A Relevant Space






Sircle is the Ambient project of London-based James Mills whose album A Relevant Space was released in November 2012 on the Frozen Forest label in a digital-only version. It is available on Bandcamp. While the artist is also versatile and brave enough to venture into the genre’s next of kin called Tech House, I believe that Sircle’s beatless six-track album is much more aesthetically pleasing, especially so since it leads a potentially desultory listener on the wrong track: Mills created all six tracks with their usage in a floatation tank or isolation tank in mind. I know what you might think. This is esoteric New Age music with an all too narrow focus. I beg to differ, and strongly so. Not only is the album created for the usage in such tanks… it is already being actively used worldwide according to the liner notes. All tracks clock in around the ten-minute mark, and their formulaic runtime has a reason, for it takes about 40 minutes for the participant’s brain to adjust to the etherial, otherworldly experience and reach a quasi-narcoleptic state while being fully awake and aware of everything. The basic premise for this album might be off-putting to listeners who usually crave for progressive story arcs or artfully created themes and abstract viewpoints, but rest assured that the music itself is fantastic and works in places that have next to nothing to do with isolation tanks. Naturally, there are traces of New Age-oid specialties such as wind chimes or glistening stardust glitters, they are, however, skillfully woven into the densely layered wadded thicket of the Pop Ambient scaffolding, the latter of which frames each of the tracks. Pop Ambient is the important catchword. Sircle’s pieces are tremendously benign and gracious, the amount of the layers might be surprisingly low, but their surfaces are nurtured with haze and mist and seem much more orotund or humbly ostentatious than they really are, making A Relevant Space an unexceptionally synth-driven object of desire for this kind of Ambient listeners. I dare a closer look in the following paragraphs, and no, I have not listened to this album while being in a floatation tank, but that should not keep me off of reviewing it regardless.


A Lunar Decent is the opener of the album, and Sircle does not waste any time. He unleashes a thermal-aqueous duality right from the start. A dusky but warm drone layer marks the silkened aorta of the arrangement. Wraithlike wind gusts, whitewashed machine-resembling clatters and a bright polar light-lit river mesh with the hazy fundament. The ensuing aura is majestic and perfectly calm despite the superb entanglement and intertwining of the traversing machine layers. They seem to be taken right from the Space-Age era, some of the machines simulate fizzling warp engines, others resemble the dulcet susurration of ultramodern monorail systems, and even the distant evocation of a bustling bag of microwave-compatible popcorn is added at one point. It is the omnipresence of these machines and soft breezes that elevate an otherwise commonplace form of transcendence that has been heard and experienced through the power of Ambient music many times before. These engines and crisp drones really ennoble A Lunar Decent and even accomplish to inject sprightliness in a contemplative piece, yet another two-layered stratum of this album. The following Su Cielo changes the intrinsic superstructure, for it is a truly aquatic piece full of liquedous blebs and dripstone cave-like droplets. There are nonetheless many sizzling winds passing through the echoey cave. The synth work is noteworthy too, as Sircle meshes two warm layers of synth choirs. They are purposefully wonky and often out of phase, resembling the trade winds which flow through the fissures and cracks of the panorama. Su Cielo is also a nod to Brian Eno’s earliest Ambient pieces or the synth-fueled 80’s soundscapes which encapsulate a similar timbre. Of further interest is the wave-like structure: the incessant ebb and flow of the warped synths not only change the temperature of the track, but allows a closer look at the water streams which gurgle in the background.


Pressures Of Altitude is next, and it is an enormously ethereal piece… for better or for worse, as the seraphic angel synths are tremendously warm and mesmerizing, but have been heard before, for example in Wolfgang Voigt’s melancholic All project; Alltag 1–4 (2000) is not only based on the same textures, but the exact same timbre. This is no flaw per se, Pressures Of Altitude is not a mere copy and might well turn out to be the best track of the album. Firstly, James Mills places delicate clicks and crunchy scintillae in adjacency to the nostalgic snugness, again augmenting the mercurialness of the composition ever so carefully. Secondly, he does not shy away from confronting the listener with a pitch-black nothingness for the first time. While the black backdrop is camouflaged in all other wave-like arrangements with gentler noises of sound, there are moments of complete silence on this piece before the resplendent bliss in the form of Alltag-like synths returns. I really like this track, it is curiously heavy and embracing, yet the loftiest artifact of the album. Up next is the eponymous A Relevant Space which starts with a surprise, for Sircle lets in the real life into the transcendental ethereality. A field recording of frolicking children on a playground or in a lido is intermingled with an utterly gorgeous drone monotony. The synth gleams and shines in a blazingly vivacious color spectrum, starts with a bright and soft trait before a more dynamic stream is grafted onto it. The reoccurring screams of glee boost the excitement, the blurriness and the following clarity of the flamboyant synth let the listener feast on its altered characteristics, and I have to wonder why this is not the actual opener of the album due to its gradual transition from real-world experiences to amicable gateways to a disembodied nullity.


Under The Sand is the penultimate track, but the listener does not receive a beach treatment in the classic sense. There are no sunbeams or turquoise-tinged ocean waves. Instead, their cyberspace counterparts take over: a high-plasticity lapping of water greets the listener and turns into hazy pink noise streams a few minutes later, a warming two-note synth melody of pristine contentment flows through the ether, short bursts of twinkling starlights occur, and the distant backdrop of tape hiss eventually smoothens the auroral diorama. If there is one questionable inclusion, it would be the New Age ingredients such as the hollow goblet drums or the clave-like clicks which are presented at one point and are a bit too punchy plus overly esoteric. Don’t let my love-hate relationship with the New Age genre prevent you from thoroughly enjoying this song. The duration of their appearance does not even cross the 20-second mark in this track of ten minutes, so everything is perfectly fine in the end. I especially like the traces of melodies in this piece which break the spell of monotony. A terrific piece! The apotheosis to this album is called Reflection. Sircle moves into more rural and earthen climes by marrying a field recording of either footsteps in the sand or a walk through a wood over crackling branches with a shelter-giving sun-soaked synth string whirling that resides in the same tonal and melodious range as Markus Guentner’s solemn attribution for Pop Ambient 2003 called Chrom. It is the half-tones and the wafting luminosity that make this setup so ecclesial, thought-provoking and becalming. The addition of plinking-dewy piano notes expands the scope of this composition further, making it a Modern Classical piece of sorts, taking the focus away from the ethereal climes onwards to the impression that the listener or the floating passenger has reached a state that roots in more realistic, less transfiguring climes. There can only be one closer out of the six songs that feels aesthetically right in its place, and Reflection is it.


James Mills is a specialist when it comes to the utilization and application of floatation tanks in terms of the correct usage and treatment in order to prevent high stress levels and tension. Good thing, I say. Even more impressive, however, are the music-related aspects which are related to this form of relaxation. Sircle’s A Relevant Space is a beautiful Ambient work full of semi-saccharine, highly accessible and yet densely layered structures and coatings which are a feast for the followers of the formerly Cologne-based but now worldwide observed Pop Ambient movement. Yes, there are questionable New Age slivers in this album, but they never destroy the balance of a composition and are only whimsically used. They are perceptible and do not fit in the overall scheme in my opinion, but this is the only major thing I have to criticize; and this major thing is infinitesimal anyway. The good parts outweigh the lackluster ones by a wide margin, and I really don’t know where to start: is it the glaring nods to artists like Wolfgang Voigt, the similar synths, the refreshing coalescence of water drops – same old, same old! – with magnanimous portions of euphony and carefreeness, or the fact that despite the narrow theme, each track sounds completely different, features new layers, patterns, textures and surfaces everywhere? I cannot give a definite answer other than the assertion that I am definitely hooked. The following sentence might be of a conflictive nature, but it is not meant to be read as such: A Relevant Space is retrogressive. Not dated. It sounds top-notch, literally swallows the listener and fittingly allows him or her to submerge, but at the same time it kindles, maintains and nurtures a deliberate coziness and ubiquitous feeling of being save and worshipped. It has been done before. It won’t be en vogue in 2013 and the coming years where electro-acoustic Drone pieces full of excitement, acidity or a crestfallen melancholy will likely continue to impress the Ambient community. Sircle’s A Relevant Space is, well, a relevant counterpoint to it. Its synth-heavy appearance is a boon, and it only happened very recently that I made the same remark about Bristol-based John Doak’s aka Fontaine’s Delays (2012) which is built on similar premises: adjusting the synths rather than tinkering with the guitar. I am glad that there are still such albums out there. Wholeheartedly recommended to every Pop Ambient listener and Drone fans who favor a well-lit void à la Dreamfish (1993) over demonic darkness.




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Ambient Review 182: Sircle – A Relevant Space (2012). Originally published on Feb. 13, 2013 at