Ekca Liena & Spheruleus – Mapping The Boundary Layer
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Surrounded in blossoming serenity, and drenched in raindrops of radio static, we start to descend into the deep, atmospheric mass which Ekca Liena and Spheruleus have carefully covered. Faint static crackles as if from an approaching cyclone, carrying electrical currents in the air as it passes closer and eventually surrounding us. A chime rings out and arises, arriving on a cool breeze and releasing the evolving ambient textures ever outwards on the breath of the air. Like Loscil expressed when he was making Grief Point, Ecka Liena and Spheruleus’ collaboration is shrouded in real ambience.
Mapping The Boundary Layer is reflective, dense and allowed the freedom to expand into an ever evolving experience, delicately dissecting the elements which surround us, and sculpting these airy atmospheres we encounter with loving hands. Undemanding and never seeking attention, the record flows dreamily like a subtle awareness of a change in the weather without visibly seeing this change.
At first remaining calm, yet anchored heavily to the atmosphere like dark clouds embracing the skies, the music weeps a rainfall of reflective, and somewhat sullen moods. The opening chimes of ‘Apparatus and Installation’ may possibly be the clanking bells of a ghostly ship, tolling mournfully at a destination never reached, a beacon unseen, while the drones ascend and descend like a ship slowly rocking over a turbulent, swelling sea.
Ecka Liena and Spheruleus have taken inspiration from the spectacular phenomena which falls upon us in the way of weather systems, choosing to especially focus on our Earth’s boundary layer; the layer of air closest to the ground in our atmosphere, our level, affected by heat, moisture and rainfall transferred to or from the surface. In ambient circles, this is a plentiful resource, and one that is taken full advantage of. Elements are often the subject and concept of many an ambient passage. The ethereal, soaring pitches mirror against the descending, and eventually, grounded, drones and temperate field recordings. The music doesn’t stick to one’s skin in a clammy condensation. It flows along peacefully enough at first, with a refreshingly cool precipitation washing away our troubled thoughts, and never unduly overwhelming us. If the drones passed beside us, we would likely not witness them. At other times, increasing tensions reflect shifting winds and potent moods. This is an absolute reflection on the relationship with our climate at the deepest, purest level, and an almost holy reverence at the miracles it gifts, and the devastation it can leave. Changes in weather patterns often bring about alterations in moods, subconsciously or not, and the moods here eventually increase into a storm.
A rainy mood permeates the record. Drizzly drones cycle endlessly, awash with atmosphere; it’s possible for the listener to feel soaked whist inside and away from a very real downpour. For the most part, the rain which falls upon the music is not a shower; it completely shrouds everything, and the end result is a mystical atmosphere, clouded in a thin but present mist, and the vague, clouded vision seen inside a steamy condensation. Our hands desperately press against the murk, leaving marks indistinctly as we try to escape.
As the music progresses, it starts to take on an oppressive feeling, the air closes in and hints of electricity stirring within the air, announcing an unseen, approaching storm. A dream-like state engulfs us as the storm gathers pace, both fear-inducing and stunning, as is so often the case with the presence of a violent tempest. Nature’s power strikes, terrifies and intimidates all at the same time, and with varying degrees of force, the melodies lay protected and encased in soft, fragile loops as the wind picks up.
An ambient recording can reflect all kinds of scenery and imagery. Capturing this imagery and setting it down inside music still constantly amazes. Although music is, of course, entirely subjective, ambient music seems to be especially sensitive to reflective moods and concepts, and is usually highly effective in realising them. This is present here, and the result is an ambience of the highest quality. The imagery is open and natural, yet closed and brooding, but the imagery doesn’t flirt with cliche. The lightly airy, billowing sound of the wind gusting through the trees lies waiting for us in ‘Windwards’ – somewhat obviously – and sends rippling leaves of vivid green into the light. The wind balloons and expands against creaking wood, which begins to yield to the gale. Light, yet dense and slightly mysterious, the recording fizzes and spits an ancient static like waves breaking on a vaguely remembered, sepia seashore amid decayed harbours.
It conjures thoughtful moments of the past, of old memories which are ponderous in nature, and perhaps slightly downcast, so effective is the music at creating a world of turbulent atmosphere. Trickles of water patter down upon stone, feeling cool and refreshing, inside gloomy caverns neglected by the sun. Humidity remains present in the air, creating the thinnest drops of moisture as they fall to the Earth. In some places, such as ‘Advection’, the drones take on a trance-like, high pitch of reflective awakening, where the eyes glaze over and the mind becomes released. Especially important to note, particularly relevant to a collaborative effort, is the feeling of introspection the music releases; the atmospheres sound personal. The album flows like the temperamental fluctuations in wind speed and direction, at one moment pulling us one way, and lightly breezing past us the next. The field recordings of falling rain and agile winds add a natural aesthetic, and keeps our close and loving relationship with the elements constantly in focus.
There is a faint breath of an age long passed in the grey, creaking crackles, hissing tapes and timeworn pops jumping out of the recording. Looping a beautifully expressive male vocal, ‘Summing Elements’ carries this feel the most – largely due to the vocal – which feels like it could be centuries old. A voice recognisable to our ears captures our attention with greater force, and perhaps reminds us that, as we look on, we are amongst humanity in both distance and level, trapped in this weather system. This record largely does not associate with humanity though – it is the atmosphere’s music completely, and the male vocal is the only faint presence of our mark. In some ways, this could induce melancholia, with the rain softly falling alone without any one to listen, a time when we have all departed.
Clearly, Mapping The Boundary Layer is a labour of love; even the cover art – which is highly expressive of the music inside – was inspired in a frenetic burst by artist Johan Soderberg, who spent countless hours during one night perfecting the art. All of this highlights an exhaustive level of dedication, from both the artist and musicians, and the importance of this cannot be undervalued; it is the highest of qualities. This album was relatively long in the making, and an effort of the most loving care, in musical development, movement and placement is clearly present. A shifting momentum pulls and sucks us closer to a tornado’s heart, defeating gravity until we stand dead centre before it, watching it as it devours itself and eliminates everything else. Only then do we face the coldly glowering eye of the storm, unblinking and emotionless. An icy, blank-eyed storm still retains a beauty in its cold annihilation. It leaves rainwater washing in a flood over our feet, soaked and dazed, yet euphoric; like the feeling left behind by the static and electricity as the storm passes beyond the horizon. Raindrops conclude the album in ‘Storm Waning – Calm Warning’, a fitting end to our voyage. The wreckage amid the aftermath is the silence which the record leaves behind.
The boundary layer may forever be rooted to our level, grounded into the Earth’s lowest atmospheric point during our planet’s lifespan. Through this environmental concept, in the dust and dirt of terra firma, the music has evolved a halo, and become quite heavenly. That isn’t to say the music is wholly angelic; that isn’t quite the aim. The moist degrees in the music’s temperatures and precipitations keep everything soaked in a cool reality, and this refreshes the record and blossoms into a beautiful, gentle whirlwind. The serenity seen earlier fades away. The last of the drones has evaporated.
- James Catchpole (@UKStratBoy) for Fluid Radio