Complex Silence is an ongoing curated series of drone-based ambient works, each by a different artist. The stated mission is to have them “explore the depths of long-form ambient music composed entirely of extremely subtle changes, dissonant harmonies, stretched-out harmonics, abstract tone washes, layers of mystical atmospheres, or field recordings…” This 23rd edition is Philip Wilkerson’s fourth contribution, the others being numbers 1, 5 and 15, and it offers a somewhat different Wilkinson than some of his listeners may be used to. And this is a good thing for two reasons. First is that it’s beneficial to any artist to challenge themselves to follow new pathways, to break from their comfort zone and chart a new mode of expression. Second, and specific to Wilkerson this time out, it’s work that was born out of a period of conflict and pain in his life. It’s always good to get that crap out, however you get it out. To our benefit, he has gotten it out with some deep, introspective drones that move, like healing, from relative darkness to a place that’s lighter and uplifting. The long drone form gives the listener plenty of time to internalize this movement and the emotional journey that’s being charted. It’s one of the good things about quality drone-work–there’s not a lot to distract the listener from the layering at play and the tonal colors being put forth. Wilkerson starts in a space that’s pensive but reasonably light, a pleasant ambient drift. Late in the track, the tone begins to turn colder on a rising synth wind. As the second track begins, things darken. The atmosphere becomes weightier. The feel bends toward the isolationist ambient side of things, with its distinct tinge of loneliness. This is a wonderful stretch of lulling drone that calmly opens a space in your mind and lets Wilkerson’s intentions drip in. From here, beginning, appropriately, with “Sunward,” Wilkerson starts the redemptive leg of the journey. From the start the tone glimmers; big, arcing pads take over and spiral upward. This, the shortest piece here, moves us into the very lovely “As Lost As You’ll Find,” a 23-minute opus of floating ambient. This comes much more in line with the kind of optimistic, healing ambient Wilkerson is known for, and it’s as gorgeous as anything he’s done. There’s a subtle feel of constant upward movement, and of reconciliation with the darkness through which we’ve passed. The disc closes with “While Silence Sings,” another thoughtful prayer of sound. Gently hissing noise, like rainfall, whispers in the back over light pad structures as Wilkerson eases us toward the end.
It goes without saying, I think, that this makes a marvelous low-volume loop. On the day I was writing this review, it went around, non-stop, for better than four hours. As good ambient should, it melts easily into the backdrop until some moment, some passage, pings an emotional center in your brain and you become more aware of it and take it in more fully. The arc of the thing is carefully considered and constructed, and the visceral responses it evokes are deep and true. More wonderful music from Philip Wilkerson.
Available at the Complex Silence blog.