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Seren Fford & Oöphoi: The Martian Chronicles

October 10, 2012

Drone masters Seren Fford and Oöphoi interface with the spirit of Ray Bradbury on the long-form ambient work The Martian Chronicles. This is an impressionistic work, the sounds and drones carving images of the Martian landscape in your mind. And that landscape evolves across time. At the outset, the scene is sparse, windswept red dust issuing over cold ground. A sense of loneliness gnaws through the sound. Late in the first track, “The Long Years,” the feeling is so stripped down it becomes almost unnerving. The duo carry the unease straight into “Dead Cities,” where low funereal drones moan under a quiet, freezing hush. As the piece goes along it slowly grows in vibrancy and light, moving us into a more inviting landscape. It’s the first sense of forward motion, of narrative discovery. We understand that we’re on the cusp of something, and it arrives in “Blue Fire” with some unexpected percussion. We’re taken through a brief passage with tribal overtones, like a look into some lost civilization’s past or the finding of some indigenous culture’s outpost. It’s a great touch, even as slight as it is, after such a long ambient stretch. This is where the tone of the disc begins to shift toward the optimistic and organic. Water is discovered in “Canals,” the sound quietly burbling over warm ambient cloud formations. Again, the tone here is warmer and more welcoming than in earlier tracks. We’ve arrived somehow at a different, hospitable Mars. More signs of life come with “Flamebirds Waiting for the Storm.” The chittering of a thousand electronic Martian avians bounce and dance over a virtually unchanging drone. Thunder begins to roll in the background. The simplicity of the undercurrent tone is amazingly effective, a straight-line constant against the chaos laid over it. The disc closes with the prayer-like chant of “Unremembered,” a quite straightforward ambient piece, meditative and reverent.

Throughout The Martian Chronicles, the layering of sounds is incredible. Even in the most still-wind moments there’s motion and depth and interplay. This is the kind of disc where you pop on the headphones, lay in the dark, and let your mind start building scenery. The sensations that Seren Fford and Oöphoi are able to convey through their sounds are quite visceral and moving. In addition, the movement of the disc, start to finish, is one of the best examples of creating a sonic narrative that I’ve heard in a while. There is an arc here, and it’s fully developed and completely realized. This is a truly masterful piece of work.

Available from Hypnos.

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