Like being in my hotel room, ambient music for me is about creating a sense of place, within or without, real or imagined. Last year's From Worlds Unseen a Light Yet Streams A Sound Replete created a vast, distant place. From 2012's Sublunar rose a gritty, nearby landscape. For Please Stop Loving Me, it was a singular eternity inside my own head.
In Praise of Shadows takes me to places only feet away, to the corners, crevices, shadowed nooks, and hidden voids inside this very room, making audible the invisible, giving voice to the unseen. As I type this, the outside light is fading, the album is playing, and the effect is like hearing through a fish-eye lens. I've seen the album described as dark ambient, as industrial. I'm reminded of a quote that Bernocchi shared online "I have found so much beauty in the dark, as I have found a lot of horrors in the light."
The album's eight tracks are Fluorescent Memories, Shadow Ghosts, A Scene of Kaleidoscopic Changes, Old Man Looking At A Window, Bloody Footsteps On A Ceiling Temple, Hikari, City Vultures, and Black Magic Train. My ears found the tracks to be wonderfully grouped.
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Fluorescent Memories weaves its languid melodic line through the mechanical workings of clock-like percussion. Shadow Ghosts flips that motif on its head, with the beat almost reduced to a scratching static and while keyboards and bass exchange a throbbing dialog. Almost vocal in quality, Kaleidoscopic Changes beckons you to come closer, to fall, to swirl into the shadow.
Old Man Looking At A Window (perhaps not unsurprisingly) resonates with me, a barrier I can only look "at" and not through, a barrier to true understanding of what these artists have created, a detachment between seeing versus experiencing what's beyond. Old Man may also be the most "traditionally" structured track on the album. And then along comes Bloody Footsteps and tradition is gone and replaced by the need to hear and see things from an entirely new perspective. After all, why would there be footsteps on the ceiling?
Hikari (Japanese for Light) brings back a traditional percussion line and covers it with layer upon layer of rich, pulsing, sparkling, suffused sound. City Vultures indeed evokes a sense of tense scavengers waiting in the dark. And Black Magic Train leaves us with the sense of a ticking, hulking beast shrouded in steam, waiting to take us somewhere.
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You can get a taste of the entire album in this video:
And hear Shadow Ghosts on Soundcloud:
The album's title refers to an essay by Junichiro Tanizaki on the contrast between Western and Japanese aesthetics, light vs. dark, shine vs. gleam, new vs. worn. What Bernocchi and Shinkiro have achieved is nothing short of a sonic exemplar of Tanizaki's aesthetic.
I highly recommend In Praise of Shadows by Eraldo Bernocchi and Shinkiro for all who enjoy ambient music and all who enjoy good music.