Nunc Stans: Timeless (DataObscura)
A few years back, Anthony Paul Kerby (APK) - curator of the DataObscura label and of musical entities The Circular Ruins and Lammergeyer – sought to give fuller voice to the drone, conceiving a discrete project where this element in his sound palette could range more freely. To distinguish it from his other electro-ambient work, he chose to don the guise of Nunc Stans. A key element of The Drone is persistence through time, making the moniker especially apt, referring to the place we always are, signalling the protentions and retentions of the present, enfolding within it future and past (for anorak-y academic types, the term comes from a concept in Husserlian phenomenology, meaning literally the “standing now”). With third album, Timeless, the name-concept is rendered more symbolic, as a musical expression of timelessness in its suspension of conventional time-tempo markers, and as a representation of our experience of a vast landscape like the timeless extremities of APK’s adopted homeland. By all accounts much of the inspirational heft of Nunc Stans comes from contemplation of zones like northern Canada where a timeless sense may be more keenly felt - unchanging, undefined, free from human particularity and interruption.
Both Timeless and companion piece, Ellesmere Island (free EP download), come along at a time when no small number of ambienteers and droners are looking to the earth’s extremities, especially the polar and the chthonic, for inspiration. Whether knowingly or not, this work falls most obviously under the flag of “Isolationist Ambient”, a sub-genre line conceptually born in the early 90s with Virgin's Ambient 4: Isolationism compilation, and lately revisited, for one, by Netherworld’s Glacial Movements label, whose mission statement - “confronts the individual with forces beyond his control, while trying to mirror the beauty of epic, barren landscapes with immeasurable dimensions” – could apply equally well to that proposed by Nunc Stans (who, incidentally, was making glacial movements long before GM). There’s a shared topography and sensibility with these and other Nordic polar-drifters – with the neo-environmentalist strains of a Biosphere, or the ‘soft’ isolationism of the likes of Cyclic Law’s Northaunt. Obvious peers such as Oöphoi, Alio Die or Mathias Grassow may be invoked too in considering what is fundamentally a work of layered drones uniting organic and electronic textures. But Timeless is more musically active, less dust in the wind than expanding horizons - a deal more earth and fire mixed in with its air and water, allowing slivers and shreds of melodic leads to slip through and bob in its oceanism. It’s a dark-hued ambient soundscapery whose not entirely serene meditations will be familiar from previous releases, Night Vision and Cerulean Suite. But for all its frosty alien quality, it’s run through by thermal currents, and a rich textured feel. The Shower-curtain of Sound APK often drapes across his backdrops is pronounced, and particularly dense on Ellesmere Island, where a filmy field-recording infusion creates a murky soup in which sunken harmonics may be dredged for by deeper-diving ambient treasure-hunters.
After the keynote for the collection is sounded by opener, “Some Things You Missed”, “Labrador Sunrise” ghosts in with a distant air of the ominous, musical matter swimming up from chthonic rumble, the whole enshrouded in field-haze and reverb-mist. The title track is not a pure floating undifferentiated timeless, but rather a passing over an alien landscape, a voyage across the unfamiliar, the non-human - traversing the remote and icy far northern landscapes. “I Will Forget” provides a very human interlude, with an emotive melodicity reminiscent of Lammergeyer - languorous and melancholic, a dynamic and mood at which APK excels. Before long, though, we are into “We Ought Not To Be Awake”, which takes a turn back towards the alien unknown, with a foreboding feeling that suggests maybe we should not be here. Ultimately less dark than stark, it conjurs up winter light, frost-flecked haze, and glints in the boreal dawn. Later tracks relent in intensity, “Suspension of Belief”, for example, playing on Coledridge with chamberesque synthetic strings. Overall, though, Timeless strikes an effective balance between the composed refinement of an older space music tradition and the grainier indeterminacy of contemporary experimental drone-ambient.Alan Lockett
To see the full review + links to sound samples go here:www.dataobscura.com/reviews/artists/nunc-stans/timeless_AL.html
The album is here:www.dataobscura.com/proddetail.php?prod=DO-029