Ask me two months ago, and I would have told you the drone scene in Vancouver was nearly non-existent. Fast forward to an early Saturday in September, and there’s been a noticeable trend to accommodate the quieter side of experimental musicians in the city’s underground community. And, if shows like the one that took place at Nouvelle Nouvelle are any indication, 12-minute textural epics have a warm place to stay.
Arranged on the rough wood floor of the tiny Gastown clothing shop, Ian William Craig and an assortment of reel-to-reels and tape decks gave the room a “dad’s-old-hifi” feel, even though Craig’s music is anything but antiquated. Combining operatic vocal soaring, 8-bit synth pads, and a whole bunch of tape-based loops and echoes, the set burst from the quiet click of a tape reel tracking into a sonorous valley of sound. When Craig wasn’t working on trying to wrangle his ancient equipment, his entire body worked to achieve falsetto cries and rich textures, though most of the words were lost in a sea of delay and looped noise.
The Passenger, a lone soul in headphones who set up shop behind analog synthesizers, held a much darker control over the room with heavy, toneless bass drones laying the foundation for the occasional chirping melody. Compared to Craig’s stage presence, the Passenger was a thoroughly anti-social affair, which only added to the appeal of closing one’s eyes and breathing to the click of the synthscapes. A little bit Music For Airports (of Brian Eno’s Ambient series) a little bit improv synth-orchestra, the set was very different from the tunes featured on his LP, _|.
When Amir Abbey, the one-man army behind Secret Pyramid, started his set behind a reel-to-reel and a sample pad, I was totally pleased to bask in the modulating, heavily textural sounds he was producing hunched over the table. What started out as a meticulously ambient soundscape escalated into a beautiful symphony of hashed noises and audio clips, but things grew exceptional when Abbey moved over and picked up a guitar. Rich, undulating power-chord waves took the bass drone and flew into a deep crescendo; individual notes and chords melted together like a dozen post-rock songs played at once, and the come-down, as Abbey moved back to his sampler to end, felt like a warm bath after a hard day.
I’m not ashamed to admit to falling asleep halfway through Hierarchies’ set. This isn’t a criticism of the synth-drone duo of Colin Jones and J.P. Doucet, who deeply impressed with several stands of gear and an almost hardcore approach to ambient music. Synth pads were atmospheric, but stuck to a recognizable pattern, and subtle hooks and riffs appeared over the course of the set that gave Hierarchies a distinct and beautiful structure. While not necessarily “happy” soundscapes, when I passed out in the middle of the wall of sound it was to be enveloped by calm daydreams and positive vibes. When I regained consciousness, it was to see Doucet head-banging to the invisible beat from behind his synths and grinning maniacally. The whole room echoed his sentiment, and when their set came to its inevitable conclusion, it was to an audience basking in good vibrations.