Ektenia ‘s cool ambient music heralds the arrival of strange things from afar. Stranger beings – some call them angels – form a circle up in the rafters. Ektenia’s ghostly presence lingers well after its exorcism into eternal silence, its sub-zero temperatures and cool draughts causing goosebumps to dapple the arms.
Andrew Sherwell’s ethereal music finds suitable residence on Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods Records, what with the label’s slide into the haunted side of ambient. Banks of slow moving, cool-to-the-touch drones hover and float in and around the listener’s headspace like a band of celestial beings from a shrouded plane. Some think angels radiate white heat, bringing gospel and convenient reassurance, but this angelic drone, similar to an exhaled cloud of icy breath or a billowing apparition, gives off more of a blue temperature while still managing to sedate and comfort.
Perfect for an October evening, Ektenia is a dark breath from beyond, severed from the world’s umbilical, existing in the bruise-colored valleys of a near death experience, levitating between this life and the afterlife. Rustling sounds and continuous background hiss help to shape the secret music.
The drone is a wispy, outstretched finger of translucent light, vaporous in appearance. The music has a numinous beauty which can sometimes feel spooky in that it reaches out and touches the unknown, a supernatural sphere that the mind can’t understand or comprehend. And if understanding is mute, perhaps the only response is to accept, trust, and believe. The cool drones offer relief from an uncaring world, discovering peace through traces of revealed divinity. The ambient is an invitation to the otherworldly. There’s something more going on here.
In the midst of a religious experience, Ektenia encounters a strong sense of the divine, or at least approaches a heightened psychological state, and its holy drones descend upon musician and listener. Peace reigns supreme, but the ethereal nature of the music leaves behind a smudge on the listener; something has been experienced and exchanged, some lowering of reality’s veil has taken place, Heaven has been glimpsed. This desperate need to believe can blind people to more pressing realities, covering the eyes like a pair of scales as the need obliterates every other rational thought. But above all, the music is beautiful, afloat in the air and shimmering in the midst of its light crackles. The unearthly drones come and go, making them transient and sacred apparitions.
‘It was a heady mix; the angels, the frankincense, the singing. Too much for a ten-year old me. I would regularly faint. Maybe the starched collar of my Sunday Best would cut off the circulation to my head as I gazed forever upwards. Maybe, I was just overcome with it all, as the old ladies who fussed me to my feet in broken English would suggest. Maybe, as Grandfather said, it was the gaze of an angel that did it…turns out I have always been susceptible to angels. And occasionally to demons, for what are they but fallen angels? Angels who have lost their grace, angels removed from the Word’.
Truth is largely dependent upon perception, and Ektenia strays into the murkier aspects of spirituality. The low rumbling is heavy with memory and meaning, terrifying as well as exulting. In the Bible, angels terrified people, either disguising themselves in a human form or coming across as a completely inhuman being. In the Middle Ages, the Cherubim transformed into little winged babies with harps, but that’s not what you’ll find in Scripture. The same is true of the music. These aren’t the kind of angels you ohhh or ahhhh over.
‘…not the embarrassingly twee, cloying sentimentality of New Age spirituality angels, but angels of the older religions. Manifestations of the Word, on one hand baby-killers, city-levelers, enactors of God’s wrath, and on the other, bringers of a calm joy inimitable in our ridiculously over-wrought, over-stimulated and alienated society. What could be more disturbing, confusing, traumatic? What could be more overwhelming?’
Divine architecture, incense, the chanting of priests, the note elevation from the choir, and the stretched domes above all act as legal highs. Psychological influence and confirmation bias may congeal in congregations, clouding and closing minds instead of illuminating them to other possibilities. So is it a real experience, or is it all in the mind? The music is left open to interpretation, but its notes are like winged angels in an upward spiral, and the dome allows for a light to shine in from afar. Ektenia scores highly because of the way in which Sherwell develops its angelic sound. With a deft touch, the tranquil drones loop like sacred verse, repeating hymns over and over. Do angels walk (or even float) among us, protecting us? And what kind of angel will come visiting? Will they emerge before us with a human-like appearance, or will it be one of the terrifying, four-faced ones? Listening to the beautiful Ektenia, it becomes tempting to stray towards the former. Their ethereal arms can act as evidence of a supernatural crime, or they can be bearers and symbols of joy and peace. You have no choice but to succumb. Ektenia will make you a believer.