Two and a half hours of deep, flowing, textured classic ambient music from Altus? This is what is known as “a very good thing.” Having listened to The Time Collection several times over, I feel confident in saying that this release deserves a place alongside similar benchmark recordings such as Roach’s Quiet Music series. Musician Mike Carss has always exhibited a gentle hand on the ambient controls and a definite way with slowly coaxing emotional content out of long-drawn pads, but here I have to say he has exceeded himself. But this is not just a long set of pad-on-pad drifts. There is texture and shadow, light and dynamics. Things are a bit ominous at the outset; “Illusionary Progression” begins with rattling sounds and a looming, rising bass pad. The tone is a little gritty, very much in a spacemusic vein, complete with the sound swooping around your head. The up-front drama here belies the quieter thoughts ahead, but it definitely grabs your attention. Carss settles into a classic feel, layering his way quickly into a rich, fully dimensional zone. At its midpoint, it spins toward the light in a change of approach that borders on breathtaking. Those crunchy bass sounds slip into a supporting role, rising up beautifully in places, and the voyage is well underway. Carss gives his tracks plenty of room to patiently stretch out–the shortest is 11 minutes. He’ll draw a melody out to a splendid slowness, as on “Absolve the Past,” filling it with an elegiac feel, a hesitant beauty that slips quietly into your soul. It’s heard again and happens again on “What You Leave Behind.” Echoing notes brightly pick out the extended melody over cloudy pads. To me, Carss nails the sense of hesitant but hopeful departure. From the first time I heard it, this track had something to say to me. In the middle of “Memory Thief,” he calls in a vocal sample pad, adding an unexpected element that simply folds itself into the existing calm flow. It’s to Carss’ credit that you barely notice its arrival but you feel its effect. This long journey concludes with the 30-minute arc of “Walk With Oblivion.” Here we turn back toward a darker sense at first, then again rise slowly upward in tone. This is a big track, with plenty of dramatic rises and falls, yet still manages to remain calm. It is spiritual and meaningful.
I would consider The Time Collection to be living atmosphere ambient. That is, it’s the release I want to put on loop and just let it run, filling the space at low volume, more or less living up to Eno’s definition of ambient as being “as ignorable as it is interesting”—although here I would strongly argue the “ignorable” part. But as music that is simply there, existing alongside me, yes, absolutely. Carss’ output was already quite impressive; I consider him one of the best names in ambient (and I know I’m not alone in that). The Time Collection sets a fantastic high mark, showcasing an artist absolutely in command of his element. However you choose to experience it, whether in an Eno-esque fashion or up close and meditative, it will captivate, calm, and move you. This is a truly amazing piece of ambient music, and a must-own. Far and away one of the best things I’ve enjoyed this year.
Available from Altus’ web site.