Chris Herbert’s new album “Constants” follows on from his shorter release “Wintex-Cimex 83” on the Room40 label last year. It is comprised of ten tracks, most of which run straight into one another without pause. The sounds are derived from the usual ambient palette of synth tones and manipulated field recordings, with soft but richly varied timbres, wideband harmony, and downplayed but subtly pervasive rhythms. What makes “Constants” stand out is the sheer level of detail and refinement poured into it; after multiple listens the music seems to have revealed only a few of its nuances.
Herbert speaks in the press release of being forced, due to lack of time, to work relatively slowly. This long gestation period has allowed his music to develop and mature in ways that are rarely heard in today’s world of rapid release cycles. The balance between tonality and atonality, propulsion and drift, and quiet and loud shifts slightly one way and then the other with controlled poise, like a dancer shifting weight from one foot to the other. Though sometimes seemingly ‘dark’ in hue, to my mind the music avoids the theatricality of a main stage performance, adopting instead the habitual focus of the warm-up routine, our metaphorical dancer’s daily class. Or the unspectacular livedness of a worker’s commute, or a parent’s chores. Emotion becomes affect when it is felt as a general rather than personal experience, as something in the air (something ambient); in this sense, the album is affective.
“Constants” speaks of the benefits of slow and gradual development, of techniques refined and perfected over time. There’s a weight and a substance to the album that marks it out from a crowd of hurried ambient opuses that often sound like little more than previews for the next release. The way in which we’re currently choosing to organise ourselves as a global social conglomerate often leaves talented artists with no option but to grab what little spare time they can find to devote to their craft, to make hard choices between family, friends, and other passions. “Constants” shows that powerful works of art can still arise from such situations.
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