Review | Sound Awakener – September Traveler
From our miles-long list of band submissions comes a haunting ambient act.
A word up front: September Traveler by Vietnam’s Sound Awakener isn’t the type of band submission we typically receive here at Toilet Ov Hell Industries (a subsidiary of FlushCorp, a division of Worldwide Bowl). It’s not even closely related to metal, including any combination of black chill power wave shoe skronk gaze post-nü-cascadian retro synthcore that you’ll find in the comments. It’s also not the type of bleak, my-sanity-is-swallowing-itself ambient/noise this cyborg typically reviews. In truth, it’s the soundtrack to an art exhibition happening in Berlin this month.
September Traveler is a collection of Sound Awakener’s early works in 2011 and 2012. It is also the soundtrack for Irene Cruz’s exhibition “What Dreams Are Made Of” which will take place in Berlin from 6th to 18th February, 2015. The title ‘September Traveler’ refers to the journey through moments, total darkness and lost, blurred light. The atmosphere of the music is cold, soft and a little bit dreamy, mostly created by drone elements and field recordings.
Hmm, I love art galleries. I love total darkness. I love drone elements. I’m officially intrigued. Let’s give it a shot!
Keeping in mind that this album is intended to accompany a gallery exhibition (probably very similar to what’s pictured below), the music is appropriately spacious and unimposing, allowing featherweight melodies and dissonance to drift through through the ears of interested patrons as they view selected works from the artist. Atmosphere, echo and long hallway reverb are the backbone of this album, which starts with September Traveler‘s chilly and somewhat optimistic piano runs on top of what sounds like a river recorded on hundred year-old audio tape. The second track, Learning to Drown, takes a somewhat shadier turn on the piano keys and adds a slight industrial flavor with an engine-like electric drone way, way off in the distance.
The next track, Pale Morning, is… well there’s not really any other way to put this: it’s a trip into the babies’ room of an abandoned murder house. Listen to those conflicting music box notes and tell me you don’t hear a shrouded, otherworldly killer waiting for you to wander too close to the charred crib next to the yellowed lace curtains so he can punch through the rotted floor and stab you in the leg. The last two tracks, The Shade You’ve Become and The Call is Fading return to the darker well of Learning to Drown, the latter of which almost eschews melody entirely for a hollow, haunting echo of loosened piano strings droning outward into empty air.
Overall, what starts rather bright and relatively comforting slowly evolves into a dusky, near-claustrophobic audio essay. I imagine it’s even better to hear these tracks while viewing the accompanying exhibition pieces; if I were in Berlin, I’d be curious to see if this complements or contrasts with the art it’s meant to score.
Taken as a standalone album though, September Traveler is calm and interesting, though not particularly attention-grabbing, since its whole purpose is to take a backseat to someone else’s visuals. It’s well-made background music. In this sense it works perfectly, as many of these sounds are just begging to be put to images. Oh hey, just like this:
The downside of this music is that it’s not well-suited to repeat listens; for the most part, you can absorb everything it has to offer in its short running time. It’s also a bit short on variety as the five tracks are all cut from a very similar auditory cloth, and there are a few spots in the opening track where you can hear bumps & brushes against the microphone that was presumably used to take field recordings, which I’m guessing most gallery attendees will never notice, but which are a little distracting when listening.
Sound Awakener has a very distinct and unique style that seems perfectly suited to enhancing the impact of additional elements, but on its own, may be a bit lacking for the average listener. But if this breed of cool, misty ambient music is your thing, head on over to Sound Awakener’s bandcamp to check out more of her music and soundscapes.