Pjusk / Sleep Orchestra
Drowning In The Sky






Drowning In The Sky hit me out of the blue, it arrived totally unexpected and withdraws the key to its arcane truth. Whenever the latter happens, I know that I have a superb work in front of me that is not open to scrutiny, but closed for winter. Which is not the strangest analogy to make, as the people behind the six-plus-one-track album are Norse veterans Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Rune Sagevik aka Pjusk. After the delivery of three polysemous albums whose raw landscapes and several caves are as mercilessly forsaken as they are all of a sudden filled with lights and glowing wisps, they are now up for a full album-length collaboration with Derby, UK-based synthesist and prroducer of minimal Ambient sparklers Christopher Pegg aka Sleep Orchestra. Released at the end of March 2014 on Moscow’s one and only Dronarivm label, curated by Bartosz Dziadosz (Pleq) and run by Dmitry Taldykin, the work is available to stream and purchase on CD and as a download at Bandcamp that comes with an additional remix by Christopher Bissonnette. That the album was not even on the radar of the involved artists but was driven by contingency is stated by Pegg whose deceased friend Juan Diego Burillo recommended the music of Pjusk to him, specifically so the ever-frosty Tele (Glacial Movements, 2012). After a meetup at Störung Festival in Barcelona, the collaboration was settled. The album is consequentially dedicated to the memory of Burillo. And what a strangely torn album it is! No worry, it is not torn apart. Countermovements, ploys and dichotomous twilight, however, are all over, amid and in-between the six original tracks. Dronarivm’s press blurb mentions that “this is the type of music to listen to when you just want to float away to another world,” and sure enough, we have heard, experienced and absorbed that statement several times before. It is still a great gateway and starting point for explaining the physical conditions and aggregate states that are morphed into sound waves. Field recordings, synth floes, click callisthenics, Drone infusions and Glitch insinuations meet, mould and migrate freely. The textures are as interesting as the interstices between them.


The opener Donitsk establishes the frame that is noticeable and imminent throughout the whole album. Urban elements such as metro memorabilia à la breaking trains or seething subways face the transcendental mutation via a moiré of vitreous synths. Donitsk never feels like the bustling megacity it is, as Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra ameliorate an all too brazen-abrasive focus with the help of soft aural lenses. The metallic clangs and the elasticity of the brakes are deeply embedded in an argentine alloy of auroral superfluids. An influx of aqueous-aeriform incidents, the opener can also be understood as a nod toward the album title, especially so when the apex of Donitsk is reached and makes room for cavernous New Age splashings and that feeling of a soul-cleansing shelter. In contrast to the plinking cannelure of the opener, the follow-up Daithn feels less liquid but manages to maintain a mucoid moisture. Vibraphone-like chime chimeras as well as ligneous and inorganic blebs vesiculate amid the softly droning bokeh aureoles. Rectilineal yet awash with pointillistic convulsions and micro bursts, the luminescence of Daithn outshines the grayish undercurrent of Donitsk and ventures into silvery, more etiolated climes. The mood is mysterious, neither welcoming the listening subject nor ostracizing the attendance. Skdiv, however, is a polyvalent affair, oscillating toward Pjusk’s darkest album Sval (2010) by means of synthetic, darkly rubicund stokehold cloudlets while augmenting these helicoidal arcana with a frightening afterglow and a shawm-like snake charmer echopraxia by guest musician Kåre Nymark Jr. whose trumpet gyrates around Middle Eastern mimicries and film noir ravines. Even Taylor Deupree is on board, although since he is such a globetrotter, it is not sure whether the addition of his Kyma refers to the sound environment software or a field recording of the eponymous river in Russia. The interstices of the cloud eruptions are filled with echoes, reverberations, figments, heterodyned mirages. A deeply eldritch affair, Skdiv is a cavity that trespassers should avoid due to the aesthetic endemics as injected by Christopher Pegg and the duo of Pjusk.


The listener remains either entrapped or enshrined, depending on the viewpoint. Aoleeingal depicts another antrum, a less glacial one to be more precise. Its galactic spirals, however, let it come close to Lovecraftian boundaries. The superbly warm temple haze notwithstanding, it is the plinking wind chimes, warbled catenae and cosmic coruscation that create a classic quandary which works so well in Ambient music, begging for an answer to the question about whether this is an uncanny or a delightful locale to stay. For once, I tend to think of this cave as an enchanted place, especially so since Sleep Orchestra and Pjusk interpolate the cozy synth flumes. They meander majestically despite their implied senescence. It is only when they stop that a certain coldness and emptiness sets in, a blackness that is only sparsely illumined by the scintillating blotches. The following Rionzemef turns out to be a lofty snow storm track, beguiling the listener with its whitewashed pink noise helixes of hissing sizzles, faraway tendrils of light and a feisty low frequency ctenidium whose recurrent trepidation adds plasticity to the blizzards, gales and zoetropic magenta cascades. The artists later add proper beats as an adjuvant, but when this happens, Rionzemef has long reached its appendix and gotten rid of the melodious counterparts. Vansunbarth is the finale and offers a long-range dark fusion of mysterious bass tunnels, swooshing whirls and a suavely swirling polar light during its apogee. Scythes, blisters, scratches, jitters, many a Glitch artifact is interwoven and adds liveliness, maybe even pressure to an otherwise gently floating rivulet. While Vansunbarth is the finale, there is a remix added beneath the endpoint, a rufescent take of Rionzemef by Dronarivm’s curator Pleq himself. Blurred beats, processed violins by Tomasz Mreńca and decidedly melodious streams provide a rather apocalyptic vision that becomes all the more frightening due to its mesmerizing, non-histrionic state.


Drowning In The Sky is a strongly dualistic work, not only because two projects decided to team up in order to create this album, not just in view to the ambivalent meaning of drowning – is it meant literally, emblematically or even grotesquely? – but because of the sound-related foes, antagonists and antimatter that moves through each and every composition as its golden thread. The synth formations retain the murkily remote spirit of Gjelsvik and Sagevik, there is Pegg's veneer of icicles, blips and clicks, and these ingredients themselves provide the base for danger and obscurity when they emit warmth and emanate benignancy aplenty only to then recalibrate their nature to seem portentous or downright pernicious. The dichotomy resides in-between the synths… that’s good enough already. In tandem with the hibernal specks and incisive flecks, the bewilderment only grows. There is a deep hollowness residing in the album. Hollowness does not equal emptiness, let alone a lack of soul! What I mean is that the closer one comes to the pith, nucleus or innermost sanctuary, the more abhorrent the missing resolution becomes. It’s clear what this album is. It’s not so clear what the album is about. The process of soul-searching, the laid-back motif of contemplation and pondering, the final attack of winter, the transmuted immersion one feels when up in the air, what could it possibly be? All parties involved remain silent in this regard and – as the old adage goes – let the music speak. Whether it is the natural rusticity of Norway or the countrified-urban ubiquity in Derbyshire, Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra create a blending that works decidedly well in terms of causing bewilderment and uneasiness on the one hand, and allure and escapism on the other. Make no mistake though: Drowning In The Sky spawns a highly enigmatic winter ambience and is, due to its tonality and camouflaged ultimate meaning, also a great New Age-oid tributary.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 329: Pjusk/Sleep Orchestra – Drowning In The Sky (2014). Originally published on Apr. 2, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.