Artwork & photography: Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Francois Tetaz at Moose, Melbourne
On Audience of One, Oren Ambarchi presents a four-part suite which moves from throbbing minimalism to expansive song-craft to ecstatic free-rock. His previous solo albums for Touch exhibited a clear progression towards augmenting and embellishing his signature bass-heavy guitar tones with fragile acoustic instrumentation. Audience of One, while also existing in clear continuity with these recordings, opens the next chapter.
Remarkable in its confidence and breadth, but also in the sensuous immediacy of its details, this is the first time a single record has come close to encapsulating Ambarchi’s musical personality in its full range and singularity. The techniques and strategies developed in his refined improvisational work with Keith Rowe and his explorations of the outer limits of rock with Sunn O))) and Keiji Haino are both in evidence, alongside the meticulous attention to detail and composition of his solo works. And on the cover of Ace Frehley’s ‘Fractured Mirror’ which closes the record, Ambarchi even points to his roots as a classic rock fanatic, in an epic yet faithful version which extends the shimmering guitar patters of the original into a rich field of phase patters reminiscent of the classic American minimalism of Reich and Riley.
The album features a multitude of collaborators, who, far from appearing in incidental roles, are integral to the pieces on which they perform: on ‘Salt’, Ambarchi paints a hypnotic, chiming backdrop for Paul Duncan’s (Warm Ghost) vocals, and Joe Talia’s virtuoso drumming and driving cymbals are at the core of the epic ‘Knots’, in which Ambarchi, alongside a chamber arrangement by Eyvind Kang, weaves a net of frequencies and textures with the organic push and pull of a 70s psych jam, the bass response of a doom metal ritual and the psycho-acoustic precision of an Alvin Lucier composition.
On his previous records, Ambarchi’s signature guitar tone was the ever-present bedrock over which other elements sounded. At moments on Audience of One, this disappears entirely, as on the beautiful ‘Passage’, which, recalling the 70’s Italian non-academic minimalism of Roberto Cacciapaglia and Giusto Pio, is composed of overlapping tones from Hammond organ and wine glasses, Jessika Kenney's voice, various acoustic instruments, and the delicate amplified textures of Canadian sound-artist Crys Cole. Rather than being provided by any particular sound, the unified feel of Audience to One stems simply from the unique, patient sensibility Ambarchi has developed over the last twenty years; abstracting musical forms into their barest forms, while somehow always managing to leave their emotive power intact. [Francis Plagne]
Track listing & info:
(Composed by Paul Duncan and Oren Ambarchi)
Oren Ambarchi - Guitars
Paul Duncan - Vocals
Elizabeth Welsh - Violin
James Rushford - Viola and Piano
Guitars recorded by Oren Ambarchi at Jerker House, Melbourne
Vocals recorded by Brendon Anderegg at Telescope Recordings, Brooklyn, NY
Strings and piano recorded by Byron Scullin at Electric Dreams, Melbourne
Strings arranged by James Rushford
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi and Byron Scullin at Electric Dreams
(Composed by Oren Ambarchi)
Oren Ambarchi - Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Autoharp, Percussion
Eyvind Kang - Viola and Igil
Janel Leppin - Cello
Stephen Fandrich - Voice
Josiah Boothby - French Horn
Joe Talia - Drums, Percussion, Spring
Guitars recorded by Oren Ambarchi at Jerker House
Strings, voice and french horn recorded by Randall Dunn at Avast, Seattle
Drums, percussion and spring recorded by Joe Talia at Chinatown, Melbourne
Additional guitars recorded live by Mike Harding (London), Joe Kasmanntod (Luz) and Attila Faravelli (Milano)
Strings and horns arranged by Eyvind Kang
Mixed by Randall Dunn and Oren Ambarchi at Avast
(Composed by Oren Ambarchi)
Oren Ambarchi - Guitars, Hammond Organ and Wine Glasses
crys cole - Contact microphones and brushes
Jessika Kenney - Voice
Eyvind Kang - Viola and Piano
Recorded at Avast by Randall Dunn
Additional recording by Chris Townend at BJB, Sydney
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi and Joe Talia at Chinatown, Melbourne
4. Fractured Mirror
(Composed by Ace Frehley)
Oren Ambarchi - Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Bass, Mellotron, Wine Glasses, Percussion, Vocals
Natasha Rose - Acoustic Guitars
Recorded at Chinatown and Head Gap, Melbourne by Joe Talia
Additional recording by Simon Connolly on location at 6 Chelmsford St, Kensington
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi & Joe Talia at Chinatown
Other Music (USA):
Easily one of Oren Ambarchi's best works to date, Audience of One is an amazing four-track suite of songs that succinctly binds many of his disparate modes of production into a satisfying whole. At turns expansive and intimate, the album opens with a shimmering, long sigh of a pop song that seems to harken back to his much underrated singer-songwriter project from the early 00s, Sun, before launching into an epic, loping thirty-minute-plus track of shifting tones, low-end feedback, and clicking percussion. The following two songs delve into moments of crystalline minimalism and cyclical guitar patterns augmented by lovely, hushed vocals.
It's a strange kind of fate that has caused Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi to spend most of his career making records that demonstrated his singular guitar sound, only to gain greater notice for an album that barely shows it off at all. But that's the way Audience of One, released by his longtime label Touch, is panning out. Ambarchi is also known for his collaborative work with Sunn O))), with whom he's recorded and played live, complementing his extensive solo releases and further alliances with musicians including Keiji Haino, Jim O'Rourke, and Christian Fennesz. Other guests emerge on Audience of One's four pieces. Among them are impressive contributions from Warm Ghost's Paul Duncan, providing vocals on the opening "Salt"; and Eyvind Kang, filling out a chamber arrangement on the expansive "Knots".
There's a sense of new life forming, of Ambarchi's re-contextualizing his place in the world. His music has taken in vast stylistic shifts in the past, but here he forges deeper into the unknown, loosening control over his work to allow his collaborators to leave a more indelible footprint and pushing many of the shapes he forms into a tighter framework. Those shapes on the opening "Salt" mirror the glass-like ambience of Markus Popp's Oval, sifting a stilled beauty into the track as Duncan's keening vocal echoes softly over them. When a hushed swell of strings momentarily enters the frame it scrapes close to the kind of work Jason Pierce was experimenting with circa Pure Phase, where a chilly tone-drift provides a simple backdrop for raw, unhampered emotion.
That may be a surprising comparison for longstanding fans of Ambarchi's work, but on Audience of One he's clearly happy to buck a few expectations. On the 33-minute centerpiece "Knots", there's a greater widening of his vision, bringing in the pitter-patter of drummer Joe Talia's metronomic ride-cymbal playing, initially counterbalanced by shards of abstract noise, ranging from barely extant slivers of sound to a blackened, all-encompassing bedlam. It's strung up in an unusual space, full of gaps for the musicians to move around in but also striding forward with purpose and goal, ricocheting back and forth between the known and the unknown. It's reminiscent of Thomas Fehlmann's work with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra on "DFM", where all the players are intuitively aware of how to expand into spaces without overwhelming the track's fragile fabric.
"Knots" is intricate and fascinating, the kind of piece that's impossible to digest in one or two hearings, always holding back secrets to reveal on further plays. There's a lightness and a density to it, with Ambarchi's black-hole soloing at the midway point falling back into near-quiet in the final third before a series of forceful, metallic clangs push and pull it to a barbed close. The only way out after that is to return to the buttoned-up euphoria of what came before, with singer Jessika Kenney cooing over "Passage" while Ambarchi caresses out ambient noise by kneading the rims of a series of wine glasses. It's a necessary climb-down from "Knots", an escape hatch that stops the mind from reeling on what came before.
To complete the picture, and to continue the strain of reinvention that runs throughout Audience of One, the album closes with a cover of Ace Frehley's "Fractured Mirror". It's a marginal lift in tone after "Passage", with the plush march of a drum machine providing a steady pulse for glass-cut guitar playing to echo around. In 2004, Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy reviewed Ambarchi's Grapes from the Estate, wondering what the guitarist could do with Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher". "Fractured Mirror" may be the closest we get to an answer, with the overabundant guitar playing of Frehley's version sucked out and replaced with a downplayed beauty that's just about perceptible if you listen closely to the original. But that's typical of Ambarchi's approach on Audience of One, which feels like he's listening harder than ever to feel out new ways to move forward, causing him to quietly cleanse his vision in ever more compelling ways. [Nick Neyland]
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