Janek Schaefer - Unfolding Luxury Beyond the City of Dreams [Dekorder - 2014]The LP release "Unfolding Luxury Beyond the City of Dreams" is one of 3 albums the highly prolific Janek Schaefer in 2014, and the 2nd I've had the pleasure of hearing. "Lay By Lullaby", released on 12k earlier this year, perfectly exemplified the intelligent and detailed upper atmosphere ambient sound typical of that label. This album has been released on Dekorder, another prominent avant garde label that has released such diverse artists as Machinefabriek, Failing Lights and The Hafler Trio.
Like "Lay By Lullaby", we have a patiently drifting soundscape with a wide dynamic range, fading to the softest murmur for minutes, only for a gust of powerfully glowing drone-synth to bring the sound quickly back to formidable volume. The rounded, whistling tones that comprise most of the record exist somewhere between the resonance of a faint wind, the shimmering glass constancy of synthesizer pads, and the gentle irregularity of windchimes blown by the breeze. The ghostly signature of each muted note cascades into wispy, nearly infinite reverb tails.
It's ambient, yes, though never slow or passive: the full album is a brief 40 minutes, and it's been split into 7 shorter movements. Anyone with an ear tuned to sound design should notice the myriad layers in the sound. There is a powerful feeling of safety and well being at the core of this album that I think is what many are looking for in ambient music, that absence of urgency that exists when the body is still mostly asleep before waking in the morning.
Janek Schaefer is clearly a fan of all things faded and worn, "Coda (for Sir John Dankworth)" features a heartbreakingly delicate acoustic guitar loop, which seems to emphasizes the dust on the strings. "Skyline Ascending" is based around a luminous piano loop and pleasantly crackling vinyl surface noise. Pianos become a recurring element, used in a whimsical, spacious fashion not unlike Ryuichi Sakamoto.
There's certainly some crossover between the vulnerable, emotionally open tone of this record and a lot of post rock bands these days, the major difference being that Schaefer's music consists of only the gentler moments, and has a looser collage-style organization in which many different elements are always making quiet entrances and exits. The Italian duo Aglaia, one of my favorite ambient groups, similarly creates dense, expansive sound 'blobs' with no beginning or end.
Field recordings pop up from time to time, adding a more obvious human context to the drift. I'm quite fond of the way rain is used, and of the way the sound of footsteps pan in strangely rapid and wide circles around the listener in the second movement "Unfolding Honey". In general, the sound design is marvellous, pleasing to the ear and filled with remarkable spacial details. It's truly three dimensional.
Highly recommended for fans of Biosphere, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Stars of the Lid or any 12k label release. The homey warmth that characterizes the music of these artists is here in abundance, a deep and comforting womb of thick, gooey consonance to be explored from various points of awareness and alertness. It makes for a wonderfully personal/intimate space in which to contemplate the rest of your life. I have nothing but good to say about Janek Schaefer's music.Josh Landry