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On Oxana, Pete Kelly (a.k.a. Igneous Flame) accomplishes a rare feat: a drifting/drone-style ambient recording comprised of fourteen distinct tracks. Most ambient music of this type centers around long-form compositions, including entire albums containing one long piece. Remarkably, Kelly's songs do more than form a cohesive "whole," they also accurately convey a subtle variety of moods and atmospheres, even though technically one hears similar musical themes.
The overall sensation of the album is of "deep space drifting," as the slowly swirling textures, which frequently contain a bell-like reverberation characteristic, impart two separate yet definable emotional resonances: a sense of desolate loneliness interspersed with a darkly glowing juxtaposition of mystery and inviting warmth. This apparent paradox helps make Oxana rewarding through multiple playings. The balance between comforting washes of tones, some of which have an almost palpable rotating "feel" (as if you were on a space platform in geo-synchronous orbit, watching the planet below you slowly pivot on its axis), with darker textures and drones is never jarring or disorienting, and that's where Kelly's artistry shines brightest. To be able to mesh the two disparate moods in such a complementary fashion is something that most other artists might/would fail at miserably. Coincidentally, one other artist shares this skill is Jeff Pearce. Coincidentally, both Pearce and Kelly use guitars to create their music (Pearce does so exclusively, while Kelly, in an email to me stated "You're right, guitar is the main instrument, I use a volume pedal [with lots of delays and compression] to cut off the attack, so it sounds a little like a synth and then it's processed further."). I imagine that fans of Pearce's earlier releases, e.g. The Hidden Rift, Vestiges and Daylight Slowly, would delight in these gossamer thin tendrils of inky-black outer space ambience.
"Formless" opens the album with a rotating reverberating tone piece. "Glacia-Tor" is the second track and it's the first one that will elicit comparison with Pearce's musical motifs as sparse and endlessly sustained guitar (both melodic as well as textural in nature) hover in midair, like so much smoke from incense. "Isolder" offers up deep ringing tones with bell-like characteristics that pan rapidly side-to-side. "Chant" (a track which uses processed female vocals as a sound source) begins beautifully, painting a broad lonely vista comparable to Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna" from the soundtrack to 2001, before morphing into a much more active soundscape with what sounds like rain droplets, muffled voices in a long corridor, and plaintive sustained guitar notes. "Anca" (the longest piece on the album at a tick over nine minutes) is comprised of drifting drones and tones that shift from ethereal and light to shadowy and dark, from soft and whispery to louder and more powerful (yet never overpowering). "Vapour Trace" fits its title as the music has a transparent feel to it at times, again evolving between higher-toned passages and lower register sounds, and at the end adding some noise-oriented rustling/crashing textures. The ultra-short "Filtering Silence" (2:06) offers up a slowly increasing in volume (but never more than soft) bell-like reverberation with subtle shimmering qualities. It's arguably the "prettiest" and warmest piece on the album. Worth special mention is the spooky closing track, "Lost at Sea," a dense dark eerie sonic venture into watery undulating tones, made even scarier with distorted noises and excerpts from a BBC Radio 4 oceanographic shipping weather forecast.
Oxana is one of the best minimal/drone-style ambient releases of the last few years. The last recording in this subgenre that I got this excited about was the much-overlooked Astoria from the artist "when i know you will too." Like that release, Oxana infuses its drifting ambient tonalities and textures with undeniable human emotion and artistry. Pete Kelly is obviously an artist to keep an eye (and ear) on for future greatness. This CD merits my highest recommendation and is sure to place on my "Best of the Year" list for 2004.
Bill Binkleman, Wind and Wire May 2004
'...The feeling is of exploring
an alien consciousness
Reviewed by Ambient.us (Dodds Wiley)
'...The sounds on this album mentally transported me to other realms, ones that aren't familiar and not obviously themed like on many ambient albums.'
Reviewed by Wind and Wire (Dene Bebbington)
'...The more I listened to
this music the greater
Reviewed by Modern-dance magazine (for issue #47)
'Like an artfully smeared canvas for your ears, abstract scenes are drawn into long, generally lush streaks of varying sonic hues. The UK's Pete Kelly (under the pseudonym of Igneous Flame) sets alight the ephemeral glow of Tolmon. A rippling stew of vaporous tonelayers...'
reviewed by Ambientrance
'...Each piece retains a particular growl that conveys a furrowed brow seriousness to the sparse music, as if hinting at somber secrets contained within the aural structures.'
Reviewed by Matt Howarth (sonic curiousity)
'...this is for those who can appreciate quality...a very good album'
Reviewed by Modern-dance magazine (for issue #47
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