Well, what do we have here, then?
Being a musical ignoramus, I started with the metadata, which tells me that this album is Ambient. This useful tag gives a common frame of reference that not only helps us to build some expectations but helps identify like-minded people with whom we might share a taste in music. On the other hand, expectations can lead to misconceived ideas of what to expect – even disappointment!
I associate the word “ambient”, in the context of musical genres, with sounds organised into music with which to chill out, perhaps even music that can act as a backdrop to work to or relax to – music you don’t need to be “involved” with. So, this is chill-out music with whale song and bird chatter then?
Wikipedia says ambient music emphasises tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. That’s probably the best working definition I’ve found and, notably, there’s no mention of feeling chilled out or whales or birdsong! Ambient is just a word. Even though Brian Eno is credited with coining the term “ambient music” (some people think he invented it) it simply means “relating to the immediate surroundings of something”. So don’t expect Music for Airports, expect something new.
There isn’t a definitive set of rules for defining ambient. There’s no rule to say it couldn’t be music that makes you feel unsettled, sets your teeth on edge, or even scares the living daylights out of you! The only pre-conceived idea you should approach this album with is that you shouldn’t even think about approaching this album with any pre-conceived ideas. Then you’ll be just fine.
Several listens ago and five tracks in, I had decided that despite the absence of cetacean warbling this is indeed mood-evoking, it absolutely does emphasise tone and atmosphere over traditional structure and is decidedly unlike the bodies of work by more mainstream artists. There’s a seemingly ambiguous approach to what this music is “for”. I find this almost genre-less take on ambient music (?) to be completely splendid, because I find all of my favourite music is hard to pin down.
What does it sound like? I’m trying to dance about architecture here, but occasional musical modes suggest the Orient or the Middle East, though Jo Berger Myhre isn’t restricted by or to this. Amongst the sounds you’ll be presented with are luscious double bass, Moog synthesisers and Gretsch hollow body bass guitar. Aviary, a version of which is in one of the videos embedded in this review (albeit in a different key and featuring that aforementioned beautiful semi-acoustic bass) positively breaks the rules by having rhythm and a pretty and slightly melancholic melody played on upright piano, accompanied by …something else.
If you’re a person of a certain age then you might even hear sounds that make you feel vaguely nostalgic (and we all know that TPA readers love a bit of nostalgia). Do you remember when we used to have annual fads – or was that just here in the UK? Fads like Hot Pants (that were actually the same temperature as other pants) and clackers (a toy used for breaking children’s knuckles)? One of my favourites was the Whirly Tube (actually named “the Corrugaphone”). Anyway – that.
(Probably a synth though).
There’s also a short story in there, with words adapted from an actual short story from a 1981 collection by American writer Raymond Carver, called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This track, Smallest Things, Pt. 2, is beautifully and vividly narrated by Vivian Wang and is set against the swells of various keyboard instruments, making the listening experience feel like a delightful four-and-a-half minute-ish BBC Radio 4 play, in the form of a monologue. For me, this is the stand-out track.
Is Unheinlich Manoeuvre ambient? I don’t actually care. Despite my expectations of it being chillout music, I wasn’t disappointed. What I was pleased to hear wasn’t music that, despite being clearly from one place, fit any of the genres I think I have any proper kind of handle on. I suspect the music has its roots in pure experimentation. When people make music like this it’s usually, perhaps, for no reason other than they are compelled to see what happens. Art is what it is.
Yes, this is clearly about sound and mood, so I suppose it qualifies as ambient.
Sounds that can make you imagine a set of surroundings are here, if you want, but some of these sounds are not just background noise. And I’d still choose to chill out to them.
And if that metadata tag is what brought you here then I think you’ll be surprised and delighted! But don’t let the metadata box you in, Maaan, give it a listen – simply because it’s good music!
I believe you won’t be disappointed.
01. Everything Effacing (3:30)
02. Smallest Things, Pt. 1 (5:39)
03. Aviary (5:16)
04. Cynosure (2:27)
05. Smallest Things, Pt. 2 (4:38)
06. Gate Opens (2:26)
07. Perils (5:24)
08. Sustainer (4:43)
09. Inner Relations (2:56)
Total Time – 36:59
MUSICIANS & CREDITS
Jo Berger Myhre – Bass Guitar, Double Bass, Drum Machine, Moog Minitaur, Grendel Drone Commander, Various Analogue Electronics, Recording, Mixing, Production
Morten Qvenild – Co-production
Kaveh Mahmudiyan – Tombak (an Iranian goblet drum)
Jo David Meyer Lysne – Acoustic Guitar
Jana Anisimova – Piano
Morten Qvenild – Synthesiser
Ólaf Björn Ólafsson – Organ
Vivian Wang – Narration
Record Label: Rare Noise Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 1st October 2021