It would take a prodigiously expansive album to encapsulate a summary of the work of Oren Ambarchi, but the Australian guitarist and percussionist has achieved the next best thing in the four compositions on this, his fifth album for Touch. It continues his embrace of more melodic forms on his last album, In The Pendulum’s Embrace, and sounds as breezy as the Brian Wilson-influenced pop music he creates as Sun with Chris Townend, but also finds expansive new contexts for the textural and experimental work of many of his earlier releases. In many ways, it’s an album that adapts the template of collaborative growth that Ambarchi’s associates Sunn O))) have adopted with such success, and applies it to his own aesthetic.
Where this album marks a real departure is in its collaborative nature: Ambarchi’s previous works are mostly solo, or at least works on which Ambarchi’s guitar playing formed the dominant characteristic. Audience of One is unified by the sensibility developed over that cycle of recordings, but embraces the contributions of judiciously selected collaborators. One track here is a co-written song, while another is an instrumental cover version of a song.
Opening track “Salt” is built around a bright radiant pulse, cushioned by piano and strings, within which nestles a dream-like song, on which co-composer Paul Duncan’s multi-tracked vocals evoke pure nostalgic reverie for some long-past other, and the memory of “salt, the way it tasted as a child”.
Since first contributing to, and then touring behind their ‘Black One’ album of 2005, Ambarchi has become an integral part of the extended Sunn 0))) family (he’s in the Gravetemple splinter group, alongside Attila Csihar and Stephen O’Malley). Sunn 0))) fans will gravitate to the 33 minutes of “Knots”, which builds to a violent, multi-layered surge of stressed guitar and electric amplifier drone on a current of kit drum polyrhythm and insistent cymbal patter.
We reach the plateau of “Knots” via a richly textured electronic wash punctuated by plosive electrical detonations, from which acoustic sounds and field recordings emerge in a shifting drone-drift. From its peak the track slowly breaks down into a wracked soundscape; the barbed detonations of a struck spring and unidentifiable portentous rumbles; a wracked sea of turbid electronic residue. A string arrangement by fellow Sunn acolyte Eyvind Kang and a part for French horn hold all these elements together, but the spine and animating presence of the piece is Joe Talia’s percussion.
The next two tracks form a suite, with the fifteen minutes of “Passage” segueing into a cover of Ace Frehley’s Kiss song “Fractured Mirror”.
“Passage” begins with close-mic’d scrunching (crys cole’s contact mic and brushes) and sporadic piano key hits, then Jessika Kenney’s thin, wavering multi-track vocal intonations doubled by a woozy electronic oscillation (Ambarchi playing wine glasses), from the mists of which Eyvind Kang’s viola and Ambarchi’s guitar pick their way into the light via an undifferentiated melody.
Clarity comes after six minutes, with a cross-fade to the insistent guitar tune and metronomic Mellotron snap of “Fractured Mirror”, a spiralling uplifting piece of music that brings us fully into the expansive, isotropic light hinted at by “Salt”, and a sparkling guitar duet with Natasha Rose.
Richard Pinhas and Oren Ambarchi – Tikkun.
Fire! with Oren Ambarchi: In the Mouth – a Hand.
Nazoranai – The Most Painful Time Happens Only Once Has it Arrived Already..?
Oren Ambarchi, Charlemagne Palestine, Daniel Menche, and BJ Nilsen at Cafe Oto, April 2012