If Oren Ambarchi's collaborations with sonic foragers like Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, and Sunn 0))) is like forcing sound through a physical endurance test, then his newest full-length In The Pendulum's Embrace throws it into the cosmos. It's expansive, harmonious, almost spiritual in its humbling effect. It's the playing out of sound molecules. Like its 2004 sister album, Grapes From The Estate, this solo release examines and subsequently meditates on the possibilities of using sound to tell a story, without resorting to typical sound narratives or tonal signifiers. Although this approach doesn't provide a full picture of Ambarchi's adaptability and musical range -- check his work with Günter Müller and Philip Samartzis on Strange Love -- it does enunciate a story so deliberately dragging you'd probably call it glacial if it weren't this warm and inviting.
Blame the expanded sonic palette for his success in this regard. With acoustic or electric guitar driving each track, Ambarchi has added even more sheets of delicate, twinkling flourishes atop his trademark sub-sonic bass slabs, such as glass harmonica, bells, piano, percussion, strings on "Inamorata" (thanks to Veren Grigorov), and the first appearance of vocals, albeit treated, on "Trailing Moss in Mystic Glow" -- all of which are refracted through the loop-oriented nature of the compositions. Despite the many sound sources, the music is clear, its pacing just plodding enough so the sounds aren't rubbing shoulders. Sure, the density of the low-end is continually at odds with the crispness of the high-end, yet when entrenched together with no end in sight, the disparities erode, the differences vanish.
Maybe "tactile" is the word I should be using: these songs aren't written, they're shaped. Ambarchi is building on sensibilities popularized by Brian Eno, yet the big picture points to the human urge to do art as a way to abstract the physical. Amazingly, the resulting shape isn't constructed from typical avant-garde dissonance, but from a Debussy-esque consonance, in which the richness and warmness forms an ambiguous contour lacking a clear tonal center. And here's where the inherent physical properties of Ambarchi's signature sound-constructions take real form: A trite drumbeat couldn't make your coffee spill over, but two low notes seeking physical resolution, wavelengths vigorously vibrating off one another, certainly can.
It's perhaps Ambarchi's exaggerations of this movement that make his story that much more believable. Since he isn't adopting a musical language to which most Western ears are accustomed, it's all very impressionistic rather than descriptive, stories that allude rather than point. Yet it's all very coherent. Don't bank on Ambarchi to create an 18-minute piece like "Fever, A Warm Poison" to impart some sort of moral lesson or clearly defined payoff. You just have to trust that these ruminations are a confluence of an artist making music for over 20 years, one whose insatiable desire to create art is reflected more in his prolificacy than in the spatial, minimalistic beauty of his music. And by abruptly cutting off the last track "Trailing Moss in Mystic Glow," Ambarchi has ensured that this cosmic story is to be continued.
1. Fever, A Warm Poison2. Inamorata3. Trailing Moss in Mystic Glow