Xeno Volcano - "To In Out And Open" (Hardpresse Records 2002, hp002)
Xeno Volcano - "Black Book" (Hardpresse Records 2003, not yet released)
From Aural Innovations #23 (April 2003)
Xeno Volcano is San Jose, CA born Dave Thayer, who now lives in Zurich, Switzerland. Taking his cue from sample and field recording driven, organic electronic artists like Future Sound of London (especially their Life Forms period), and glitchy, ambient IDM experimentalists like Pan Sonic, Horchata, and Autism, with a nod to Brian Eno as well, Thayer imbues each of his albums with a unique sense of mood and melody and a thematic structure that gives it an overall conceptual feel.
The theme of To In Out and Open is one of travel. The album is divided into three “chapters”, each expressing a slightly different musical style and mood across several pieces. Field recordings wind their way subtly through the improvised tracks, blending into the music in such a way that they are part of the music, not just a backdrop to it. Chapter 1: Undertow and Motor Clean Fantasy is the more ambient and darkest of the three parts. Here we also hear the most use of faint clicks and glitches woven into the mix. The eerie, throbbing Her Longest Swim is the highlight. At 14 and a ˝ minutes, it shifts from pulsing drones to quiet rustling ambience to moody space music. Chapter 2: Love, as its title would suggest, is warmer and more sensual, with sometimes a bit more of an urgent rush to it. Themes of love and sex float in a moist, organic musical environment. Chapter 3: Travel introduces some clanging industrial themes and the rush of the city and flight. There’s often a more melodic quality to the pieces, as in 99 Volcanos and The Transcontinental (the latter of which has a bit of a Kraftwerkish feel to it!). The final track, Whoopee Ball Traffic Mall is comprised of a single field recording of traffic going over a loose buckle on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. But in the tradition of the theme, the field recordings that are used as the basis of the pieces on To In Out and Open were made in various countries on three different continents.
Xeno Volcano’s latest, yet to be released CD, Black Book, is a much more subtle affair in many ways than To In Out and Open was. The theme of Black Book is dreams. Thayer wrote down a number of dreams he had in a black book, and later used elements of those dreams to create his compositions. So it’s not surprising, considering the nature of the source inspiration that the music would take on a more subtle and ephemeral quality. In fact, Thayer has posted various versions of the pieces on the web, each one slightly evolved from the previous version. He even had the brief flirtation with the idea of devoting his entire life to one series of compositions that would continue to evolve and change each time you came back to download them. But, as he found out, maybe there is no way to truly musically render a dream. As he mentioned to me in an e-mail, “The album began as sonic depictions of dreams, but in trying to 'sonically depict dreams', and thinking so long about the dreams I am trying to depict, I have exercised my own recollection of dreams.” And being better able to recall dreams, he has found that all dreams are connected, or are variations on earlier dreams, perhaps even recollections themselves of earlier dreams, and they in turn lay the foundations for future dreams. So in essence, he says, “the album cannot possibly be completed.”
Still, he’s considering this version the final version. And as I said, it’s a much more understated effort than To In Out and Open. From the opening 21 ˝-minute The End’s Tendency, with it’s ever so slowly pulsing waves of sound, and skittering, rustling ambience; to the icy chill, and eerie clanking of Fast Fall Lantern Ships, this is a voyage of deep, deep ambience. Highlights along the voyage include the flowing symphonic undulations of Swimming Pool Mosque and the faint whispers and spacey siren call of Moonlight Doctor. If you’re an ambient fan, it’s worth checking out, and you can do just that by downloading the pre-release version (the one I’ve reviewed here) for free at the Hardpresse web site.
For more information you can visit the Hardpresse Recordings web site at: http://www.hardpresse.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Hardpress; Beckenhofstr 64; Zurich 8006; Switzerland.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald