Sea waves are fascinating and captivating acoustic phenomena, and many musicians and sound artists have taken inspiration from their sonic qualities. The new EP from Pembrokeshire-based artist Chris Weeks falls into this category, with the emphasis here falling on the evocation of waves’ emotional connotations rather than aiming for a literal translation of their sound into instrumental music. The record is entirely guitar-based (though the list of guitars is quite extensive: electric, acoustic, bass, classical, guitarlele, lap-steel, and bowed), and while it doesn’t really evoke the contingency or complexity of sea waves, it does borrow heavily from them in other ways, such as in the use of ‘breaking and receding’ two-chord patterns and the use of long dynamic and filter cutoff attack to create impressions of surging.
While the structure and general mood of “The Ebb & Flow” seem perhaps overly familiar, the timbres used are exceptionally well-crafted, placing the record firmly within the ambient/drone genre while giving it a distinctive and not at all unappealing sound. At no point does the decision to limit the orchestration to guitars seem like a constraint — indeed, I found myself not thinking at all about how the sounds were made, immersed as I was in the music’s general atmosphere. Perhaps the rhythm of the sea, replicated faithfully if a little rigidly here, produces some deeply seated neurological response guaranteed to calm and unsettle in equal measure; or perhaps the old Kantian notion of the sublime, with its heady mix of pleasure and terror, is a more appropriate explanation. Whatever the reason, I found that it was in the quieter moments, such as the opening of “Wave V”, that the effect was at its most intense, lulling the body and firing the imagination at the same time.
“The Ebb & Flow” is a solid release, and one that should be on the listen-to list of any dedicated ambient drone fan. The handcrafted limited edition mini-CD with gloss prints and a bonus mix of all six tracks doesn’t sound half bad either. Those listening out for a more objective and nuanced investigation of the acoustic properties of waves may be disappointed, as the music is certainly more impressionist than realist in its approach, but there’s plenty here to set the mind and imagination adrift.