Dau, the moniker of UK ambient musician Phil Self, is about to release his solo debut, Zed Zed. Arriving via Phantom Limb’s new sub-label imprint Spirituals, which promotes ‘high grade, emotive ambient and experimental music from emerging artists from across the world’, Zed Zed is a beautifully-crafted and intricately-woven record, utilising classical chamber orchestration and blending it with an ambient core.
Self is involved in many other projects, from the UK instrumental sextet yndi halda to performing in the live band of folk-rock singer-songwriter Will Varley. Self also runs the Isolation Choir, a non-profit initiative for the elderly and the vulnerable, where musicians and non-musicians alike are invited to contribute remotely to pieced-together ensemble performances (the first video of which caught the eye of Brian Eno, who was so moved by the performance and the compassionate message behind the project that he offered his services for the second).
Zed Zed features bowed guitar, reed organ, and voice, but Self also includes recordings of water bowls, falling rain, and sounds from his kitchen, which produces a warm, comfortable, and homely atmosphere, adding degrees of personality and intimacy within the familiar environment of home. The human qualities of empathy, kindness, and care are literally at the centre of the music, a point at which it can brightly shine, and it also reflects Self’s own personality, the music acting as a conduit for his inner kindness.
The music unravels with patience, slowly developing and building upon itself. Perhaps most importantly, Zed Zed is free of computer processing; digital editing and computer interference is rejected. The record is entirely acoustic and proud of the fact, featuring real-time performances and nothing but acoustic instrumentation. A deep ambient heart beats within its music, which is all the more evident in the dulled harmonic resonance of its water bowl. And along with the sound of dripping water, reverberating gongs help to produce calming sensations and feelings of immense relief. With graceful movements, the music never seems to put a foot wrong.
‘Sundowning’ closes the album as an overlapping family of lean, slanting strings provide the last flares of light. Even with the sunset and its representation of ending and finality, the music’s message is one of enduring beauty, optimism, and appreciation, retaining its grace right up until its end.