FrozenSteamI had intended covering these three rare ambient works from Russian musicologist Vaarwel in one review but due to the weather, listening to them has been tough. Let me explain, we are in the grip of a heat-wave which in England is unknown and with all the windows open over a main road every few seconds a truck, a twat with a boom-box or a siren goes past and of course some arse decides to start digging up the pavement with a drill. Listening to lo-fi music with subtle sounds and definitions in these conditions is far from easy so I have decided to do one a week and give you reviews over the next few Saturdays. I did try using headphones but they started to melt into my face.

These conditions are actually quite perfect for this first one as Steamworks suggests a place with pipes billowing out heat in sweltering conditions BUT the word Hibernation is used here too and that makes me think of a place that has been shut down, having gone from a manic hive of bustling activity and clanking machinery to one that is just about ticking over with the bare minimum running to keep all the machinery from seizing up. This was released originally in 2009 as a one track 31 minute EP by the obscure sounding Operator Produkzion who appear to have just 3 Frozen Ocean and a dodgy looking demo by Gorduw to their name. The stuck on cover art is striking and fitting and inside there is a technical illustration of some sort of hydraulic mechanism. It looks like there were only 62 of these released but of course you can listen to it here    

Spectral voices and clanking noises ooze out from a void and hollow sounding echoing drum beats slowly ebb in. There is some ghostly backing melody from keyboard but you have to strain to hear it, the machinery, drums and what sounds like release of pressure is the main focus along with that voice, which sounds like it is calmly reciting some sort of propaganda. It is strange listening and although it has mesmerising qualities as it almost repeats on a loop there is a sense of unease about it all and it is not really that calming a listening experience. It’s an intriguing and compelling mix of industrial ambiance and when the voices come back, in a more strident fashion, you could no doubt add martial to the mix. Suddenly and completely unexpectedly a xylophone tinkles in and the music becomes more urgent and pronounced. If this is Hibernation there is still a lot happening but perhaps the gremlins have taken over and are adding their own chaos to the mix.

Things are not too unfocussed and you suddenly realise that there is a solid rhythmic thrust about the build up in the drumming and the incessant churning of the mechanisation. You are not quite sure what you are hearing through it all, did I imagine a sudden burst of brass, is that some sort of choral accompaniment? The layers are hidden like almost forbidden knowledge waiting to be ushered through the portal. Entering the last third the drumming ceases and what sounds like ‘going, go away’ is being repeated on a loop by what I assume is the machinery whirring away. Gradually slowing, a humming sound takes over but one that again is not easy to hear unless speakers are up high, are you actually hearing it or feeling it even? It’s a clever effect of sonic manipulation rather than just ending the track.

Obviously this is not for everyone and at first listen I found it a bit hard to get into but this grew on me over repeated spins and more than that it opened up my thoughts and made me try and analyse it too. Whether I was successful or not is beside the point but this has inevitably proven to be a haunting and enthralling sound experience.

(7/10 Pete Woods)