Isolation by Dortmund, Germany-based Ambient musician Earlyguard aka Tom Frühwacht is one of his long-form pieces of 50+ minutes and thus an archetypical artifact which invites fans of synth-heavy, ethereal and densely-layered music to absorb it. Self-released in 2013 and available to purchase and fully streamable at Bandcamp, the track resembles what I would call a sleek concept. At first sight, there is not much to write about it, for the palette of textures is decidedly contiguous and cohesive, Earlyguard’ focuses on creating and kindling a forsaken wasteland of the mind. Naturally, there is much more to write about this work, and this is due to the producer’s pet peeve of attaching a deliberately artificial and abstract concept to his works, and he does so on Isolation as well. Similar to his long piece Pareidolia (2013) which is about the tendency of the human brain to distill and recognize patterns in everything it sees, Isolation is dedicated to psychologist Sigmund Freud’s very own definition of isolation. He sees it as a defense mechanism of the mind whenever it comes across unwanted or painful memories. These can be better annihilated when they do not cause too much sorrow or embarrassment; the brain’s capacities can be used more efficiently. As soon as this double entendre becomes clear, the track suddenly opens up… and reveals (at least) four highly intriguing ingredients or essences which I further carve out below. My review of Isolation is therefore a textural analysis. In addition, this review is part of my Winter Ambient Review Cycle, a scheme I revisit each December. Why this work is included in there is also explicated below, for it is not overly clear at first sight.


To describe an Earlyguard track as ethereal is superfluous, as the wraithlike density is embroidered in every composition and thus omnipresent. However, it seems particularly worthwhile to carve out the meaning of these ongoing processes of encapsulation, submergence and embracement in regard to a track title like Isolation. The opening phase is a harbinger of the things to come, but first sees Earlyguard making use of a stereotyped – but not chintzy – texture which is often used in Ambient music when forsakenness, loneliness or, well, isolation need to be aurally depicted: chilling wind gusts. As ubiquitously present as the admixed low frequency protrusions in Hollywood blockbusters which are used to wind up the power and glooming ardor of fire that eats up an old house or complete concrete jungles, these cyber whispers, figments of long lost times and enigmatic gales showcase the interstices of nullity, of a virtual room where one is left alone.


Earlyguard absorbs this genre convention, but then makes a U-turn and embroiders contravening surfaces which sit on the opposite side of the spectrum by extrapolating togetherness, or at the very least vestiges of consolation: synth choirs. The ones used in Isolation are of the designedly electronic kind. They gyrate, oscillate and waft around the hollow reverberations of the gales, trying to become one with this antagonistic elemental force, but to no avail. This fact alone is not particularly soul-crushing, as this impression highly depends on the listeners, with many of them undoubtedly falsifying my take on this dichotomy. However, what is crepuscular and portentous is both the slowness of these patterned amalgamations or serpentine movements and the mystical aura emanated from them due to the use of tones in minor. In this regard, Isolation feels purposefully moss-grown and antediluvian, harkening back to the New Age-driven attributes of pristine purity and clarity.


Speaking of purification and cleansing of the soul, there is a third important part of Isolation, probably the most contradictive one in the given context. To briefly sum up the aforementioned ingredients: Earlyguard unites galactic wind gusts on the one hand with synth choirs in minor on the other. And now a third structure is interwoven, and this one is based on crystalline polyhedric structures. Coruscation and incandescence illumine the interim crevasses and abyssal ravines of the landscape which is transformed into music. Piercing polar lights and glacial otherworldly rays are emitted and add elements of coldness and distance. It is exactly here where the poignant reoccurrence of the isolation topos comes into play once more, for high frequency coils, no matter how rapturous or mirthful, are ultimately prone to unchain uneasy feelings, doubtful trains of thoughts as well as labyrinthine convolutions. The track becomes full circle for the moment, as the eerie luminosity of these sound-based beams make a defense necessary; these shimmering lights are the harmful thoughts! The listening self needs to guard its existence, the shields must be up. It comes down to this: said coruscation and light is not of the heartwarming, but the hazardous kind. Like an ignis fatuus, it is best to avoid it or adamantly deny its realness.


I have already explicated the fourth and final layer – or rather: timbre – of Earlyguard’s composition, but am going to pinpoint it here in precise clarity. It is coldness. Hibernal chilliness of the utmost frosty kind. The wind gales turn to blizzards. The mystical sequences in minor become threnodic apotheoses. The rays of light lose what little warmth is left. This is the endpoint which is mercilessly built up, maintained and nurtured throughout the 50+ minutes, but only near the temporal end of Isolation, one seems to know. Despite the winterly loneliness and the ice-cold mephitic bursts, a positive ending – and thus an enjoyable confrontation – is implied, but it takes the liner notes to sum things up astutely. Earlyguard cites the Wikipedia article of Sigmund Freud’s concept of isolation whose enlightening sentence is as follows: “As a defense against harmful thoughts, isolation prevents the self from allowing these [unwanted] cognitions to become recurrent and possibly damaging to the self-concept.” Isolation does not end with a self-explanatory climax, let alone starts to let euphonious euphoria into its structure, but consequently amplifies the presence of the synth choir. One is not alone anymore, the self-imposed isolation period is over, at least for the very moment. Life and slightly more positive memories can start to prosper… outside the musical realm of Isolation.


It might be surprising – and potentially audacious – to point out in this review’s closing paragraph that an in-depth view on Isolation is pointless, for it is Ambient music and one single track only. What else is there to write other than it soothes the soul and provides a wondrous aura for desk-related tasks or contemplation hours aka meditation? Here comes the twist: Earlyguard fortunately overcame the state of delivering Ambient music that is based on personal backgrounds, simple-minded states of nature and other related phenomena. This is, if you will, erudite Ambient which thankfully functions on two different layers: it can be enjoyed without knowing the reason of its existence or the aesthetic driving factor, but the true key in understanding this work is by cherishing the explanatory notes.


Ethereal Ambient music or Space Ambient is – most unfortunately so – rather abstract and often less optimally suited for transforming nature. Works like Thom Brennan’s Mist (2000) or Alpha Wave Movement’s Eolian Reflections (2012) depict mountainous fog banks and the Grand Canyon respectively, but without the front artwork or guiding information, the listener would be lost due to their purely synth-driven physiognomy. Earlyguard’s coup de main is as follows: he targets an already abstract concept, so nothing can go wrong in particular. My interpretation may be totally off or elbowed away with a sentence like “tried too hard,” but the four above-mentioned essences wind, tones in minor, crystalline complexions as well as coldness altogether model a fitting concept of isolation. That this is then linked to Sigmund Freud’s elaboration in a second step which itself allows a (formerly contradictory) reception full of enjoyment and consolation in a third and final step makes mystique, twilight and uncertainty bearable and embraceable. Could Freud’s text even make more sense while Earlyguard's piece is simultaneously running in the background, empowering cross-fertilization of the highest magnitude?



Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase and fully stream Isolation at Bandcamp.
  • What might Earlyguard's Twitter handle be? Is it @Earlyguard?



Ambient Review 290: Earlyguard – Isolation (2013). Originally published on Dec. 4, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.