Marvin Ayres :: 3xReviews (Burning Shed)


  • Cellosphere CD
  • Neptune CD
  • Sensory DVD (with Pete Gomes)


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    (08.22.05) Marvin Ayres builds ambient classical music through electronic
    manipulation of stringed instruments, building vast landscapes of
    evolving notes that sound like chamber orchestras playing century-long
    compositions meant entirely for the enjoyment of whales.
    Cellosphere and Neptune (both released around the turn
    of the century on Mille Plateaux) are filled with long pieces that
    perambulate like the movement of glacial till and sign like the
    settling of old terrain.

    The twelve minute “Cellosphere” (which opens the album of the same
    name) whispers and chirps like the voices of ghostly gulls, their
    distant cries stretched by time until they are nothing much more than
    a wistful avian murmur. The twenty-two minute “Jeannie” wanders with
    such melancholy that we can’t avoid the sense of loss and despair that
    fill these echoing reverberations. And “Sensory” — ah, “Sensory” —
    the cello has such a way to reach down into your heart and make it
    weep, and Ayres holds nothing back with gorgeous waves of sound that
    roll over you like a hundred years worth of unrequited love and
    wistful longing. Buy it at

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    Neptune is more experimental, more spacious than simply
    radiantly gorgeous, as Ayres fiddles with the range of sounds that can
    be created from his electric instruments. Songs like “Sea Minor” rise
    and dip like the undulations of a strange sea serpent, the coils of
    his body making alien wave patterns as he swims through a turgid sea,
    while “Tug” is filled with falling stars and weeping sirens. “Wave,”
    built exclusively from electric violins, is a layered undulation of
    notes much like the endless cycle of foam against a shoreline, each
    peak falling into the receeding echo of the previous cycle. “Under
    Blue,” composed of electric cello tones, is a more sonorous
    arrangement, an indolent adante that feels like you are slowing
    drifting beneath the crisp surface of a vast lake. While
    Cellosphere explored long tone variations, Neptune bends
    and arcs like a möbius strip, the notes twisting themselve inside
    out as they loop back on their tails.

    Ayres, a graduate of Trinity College of Music, utilizes the electric
    cello, viola and violin, taking advantage of both the shortcomings and
    harmonic effects of these instruments. His efforts (as he says in the
    liner notes of Neptune) are to “innovatively explore and
    re-contextualize these instruments, and try to discover rich new
    combinations and textures.” Working in the studio, he extrapolates
    and mutates the notes and harmonics of the instruments into
    fascinating drifts of sound. These drifts of sound have been married
    to visual elements and mixed into 5.1 sound spaces for the
    Sensory DVD (also released by Burning Shed). Containing three
    tracks (“Sensory” which was added to the Cellosphere re-release
    on Burning Shed, “Cycle” and “Scape”), Sensory is an immersive
    dream-like experiment that both soothes and envelopes the listener.

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    Both “Sensory” and “Cycle” revolve around generative systems, pools of
    water that move and ripple in accordance to simplistic instructions.
    “Sensory” is a circle of light, changing and warping with color as the
    music shifts and bends, while “Cycle” begins with a carefree shot of
    green leaves and morphs into a Mandelbrotian pattern of boxes and
    lines overlaying the slow pan of the camera across the tree limbs and
    leaves. They are, much like the music, visual impressions meant to
    entrance and distract your eye the more you examine them. “Scape,”
    the final piece of the visual trio, is a treated view of South London,
    a very slow pan across the horizon that has been treated and processed
    into a series of tone pictures — all awash with reds and sepias and
    negative tints. While the Ayres’ violin contorts itself into several
    hundred voices, the neighborhood undergoes a transformation from black
    and white to blood red. It’s slightly unverving and hypnotic. Gomes’
    videos mirror Ayres’ seemingly simplistic music: the more you involve
    yourself, the more you can discover — the greater the depth to the
    layers. Both are exercises in observation. You can, like Brian Eno
    says about ambient music, ignore them and let them color your
    environment; but, the reward for active participation is to have your
    eyes and ears turned inward, exploring eternity beneath the ambience
    of sound and infinity beyond the visible lines.

    All three releases are out now on Burning Shed.

  • Burning Shed
  • Marvin Ayres
  • Pete Gomes

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