Ambient drone music is usually fixed to a certain location. It focuses on a particular environment and through repeated study brings it to life. The quiet exploration of tones and slow recurring passages do not suggest a movement towards anywhere, and yet, there is limitless potential in what you can imagine when listening to a calm drone record. This music seems purely in service to these ends.
Sleeper’s debut cassette From Beyond is a recording I have used for purely functional purposes for many weeks now. I listen to it while I am reading books. I listen to it while I am sleeping. I listen to it while I am writing. It is not that I’ve missed any meaning or purpose behind this recording, but instead that I have selected to ignore it. Besides, I suspect the artist is on my wave length here.
The reason Sleeper’s cassette is unusual is because it offers a sense of both moving away, and moving towards. Each of the two tracks on this album are punctuated by traditionally structured music which slowly dissipates or ascends. The A Side opens with a sad orchestral passage both nostalgic and yearning, but it’s not long before it frays at its edges and transforms into tired ebbs of tortured sound. It then explores these tired ebbs for over ten minutes, and then fades away.
Sleeper’s songs feel like elongated versions of these opening and closing movements. They’re reminiscent of The Caretaker’s practice of slowing and manipulating old ballroom classics, except here the resulting ghosts are far more distant and far less capable of extending their narratives. Instead, it feels like Sleeper’s drones are a slow drift towards the song itself, and we become so close that we lose our perspective and size in relation to it. Sleeper’s fleeting use of structured song is like a phenomenon inviting an embrace, but when we move towards it it grows into something we can get lost in the arms of. It is beautiful and calming yet also alarming in this respect.
Heinz Riegler’s cassette, also released on A Guide To Saints, is called Sleep Health. Formerly of Brisbane group Not From There, Riegler has collaborated with Mike Cooper and David Toop and now works predominantly as a sound artist. Sleep Health was performed and recorded to encourage the listener to fall asleep. In Riegler’s words, if the listener has failed to fall asleep during the song’s 17 minute duration then he as the artist has failed.
It’s very encouraging when an artist permits you to nap during their ambient drone music, because this type of music always sounds best right at the edge of sleep. Unlike Sleeper, Riegler’s tape is familiar in the way it simply presents an environment of sound and explores its four corners, its heights and its depths for the duration of the piece. You are not encouraged to imagine this as a strange fringe world on the edge of something else, but instead as a new distinct setting. What you imagine then is up to you.
The interesting thing about both cassettes though, is that each encourages calm or rest in a manner which keeps the mind active. It is very difficult not to engage with these albums, like you can disengage from a rock record playing in the background. It may be possible to sleep during Riegler’s piece, but it is difficult not to get caught up in his chiming twilight world and fill it out with visions from your own imagination. And that, I think, is the central appeal of this type of slowly melodious ambient drone music: it invites you into your own interior, even if sometimes you may not notice.
Heinz Riegler’s Sleep Health and Sleeper’s From Beyond are available through Room 40 offshoot A Guide To Saints.