Idiosyncrasies often get in the way of actual meaning, but when I saw Petrels, aka Oli Barrett at Modern Art Oxford’s Midwinter Dronefest, parallels between worlds of performance art and installation work were easy to draw. This places the observation situation as forseseeing complex algorithmic potential, where snippets of dialogue or a melody are faint trace of a larger message. So maybe idiosyncrasies have a purpose in music, after all. Here is an album worth a full spectrum of parliamentary ambient circles, starting out with that pseudo-typical simalcrum Petrels symphonies, here projected into a giant octogenarian orchestra playing a giant hall.
Since 2014’s “Mima”, a slow building para-cosm of spectral diaphony, the branches of this wilting narrative that runs in Barrett’s veins has translated into a rather more imposing proposition. For the first time now, for instance is a rockist bent at the stage of apothesis. Belting along like a remodelled Kraftwerk – Autobahn meets Glenn Branca live, this new part of Petrels fusion aesthetic gives the leaves the life they need to grow into gargantuan sonic greenery. It is a rather sorry state of affairs when you find even with a discographies work, for the reviewer the plain fact is to eat humble pie at how epic this aims to be. So, instead of a pruning or pedestalising of certain elements of ephemera that surrounds a name or principle, Petrels has gleaned the inner core’s magic and let a new canvas grow on top of the sonic allotment. It’s like slotting plants into small spaces as a listening experience, both passively and actively. Certain parts morph to a telling, fresh phase, while others die off and deduce that their time has come. Often, as on ‘Thangen After Doth’, where sea shore activity throws shells at the field recording format, nature is an important anchor to add, calibrate and necessitate movement in each piece’s duration.
What’s more, it’s needed for purpose. In situ of a growing number of emotive ambient albums that utilises children’s voices – this record naturally coming closer to the ‘Hold Everything Dear’- era ambient of Editions Mego’s Cindytalk – I find it becomes increasingly important – as may Barrett – to differentiate the meaning as beyond interpersonal idiosyncracy. In other words, not just another call/response to the ambient rubiks cube; something having everything new to say becomes everlastingly more difficult an artistic pinnacle to achieve. For now, it’s a refreshing, very fine record indeed!