In its initial “pure” form, ambient music is work that’s intentionally designed to fade into the background and become as neutral as the wallpaper or the furniture in a room. Under this definition, “true” ambient works forgo development in favor of stasis and subtle beauty.
With these definitions in mind, it’s a bit confusing at first as to why Ryan Norris a.k.a. Coupler labels his compositions as “deliberate ambient music.” While these pieces bear some signifiers of the style (synths, minimal harmonic/melodic motion, prettiness), Norris’ works are full of intriguing arrangements and process-based developments that are impossible to ignore and accept as just furniture music.
His latest album Sunless utilizes a small instrumental palette that successfully creates a surprising and consistently intriguing amount of timbres/textures with his minimal means. Even though his music bears few similarities to Norris’ other band, Lambchop, there’s a similar sense of pacing to the development of Coupler’s material. Like his Lambchop brethren, Norris knows that a minimal hook can go a long way, and this is especially apparent on the track “Sideman,” which sounds a bit like Schlammpeitziger’s Collected Simplesongs run through the delay system Terry Riley used on A Rainbow in Curved Air. The entire piece is based around an offset drum loop and a simple organ riff that almost imperceptibly develops additively, accumulating more voices and textures until it simply fades away.
While Norris may use ambient techniques to set this process in motion, the result is ultimately something that doesn’t neatly fit into any one category. Much like Lambchop, Norris is making music that mixes a number of styles without ever really sounding like any of them.
Sunless is out now via No Kings, and you can listen to “Sideman” below.