax works well. While These Grey Skies features mild wah-wah filters that are overlaid on the various layers of the strings and serene piano melodies, Beside The Mirror enhances this superstructure with an appealing inclusion of vitreous bells which blaze iridescently in-between the piano-driven depiction of hopefulness; another change of the formula results in a real Ambient section in the last minute or so, with a dark four-note contrabass motif that is complemented by heavenly-incisive counterparts.


It is after the first half of the album that the listener cannot expect anything particularly new other than a few accentuating curlicues that are admittedly unique. The sound layers remain the same, and so does the cohesive nature of the tracks. But there are dynamic structures and even counterparts to be found. The following From A Distance is another hybrid that starts with a synthetic alto-flute melody and morphs into various rhythmic patterns, some of them even evoking a military march. This song especially reminds me of the diversified nature of the Final Fantasy soundtracks, but during its almost seven minutes, it is too capricious for my taste, with the incessant rhythmic changes preventing a deeper encapsulation of the listener. To Wither In continues the fragmented approach, but is a surprisingly energetic track if you take the endemic moods and stylistic particularities of Transcend With Time into account. The mesmerizing strings and the cavernous piano parts meat and depart incessantly, and it is during the last minute where the percussion takes a stand and is drawn into the limelight. Across The Serene yet again continues this effervescent path at first thanks to its dynamic cymbals and shakers, but allows enough room for solemn intersections and acoustic guitar base frames. Two surprises can be found in here: the placid sustain of bells and another return of the angelic synth choir that hums along in darker tone regions to the guitar corset. Tranquil Insights is a proper Ambient track sans beats, with dark synth strings, glistening plinks and blurred static noise layers that waft like wind gusts through the track. Spectral but balmy synth eruptions burst and allow a diversion in regard to the gelid heaviness the strings create. The closer A Moment caters to my taste way better than most of the material on the second half of The Calling Whisper: the guitar loops sound much more sublime and at the same time entrancing, its short sustain merges greatly with the background. The abyssal piano accents are fulminant and work well in juxtaposition to the hypnotizing guitar layer. This very layer really is the nucleus of A Moment and makes this a pumping track that even ends with a bang, as a dark piano tone is smashed and ends the album on a vibrant and auspiciously thundering note.


The Calling Whisper is one of the most coherent Ambient albums I have ever encountered. Depending on your viewpoint, this particularity can be either seen as its biggest flaw or as an indicator for the clear focus that Mark Mendieta dedicates to his New Age-related works. This focus isn’t even narrow-minded, for the four main ingredients – the piano, the guitar, the synth strings and percussive elements – mimic classic compositions, and indeed are the ten tracks clean and not overblown by synth thickets or cherubic choirs as it often happens in the genre. And yet the following implication can also be applied pitch-perfectly to The Calling Whisper: once you know one song of it, you know them all. Once you’re allowed a glimpse at its style, you know what to expect. Naturally you’d miss the tiny surprises and the bigger scope of the craftsmanship in terms of the melodies that went into this release, but my thesis stands: Mendieta exchanges stylistic variety for a consistent, unvarying presentation. All songs hence flow perfectly into each other, keeping the greater shape of things intact by only changing the nuances. If you are a fan of the Final Fantasy soundtracks from the late 80’s until the late 90’s, you should definitely pre-listen to the album. You will first notice the admittedly gorgeous interplay between the guitar and the piano, and this is probably what makes this album so intriguing. However, I must admit that I have grown a bit tired about the lack of stylistic surprises after its first half. I don’t even dare to make a suggestion for improvement here, for it is simply not necessary: you seldom can gather both variety and coherence in equal parts on one album. One of these powers will always win. As I’ve stated in my review of another – probably overly – coherent album, Thom Brennan’s Mist of 2000, albums like these are suitable to dive in and, as I’ve recently coined, teach the contemporary listener of today’s hectic times a lesson in calming down, listening closely and spotting the little tints and scents scattered throughout the release. In regard to The Calling Whisper, these little moments and polished synth particles only consist of the inclusion or the reappearance of instruments and certain synth configurations, for by the very nature of this release, there isn’t room for hundreds of different sounds or layers. I would hence denominate The Calling Whisper as a composition-driven release: the melodies and the co-occurrence of the layers are way more important than the structural textures and patterns of a particular instrument or synth as it is common practice in the Drone or Glitch subgenres of Ambient music. In the end, Mark Mendieta’s work succeeds in melodies, coherence and solemnity but has certain issues related to the levels of surprise, variety and change. Anyway, I advise you to pre-listen to it on iTunes or Amazon, as the climaxes he builds are efficient, and the whole aura of the album is akin and compatible to the earlier entries of the Final Fantasy game series. So if your head is filled with melancholic memories of these games, you might be intrigued by The Calling Whisper, and since Mendieta is keen on working in the field of video games and related media, my comparison to that game series is surely not all too abstruse.




Ambient Review 088: Transcend With Time – The Calling Whisper (2012). Originally published on Jun. 27, 2012 at