The City






One of the greatest thematic trinities in Ambient music consists first of the yearning for ethereal, wraithlike places, not necessarily of the New Age kind, but still densely layered and enchanting enough to feel swallowed, salvaged or encapsulated. A second possibility is to poeticize perfectly real, rural landscapes. It is the alternative draft, the counterpoint to the celestial climes. But even this aspect experiences an antagonistic device: Ambient is moved back to metropolis. Not coincidentally, this is exactly how the genre was truly carved out, at least under its well-known name, in Brian Eno’s Music For Airports. And this is how it developed ever since. Concrete jungles can cause great stress – same old, same old – but if they are transfigured, seen through different eyes from a snugly place of shelter, it so happens that the dynamics, traffic noise, bustling life and neon lights turn into something more meaningful once they are transcoded into music. Calgary-based Krzysztof Sujata aka Valiska creates just that with his self-released debut EP of 2010 which I finally got around to review: a homage to the city. Fittingly called The City, his five-track artifact draws from many microstylistic flecks and provides an interesting journey due to the clever collages, the Drone nature that seems to circumvent the bustling city life at first, and the blending of field recordings with electronics. Whereas many Glitch and Drone records depict similar city-related prospects from a bird’s eye perspective or through a camouflaged silkened veil that is strictly detached from the noisy melting pot – Microstoria’s Init Ding (1995), Takashi Wada’s Meguro (2004), Marconi Union’s Tokyo (2009) and Linear BellsLos Angeles EP (2012) are but four examples amid a never-ending stream of cityscapes –, Valiska’s The City, which you can fetch and listen to in full at his Bandcamp site, is much more earthen and cognizably rooted in a more realistic setting. 


The whitewashed blur of diffuse traffic noise in Drone form, that’s the beginning of Recollection, an 8+ minutes long thunderously energetic Shoegaze piece. The wadded sounds at the beginning lead to crunchy guitar layers, their overdriven strings cause medulla-emptying spark discharges. The claustrophobic nothingness as a backdrop allows the electric guitar to shine and be the only source of lucency. After more than four minutes, a further shift occurs in the form of square lead synth-evoking oscillations which are grafted into the acidic gallimaufry to serve as towering devices of both euphoria and melancholy. The song fades out with rain-resembling crackles and the sudden realization that despite the attack rate and adamant severity of the guitars, it is the glowing warmth they provided which boosts the impetus of this opener, a warmth that is missing in the cross-fading The Curved Tower. It is here that a generous dose of ethereality is first injected in adjacency to softer guitar twangs: wonky, elastically wobbling synth strings in high regions conflate with a light blue-tinged granular mist. The aural landscape resembles braking trains, darker horn-like sweeps traverse by and insert a whimsical bit of a Königsforst feeling into the endemic panorama. The Curved Tower feels much lighter, and even though its textures and surfaces are more varied, its vibrant impact is deliberately lessened by the softness and fragility of all of its ingredients.


Up next is 9th, which is, in Sujata’s own words "a sound collage piece created using various recordings done in and around Calgary." The beans are spilled. The City EP can of course be linked to any megacity as the field recordings are too unspecific to be punctiliously pinpointed, but this is the one track where Valiska advects a clear geographic statement. 9th succeeds with a gorgeous wideness of its recordings which altogether prove my point that this EP depicts the city life from the inside. Public transportation vehicles, hectic pedestrians, honking horns and the droning pink noise of cars passing by create an often feared and seemingly mundane, but high-plasticity insight into a briskly place in the heart of Calgary’s 9th avenue. No synthetic droplets or guitar infusions are featured, this is a pure good-old panoramic field recording created with proper equipment. And thanks to Google Streetview, the listener can now relate visually to this street with ease. The remaining two tracks return to the Drone genre. It Felt Weird, the shortest piece which clocks in just a bit over the two minute mark, features flamboyant harmonica or mouth organ sequences in front of a hypnotizing sough with ship horn-esque drone patterns. I even spot a few steel guitar- or harp-resembling driblets in this mélange, but of equal importance is the interplay between the layers which results in a wonderful euphony full of contentment and majesty. The melodies themselves are not particularly strong or noteworthy. This would have been a bad bonfire track due to all these plucking splinters; the backing drones and the field recordings, however, cover the lacunar fissures and create a polyphony in major that softens everything. The following Longing is both centerpiece and apotheosis of this EP and features a great twist: a poem written and recited by Valiska himself! Longing is a Drone power ballad. I kid you not, it is here where the euphony of the former It Felt Weird escalates into a forceful euphoria in the veins of the opener Recollection. The finale starts once again in foggy climes with interspersed guitar strings. Amplification and crunchiness soon rise, accentuated by plinking staccato scintillae and a piercing guitar layer which towers above the overdriven conglomeration. The greatest portion of the lyrics might be doleful, but the whole arrangement inherits the positive aura of the two nucleic stanzas, of which I want to cite one: "And in that moment, standing on that muddy hill watching buildings lose their shape, there was no where else I had to be. The city, its towers of noise, had vanished."


The above stanza sounds like the final conclusion, but does really only make up half of the progression this EP experiences over its course. What Sujata describes in retrospect as "an ode to the bus driver, a beacon of city life, vibrancy and noise," is much gentler and cozier on the one hand… and tremendously more powerful on the other. A mirroring scheme is applied to the overarching structure: the opener and the outro are the clear-cut Shoegaze pieces with intimidating but ultimately warmhearted and inviting guitar layers. Especially the final piece is accessible and amicable, a surprise in the given context of the rather grave and melancholic lyrics. Tracks 2 and 4 function as becalming, mollifying and cozy artifacts of the bustling activities in the city. They also serve as mystifying markers due to the generous amount of haze and mist. The core of this EP comprises of 9th, the one and only dedicated field recording with a clear hint to the biographic and geographic circumstances of the artist. Calgary is the city of devotion, but you would not know it without the information given by Valiska himself. The reciprocating incandescence, the differing states of twilight and harmony, the almost bone-crushing antithetic dynamics of the guitars in comparison to the silkier permeable Ambient structures with the admixed traffic noises and girdling wind gusts make The City a great EP both from a conceptual and thematic standpoint and a music-related textual implementation. The City, being a debut, also marks the four columns of Krzysztof Sujata’s approach: field recordings, Drone, Shoegaze and poetry. All of the four are allotted time and again on his other works. The City is the important cornerstone of Valiska’s works that has not lost any of its momentousness over the years. An important reminder to revisit debuts and works for contrasting reasons and in order to distill a kind of deeper understanding.




Further listening and reading:  






Ambient Review 173: Valiska – The City (2010). Originally published on Jan. 23, 2013 at