Ambient Music

Michael Valentine West – a farewell to arms (2022; Reverse Alignment) – Avant Music News

The pieces that I had heard from Michael Valentine West prior to the release of this album were intriguing, yet I never found more than a few moments to contemplate his work. On a farewell to arms, West covers a lot of ground in experimental ambient space, the album taking the form of a single 49-minute track.

To that point, it goes through a number of distinct phases or movements, beginning with a slow-paced and moody piano interlude combined with spiky and burbling static. The tension slowly builds as the piano notes become more tightly spaced, the static louder, and drones enter the background.

Eventually, this passage fades into the second movement, which takes on a more menacing tone with synth layers stretching out chords in a fashion consistent with dark ambient. The tension and density build once again until West breaks out into a third movement of improvised percussion and processed synth structures. Parts of this get quite assertive, with thick walls and open-ended drum-like elements contrasting constraint and the lack thereof.

The fourth movement takes features of the third, tones them down, then adds wafting and gritty drones as well as bassy reverberations to the mix. This continues for a while until the jarring fifth movement adds a blast of rapidly-sequenced noise patterns. These rolling and echoing structures are almost techno in nature, though weirder and probably undanceable.

The sixth movement is more pastoral, with quiet, watery synth work interspersed with sculpted static and shimmering tones. It evolves into more ominous drones but this time with indistinct processed voices. This arguable seventh movement remains low-key, but with enough variation in the background to remain attention-getting before the track fades out.

Of course, the “movements” identified above appear in the mind of the listener. West might disagree. Still, the extent of exploration and narrative across one long piece of music is quite remarkable. West’s effort here does not fit neatly into any box and is of interest for that reason as well.

Needless to say, a farewell to arms is very well done and comes highly recommended.

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