When it comes to ambient music, the rules are different. The qualities and values that can make a good song – melody, rhythm, hooks – are either wholly absent or significantly dialed back in ambient music. To paraphrase Brian Eno – one of the genre’s pioneers – ambient music is designed to function as the object of either active or passive listening. I recall that at some point Eno actually characterized it as the aural equivalent to wallpaper.
For listeners who place a high value on those pop ingredient, such a description might seem quite (to mix metaphors) unappetizing. But for those who appreciate ambient music for what it is, there are myriad reward to be found when experiencing such music.
There’s a lush quality to Land of a Thousand Trances, the 1994 album from A Produce that has been newly reissued and expanded. A majestic, wide-screen feel redolent of Alpha Centauri-era Tangerine Dream (with a bit of early post-Barrett Pink Floyd and a dash of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” aesthetics) characterizes some of the music. The instrumentation is conventional, but the sonics themselves are not. Effective use of sustain, volume and other effects/techniques serve to create an aural landscape that’s inviting and evocative. What tools are used to make the sounds are of far less consequence than the manner in which they’re executed.
Those seeking things like chord changes are likely to be left unsatisfied by Land of a Thousand Trances, but that perspective would be missing the point entirely. The washes of sound that make up the 18 tracks on this two-disc collection. But “ambient” doesn’t fully describe what’s going on, either. The title track has a hypnotic, heavy beat reminiscent of the instrumental tracks found on those 1990s Mind’s Eye VHS collections. There’s a kind of tension that results from the unending, cyclical percussion: one waits for something to happen, to change. It never really does, and yet the stasis is fascinating.
The track titles are remarkably spot-on, offering cues/clues as to character that lies within. “Heart of the Dunes” presents a placid yet somehow foreboding landscape. “Insect Justice” is the sound of intense activity just below the surface. “The Dreaming Room” is borderline nightmarish. “The Wall of Dali, No. 6” features exotic chiming sounds that evoke thoughts of dripping water and scurrying shadows in far-off corners.
Yes, this music is as “cinematic” as one could imagine. Each track sets up its own ambience (as it were) and runs with it. A Produce is (or was, he passed away some years ago) Barry Craig. And his trance-heave works as showcased on Land of a Thousand Trances are exemplars of the ambient style.