017 Elian 'Whispers, Then Silence'

Cat.No: home n017
Release date: August 13th, 2010
Edition number: 1000 (digipack)

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Release description:
To say Michael Duane Ferrell (the man behind the Elian moniker) is a patient man would be something of an understatement. But then the work of Elian is all incredibly understated anyway, so it all fits nicely. I first heard Elian’s work through mutual contacts, my first experience being ‘We Are All Visitors Here’ on the rather wonderful Test Tube label. In fact, if you go over the work he has released, you will instantly notice a person who clearly takes his time and treats each album as a labour of love in the fullest sense.

The album ‘Whispers, Then Silence’ was actually one of the first albums I got for release on Home Normal, all the way back in December 2009. Along with Celer, offthesky and Library Tapes, it was one of the albums which defined exactly what Home Normal would be for me. Its very special that we have been able to wait, tweak and just get everything timed perfectly for the release, which it duly has. The album is about as broad a record as we’ve released and about as ambitious a work that I have ever heard. From the opening vibraphone of its title track, through the interspersed white noise static and disturbing light-dark-dark-light melodies sourced from various instruments, you are left with the feeling of absolute and complete imagination. Always changing, never still, it keeps you suspended in its entirety, in (as one friend of mine said) ‘a horror film state’.

Whilst I get this, it doesn’t fit for me. There is often a very limiting split in so called ‘minimal’ work for me: light airy fluffy drone or dark ‘doom’ drone work, and quite frankly I am bored of both. Where this work is truly great is in its ability to cross the line between organic and electronic, accessible and inaccessible, dark and light. The melodies are totally unique and its a voice quite unlike anyone else out there today. It doesn’t fit into any scene or exact definition, and whilst that may put some people off, it shouldn’t. For those who are as patient as the man himself, sit down and enjoy, you are in for one incredible ride.

Ian Hawgood

Mastered by Ian Hawgood at Yoshimura Studios
Photography by Eirik Holmøyvik


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Tobias Fischer – Tokafi
Witnessing beauty for the very first time: Symphonic Micronoise blowing classical ideas to pieces.

Complex thoughts can be wrapped up in alluring packaging. Even though Michael Duane Ferrell’s 2005-Elian-full-length „We are all visitors here“ dealt with profound philosophical themes of death, transience, the immeasurable expanse of the earth and the relative insignificance of humanity, they came enveloped by some of the sweetest, most sensual and dulcet sounds conceivable, by drones so warm, liquid and fragrant, that a hot foam bath seemed acerbic in comparison. The young Ian Hawgood, who at the time was yet to release his first album, listened attentively to these expansive, slowly simmering and patiently growing soundscapes, impressed by their depth and inspired by a highly virtuoso handling of time as a compositional element. His own work, classics like „A Life in Abstract Colors“ in particular, would soon map out a territory bordering Ferrell’s, delineating a zone of pure and passionate electronic expressionism. When receiving an Elian-demo perfectly in sync with his plans of setting up his Home Normal label with friend and co-curator Ben Jones, it seemed only natural to make it one of the figurehead-releases on the fledgling imprint, especially since it seemed to him „one of the albums which defined exactly what Home Normal would be for me“. And yet, „Whispers, then Silence“, in a way, has turned out the exact opposite of its illustrious predecessor.

The smooth and soft surface of „Visitors“, after all, has given way to a quicksand-like sonic soil ruptured by unpredictable transformational processes. Change is the only constant on this map of perpetually shifting coordinates: Widescreen cinematics have been replaced by bacteria-scale sonic movements underneath a scanning microscope. Clear shapes are distorted, recognisable forms disfigured, transparent silhouettes obliterated. Linear arrangements are turned upside down, shaken and reconfigurated into acousmacubistic sculptures. And even though richly resonant drones and echoes of melody are still part of the equation, they have become mere fleeting shadows cast on an epic canvas scarcely populated by crackle, hiss, electric plops and snippeted blips. Everything that was once grand is now condensed. What was majestic now appears humble. What seemed endless and infinite turns out to be closely circumscribed. Ferell has diverted his focus from sustaining ambiances towards shattering them, from working with drawn-out tones to moulding short, singular samples into snappy minimal pulses and creaking textures. There is no obvious thematic development anymore, with harmonic motives appearing between the cracks of these micronoise-abstractions and then abruptly and unceremoniously disappearing into the miniature galaxy they emanated from again.

And yet, two essential characteristic of Ferell’s technique have remained firmly intact: The ability to distort sensory perception and an almost tender relationship with his sound materials. „Whispers, then Silence“ reveals its essence as early as the first few bars of the quarter-of-an-hour-long meditation of the opening title track. For a few seconds, subsonic bass waves are left lingering in the physical, just barely audible range of the spectrum, Hawgood having once again delivered a striking demonstration of his exquisite mastering skills. Then, solitary Vibraphone notes are sent through a delay, fade into silence, regroup into harmonically related rhythmical patterns and newly connect by means of call and response processes. It is a music of great purity and simplicity, a possible prelude to a chambermusical composition for a ghost, which never materialises. And this is just the beginning: The same piece will feature a passage which could have been recorded at a vast bat cave, a deep melancholic swell, granular textures similar to the sounds of a miniature steam loco as well as a shimmering silky tissue of overtones unfolding into a rich, peaceful drone.

The remaining tracks are no less sweeping. The press release dolls out terms like „broad“ and „ambitious“ to these imposing constructs and one could just as easily regard them as harbingers of a new genre of progressive or even symphonic micronoise. And yet, it is not so much their expansive scope but rather the notable ignorance of conventional narrative logic that renders them so utterly individual: While some sequences could, with a little bending and twisting, be construed as a result of what came before, most of them are, in fact, like metaphorical islands drifting through an ocean of never ending now-ness, far from the shores of memory and association. The approach blows the classical idea of music as a world of interrelated ideas to pieces, but Ferell isn’t surrendering to arbitrariness. His point seems to be that it is only by withdrawing from rational explanation that one can create a music that knows no past and has no future and truly exist nowhere but in the moment.

And yet, favouring intuition over order yields a unique chance for a fresh start: Perhaps the glowing harmonies of gentle closer „Lessons in Never Again“ could be just as effective as the finale to a more traditional album than „Whispers, then Silence“. But they could never strike one with the full weight and heart wrenching force of witnessing beauty for the very first time.

Olive Music
Similar to its title, Elian’s Whispers, Then Silence is an album focused on subtlety. It conforms to the purpose of ambient music, yet adds textures that you wouldn’t normally hear from an artist relegated to that label. Michael Duane Ferrell’s keen use of minimalism strongly applies Brian Eno’s statement that “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting” to this release; no nonchalantly sustained notes, no awkward recurrences– just a collection of attentive pieces.

Rather than a sparse introduction evolving into some kind of culmination, the five tracks here ease from one soundscape to the next, making it seem as if this has more tracks than it lists. A found sound loop will slowly fade into an enveloping texture of keys, which then will fade into a palette of impalpable tones. Whispers, Then Silence is equal parts meditative and captivating; vague enough to evoke new listens, though after several sessions things will remain still somewhat unclear.

At nearly an hour in length, Ferrell’s work has a tendency to hypnotize. This could either be due to its more resonating sounds (as heard on the closer “Lesson In Never Again”) or due to the listener’s attention span. Though there are minute and subtle details, Whispers, Then Silence isn’t meant for an accentuated listen. Thus we go back to that Brian Eno quote previously mentioned: the listening approach varies. The echoing, pulsating tones are entrancing, but it makes great background music as well.

Regardless of the listening environment, rest assured that Elian’s Whispers, Then Silence is an elaborate and multidimensional listen, with new discoveries to be heard in every replay. Although unfamiliar in some spots, in no way is this album forgettable. Elian is just providing a new set of sounds for a new pair of ears. Whispers, Then Silence’s both human and otherworldly atmospheres prove that with minimalism, comes complexity.

John McCaffrey – Fluid Radio
It’s always pleasant to be surprised by an album. With ever growing niche genres and a seemingly unstoppable tide of new artists filling every crack and corner of these niches, it has become increasingly rare to hear genuinely novel approaches to music…

Elian’s “Whispers, Then Silence” is a wonderful breath of fresh air – not because it eschews genre conventions entirely, but because of the blithe way it makes them irrelevant. Elian manages to recontextualise familiar electronic/drone structures into pieces that ebb and flow with a discernable élan-vital. Michael Duane Ferrell creates meandering compositions which carve out snaking, river-like paths – surprising the listener with their unexpected turns.

A track like “The Happy Cynicism of a Creative Mind” is a great example. Opening with reverb engulfed wind chimes, a fluttering and stuttering electronic static field provides the first unforeseeable turn less than a minute in. This then gives way to a campestral organ sequence, which in turn fades into a pulsing, breathy passage that subsequently grows into a growling, and guttural section that sounds like someone playing a drainpipe.

THIS then becomes a fizzing and popping introduction to a distant field recording which builds through echoes and reverb into an appreciable note and peters out. The listener is not given enough time to tire of a single passage and never anticipates the next – yet it cannot be said that the piece merely consists of one idea after another, thrown together haphazardly; there is still cohesion to the track, a sense of purpose and an almost organic direction of growth.

Album closer “Lesson in Never Again” commences with an extended, wavering chord which abruptly collapses into a rustling recording which provides a backing to a series of reversed organ/piano notes. Slowly these notes build a melodic progression that takes us to the end of the album. It is a beautiful and fittingly strange ending for this collection.

There is a real variety of approaches within this album and, indeed, within each track on the album – a breadth of ideas and sounds that encompass passages of bold musicianship, abstract electronic trickery, field recordings, tape manipulation, and a fluctuating bi-polar approach to composition. It is, then, remarkable that a coherent vision can be intimated, yet this is the feat that Ferrell manages to pull off – variance without inconsistency, diversity without disunity. The broad strokes and apparently abrupt swatches of sonic material are what make this album initially exciting, though it is the details of structure and intricacies of sound-design that will make it one to return to and explore repeatedly.

Suitcase Orchestra
It would be easy to dismiss the field of minimalist music as samey, a sparse soundscape where an almost imperceptible background hum is occasionally penetrated by the odd electronic effect or a field recording of a burbling stream and birdsong. These two new releases on the Home Normal label demonstrate perfectly why that would be a mistake.
By minimalist standards, Whispers, Then Silence by Elian is a positive onslaught of sound. Once you are through the opening three minutes of static, the peace is interrupted by vibraphone and things never return to the dead calm that preceded them. By turns light and serene and dark and insistently intense, the album peaks with Magnification and Minimization, eight minutes of twisted orchestration which totally negates the other commonly held misconception about this type of music; that it is a background noise, something to be heard but not really listened to. Michael Duane Ferrell, the man behind Elian, has warped the strings into something which very much demands your attention. Try carrying on with whatever you are doing when Magnification and Minimization kicks in and you’ll soon realise that minimalist compositions can overwhelm you as much as the loudest rock songs or the most swooning classical pieces.

Boomkat – Album of the Week
Two years in the pipeline for Home Normal, Elian’s ‘Whispers, Then Silence’ is a long-overdue work from composer/producer Michael Duane Ferrell. Apparently the album had been consigned to a state of release schedule limbo, as the folks at the label themselves say: “it’s taken a while to get together, tweak and time right for the arc of Home Normal”. You can immediately hear why Ian Hawgood and co. have been saving this one up. While prior releases in the label’s catalogue have converged on a predominantly pastoral-ambient agenda, this recording is a far more ambitiously ambiguous affair, perhaps having more in common with the sort of output we’ve been hearing from the Helen Scarsdale Agency (whose digital catalogue recently came our way). This is especially true of ‘The Happy Cynicism Of A Creative Mind’, one of the key tracks here, which explores peculiar sub-harmonics, crunchy electronic processing and a final, field-recorded environmental crackle. This abstract acousmatic flow is pleasingly devoid of a specific ‘mood’ or any sense of atmosphere-shaping awareness, and something similar can be said of the patient drone-based closer, ‘Lesson In Never Again’. It’s worth giving the introductory, quarter-hour title-track a mention too; after a few moments of almost infra-sonic bass emissions, the piece sets about integrating looped vibraphone phrases and digitised static manipulations into its meandering structure, eventually settling on a repeating, muffled organ chord for its denouement. A very strong offering from Ferrell, and one that would seem to mark a refreshed perspective on the ambient genre for Home Normal and its future releases. Recommended.

Norman Records – Recommendation
This is one of those that takes a few minutes before you’re finally convinced that it’s not a blank CD but once it kicks off there’s loads going on.. Actually it’s probably the most varied release I can remember hearing on the label to date. So far there’s been subtle field recordings, twinkling Moondog-style kalimba (at least I think that’s what it was), Celer-y (celery LOL) ambient breathscapes, psychedelic organ drones, noisy looped samples, whalesong and what kinda sounds like the synths at the start of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2.. And I’m barely a quarter of the way in. So yeah, loads to get your teeth into and the way in which Elian (Michael Duane Ferrell to his mates) moulds and combines the myriad elements is totally expert. An ambitious effort, no doubt, and a very successful one I’d say!

Elian’s Whispers, Then Silence is one of those recordings that when played at low volume might sound like there’s not a whole lot going on. It’s a quintessential headphones listen, then, but one that pays rich rewards for those willing to give it their up-close attention. The CD’s five settings are a constantly mutating lot, filled with unexpected details and unpredictable directional shifts, and consequently one’s engagement with the material never flags. There’s an appealingly indeterminate quality to the pieces, with sounds resisting the conventional identification of acoustic, electronic, or otherwise. To his credit, Chesterfield, Virginia-based Michael Duane Ferrell deftly renders such issues irrelevant by enabling the material to register as pure sound. Though the CD includes five separate settings, one could just as easily hear the recording as a single continuous stream of micro-episodes.

In the opening “Whispers, Then Silence,” an enveloping shroud of soft granular noise dominates during the opening minutes before vibraphone tones emerge in multi-layers of echoing cascades. They’re gradually subsumed into blurry washes and grinding industrial machine patterns, respectively, until piano-inflected loops bring the piece’s fifteen-minute journey to a peaceful close. Cavernous rumbles and ripples of static get “The Happy Cynicism of the Creative Mind” off to an unsettling start but are then tamed by an organ’s calming presence. Multiple mini-episodes follow, each one supplanting another in a cumulative sequence that defies logic yet feels natural. Passages variously suggest the clip-clop of horses and the treated squeal of moving trains, with all of them functional elements within a larger collage. A suitable aquatic ambiance pervades “Sea-Sick Sailors” when its myriad sounds—bell tones, distorted thrums, static pops—advance to the forefront and then withdraw, like objects bobbing to the water’s surface and then just as quickly disappearing below. The material grows ever more woozy as sounds liquify and mix together, speed up and slow down, before vanishing in wisps of micro-sound activity. Wooziness likewise haunts “Magnification and Minimization” when Ferrell manipulates the material even more liberally by reducing it to an entropic crawl before pulling it back to life. “Lesson in Never Again” shape-shifts as restlessly as its brethren (if a little more peacefully) before exiting with an ethereal flourish. One’s attention is thus held until the fifty-four-minute recording takes its final breath and the curtains are drawn on this recording’s remarkable universe of sound.

P*Dis / Inpartmaint – Staff Monthly Recommendation
home normalのニュー・リリースは、アメリカ人アーティストMichael Duane Ferrellによるソロ・プロジェクトelianのニュー・アルバム。こ れまでにTrans>Parent Radiation/Bremsstrahlung Recordings、Duckbay、Test Tubeなどからリリースしています。ヴィブラフォンやチェロやギターなどの生楽器とフィールドレコーディングのオーガニックな感触と、巧みなオーディ オ・マニピュレーションによる圧倒的なホワイトノイズの要素によって組み立てられた作品。タイトルのとおり、ささやくようなノイズサウンドが渦巻くように して穏やかな静寂を飲み込み、不気味な美しさに心を奪われる驚くべきドローン〜アンビエント。