Ambient music is commonly thought of as a transcendent, general phenomenon, making US artist Yann Novak’s use of field recordings as ambient drones, rather than behind or beside them, an intriguing innovation. This time, however, the field recordings come courtesy of Novak’s collaborator, Fabio Perletta, who captured them at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. My guess is that it was quite a windy day, as there seems to be a distinctly wind-sculpted sonic topology to their work “Liminality”, one that roves around the audible spectrum before ending the piece rumbling around in subterranean depths. It is wind stripped of almost all its substance as wind, with only a contour remaining; yet the connection, once heard, is hard to unhear.
A sense of place thus permeates what is otherwise quite a straightforward ambient composition, an indexical link to the specific and the material that counterbalances the slow warm chords’ tendency towards a state of timeless everywhere- and nowhere-ness. It’s very difficult to distinguish the separate contributions made by the two musicians, but perhaps some of the timbres are a little rougher than Perletta would normally use, while some very high-pitched whistles and clicks seem characteristically his. There’s perhaps the tiniest impression of back-and-forth, of workings-out and changes in direction — traces of the material’s production; yet regardless of such details, “Liminality” presents itself in an immediate and self-sufficient fashion, in line with the traditions of the genre.
You’ve heard it all before, perhaps, but this matters little: such music proceeds by way of affects rather than novelties, and “Liminality” is nothing if not affective. By allowing the shapes of Perletta’s field recordings to sculpt the work, however, the two artists have created a distinctive and memorable take on ambient without losing the sense of absorption and suspension of time that make listening such a zoned-out, transportative pleasure. The balance between smoothness and substance here turns out just right: this is a fine work from two accomplished and compelling artists.