An Absent Mind
Movements For An Absent Mind is a dreamlike and therefore characteristically versatile-lucid three-track album by Nederland, Colorado-based guitarist and Ambient luminary Darren Harper. Released in July 2014 on David Teboul aka Linear Bells’ Soft Recordings in a limited edition of CD’s as well as purely digital transformations that can be streamed and purchased at Bandcamp, the label’s third release continues to genuflect before the varied surrealism that is embroidered in dreams and related gauzes. Darren Harper’s take is still no commonplace addendum to the already overcrowded subgenre of dream-related releases; the term is not mentioned in the press blurb at all. The connotation however remains, probably because of Harper calling his tracks Movement One till Movement Three. Since he is giving each of them an explanatory subtitle that mirrors the attached soundscape, the release seems to be self-explanatory right from the get-go… except that it is not. It is true that the guitar remains at the center of each track: though carefully processed, its luminosity is revved up at times, but the timbre and tone sequences it unfurls are not necessarily hued in carefreeness and paradisiac notions. Gradual progressions do take place in these three long pieces, both intrinsically and when viewed from a bird’s eye perspective. Here is a more meticulous look at them, their individual characteristics and increasingly uncertain tides.
Movement One – Nowhere, Asleep marks the beginning of the sylvan-aeriform dichotomy that is so endemic for Darren Harper’s album. Although the term duality would be a fitting marker as well, especially so in terms of its distinctly twofold fluxions that both make up the pristine granuloma, it is the concept of dichotomy that is quite a bit more precise in stressing the polarities, potential conflicts, even chasms. This first movement runs for over 27 minutes and is by no means keen on carving out dubious interstices or portentous pre-apocalypses. It rather showcases the harmony of its rich alluvial soils and fresh longitudinal airflows. Crisp guitar drones encapsulate both rhizomatic polyhedrons and streamlined reticulations of silk; arpeggiated zipper blotches and reverberated chimes plink amid the boundaries of the diorama. Echoey birdcalls round off a wonderfully Mediterranean look onto a palace courtyard drifting into the lilac ether. The adage of "bells and whistles" is an ancient one, but here these micro protrusions add a cyan quality to the prismatic multiplex. Spheroidal due to its stereo-panned ornaments yet earthbound qua its guitar-based tendrils, Movement One is the somnolent epiphany that is promised through its subtitle, a cautiously beguiling aurora of softly increasing layers.
Movement Two – Gradient Shift is the album’s epicenter, probably not in terms of its duration which is based on eleven minutes of heterodyned frequency washes, but all the more so due to its enshrinement between the other movements. Gradient Shift is a particularly alluring title, evoking the soft fade from different colors or states. Both terms also fuel the meaning of each other, for a gradient naturally shifts, and life as a shift is also based on veiled moments of contemplation. Darren Harper’s piece does not necessarily reflect the latter meaning but does indeed spawn a gently swirling rivulet of aureate guitar placentas complete with mellowly towering chord protuberances juxtaposed to an otherwise helicoidal plateau. The warmth and amicability derive from the chord progression and stacked amelioration: as the droning cross-linkage of the sustained licks is fathomed for several seconds, the euphony results in a lush aural photometry, another lofty lavabo bound by gravity. Seemingly more acoustic than electronic by nature, Movement Two is less keen on arabesques or embellishments, as these titrations would harm the proclaimed effect of the gradient. It is hence a streamlined but fibrillar permutation of the optical effect, enormously insouciant and loaded with friendliness.
Movement Three – By Way Of Water is an entirely different affair, certainly not genre-wise, but in terms of the textural focus the cavernous overtones that waft through the aqueous panorama. Clocking in at almost sixteen and a half minutes, the artist from Colorado exchanges the benthic metalization of the preceding tracks in favor of a blue cross-linkage between moist pericarps and salty wind gusts. The latter hail in the distance but come ever-closer, merging with the field recordings of ocean waves and their blurry whitecaps. The dark guitar seems to scythe through the ether, and the only thing preventing it from actually doing so is the stacked synth-oid nebula that is appended. While the guitar portion of the drone resembles the powerful physiognomy of a steamer, the adjacent fog bank lessens that acidic impetus and serves as a possibly effulgent bokeh filter to the recondite remoteness. This superimposition of hushed flickers, chlorotic cloudlets and prolonged jags is terrifyingly dissociated from the listening subject and yet grows larger time and again, making Darren Harper’s third and final movement almost resemble the asbestus-coated aggression of Power Shoegaze illuminants. The dreaminess meanwhile remains, but it has become heavier, more of a Tartarean burden. Cavernous and eminently enigmatic, Movement Three is the adamant and stern apotheosis to the dream, the quasi-annihilation of Soft Recordings’ focus, with only a flickering torch of sumptuous lenity glowing within the threatened nucleus of placidness.
At the end of the journey, the album title does not ring true anymore: Movements For An Absent Mind was floating transcendently over the course of its first two tracks, but throughout Movement Three, the mind is not absent anymore. This in itself is more than a mere message; it is an important counterpart that only nurtures the aforementioned perception of dichotomy further. Naturally, both the listener and reviewer should not exaggerate the impetus of the darkly bubbling finale, for it is anything but one third of Darren Harper’s album. What rings true for all three offerings, however, is the dreamlike quality, the oneiric state of languor which is exhilarative in Movement One, becalming as well as aglow in Movement Two, and still graspable enough a force in order to simmer in Movement Three. All pieces rely heavily on the guitar’s omnipresence, its rectilinear drones onto whose streamlined complexion scintillating vesicles are grafted. Nowhere is this more feasible than in Movement One’s abundance of effects and blebs. These chimes are neither cinematic nor chintzy, but showcase themselves a gradient that is so prominently addressed in Movement Two. Notwithstanding the sudden shift (!) into darkness, Movements For An Absent Mind is a convincingly vivacious work with a wealth of sinews, waves and alcoves to absorb.
Further listening and reading:
- You can purchase Darren Harper’s album at Bandcamp (CD and download).
- Darren Harper and Soft Recordings boss David Teboul's Twitter handles: @darrenjharper and @linearbells.
Ambient Review 361: Darren Harper – Movements For An Absent Mind (2014). Originally published on Jul. 23, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.