There's one subgenre I cannot get my head around. The whole world files Rigning, the third release by the Icelandic synth afficionado Yagya aka Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson and his second on the Dutch Sending Orbs label, away under the Dub Techno genre. I won't complain, genre names aren't that important anyway, and about their destructive and narrowing nature has been speculated many times before. And yet you will find this very genre name only one single time in my review, and you've just read over it a few seconds ago for the first and last time on this page. I prefer the simple term Ambient for Yagya's music – yes, even for his pumping beat-driven debut Rhythm Of Snow of 2002 – and it isn't too hard to justify this. Sure enough are there dubby beats on Rigning and all his other albums, but the sophisticated and elaborated way in which the various synth entities, be it stabs, sweeps, washes, spirals or pulses, are created and set up makes his music strongly compatible to the Ambient genre. And what about the listener-swallowing thickness of his synthscapes? The listener is submerged, encapsulated, enchanted and comforted by the various patterns and structures. The beats are necessary, but not of any superior importance than the textures. Another welcome element floats through all of Rigning's ten tracks, which, after all, is Icelandic for rain: lots of rainy field recordings are meandering and traversing through the compositions. Yagya has never been more keen on embedding them in any of his other releases. It's astonishing how different rain can sound, and the plasticity of each drop boggles the mind. If you don't know this classic yet, you are strongly advised to give it a spin! If that doesn't convince you, maybe the following words can.

Rigning Einn builds and nurtures the cascading aura of the album in a nocturnal manner. A field recording of croaking crickets and the whitewashed pink noise of a hazy swamp establish a new element in Guðmundsson's music that enhances the ambience very much. Naturally, the skillful creation of ethereal realms remains the selling point of Yagya, and so the peacefully quavering vibrato of emerging rain pads merges with the quiescent scenery, eventually taking over and building a proper song. Several seraphic synth layers merge, and I hope no one minds if I compare the humble beginning of the song to the New Age genre. A pumping downbeat Dub bassline with warm but heavy synth washes builds, encapsulating the listener in its melancholic mellowness. Curiously enough, the crickets can still be heard in the background, and a blurry kind of static noise lies like a filter behind the track – the titular rain. Its drops become more apparent during the last minute of the song that consists of a proper Ambient setting with gleaming synth patterns whose sustain fades away into the distance where it continues to meander. The first track is already a good indicator that Yagya's music can and must also be worshipped for its Ambient-related qualities. A warm, melancholic and heavy opener, but also friendly and entirely inviting. The cavernous Rigning Tvö resides on the darker side of the spectrum. Multi-faceted, darkly droning backing synths whirl around a base frame in form of an oscillating bassline that wafts up and down and is itself accompanied by buzzing pads. It's hard to describe, but this track feels lighter and heavier than Rigning Einn. The synths don't tend to swallow the listener, thereby making the song lighter, but since their characteristic trait is grayish and gloomy, a kind of heaviness ensues which isn't exactly soul-crushing rather than thought-provoking. The angelic howls at the end shuffle between major and minor moods and pave the way for Yagya's first show-stopper: Rigning þrjú doesn't spend much time with an introductory phase and opens in medias res, with the warm beats already pumping. An awe-inspiring rain-soaked two-note scheme is whirring around the beats, and though the melody is very rudimentary, this is done on purpose in order to let their shimmering textures and slight alterations shine through. Shortly before the third minute, golden-shimmering time-shifted synths play the same melody, all the while gurgling water and the distant but lively voices of teenagers reside in the back as the beats get underlined by dusky synth bubbles. After four and a half minutes, the beats are fading ever so slowly, while the aforementioned golden shimmers of the synths burst into a majestic nostalgia, still mimicking the two-note motif of the track, but adding additional notes and half tones to it. What is left is anything but the tossing rain.

Rigning Fjórir is a proper Ambient track sans beats and uses the most glaring field recording with a city scenery of honking car horns, traffic noise and, naturally, pouring rain. A glacial melody is played on an electric piano, its spectral glow lies like a balmy filter over the city scene. This ambiguously blithesome and doleful vignette ends with the typical sound of knocking rain on rooftop windows. Rigning Fimm launches with a similar pattern of raindrops that are complemented by cherubic synth sweeps that embed an icy wind gust. The signature element, however, are the echoey bursts of the synth stabs that are scattered throughout the track. These bubbling devices contain a thermal heat which warms the whole composition up. And if that alone doesn't help, the growing thickness of the synths creates a cozy bolster at worst and a magnificent flow at best. Since no detracting beats are apparent, the listener is able to study and enjoy the textural particularities and attributes with ease. As if Rigning was suddenly aware of its almost jaunty course, Rigning Sex launches with a two-note scheme akin to Rigning þrjú, with a banefully vibrating deepness of the synths. There are counteracting elements on this tune though, for example the bright luminescence of the additional synth strings; their solemn quality illuminates the depicted vaults. To me, this song is an afterthought to Rigning þrjú as it is built in a very similar fashion. It is the inferior take in direct comparison to its spiritual brethren, but by no means a disappointment. It's "more of the same," and while sentences like this leave a stale aftertaste, I use it in a benign way. If you love the vestigial two-note themes where Yagya focuses on the aural structure rather than an eclectic avantgarde sequence, Rigning Sex caters to your taste.

Rigning Sjö is a beautiful hymn, a wonderful oscillation between the album's endemic melancholy and glitters of pure joy, and a celestial arrangement. Eerily warped synth strings, phantasmagorically gleaming crystalline structures and thunderous, well, thunders are the main ingredients. Additional buzzing pads plus related clangs and pulses complement the meandering melodies and the dubby bassline. But all these devices never break out and destroy the carefully arranged setting, everything fits and meshes together. It's a surprisingly content and joyful track, and you can feel the positive energies despite (or because of) the intimidating thunderstorms. Rigning Atta breaks the formula in its introductory and closing phase with towering Space-Age sparkles and beeps that are soon taken care of by melancholic synth heavyweights. These are expanded via wonky pads and differently colored, more echoey foils. But nothing prepares you for Rigning Níu. A long field recording of playgrounds, deliciously misty synth swirls and a surprisingly fast-paced, proper 4/4 beat make this a gleeful track. Suddenly, the few menacing stabs and pulses lose their weight when they are facing the field recording. The higher tempo itself creates much of the euphoria, and the little bubbling synth eruptions which are grouped around the beats as well as the flute-like synth settings altogether make this a wonderful upbeat track. It's a strange perception, for the ingredients remain the same, but the shifts in tonality and the faster pace of the beats are most definitely the responsible suspects for the brighter atmosphere. The fantastic closer Rigning Tíu builds on this very emotion and ends the album with the strongest windy rainfalls and an utterly gorgeous four-note motif that is illuminated by the humbly sparkling sustain of a rapturous synth, underlining trembling pads and another beatless closing phase in which the melody is looped during the pouring rainfall. Fittingly, the rain is the last overarching elemeent that remains, before it fades out as well.

Yagya's Rigning is a highly attractive album that garnered a large cult following thanks to its permanent oscillation between a heavy melancholy and brighter elements that are scattered luxuriously throughout the tracks. Despite the sophisticated synth structures, the various field recordings of rain are the actual stars and golden threads of this release. The rain does never sound the same, and its manifold characteristics are successfully presented and perfectly interwoven into the compositions. You can't deny a strong melancholy. One specific element in Yagya's music is particularly heavy, and it is used throughout the album: it's the slow fade-out of the synths that are washed away by the pouring rain. This creates a feeling of loneliness, irrelevance and a very tiny glint of a post-apocalyptic world. It's strange that when the synths are fading out, their slow decline and fall actually augments the sadness and yearning. Then again, there's a matter you can't deny: a strong contentment. The various stabs, pads and patterns swirl, mesh and depart in the most beautiful ways, and they always inherit a good-natured, brightly glowing spirit. That they aren't seen as important parts and remain unmentioned in many other reviews is due to the thicket of backing synths that entangles the listener. Imagine these quick eruptions, mellow spirals and shattering pulses in a minimal track, and we're start talking about Detroit anthems, as Yagya creates and tunes them in the most careful ways. Rigning is a strong album in every season, even the mentioned show-stoppers don't break the chain of coherence. If Guðmundsson ever appears on Kompakt's Pop Ambient series or comes up with a pristine Ambient album, color me happy, but not at all surprised, for Yagya is showing since his debut release that he knows how to texturize the innermost nuclei of synth pads. It's more downbeat than 2002’s Rhythm Of Snow and 2006’s less heavenly-hissy than Will I Dream During The Process?, but it's still a mighty fine work of art that is also suitable for sunshine worshippers! Out of the blue, I often have Yagya's reduced two-note themes on my mind, and while a passage of just two tones is the most reduced sequence you can find in music, it's the mellow and slightly minatory textures that make his offerings fantastic pieces. If you are a strict Ambient fan, don't let that other genre categorization put you off – Rigning is beautiful! 2012 sees the fourth album by this wiz from Iceland, and I'm looking tremendously forward to it.



Further reading and listening:


  • Yagya's Twitter account is @steiniyagya
  • It just so happens that Yayga has signed up with Bandcamp, so you can listen to Rigning in full at his Bandcamp page





Ambient Review 091: Yagya – Rigning (2009). Originally published on Jul. 4, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.