Christian Doil






In a nutshell: sound designer and painter Christian Doil’s prolific album Wasser, released on Darrell Burgan's Earth Mantra netlabel in December 2010 and available for free via this link on the label’s homepage, can be best described as the aggregate phase-related counter project to Thomas Köner’s Permafrost (1993), his similarly gelid field recording-focused Novaya Zemlya (2012) or even Doil’s own Eis (2010). Wasser is based on a common – even lackluster – concept, but fear not, it is put into practice in a mind-blowing, terrifically deep way. The Leipzig, Germany-based artist simply records liquid artifacts or objects next to a source of water. It has been done before. And since. Instead of visiting gurgling rivers in the Amazon Basin like Francisco López did on one of his untitled releases, Untitled (2005), Doil chooses a securer and much saver place in order to create conclusive aquascapes: his bathroom. The banality and everyday occurrence of this setup is the biggest strength of Wasser. Since everyone and their mother is able to create a moist Ambient album by splattering in the bath, polishing the sink with cleaning agents, painting on the steamed-up window or hell, even by just flushing the toilet, it is seemingly foolproof to come up with something worthwhile. Christian Doil, however, immerses deeper by taking the morphogenesis of these recordings and either filters, processes and stretches the droplets out of them or injects new sources of girdling gurgles into them, thus camouflaging their origin. There are no melodies attached in the classic sense; all tone sequences are accidental results of their conflation and meshing with their surrounding sources of noise, making Wasser a proper Drone album. Don’t let the somewhat generic front cover fool you! The result is a profound, cavernously sweeping piece of art, comprising 11 pieces which are spanned on two discs and add up to a whopping 90 minutes of meandering waters.


The opener of almost 11 minutes, Dropnotic, opens with the depiction of an abyssal antrum in the veins of Robert Rich’s and Steve Roach’s Magma off their New Age-infused album Strata (1990), not exactly the kind of diluted soundscape that is prospected by the title. But soon enough, the vault changes into an enigmatic dripstone cave full of burbling driblets, traversing echoes and reverberating robotic drone layers. The scope of Dropnotic is very wide and much hazier and airier than both the recording setup or the clichéd picture of its realization suggest. Dunkles Fluid (dark fluid) flows along with a much greater fluxion: a moiré of muffled temple gong-interspersed runlets soon opens the veil to let the gurgling water incandesce in adjacency to distant acroamatic wind gusts. The next section leads to an almost ear-piercing stream of floating cold water, before the final waterless phase presents stretched triangle-esque glitters which whirr mysteriously through the mist. While the following Fluss Der Unendlichkeit (stream of infinity) favors once again the encapsulating belly-massaging bass drones over the reverb-heavy droplets, thus creating a circumambient crypt, it is the centerpiece Hydrofeel of 15 and a half minutes that demands a lot of patience even from the best-trained and most versatile Ambient listener. Being a progressive, slowly evolving Ambient tune at its core, the movement is too laggard for my taste. From the whimsically but successfully heartwarming organ-resembling drone polyphony over the eerily spectral sine wave strings to the ever-looped bursting blebs in front of a gamelan-evoking accompaniment, Hydrofeel is one of these erudite contemplative critters that clearly fosters meditative efforts, but feels less exciting due to its length. Hypnotischer Regen (hypnotic rain) is much more exciting due to its elastically wobbling bassline, the high-plasticity backdrop of cyberbirds and croaking crickets and the Dark Ambient-suggesting keys and reverb techniques of the noise layers. The closer of disc one is Liquidationa 12+ minutes tune that oscillates – but does not mediate – between hibernal turbulences in freezing mark climes and bone-crushing landslide-like explosions. It is a particularly sinister Ambient tune full of darkness, uncanniness and the feeding-in of a few water drops as a golden thread.


The second disc features more dramatic and adventurous collages and vignettes than disc one, without ever losing the focus on the ambience. Opener Ozean already implies the panoramic wideness via its title and comes pretty close to the formula of the aforementioned Francisco López. Introducing dynamic but still rather gently sparkling aqueous vesicles in close proximity to whitewashed metallic sweeps, the volume level increases over the course of the track as Doil unchains threnodic squeaks and intermixing loops of hot tub-filled caves. Deep drone layers round off the frequency spectrum and add a grave depth. Regentropfen (raindrops) provides a terrifying soundscape thanks to its crunchily dancing fingertips on wooden mountings or so it seems, far-away breezes and Blue Calx-like two-note cavern sounds à la Aphex Twin. It is the fingertip-like bounces and the respiratory air outlet as well as the hedging blackness which make this a deeply unsettling tune. No complaints from my side. The following Strudel realizes a vortex of brazen slivers, crashing disk saws with a piercing lucency and high levels of reverb which mesh with the omnipresent darkness. The impression of pouring rain, the incessant scrabbling and scraping and the medulla-emptying rotors rev up the spine-tingling factor yet another time. A huge favorite of mine! On the penultimate Tropfsteinhöhle (dripstone cave), the sound designer goes back to the idea of the initial opener Dropnotic and is hence keen on injecting a magnanimous amount of echoey water drops. What the title implies becomes reality in the aquascape: it features a lacunar structure, with enough room for the sustain and decay phases to fade out or mesh with the galactosamine pulses. The ensuing crevasses are filled with the reverb-fueled cocktail. The outro Watering Meditation harks back to the dreamier, but by no means snugly realms. The density of the driblets decreases, their drop rate decelerates, the amount of ghostly drone layers gains traction and the deeper frequencies boost the looming nebulosity. Watering Meditation ends all of a sudden, like the last breath of someone… or something.


No bath ducks, Pop songs in the shower, frisky burbling of water or cleaning procedures akin to Samba rhythms – Wasser is a cavernous release that is torn between the resplendent wealth of different water sounds and the various moving bath room paraphernalia. A vivacious playfulness is nowhere to be found, Wasser displays a dichotomy of becalming tranquility and a stirring deluge of water with added thunderous flashes of seemingly hazardous processed sounds deriving from the movement of the objects. But the duality does not end here, as it is also poured into the genre categorization: Wasser is as much a Dark Ambient album as it is New Age-influenced. The generous echoes, reverbs and sustain phases build a coruscating, highly mercurial and literally effervescent intrinsic soundscape full of legato drones and staccato flecks. This double album is not as soothing as one might think at first glance, and is thus all the more intriguing. Again, I have to stress both the great scope of Christian Doil’s production despite its presumably limiting recording space – one bathroom – and the diversity of his collected field recordings. Never can the listener correctly guess where a specific waterless sound derives from, no synths are gyrating around the alienating greyness; Wasser is a dead-serious sound experiment without even a glint of tongue-in-cheek additions. In the liner notes, Doil states that he "wanted to create a mental gate for traveling through water, one of the archetypes of elements. Water sounds work like a meditation; maybe our brain identifies the frequency of the water as part of us." Let me be clear that this is not a bland meditation album though! Wasser provides wild rides at times, forlorn cavities, gurgling maelstroms, flowing runnels, frosty landscapes and ferocious sound attacks. The German sound designer fathoms out a lot of the possible realms. Since it is all of these things, it is neither a dedicated mediocre New Age album nor a heart complaint-causing Dark Ambient beast. It sits somewhere between these genres, as does the majority of the material released on the Earth Mantra label. Wasser is highly recommended.




Further reading and listening:

  • You can download Wasser via this link for free, as it is released under a Creative Commons license at Earth Mantra.
  • Visit Christian Doil’s homepage for further information about his other albums and many paintings.






Ambient Review 165: Christian Doil – Wasser (2010). Originally published on Jan. 2, 2013 at