Of the many protagonists of the ambient music genre, not many can match the influence of Pete Namlook and his numerous feats. Brian Eno
may have pioneered the genre, yet his definition of ambient music as 'aural wallpaper' now feels so contradictory to the immersive sounds being achieved by modern ambient composers. From an early stage in his career, Pete Namlooks music consistently disproved Brian Eno's notion of what ambient music should be. In many of his greatest works, Eno tried to create music that was meant to be a background landscape, to melt into certain environments. To a casual mainstream listener, Namlook and Eno could easily be confused for one another. Yet although they may share the same deft ability to craft each note into pieces of aural genius, Namlook completely contrasts Eno in his subject matter, emotion and purpose. In opposition to Eno's simple subject matters, Air II
takes the listener on a voyage through diverse landscapes to meet unique races of people. With each of his albums, Namlook takes the listener on a journey far away from the comfort of home. Whilst The Dark Side of the Moog
series took the listener to the deepest reaches of space and Air I
focused in on the intricacies of human love: neither can match the vibrancy of Namlook's Air II
nor come close to some of the painfully-beautiful textures featured within.
The album takes 11 trips from start to finish with each trip acting as a progression towards the final destination. There is a continuous sound throughout the album, an underlying tone that makes each song fall into place. The importance of continuity throughout the album can be clearly seen, with the emphasis on slow movement allowing Namlook to fully capture the mind-blowing sounds he is capable of, and to do so at his own pace. It may seem like quite a minor thing, but the freedom that Namlook has created himself has meant an almost unrestrained quality of sound. As a byproduct of the composing freedom, Namlook has not forced set lengths onto songs. The 7th trip may be only a minute long, yet it feels just as intrinsically beautiful as the 11 minute minimalist-influenced 1st trip. Each trip has its purpose, and it would be hard to argue that any trip should have been shortened or lengthened. The deliberate and thought-out variation carries across to the beat, with the beat ranging from 0-130BPM. In slow moving trips such as the 1st and 9th, Namlook frees himself from any rhythmic structure, and instead progresses the trips with the subtlety of a minimalist master.
To some the minimalist genre is as appealing as watching paint dry, and many would compare the genre to that experience. Air II
has an undeniable minimalist undertone in some of the trips, with many of the longer trips evolving ever-so slowly, one new note at a time. What makes Air II
all the more special is that it overcomes its minimalist leanings. The album borrows many of the minimalist genre's key features, yet uses them to enhance the unique sound atmospheres within. As such, Air II
is relatively appealing to less-attentive listeners who will find the sonic beauty overpowering any dullness that the song format may emit.
Whilst the influencing genres may be argued, what cannot be argued is where the album fits as a whole, and that is into the ambient atmospheres of Electronic music. But it is with great agony that the album is put into such a category, as the dynamic textures are deserving of a bolder description than just ambient. This massive spectrum of sound is done with an equally large range of instruments. The diverse instruments range from tear-inducing flutes to Arabic string instruments. Most of the instruments would be unfamiliar to casual listeners, yet each instrument adds to the beauty of the mental voyage. Even the drumming ranges quite widely, and never more so than in the 2nd trip. In a rather unique sound, Namlook utilizes light jazz-drumming and deep tribal drums over the top of each other. At any one time several layers can be heard, with the flute, warm French female vocals, clarinet and fusion-percussion working together in unison. The sound, like in almost every other trip (aside from the disappointing 7th trip) creates too much natural beauty at any one point in time for the listener to truly draw in.
To give the music a bastardized definition, the overall sound mixes in the sound of the French-cafe scene with tribal elements. Perhaps this analyzation came about due to the French female vocals that float in and out of many of the trips, yet any term given to the album is not really befitting. The albums concept after all is a trip across the world and this diversity of cultures shows in an electronic landscape unmatched by any of his peers. Even calling this album electronic would be somewhat of a crime, with the sound often feeling much more natural than Namlook's artificial means would suggest. Rather than opting for an album comprised purely of synthesizers, Namlook utilises such a large amount of 'natural' instruments. All genre definitions really do become completely inadequate.
Brian Eno may be the more well-known artist, yet that does not indicate any form of victory over Namlook. The two ambient artists took opposing paths in their journey towards excellence, only to reach the tragic view that it is just 'boring ambient music' according to the mainstream. Yet with his rich textures, Namlook strides ahead of normality within the ambient genre. With a world-exploring theme that demands an equally epic range of sounds, Namlook has pulled off what many would consider impossible with Air II
. Each trip feels like an individual, an individual race, a different part of the world. Yet never does the album feel like a compilation, with its ponderous beauty traversing across each trip. The themes and experience of the music is completely subjective, with each person taking different emotions out of the music. The album is not without its flaws, and it is unlikely that any one person will not interpret some areas that are not to their liking. Yet ultimately Namlook captures an intrinsic beauty that many musicians of the modern era struggle to capture. And although the album may transcend down the mountain of magnificence like a trickle of water finding its way to the ocean: Air II
is just a moment in time that passes far too quickly.