Mark Templeton Standing on a Hummingbird

[Anticipate; 2007]

Styles:  electro-acoustic
Others: Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Geoff Mullen

Like many other people, I use the slow release schedule at the beginning of the year to catch up on records I might have missed during the previous one. Mark Templeton’s Standing on a Hummingbird wasn’t one of those, but I didn’t hear it enough to let it sink in. Had I given Hummingbird enough time, it would have surely been higher on my year-end list. It’s the kind of album that demands more attention than most; a few initial spins will net the obvious reactions, but only with the passage of time does it really begin to hit hard. This is because Templeton is working within a field that is becoming increasingly saturated with mediocre releases. A quick search on MySpace will reveal an astronomical number of artists who self-identify as being in the 'ambient' genre. With so many artists operating within this framework of vaguely dreamy yet obtuse and somewhat difficult music, it requires a considerable amount of “active listening” in order to recognize the signifiers of another benchmark recording.

Make no mistake, Templeton comes from the same school of abstract electronic music that birthed outstanding albums like Fennesz’ Endless Summer and Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet. But much of what makes Standing on a Hummingbird shine is the way that Templeton processes primarily acoustic sources into something otherworldly. There are parts of “Amidst Things Uncontrolled” where the sound of children laughing slowly bubbles up from underneath a layer of static and glitch, and “Across From Golden” reveals its banjo melody in a more pronounced and naked manner than Fennesz or Hecker have ever done. The result is similar in nature to Geoff Mullen’s thrtysxtrllnmnfstns on Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Entschuldigen label. The major difference here being that Mullen was still working the kinks out of his process and some of the pieces didn’t seem as fully formed as what was to come on later works like The Air in Pieces and Armory Radio. Templeton, on the other hand, works his magic like a first-rate wizard here. Standing on a Hummingbird alternates fluidly between showing its passages of haunting acoustic guitar and disguising them in a field of glitchy static and discomforting drone.

Comparisons to Hecker are inevitable, though a specific personal connection has yet to reveal itself. The real difference between what Templeton is doing here and the work of his peers is in the details. Hecker’s music translates well at maximum volume, an exciting addendum to the canon of noise as well. Templeton’s work is equally dynamic, but instead of providing an acknowledgeable link to Merzbow through the use of the volume knob, it provides a light to expose the needles hiding in his haystack. Regardless of a few obvious touchstones, Templeton is doing great work and, along with Morgan Packard’s Airships Fill the Sky, is helping to establish an outstanding repertoire for the newly minted Anticipate Recordings label.

[Note to readers: Anticipate is giving away an excellent EP by Mark Templeton called Holden Into Ryley, available for download [here->].]

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