Be My Friend In Exile
Passive/Negative is the latest EP of London-based Ambient artist and Drone afficionado Miguel Gomes aka Be My Friend In Exile. Released on the Perth, Australia-based Twice Removed label, it comes in a strictly limited physical edition wrapped in individual recycled magazine paper sleeves – as seen right above – and an additional antique postcard. The digital version which was handed over to me by both Miguel Gomes and Twice Removed curator Gavin Catling is available via this Bandcamp link. Four tracks are gathered on this EP, and it further refines Gomes' focus on dichotomous dreamlike states and masked fears which he so skillfully presented on his debut release How Do You Love? already. This time, Be My Friend In Exile does not only hark back to these darker realms, but provides a particularly welcome attention to detail that is seldom delivered by an artist whose career does not yet consist of dozens of records and multiple decades of experience: Gomes remixes himself. Neither do the four track titles mention this observation, nor is it backed by the liner notes or the press info, but there is a certain spectral leitmotif found in all of the four delivered takes. This golden thread is based on a certain texture throughout its various incarnations, but the applied filters and admixed crackles alter its state so that this does not become all too obvious. It would be wrong to signify this stylistic particularity as the single-most important – let alone correctly denominated – feature, but to me, it is refreshing that each track comprises of carefully (re-)introduced elements in contrast to, say, featuring four strongly differing soundscapes. It is an EP with a dark story arc, and what could be more exciting? With these things in mind, I am giving an overview of each contribution, with a final statement in the end. Is this a Drone release? Does Be My Friend In Exile expand the at times terrifying guitar layers of his debut? And what does the title of the EP truly mean? No stretched cliffhangers here, don't you worry, just keep on reading.
Passive/Negative launches with the eponymous title and provides the dualistic misty haze that is one of the important constituents in Miguel Gomes’ work. A wafting breeze of mellow but ultimately blue-tinted, potentially gelid synth vesicles fades in slowly, inheriting a rhythmically pulsating protuberance, allotted particles of static noise and a second marker that is often found in his music, namely a gloomier counterpart to the otherwise mellifluous synthscape; here it is injected in the form of a dusky synth choir-esque droplet, but it never cuts through the contemplative quiescence and remains in the background, at least for a certain timeframe. But still, a carefully anticlimactic setup is erected. It is further nurtured by incidental wind gusts, celestially crystalline underpinnings and a decidedly murky – and voluminous – burst of the aforementioned choir-evoking synth which points back to the track title. After this moment of negative vibrations, the aorta of the opener is back in place, highlighting the hibernal setting once more thanks to the frosty synth loop in tandem with ice-like crackles. Passive/Negative consists of the same dreamy layer that traverses all of Gomes’ compositions. This particular state is further fueled by the ensuing quietness in the sustain phase of the synths. The lacunar nature of this arrangement mediates between the passive flow and a negative undertone, but does not solve this conflict. As a dream tends to do, it only provides potential solutions, but is never the solution itself.
Up next is the poignantly titled The Night Of This Vague Desire Has No Morning, and much to my delight, it does hark back to the established textures of the opener: the same grim synths are in session, but while they were only carefully featured there, they are now evoking a sinisterly ecclesial setup. The reverb suggests a wider room and augments the impetus of the darkness. A counteracting device is needed, and it is added in the form of seraphic chimes, heavily echoey Balearic guitar twangs and an angelic chant. I would not even be surprised if a real female voice is intertwined. Be it as it may, this is a heavy and intense track, its atmosphere is thick and evokes red and brown colors, with the orange incandescence of a near-by crucible. I am usually fond of tagging anything infinitesimally creepy with the Dark Ambient label. It wouldn’t be right here though, as the contrastive character of this track is split into brighter and darker elements. But it is really much more doleful than uplifting, that’s for sure.
Beneath Steel Skies is a particularly enigmatic tune. Merging trembling temple gongs with electro-acoustic sine wave strings and reciprocating bit-crushed brazen chords, the arising concoction is strongly metallic, harsh and, as expected, scary. The most frightening elements aren’t necessarily the pompous fractures rather than the siren-like legato of the backing synths. Even though they are placed far behind, their pallid light shines through the alcoves of space and sound. The constantly bubbling chords and purposefully abstruse particles of noise make this the eeriest track on Passive/Negative, thus making it easy for me to glue the aforementioned Dark Ambient label on it. Ha! The repetitive pattern of this arrangement is lessened by the diverging bubbling factor of the distorted chords, but still remains focused and recognizable enough to put this piece in close proximity to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II, especially so to the fourth track of CD1, tentatively titled Hankie, whose tone sequences are remarkably similar, but also more upfront and carved out. Beneath Steel Skies is easy to access, but hard to digest, as the main melody is noticeably camouflaged and modified by the filters and distortion artifacts that loom close to it. It is here where Be My Friend In Exile takes a stand and unleashes the portentous bane as found on his 2012 debut How Do You Love?, especially so on the last two compositions.
The final track is of epic proportions, both in regard to its title and its duration of almost 12 minutes: On the Ceiling Beam There Is A Representation Of A Hideous Devil Spying On A Miserable Human Being features an acroamatic, arcane poignancy in its title, but is not keen on the casual desultorily kind. Fortunately, Gomes does not allow the track title to perturb the aural landscape he created – or vice versa. Instead of a slow fade-in, this critter starts in medias res with an alteration of the already well-known synth chord that has heretofore been featured in the first two tracks. It is an appallingly soul-crushing arrangement, with fragile drone strings floating in the rusty background while the grim synth stabs are unleashed time and again, their echo conflating with the red-tinted gloominess. Each stab, however, is marvelously texturized, at some points bringing a temple gong with it, at others featuring a freezing cold molecule orbiting around the nexus. When the synth stabs are diminished after the first minute, the Dronescape is fueled further, and it is here where the long runtime of the track comes in handy, as Gomes allows this vault-like atmosphere to be just there – in a passive manner – for several minutes, only slightly underlined by gentle clicks, far away steps and heavily filtered classic piano chords. The big strength of Ambient music is used to full effect here: creating, maintaining and nurturing a specific state, and let it just be. After seven minutes, there are a few surprises of the irascible kind intermixed, but apart from these shockers, the disconsolate atmosphere remains, now much more influenced by piano tercets and almost unnoticeable tones in major. Since the cherubic synth of The Night Of This Vague Desire Has No Morning is resurrected near the end, it is up to the listener to view this instance as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel… or another illusion in the dreamscape.
Be My Friend In Exile delivers another splendid Ambient EP that escapes from any attempt of pinpointing or categorizing it. The success of Miguel Gomes’ Passive/Negative works in three ways which I only realized after one too many dense listening sessions, as it only slowly dawned on me: firstly, the title of the EP is in unison with the music. The passiveness is depicted by the foggy innocence that schleps itself forward in the form of icy, but nonetheless quite mellow sounds. The negative impact, however, needs no further explication, as everything in this regard has been meticulously described by me. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I have explicated the darkness in its entirety and given you the key to properly understand this work, it is just that Gomes’ work is chock-full of the more cryptic and outlandish tonalities. Secondly, it is incredibly hard for me to categorize this work. For the moment, let us forget all the hubbub about whether it is aesthetically right or devastating to place a work in a certain context or genre at all costs. I still want to find a proper genre description for the music of Be My Friend In Exile. But I cannot think of a good enough term that does not sound stale or ludicrous. Dark Ambient is the wrong categorization. Drone is a tad more fitting, but all in all out of order as well thanks to the many fissures and spaces and the decisive amount of synth stabs. So I give up. It is dark Ambient music with a small d, but not Dark Ambient music. Get it? Thirdly and finally, Passive/Negative comprises of its own theme and motif that is revisited and reintroduced time and again in every track. If you will, Gomes remixes itself, as stated in the opening paragraph, delivering slight alterations and applying differing amounts and breeds of textures on this base frame. But what is the motif, how does it look on paper in the form of sheet music? Again, I am lost. I just know that the freedom of melody-related variety is exchanged for consistency, and since Gomes provided five largely varied songs on his debut EP already, he can now focus on the various changes and possibilities in regard to a certain motif. It resembles a synth choir, but not in that 80's fashion. It could derive from an electric guitar, but that remains a mystery. The Passive/Negative EP continues the dream-interspersed path of Miguel Gomes but gets more rusty, rustic and metallic during the process. Not for the faint-hearted, but excitingly mood-crushing and bewildering, as I have the impression I just told you about a dream: the moment you write it down, it eludes from your thoughts. Such a distinguishing mark of a work of art is a special boon.
Follow Be My Friend In Exile on Twitter: @BeMyFr.
Ambient Review 139: Be My Friend In Exile – Passive/Negative (2012). Originally published on Oct. 24, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.