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A Master Craftsman Taps a Deeper, More Introspective Side
A Master Craftsman Taps a Deeper, More Introspective Side
Symphonic synthesist David Arkenstone's journey into ambient music David Arkenstone
Ambient World
(Domo Records)
David Arkenstone and ambient are not two names I'd expect to see together. The composer and multi-instrumentalist built his reputation as the sultan of symphonic new age music, mixing synthesizer, orchestras, guitars and more in dynamic compositions that could've been off a Hollywood film score or an Aaron Copland homage. Arkenstone has been a bit of an opportunistic trend hopper, with Celtic albums, world fusion under the guise of Ah-Nee-Mah and electronica as Earthtrybe, Ambient World still comes as a surprise because it has none of the conventional Arkenstone signposts at all. Instead, the composer has turned off the bombast and turned on his introspective and textural side with an enticing album that sustains itself over a double CD.

"Acquiring Satellites" launches the album and it sounds like nothing else Arkenstone has done before. It's a delicately painted track with thinly brushed atmospherics and twangy electric guitar while a downtempo thud centers percolating synthesizers. It sets the tone for the next two hours of music

While a lot of atmospheric downtempo recordings tend to blur together, Arkenstone creates a coherent sound while still making each track distinctive. "Nightscape" perks along a bubbling sequencer line with electronic swirls, while "Tunnels" emerges into a snarling Blade Runner groove with echoing guitar.

Within each track, Arkenstone orchestrates a sound world that has the precise placement of a zen garden, but the forward momentum of a slo-mo rollercoaster. You get on a track like "Gargouille" and watch it all swirl by, with a double thump heart beat groove against twinkling star light synthesizers and vibe-like keyboards. Rhythms are subtly augmented while a liquid, psychedelic guitar trawls the atmosphere like a schooner surveying the high seas of ambience.

The retro-synth lead of "Liquid Sky" is like something out of a late 1960's Moog album. Twittering and fluttering like a space flute over more contemporary grooves and textures provides one of the many textural interests on Ambient World, along with the Pink Floyd "Echoes" ping on the song. In fact subtle references abound on Ambient World. Is the opening of "Star Fall" a reference to the original Star Trek theme? I don't know, but Arkenstone uses it to launch a menacing track of slowly moving chords and chilly, metallic accents. Even with purely ambient, drift tracks like the abstract designs of "Collective Dream" it's not all dark and moody. He lights up a downtempo dance groove on "Shinkansen" that contrasts with its spare, yearning synth line and "Time Lapse" has a slowly unfolding, earth-turning melody that recalls the 1980s work of Michael Stearns.

This is a much darker music than listeners are accustomed to hearing from David Arkenstone. But it reveals the composer once again as a master craftsman capable of tapping a deeper, more introspective side.