“Furniture music” rarely aims to be attention-grabbing. As a result — and though I enjoy and endorse ambient, droning music — it is occasionally difficult to distinguish one song, album, or even artist from the next. Since most artists in the field tend to generate a similar atmosphere — usually contemplative, slowly undulating, pulsing synthesized electronic tones — the only way to distinguish between them is through memorable moments of drama and dynamism. Since ambient musicians also tend to draw inspiration from the same group of modern minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley, artists like Fennesz and Tim Hecker (and Brian Eno decades before) realize that in order to generate repeated spins, their records must actually capitalize on melody and the building/releasing of tension, almost (ironically) like any other pop record. Even though the purpose of ambient music is to use tone and mood as organizing compositional tools above more traditional elements like rhythm, harmony, and melody, the latter three still determine the difference between a memorable and a forgettable ambient recording. If the music is best suited to serve as a backdrop or as atmospheric manipulation, it behooves the creator to determine exactly how detailed and evocative their backdrop or atmosphere will be.
Gultskra Artikler (née Alexey Devyanin) passes the sniff test here. A few tracks into the album, after several careful tone-poems rise and fade, the end of “Nanorobot” introduces a choir to startling effect. Although distant vocals crop up as early as the first track, the church-like harmonies of this particular choir create an arresting and beautiful moment. Later, “Asteroid” recalls the opening credits to “Battlestar Galactica” — an unlikely reference for an album called Galaktika, I know — which I intend as a compliment. The album starts with pulse-poem “Galaktika” and moves on with glitchy emergences in “Solnce,” which give way to a segment of early-music chants and muffled sine wave chords. The aforementioned “Nanorobot” is a highlight, making room for percussive glitches and “plucked” string-like synths in “Saturn” that resemble Goblin’s scores for Dario Argento films. At the bottom of the tracklist, “Nito” employs synths that recall toy pianos or music boxes and plays like a Cylon lullaby, and “Angel” brings the album to a close with another underwater-cathedral-choir chant that is quite beautiful in its muted, archaic majesty. The first obstacle is out of the way: Galaktika distinguishes itself in a enough places to warrant repeated go-rounds.
The remaining question is whether or not Gultskra Artikler has established a unique voice. The frequent nods to Gregorian chant and the electro-acoustic manipulations (which I assume is what the accompanying press release describes as “folktronica”) do give Devyanin a little more variety in his work than other ambient artists, but the song remains the same; like most in the genre, this sounds more like an apt accompaniment for some sort of audio-visual experience than a concerted, headphone-clutching listening session. Pull out this disc when you are looking for that perfect, elusive “science-fiction video game taking place on deserted moon colony” soundtrack. Enjoyment of this album will depend entirely on how often each listener feels that particular itch needs scratching. After all, toasters need music to set the mood, too.