Somnambule - Writing About Music

Oren Ambarchi ~ Grapes From The Estate

Oren Ambarchi is one of a growing number of guitarists whose music betrays little sign of its instrumental origin: Christian Fennesz, Christopher Willitts and Joseph Suchy may also be numbered as members of this relatively new clan, though practitioners such as Keith Rowe and Fred Frith have already certainly set sufficient precedents in the past couple of decades.

Ambarchi’s first track on his third release for Touch begins in test-tone territory with smooth, neutral hums gently repeated like the electronic memory of a lighthouse’s fog warning. All the activity on Corkscrew occurs at the edges of these hums whose momentary lips and curls delineate the border between silence and sound. These clicks serve as a sonic foregrounding mechanism, provoking memories of unwanted vinyl scratches though without the associated frustration. Somehow the contrast established between warm tone and unpredictable click emphasises awareness of both elements and maintains attention over the track’s nine-plus minutes. Corkscrew imparts the dreambound feeling of surging through thick fog in the middle of the night, no star- or moonlight available to guide you.

The Girl With The Silver Eyes retains its predecessors’ hums and clicks, but stirs in note chimes and clusters which bear a greater resemblance to chandelier crystals falling in slow motion than notes sounded on anything as mundane as a guitar. The result is strange and just a little unsettling. Simultaneously somnambulant and purposeful, if a Faberge egg were ever recorded opening and closing via the agency of its mysteriously intricate clockwork this might be the result. Remedios The Beauty borrows its title from a character in Gabriela Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years Of Solitude and reveals a more direct melodicism than its predecessors. The first five minutes might be described as a folk song heard through the sonic equivalent of a frosted pane of glass, or the sensation of stroking a tiger’s fur whilst wearing surgeon’s gloves. Later, small bells or gongs sound like wine glass rims circled by tongue-wetted fingers. There’s a sense of leisurely (the track is fifteen and a half minutes long) progression which navigates a gradual change of mood from carefree to subtly threatened. The final track Stars Aligned, Webs Spun is very minimal, more like a ritual echo which accrues the gentlest of reverberations over its twenty minute length.

Grapes From The Estate is a beautiful piece of work, simultaneously mysterious and accessible. Its contemplativeness creates a space within which the listener can react to the music without a sense of being manipulated by the normal dynamics of melodic or even ambient music. Recommended.
Colin Buttimer
July 2004
Published by the BBC