Review Summary: the things I tell you will not be wrong...
When I listen to ambient, I find that usually I put it on for the sole reason of not having to pay attention to it. Of course, this isn't always the case, but for workload productivity ambient generally works the best to fill the gap of silence while not degrading the attention I can give to whatever it is that I'm doing. Occasionally interspersed with other records, Biosphere's Substrata
was my go-to album for this occasion for the longest time. I'd have a paper due or some research to finish and send this album through the speakers to give me something to occupy my mind in the spaces when it wasn't occupied with something else. But something strange happened. I eventually began to notice that I was paying more and more attention to the actual record with each successive play through. Instead of using Substrata to fill a void in-between thoughts, I began to contemplate on the record itself, devoting the time to it that I would have to any other album. It was then that Substrata
was much more than a record of background noise, it was a brilliant exercise in subtlety.
Remember being in school and having nothing else to occupy your time other than staring at chick's chests and fantasizing on how much of a hero you would be if a crazed gunman came into the classroom? The listening experience of Substrata can sort of be likened to those days of infinite boredom spent accomplishing nothing in particular. Of course you always stared at the girls with the biggest breasts and the least clothing. I mean, who wouldn't? A spectacle like boobs, exhibited in the most grandiose fashion, is sure to grab hold of your, umm, attention, much quicker than most other elements of the mundane environment of being with 40 other people every day. But as time went by, and those wonderful breasts began to fade into the background and lose their initial luster, it gave you the chance to finally begin to notice the rest of the world around you, and if you were lucky, you finally noticed the one girl in the back you never even knew existed.
You only glanced at first, but more and more as each day passed, and the time of exposure began to build up upon itself, you began to realize that there was more to this picture than initial spectacle. You began to listen to things this forgotten creature had to say. You watched her walk in and sit in the class and admire the things about her that didn't revolve around reproductive organs and other associated material. You began to build this imagined relationship that, hopefully, would eventually blossom into something real and substantial. That, in a long-long winded nutshell, is exactly how I feel Substrata
is most generally approached. It's hard to sit down and love this album after one or two listens. Hell, any ambient album is hard to digest after only a few initial listens.
But as the exposure begins to frequent your environment, the individual elements take form and grow in your head, even when you're not actively listening to the album. Substrata isn't a formless piece of sound; each section, or chapter, has a definite core structure that the listener can dwell on for the duration. Tracks like Kobresia
, Times When I Know You'll Be Sad
, and Chukhung
have a clearly defined structure that relies on a single melody to progress its way through the track. It is a careful contemplation on the power of repetition of a single idea. The second a motif or idea is finished you find yourself wanting to hear that sound again, and again, and again. That subtlety is really the true power that lies beneath Substrata
. Nothing about it grabs your attention violently but rather seeps into your mind over time, slowly growing and growing until you can no longer ignore it. Again, like a beautiful woman, you being to learn each and every curve of the sounds and the shapes. It is the hidden beauty that makes affection all the more exciting, and always keeps you coming back for more.