Creeping up from noisy roots to a remarkable, idiosyncratic and gentle, clinging ambient ivy.
As Vidna Obmana (“optical illusion” in Serbo-Croatian), Belgian mega-artist Dirk Serries released nearly seventy albums of original material, creeping up from noisy roots to a remarkable, idiosyncratic and gentle, clinging ambient ivy, between the mid-eighties and the mid-2000s. Often mentioned in the same breath as Steve Roach, Alio Die and Robert Rich (he did indeed do a lot of work with Roach, most memorably perhaps Well of Souls or Cavern of Sirens, while the whole crowd showed up for The Spiritual Bonding), likely due to the tribal or “eco” element not uncommonly characterizing their work at the time, Vidna Obmana’s pieces had, if I may tender an opinion, a lighter touch, in both senses of the word, than those of his talented colleagues. The beauty of a Vidna Obmana track like “The Angelic Appearance” lay in its slow growth, Serries’ uncanny ability to make music sound like watching time-lapse photography.
In May 2009, he definitively retired the name and began a series of experimental projects concentrating on “an exercise in minimalism [that] turned into a musical meditation on purity and subdued power” (Fear Falls Burning), and on “microphonics,” a kind of jazz, and exquisite ambient in trio form with 3 Seconds of Air.
Lately he has reemerged as an ambient artist under his given name. Although the present reviewer hasn’t been following his output with a magnifying glass, Obscured by Beams of Sorrow, recorded with Hakobune, would seem to be the first fruit of this latest seed. It is all in a very minor chord, slow as molasses in winter, but with strings singing and the drift we recognize from both Vidna Obmana and Hakobune‘s own, cloudy guitar work. A small dissonance makes you blanch on “Harrowing Surface,” but the smoother lines wrangle like eels in love. “Nocturnal Pillars of Solitude” has a bit more of an edge, while “Obscured,” also delicately rough around the edges, has a soft and creamy center in which to sink.
On the same label, Chihei Hatakeyama’s indispensable White Paddy Mountain, comes the boss’ own Five Dreams, inspired by a series of dreams and a novel, recorded piecemeal quite a few years ago. “January” is ecclesiastically appealing, angels with dirty wings, but angels nonetheless. “April,” reminds me so much of classic Vidna Obmana, although it grows so tiny, so perfect, like a well-tended bonsai tree. In “February,” the snow begins to melt and fall on the domed crowns of little Buddha bells. In “May,” Bach’s stately harpsichord is warped into a queasy nightmare for Martin Luther. Despite its motley genesis, Five Dreams is perhaps one of Hatakeyama’s deepest and best albums ever. Which is saying a lot.
Interesting to note that Hatakeyama and Serries have just released a complementary, oxymoronic collaborative album on Glacial Movements, The Storm of Silence, great, big, airy blue inside an unpoppable soap bubble.