London-based ambient-experimental label Astral Industries continue on their trajectory with a lush and expansive double 12" from Waveform Transmission. Originally a one-off collaboration between Rod Modell (DeepChord/Echospace) and Chris Troy in 1996, the pair have since revived the project some 21 years later.
V 2.0-2.9 proceeds from where the first (V 1.0-1.9) left off, with deep and detailed panoramic soundscapes that glide elegantly between bright, floral reveries, and sparser, more austere territory. Each side features one 18-minute piece, typically structured in a binary form. The first three tracks follow this structure, laying pulsating currents of organic, effervescent textures in the first half, and then proceeding into their darker counterparts. Although the final track (2.8-2.9) is also split into two sections, it acts more as a concluding piece to the album.
Modell’s somewhat anticipated return to the label fulfills his reputation as an impressively consistent producer. Those who clocked AI-01—Deepchord’s now sought after Lanterns—will be familiar with some of the awe-inspiring moments that similarly feature on this record. Additionally, the after-glow of Modell’s Ultraviolet Music (2015) is still present, its tenderness and emotive poise permeating the textures like soft rays of light.
His partnership with Troy, however, shouldn’t be overlooked here, with their collaboration exercising new and lesser-known dimensions in their music. Admittedly, little is known about Troy, and the exact specifics of his involvement in this project are difficult to pinpoint; but this almost seamless unity is perhaps a testament to their creative process—and that isn’t to say Troy’s involvement is undetectable, far from it. Modell’s solo music is frequently dream-like and reflective but rarely do we see such depth and substance as in this release. This has been achieved in part by the marriage between sensitive harmonic progressions and unique, engaging sound-design. The impressive execution of minute sonic details and the general flow of the music is no doubt a product of a close and ongoing dialogue between the two artists. Some passages are unmistakably Rod Modell, but more often than not it feels as though there’s more clarity and refinement in the structure, more nuance and authority in the narrative, and a more masterful handling of the overall musical syntax.
Naturally, you just want to switch off all screens and simply sit and listen. It might take a few listens to really appreciate how elegantly moods are created and how transitions are handled; and the overall pacing of the record, although subtle, really creates some narrative and cohesion. The ambiguity of the sound-sources give a simultaneously alien yet earthly feel to the music, something about them can feel familiar but at times can also be unsettling in their mutations (such as in "2.7," which features drone textures layered with the sound of rustling leaves and distant bird-song). This play between these two states is partly what makes this music so compelling.
While the listener will be touched and uplifted by earlier passages on the record (the opening "2.0" and "2.2" in particular), they’ll also witness how the album quietly unfurls into glacial drone-scapes, gradually descending into a fathomless world that lies beyond space and time. In a similar vein to V1.0-1.9, the album’s brighter moments are counterbalanced by the harsh, empty coldness of outer-space. By "2.4" the music’s weightless orbit drifts further into the unknown, vividly characterized by atmospheric ruptures and distant signals. Subsumed by this universal vastness, the album’s closing moments ("2.8"-"2.9") yield to a melancholy and acceptance that’s strangely comforting, rather than overwhelmingly stark.
Ambient music can often be conveniently easy-listening or indulgent in its own simplicity, but here there is direction and purpose within this seemingly passive art-form. Inevitably, two decades have given Modell and Troy breathing space to come back to Waveform Transmission with another inspired and refreshing volume of music. In such times where stylistic hybrids continue to proliferate, the search for innovation becomes pretty irrelevant for a release that is just simply quite outstanding.