Review in Vital Weekly
June 11, 2019 esc.rec.64, Press
It is quite a surprise to see Esc.rec. releasing something like a physical object. It’s not what they do a lot, unfortunately. They surely have faith in Matthijs Kouw. I must have said it before, and I say it again: I know Kouw from way, way back, when I was working in the office of a record company and he was this young man, armed with a laptop, showing me stuff that he did with sound that looked and sounded like someone who knew what he was doing. I think we even shared a ‘stage’ on one of those long afternoons of free laptop improvisation. Later on, he moved out of sight but since some two years, he’s back and actively releasing music. His partner in crime is Radboud Mens, with whom he has an ongoing relationship exploring drones from modular synthesizers (Kouw) and long-string instruments (Mens). Here we have Kouw in solo mode and the cover lists no instruments or sound sources; just the five titles, that Jos Smolders did the mastering for and the artwork is credited to Xia Gui. I understand from information from the man himself that this CD is made with guitar and e-bow, which in turn has been manipulated with software and that there is no modular synthesizer used here.
In 2007 Kouw went to the Wudang Mountains in China to study meditation and martial arts and that is what inspired this album, along with his interest in Daoism. According to the press release, “Daoism teaches us that the foundational cannot be named and identified, but rather has to be experienced first hand. This album is an invitation to the listener to dwell in this space of the unnameable and the mysterious, and to embrace it wholeheartedly”, and listening to this music it is very easy to see how that works out in the music Kouw produces. The D-word is obvious, just as A for ambient. The drones Kouw produces have that all immersive character that good drone music should have, regardless if you play this very loud, or very quiet, if you care to devote all your attention to it, or play as some background music. I tried it all and it works on all of those levels. One’s attention is of course drawn to different aspects of the work. I preferred a sort of medium volume, which allows for all the sounds to be heard, with that fine, rich amount of detail, but without forcing itself too much upon your ears. It is not easy to single out any field recordings in this music, so we have to take his word for it that they are in there. The music becomes a fine physical presence in my living room, without taking over my complete environment. When I put up the volume there is a fine layer of mild distortion pressing through the music, which is fine, but for me a bit too much, and when it’s too soft the details are not there enough for my taste. It is all together a very refined album of drones, of ambient music and with that right amount of roughness around the edges to make sure it does not become some new age meditation music. This is an excellent release. (FdW)