Thanks largely to Brian Eno’s Ambient series, modern minimalism has largely moved away from the circular repetitions of mid-20th century composers like Terry Riley, Phillip Glass and Steven Reich. Instead, minimalists have gravitated towards the ambient, using drones and feedback decay in place of melody or harmonic repetition. It’s an approach that in the wrong hands can sound amateurish at best, a dreadful waste of time and energy at worst. With little to delineate one recording from the next, modern minimalists are forced to work to expand their already somewhat limited sonic palette to create a work of note.

Much ambient minimalism and drone-based studies in sound have become so formulaic that it becomes difficult to discern differences between two like-minded artists. In each, a long, reverberating drone series underlines the whole of the work, augmented by assorted field recordings and electronic blasts that direct the listener from one passage to the next. This approach amounts to little more than avant-garde New Age masquerading as high art. And yet it still retains a certain hypnotic, meditative quality that gives even the dullest, most vapid recordings a level of intrigue and pleasantness that comes from the soothing repetitions and hovering drones.

Former Slowdive drummer and proven ambient entity Simon Scott, referred in press material as a “sound ecologist,” does just that on his new album FloodLines. Incorporating elements of the natural world into an extended live improvisation, he creates a series of half-remembered moments that add up to a cohesive whole. By using field recordings of birds, running water and natural ambience, Scott has created an impressionistic white noise collage underscored by alternately soothing and harsh electronics.

Interspersing the two, Scott connects the rural and the urban into a sort of running dialogue in which one threatens to overtake the other before finally reaching a subdued compromise. It’s a juxtaposition that forms a seamless, extended exploration of sound’s potential, reshaped and refocused in new and unique ways to create something that combines the recognizable with the alien in hopes of transcending the source material.

Beginning with a long, slow gradual drone into the midst of a gentle rain, FloodLines finds at its heart a merging of water and the linear progression of sustain and decay. Water in various forms wends its way in and out of Scott’s improvisational sound painting, often competing with the encroaching electronics bathed in distortion and a crackling buzz and hum. It’s not until around the 25:00-minute mark that anything even remotely resembling melody begins to filter through. As the feedback continues to build upon itself, Scott employs a series of bells, hinted-at synth figures and a subtly descending drone to help ease the listener out of the extended morass of sounds both natural and synthetic. With the natural world creeping in during the piece’s final moments, the gap between the real and imagined is slowly bridged, bringing the listener back to the here and now, each breath calm and measured.

With no clear demarcation points, FloodLines is a truly organic listening experience that exists solely in the moment of creation, leaving little in the way of lasting impact. Instead, it functions as something of a communal, immersive listening experience designed to make listeners center their thoughts and focus. As with the majority of ambient minimalist recordings, FloodLines is best experienced with your eyes closed, your sensory perception existing primarily within your mind. It’s here that Scott’s aural painting comes into focus, but like its source material, FloodLines as a whole is fleeting and ephemeral.

As the work progresses, the listener holds out hope for perhaps the soothing tones of a blue whale or the eerie warble of a loon in the moonlight. Essentially FloodLines plays like a tarted up version of those relaxation tapes your grandmother used to buy to help calm her nerves after an extended visit from the grandkids. It’s pleasant enough, but ultimately leaves little in the way of a lasting impression, rather only faint traces of the experience itself.

But perhaps this was Scott’s intention all along, creating something so ephemeral as to virtually disappear. Regardless, FloodLines offers a relaxing thirty minutes in which to get lost. It’s like an afternoon walk in the woods: you enjoy it in the moment, but largely forget it as the rush of modernity consumes every second of your existence. That such forms of release exist remains a comforting thought. Turn off your mind. Relax. Float downstream.

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