Isolation Experiments
Vol 1 





The Chicago-based Drone musician and guitarist Cinchel aka Jason Shanley finally reports back with a new self-released album in January 2013 several months after his persuading record Stereo Stasis (2012) which combined a triptych of different moods and left your humble reviewer behind in an addle-pated state. I could and still cannot believe my ears what today’s Drone musicians are capable of doing with such a mundane instrument as the guitar and a soupçon of software-based post-processing effects. In 2013, Cinchel makes sure that I remain in that bewildered state, thank you so much! Isolation Experiments Vol 1 is the work I am talking about, available to purchase and listen to in full at Bandcamp, with the limited physical release and its hand-painted cover drawn by the artist himself already sold out. The story behind the album might be more than a bit ordinary, but the intrinsic concept is definitely not! Isolation Experiments Vol 1 presents a very long Drone track that was recorded and played live on January 12, 2013 at the WNUR-FM radio station in Evanston, Illinois. Cinchel brought his guitar, Fender Twin amplifier, laptop and related gadgets to their studio, but did not start to jam; he instead unveiled an enchanting alloy of concepts and spadeworks. Warm-hearted guitar drones he had in mind and rehearsed before were then reassembled, intertwined and adjusted live. The result is a blast! Rarely have I encountered a warmer, mellower but nonetheless dynamic opus that changes its form time and again, only to let its elements re-enter at later points. The first of the seven included tracks is the actual live recording, but the remaining six tracks are of equal – probably even greater – importance, for they are the carved out isolation experiments which point to the album title and were captured during Cinchel's performance. The six commingled vignettes stand a chance even in an isolated track form, and so Shanley decided to include them. While many people think of the first track as the real deal due to its sprawling dimensions, I can assure you that the shorter tracks and loops reveal much more about the title track and let it appear in a new light, revealing tidbits, timbres and accentuations that are otherwise hidden.


Almost 37 minutes of blissful drones await the listener on the centerpiece of Cinchel’s loop gallimaufry. Eight Part Destruction (Matrix Mix) is not quite the real deal, if you allow me this perky assertion, for it is a so-called composite edit with every of the eight major sections of the original live recording on board, but imperceptibly condensed. Besides, who would speak of an edit in the given magnitude of this energetic artifact? The track does indeed have a micro-progressive arc, but more about this in a moment. It launches with a clear cut golden-shimmering bonfire-esque guitar melody, which is undoubtedly the biggest surprise, for Cinchel is known for the skillfull masking of its origin. Not here, not in this prelude. The mood is tense and mournful, with a pitch-black nothingness reigning in the background. Thankfully, the listener will never encounter it again over the course of this album; the Chicago-based artists grafts iridescently oscillating strings awash with light onto the threnodic melody, and all of a sudden, the doleful aura completely changes into a superimposition of power ballad drones. An admixed Shoegaze guitar boosts the impetus of the rapturous setting, and even though it is decidedly acidic and vigorous, it does not swallow the other layers completely, but grants their luminescence to permeate from the background. It is often the case that melodies suffer in Drone works, are purposefully reduced to half-tone spirals or two-note schemes. This is decidedly not the case here, for Jason Shanley lets the guitar strings gleam and sparkle in a mercurial fashion, no traces of haze or mist are found at the moment.


There is a reoccurring formula injected though, and yes, I’m still talking about the first track: the jumpiness or spikiness of the melodies gets silkened and smoothened with diffuse filters whose blurriness – you’ve guessed it – transform the galactic glissando into a languorous legato. The interplay between whitewashed streams, clanging acid guitar layers and elastically shuttling blebs is both exciting and balmy, and if you discount the opening phase, there are euphonious strata and ecclesiastic susurrations en masse in this piece. I have briefly mentioned the micro-progressive arc in the preceding paragraph. I am using this term to describe the zone out quality of this tune. It meanders and drones along as the minutes progress. But it isn’t boring. It’s galvanic! This has to do with the intrinsic sections, sequences and phases the track runs through. Shapeshifting takes place on microscopic levels, metamorphoses arise for a minute or two before they are replaced. Since the euphoria of the whole construction is omnipresent, a desultory listener might think of this as a monotonous piece. No! No, I say! There is progression aplenty, there are Prog Rock-insinuating phases around the 24-minute-mark, a reappearing churchly organ-oid solemnity after 16, 20 minutes and 30 minutess of runtime, and a synth choir-evoking meltdown phase as Eight Part Destruction approaches its endpoint. This tune is gargantuan, quality and quantity coalesce, and don’t get me started about my puzzlement regarding Cinchel’s live performance. Read that slowly: this is a live track. Capacious, panoramic and amicable. This piece embraces the listener, it is benign and powerful.


There is this nagging thought of degrading the following six tracks as mere afterthoughts. That would be ill-advised. They are in fact altogether part of the magnanimous main track, presented in a distilled form and generously amplified through a Vox VR-15 during the live performance. These loops originally made up large portions of the whole track, and are now given the opportunity to shine on their own. Since all of these instances are enormously friendly and melodious, the listener knows what to expect by now. Still, their isolated form offers another possibility and chance, namely to feast on their strong aura, to pinpoint their cusps, angular points and textural grace. The beautifully named Roaring Rings, Saturn Waves marks the beginning of these fitting Isolation Experiments. It is an unexpectedly dynamic loop, perfectly mellifluous and meek, but otherwise loaded with lots of layers. An abyssal bass aorta serves as the frame, warmly bubbling and pulsating synth vesicles conflate with yellow-tinged glistening guitar twangs and a rotor-esque Space-Age backcoupling. That this tune is not perceived as a mere loop is the electric guitar’s merit which interpolates the mesmeric thermal heat with a whale song-like Prog Rock attitude, an admittedly questionable choice due to its piercing iciness, but an apt inclusion that points back to the spacey track title. The following A Brief Intermission With Pause is pure warmth, its point of departure resembles the processed guitar mélange of Roaring Rings, Saturn Waves, but then takes another route. A monotonous polar light organ illuminates the warped guitar intermixture and remains the last ingredient of this epicurean guitarscape.


Whispers Of A Waltzing Harp is a very strong vignette, as its distantly melancholic guitar chords are delicately soft, it seems as if a veil covers the layers, everything sounds perfectly clear and yet a bit hazy. The guitar melody cross-fades with a bass drone and reciprocating legato strings whose orange-colored fragility is amplified into a crunchy state of strength. Small traces of dissonances wash over the scenery, and I believe this has to do with the clash of the melancholy that has to face the encapsulating incandescence of the deepened guitars, but I could be wrong. Dances On Steam is next and while I remember the pristine timbre and purified, aquatically bright guitar melody, I did not notice the crystalline guitar-synth concoction in-between the various fissures; the particular alteration I am talking about resembles the dreamy voice of a chantress. It is of course a guitar, but seriously, if I did not know the setting nor the equipment Cinchel used for the creation of this album, I would have pondered quite a bit whether female vocals were the cornerstone. Apart from this observation, there is another dose of haze and tape hiss in this loop which coat some of the layers and expand the dreamscape of it. That the lead guitar is played in a Sicilian way may cause goosebumps, but I like its impingement since it counterattacks the soothing structure. It even makes a return in The Mourning Cup Of Coffee with its boasting guitars. If these instruments were humans, they’d be bodybuilders in this track. Their overdriven state lets them sound feisty, and the plinking lead guitar builds an incisive counterpoint to the desert-like heat. It even manages to tower above these maelstroms. The final track is called Forever Landing and ends the album in a gorgeously mysterious way. It is here that large amounts of fog and mist are injected, resulting in a fusion of thickly wadded synth creeks (I know it’s masked guitars all right), acroamatic bass bursts of the supernova kind and further contemplative guitar layers that merge perfectly with the curiously thunderous but balmy setting. A strong, enigmatic and thought-provoking outro of the loop selection which encourages me in my wish that Cinchel ought to come up with a Space-Age.dump record to broaden his collection of so-called Dump releases on Bandcamp. My tweet alone should justify this. Oh, it doesn't? Okay then…


Cinchel’s Isolation Experiments Vol 1 is a superb guitar-fueled Drone album. It has one flaw that might cause a lackluster reaction by some people, for it is not embedded in a story arc, but a live situation. While live albums are common artifacts in the electronic music scene, listeners usually want to be lured by a great, interesting narrative in the abstract sense of the word. Mentioning the fact that one highly skilled Drone artist sat down one night at Chicago’s WNUR radio station in order to present a ginormous, densely layered and meticulously prepared sound collage is probably not enough to gain traction. But no harm is done, for Cinchel's work is clearly not labeled as an album in the classic sense, but an offering to the fans, to people who love and care for Jason Shanley’s talent, and those who want to peak behind the curtain. Not many electronic musicians talk about their specific setups, imaginative approaches or focused strategies, lest other artists might look all too close at the techniques. The magic would be harmed. Cinchel’s Isolation Experiments Vol 1 boldly hints at a forthcoming series of events that could be structured in a similar way. And I for one fell prey to that structure: opening the disc with the original, only slightly altered and condensed live recording full of euphony, bliss and warmth, manifold guitar layers, amplified effects and processed particles, it is this tune called Eight Part Destruction (Matrix Mix) which is clearly in the spotlight. It does not demand much from the listener, and this is not meant as an offense and should not imply that Cinchel’s work is shallow or easy to consume! I refer to its accessibility and snugness, there are no eclectic cascades, labyrinthine riffs or snarky bit-crushed Glitch flecks unleashed. 


All the listener needs to have besides his or her love for Ambient music is roundabout 37 minutes of spare time. And hell, if one does not accomplish such a feat, all is not lost: why not check out the selections that could be interpreted as the actual, truthful gold nuggets of this album, the six loop structures themselves? Where by loop, I mean large, ever-changing constructions, not two-second snippets. It is here that the centerpiece opens up as the artist allows us to take a much closer look at its arrangement. Whatever you prefer, Isolation Experiments Vol 1 is a gargantuan, meaningful release due to its music-related concept and despite its missing message. If Cinchel claimed this to be a Space Ambient album, for instance, I would have believed it. Paint a distant planet for the front sleeve, use a font that even lets Futura look retrogressive, et voilà, people would scream and celebrate. Don’t be fooled by the trivially humdrum setting – a musician playing live at a radio station – since the impact is much larger, the album so excitingly cordial and mesmerizing. There is only one question left to answer: what business does the strange sub-genre called Doom have in the tag cloud of Isolation Experiments Vol 1 over at Bandcamp? No one will ever know. Jason Shanley, you cheeky buster!




Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase and listen to Isolation Experiments Vol 1 in full via this Bandcamp link.
  • Follow Cinchel on Twitter: @cinchel.
  • Oh the tension! Read everything about Cinchel's gig-related preparations on his blog.






Ambient Review 182: Cinchel – Isolation Experiments Vol 1 (2013). Originally published on Feb. 13, 2013 at