Flows EP






Ambient-wise, 2012 seems to be mostly about the revival of the Glitch genre, albeit a small and whimsical one. Originally established back in the middle of the 90's by such illustrious artists as Autechre, Oval, Microstoria and later refined further by Taylor Deupree, Olaf Dettinger, Keiichi Sugimoto,  Michael Santos and various other artists and bands, Glitch is closely related to the more dance-oriented Clicks & Cuts (or Microhouse) genre, but relies on more eclectic beats, complex rhythmic structures with frosty crackles, static noise bursts and the overall entanglement of the three basic "letter S ingredients": sound, sustain and space. The genre is less about euphoric melodies rather than their fragmented brethren, witty synth structures, sudden impetuosities of memorable chords and fragile synth sweeps in the background, most often of the gelid kind. Around the same time of Rotterdam-based Machinefabriek's electrifying buzz release Stroomtoon, another up and coming artist enters the scene with a four-track EP called Flows: Heivard from Hong Kong merges gentle Downbeat structures and meshes them with Ambient synthscapes. Released on the Fwonk netlabel and encapsulated by a Creative Commons licence, this album can be downloaded on the Bandcamp page of the Fwonk label. Of particular strength are the nostalgic remnants that are prominently featured in each of the instrumental tracks, namely the 8-bit Dub lines that hark back to the halcyon days of the 80's when the home computer scene was slowly establishing itself as its sounds were leaving a huge impact on a whole generation of children and teenagers all around the globe. Those who have witnessed these times will be delighted and ubiquitously reminded of those times. It's those people who are catered by Heivard's Flows EP. But not everything is crystalline and fragile on this EP which gets – spoiler ahead! – unexpectedly dark and nasty in its later phase. These particularities and everything else in-between will be analyzed in greater detail below.

Light Rain, Heavy Rain, Light Rain marks the beginning of the Flows EP. Glockenspiel-like synth pulses with a generous sustain merge with incisively glacial strings of airiness. 8-bit bass drops accompany the gleaming aura together with both archetypical and artificial shakers and rhythmic beats in higher regions. As the sustains of the strings merge, a feeling of slight eeriness and tension is created and further augmented by whitewashed wind gusts. Once these ingredients are all introduced before the third minute, the superstructure of the song is complete, with no further additions left during its remaining runtime. It is a reduced setting and is thus a pitch-perfect rendition of the Glitch formula. And yet Heivard accomplishes to treat the subgenre as an art form, for he chooses the ingredients wisely, although a clear preference for an almost bedazzling iridescence is definitely perceptible. There is no real bassline on this track. There are beats, but they aren't pumping or earth-shaking rather than underlining the glistening nuances of the various bells. The melodies are negligible. Again, this is expected and true to the Glitch genre. It is, as I've hinted at in the first paragraph, the sustain and the entanglement of its layers that altogether carry the track. The resulting sound waves provoke a feeling of uneasiness and pressure. The second track Scattered Sweetness may have an auspicious title, but doesn't stray too far away from Heivard's formula. And yet, the song is way warmer and cozier due to its oscillations of analogue AM radio frequency washes that are complemented by proper beats, ever-morphing 8-bit Dub basslines and occasional shakers. Melodies are yet again too vestigial, and it is curiously enough the rudimentary tone sequences of the Dub that leave an impression. The radio frequencies, on the other hand, consist of roughly four notes and are time-shifted, warbled and intertwined, resulting in a hybrid of a spectral heat. It's by no means a danger-evoking composition, and I can totally relate to the titular sweetness. An unexpectedly cozy track – in regard to the Glitch genre, mind you.

Broken Mirrors is the third track, and now things are starting to get really chilly and potentially bloodcurdling. The bass line is definitely thumping now while one-second long loops of an unhealthy radiance and an attached horror are whirring boldly. When I first encountered this tune, I've tried to come up with a catchy description that explicates the baneful gloominess. After reflecting a few minutes, I came up with a proper explication: the swirling loops evoke a claustrophobic-cacophonous uncanniness. These aren't mere buzzwords! Those pale synth strings and towering whistles are tied together by a varying three-note to four-note synth pad melody that distantly resembles an Italo piano. It's a terrific track and even though Heivard does rely on loops, they are placed in an organic manner. They cycle, merge, depart and re-connect. The only constant base frame consists of the rhythmic patterns. This song is a feast for Dark Ambient fans – the included elements themselves aren't dark, but since they provide a spine-tingling listening experience, Broken Mirrors can without a doubt be counted to the genre. As if Heivard knew about these spinning thoughts, he comes up with a proper Dark Ambient track as the closer. Aesthetic Violence is surprisingly similar to the already mentioned artist Machienefabriek whose closer Vijf of his album Stroomtoon is built in a likeminded manner: frightening beats that sound like pernicious footsteps scare the living daylights out of me, I have to admit. The composition takes the listener into post-apocalyptic vaults full of reverberated staccato percussion, glaring-red portentuous synth sweeps and howling whistles of the industrial kind. Bit-crushed, overdriven guitar sirens are thrown at the listener and are, together with a ghostly storm, the last things that are heard before the Flows EP closes on a terrifying, soul-crushing note.

Oh my, I did expect an innocent Glitch album, and this is what the listener gets, but only in parts. The more the listener advances through the Flows EP, the eerier and more horrifying the layers and textures become. What starts in a fragile, glacial way with Light Rain, Heavy Rain, Light Rain and moves into the comforting, entrancing wells of analogue radio frequencies and 8-bit Dub droplets becomes more and more mean and threatening. Broken Mirrors presents a cacophony that isn't atypical for the genre, but nonetheless boosted to the maximum, while the final Aesthetic Violence is mind-blowing in regard to the depiction of its rusty, steel-laden burrows. The shift is totally surprising and unforeseeable, all the more so since the Glitch genre has its basic rules and slowly developed traditions. Heivard offers an exciting take on the formula in the second, duskily illuminated half of the EP that outshines the first two offerings with style, impetus and ease. While the beats are revved up as the EP progresses, the ambience is still an integral part of aurally painting the various moods that permeate through the four offerings. Since the EP is available for free, it's a no-brainer. Go get it if you are distantly interested in either the Glitch or Dark Ambient genre. You won't be disappointed. In fact, you might be tremendously intrigued. I know I am! But beware, Pop Ambient fans: the Flows EP won't be right up your alley, for its darkness and strictly reduced melodies and textures probably won't excite you. Skillful Glitch listeners who have listened to shedloads of various Ambient styles over the years and decades may want to check Heivard's EP out. The first two tracks are very bright, while the remaining half is terrifically calamitous. It's as easy as that. Now go and grab it!




Ambient Review 096: Heivard – Flows EP (2012). Originally published on Jul. 18, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.