"Gramophone Transmissions" is Canadian electronic musician Blake Gibson's second album, which was self-released in 2011. Pity that, because I would have loved to put this fascinating gem on my "Best of 2012" list.
The presentation/packaging on this release is quite stunning, with artwork and layout by Michal Karcz (who has done work recently for Steve Roach). I was also intrigued by the thanks given to "Kubrick, Debussy, Bass Communion, VidnaObmana" for inspiration, which made me salivate to the sonic treasures I might find within. I was not disappointed, and the influence of these artists of the surreal becomes readily apparent.
This album was produced with source material exclusively from processed samples/loops derived from classical vinyl records and choral, mellotron and piano recordings. This is not a new concept-- like minded artists like Janek Shaefer and Steven Wilson have forayed into this territory before (see Bass Communion's "Ghosts on Magnetic Tape"). But Gibson does it with panache and subtle intensity, where things never sound stiff, cold, or too experimental. There is a sonic warmth to the proceedings.
I would categorize this release as space music, as it presents almost an alternative soundtrack to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey;" there are plenty of mental images derived from these soundscapes of Dave Bowman floating in the blackness, psychedelically-colored planetary landscapes, and the like. But I also noticed and appreciated that the album would work equally well as the soundtrack to an American southwest desert, a la Roach.
Opener "Drift" is a light and airy piece with piano and classical strings, albeit with a droning quality, and is quite hopeful sounding. By the visceral "Dark Clouds Approaching from the West" and mammoth "Maelstrom (The Descent)", in contrast, the album moves into gleefully eerie and surreal spaces. I've seen this album tagged with the "dark ambient" banner in some other reviews and, to be honest, even at it's most chilling and darkest, I don't think this is an entirely accurate or fair label to put on this music. Album closer "Unforeseen Consequences" reminds me of the Steve Roach classic "Artifacts" and is a beautiful drifting piece and perfect way to end this excellent album.
So, one of the best albums of 2011 (that I didn't hear until 2012)!
P.S. headphones listening HIGHLY recommended to bring out the subtle nuances of this work.