Largo is Dortmund, Germany-based Thomas “Tom” Frühwacht aka Earlyguard’s long-form piece for the summer of 2014, consequentially released in August and available to stream and buy at Bandcamp, iTunes an cohorts. The artist sets up a sophisticated Ambient sparkler running for 36+ minutes, and as ususal, he gives the listener the key to the castle via a short quote from Wikipedia about the title’s meaning; turns out that Largo translates to “a very slow tempo, or a musical piece or movement in such a tempo.” As helpful the quote may seem, it is an understatement when applied to Earlyguard’s concoction. Never before has the artist succumbed to such a minimal diorama. A piano and threatening silence are all there is, making Largo one of ’em p(i)anoramas that are labeled with Modern Classical or electro-acoustic tags. But when compared to the artist’s cosmos it is situated in, Largo is much more while being much less, turning away all the kaleidoscopic synths of today in order to delineate the amalgamation of phantom frequencies, micro tones and hidden timbres within a strikingly murky realm.


Earlyguard’s endeavor in regard to the buildup and circumambience of his pieces is certainly based on the understanding of letting the respective movement grow and prosper, notwithstanding the tendency of uncertainty and debris in some of his heavier, remoter pieces such as Isolation (2013). Without exaggerating the impetus of a genteel fade-in and other solemn somnolences, said fade-in is probably the formulaic atavism Ambient music faces today, time and again, ad infinitum. Largo, in a somewhat surprising twist, doesn’t even need 300 milliseconds to expose its agglutinating force once the listener hits play: a classic piano. It is probably not a classic piano per se rather than a cleverly patched alloy of synthetic vestiges; however, a piano it remains texture-wise, and it faces a cauterized backdrop of nothingness.


If Frühwacht hadn't come up with a piece like Isolation already, chances are that the current soundscape could have carried that name with pride and predilection. For the whole runtime of 36 and a half minutes, Earlyguard’s equilibrioception gyres between ghosting superimpositions of Erik Satie and the cavernously sustained afterglow photometry of some Ambient release called Music For Airports (1978). However, the reviewer’s faux-witty remarks are de trop during this interstitial dovetailing procedure, as there are emaciated but noteworthy illuminants floating through the scenery which function as concurrent stimuli to the shadowy piano chords and reflective titration: sine tones.


It is these electro-acoustic sine tones and their glacial harshness – despite the fragile reticulation – that veneer and veil the grandiloquence of the thought-provoking shadiness. Benignantly scything, belligerently softening the genuflecting granuloma, these syrinx-like icicles augment the loneliness that is so heavily inherent, but also spawn a second and third fabric of cognitions: gentleness and quasi-hallucinations. Indeed, whereas the impression of grace and tranquility is amplified via the pristine purity of the thin serpentines, the hallucinatory factor comes prominently into play when a key’s decay is zoning out, boosting both the internecine sine tone and the fibrillar-recondite omnipresence.


As is the case in all of Earlyguard’s pieces, Largo is also fond of absconded low frequency riverbeds. Since it is such a minimal and withdrawn piece, the accidental or intended rumbling occurrences need to be decorticated from a different source. Whereas even the cheapest synth and most desultory artist can rev up the basement of a track, here the elasticized bass convulsions show compunction and efflorescence: deriving from the piano’s lower regions, grimmer timbres and martellato attack rates crush the soul and grind the bones of the innocent listening subject, providing a sudden esprit. This liveliness is caused by eldritch prolongations of the lowermost frequencies. These instances reappear more frequently during the track’s apex, seemingly functioning as wakeup calls. In this regard, the film noir Key Largo (1948) comes to mind for obvious reasons.


So what to make of Largo and its crepuscular-argentine twilight? Luckily, there are wonderfully ethereal instances embroidered, segues that would have been swallowed in Earlyguard’s many synth-focused cataracts which, ironically enough, would themselves have been pinpointed as the ethereal formations. Here, though, one can (only) bask in short moments of gleeful glissando as appearing around the mark of 21:30; likewise, the heterodyned frequencies which appear after 33 minutes are a solacing counterpart to the regally saltatory blotches which themselves are entrapped in a quandary, always falling down after an increase in warmth and humaneness. Largo’s terminal phase is not even recognizable as such, making it the circular locale to the in medias res opening which already sported the piano motif right from the get-go.


When I listened to Earlyguard’s prior release Alterations (2014), I sensed that the cautiously sewn acoustic aureoles amid the clandestine bokeh were the eponymous molecules that gave the long-form piece its name. Now that Largo has seen the light of day, it becomes clear that Alterations itself is not the interim endpoint to Earlyguard’s recent phase of experiments – after all, any artist’s latest work is – as it doesn't lead back to his synth-fueled mélanges. A full-circle movement is neglected for now. Instead, the recent premise is further carved out, fathomed, followed through: Largo is a minimalist’s minimalism, not at all shy of recurrent and memorizable melodies, but hesitant of putting the intrinsic emotional response to the test. Is this a work whose spirits are good-natured? Shall one absorb the crestfallen tones in minor rather than the helical drench of sanguine solace? During summertime, I can see Largo’s appeal; when I face winter's film noir-like twilight, I am going to fear its multiplexed anguish. 


Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and stream Largo at Bandcamp, iTunes and many other digital stores.
  • Earlyguard’s Twitter account? Easy-peasy: @Earlyguard


Ambient Review 366: Earlyguard – Largo (2014). Originally published on Aug. 13, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.