Review Summary: Pure transcendence
I’ve often found myself during the pandemic with a distinct lingering feeling – that of transience, of being in a liminal existential space. Maybe it comes from the strangeness of graduating from college this year and trying to find my way through a post-pandemic employment landscape. Perhaps it’s from simply being a young person living through perhaps one of the strangest times to be alive over the last hundred years. Either way, it feels like a deep sense of impermanence has been impressed on me emotionally and spiritually. More so than any other music with traditional forms (read: “songs” with lyrics and structure), recently I’ve been returning to the ambient work of Celer. While Will Long’s masterful sense of restraint and beauty runs deeply through his vast back catalogue, his album Xièxie holds up as a high-water mark of both aesthetically-pleasing ambient drift and the type of emotionally resonant, evocative music that leaves a lasting impression on the listener.
Long is no stranger to impermanence, either. Much of his work is defined by loss and raw emotion – the project has partially remained from the late 2000s as a tribute to his former partner and musical collaborator Danielle Baquet-Long, who succumbed to alcoholism tragically young. Following this loss, Long relocated to Tokyo, Japan, where he remains to this day – in interviews, he has praised his chosen home but explained that he sometimes still feels like a tourist. Xièxie takes the concept one step further by documenting a trip to China in the late 2010s, primarily through drone soundscapes but also by field recordings interspersing the main pieces; this latter part adds to the record by creating a special context for the album and also situating the listener within a vivid mise-en-scène.
As for the drone sounds themselves, they embody the best of Celer’s work and approach mood and emotion with a finely-crafted minimalist approach. A loop will come into focus through the disorientation induced by the travel recordings and often remain unchanged for ten minutes or more (perhaps you might hear a filter slowly being adjusted in the background, or the sound of the tape repeating itself). However, the emotional potency of the record comes from the loops themselves – sonically rich and deceptively simple, each repetition only seems to nestle itself further in the listener’s consciousness. Mere text cannot do justice to the transcendent nature of these sounds.
Most of all, what I take from Xièxie is its duality – the blissfulness of it all despite the lingering sense of loss and impermanence. This record is beautiful, but the weight of it just adds a layer of depth frankly absent from most ambient music. It can be listened to in the background, but it feels so much more rewarding to listen to it front-and-center as a work of art. Much of this music is deeply emotional, on a level beyond the need for lyrics and visible expression. Part of the record’s merit is its openness to interpretation. Personally, it speaks to the human experience, or at least what I would like to make out of mine. Maybe it’s in the moments when we feel lost or disoriented that we can truly find ourselves.