Coincidentally my two album reviews this week seem to have the sea as a theme in their titles, tracks and sounds! I discovered the music of Mark Harris whilst sifting through ambient artists listed on Soundcloud http://soundcloud.com/mark-harris  His slowly evolving layers of fragile electronic sound appealed instantly and it has been a long wait for his debut solo album on the Hibernate Records label  http://www.hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/hb17/hb17.html

Although this is his first solo album Mark has been active on the electronic scene for a number of years now. He is also an artist and music software programmer and these additional skills are utilised directly in his music. Much of his most recent output has been linked to live performances with the collective of artists known as Modulate http://www.modulate.org.uk/  who marry audio-visual displays with improvised live electronic music.

The music on the album is created from heavily processed samples of live instruments (bowed guitar, saxophone and violin) and field recordings and Mark has developed his own generative software applications (any scope for making these commercial like Christopher Hipgrave’s Ambient module ? ) for manipulating the sounds while recording and in live situations.

The album presents a series of constantly evolving soundscapes over four tracks totalling 45 minutes.  The influence of the sea is immediately apparent at the start of the first track  ‘I Am a Long Way from Home’ where white noise rushes in gently over layers of subtle string based drones that swell slowly and then fade back to white noise over an eerie sonar like tone.  The slow build and decay technique is used well again on the second track ‘Approaching Tide – Heacham 1973’ where celestial string type sounds are used to great effect.

The first two tracks are only five minutes each but the last two are around 15 minutes per track and this gives much more scope for sonic manipulation. You strain to hear the lengthy intro on ‘The Boy Observes the Ocean’ which takes  1:30 to fade in then rise over a persistent pulse and deep bassy chords that sound like a church organ in places. This whole track is beautifully realised with delicate shimmering sounds, light pulses here and there and the bowed sounds give a very haunting quality overall. You frequently think the track is coming to an end as you hang on the faintest thread of a note then it returns with field recorded sounds and celestial strings which pitch up to a whistle then fade rapidly at the end – superb stuff! 

The last track ‘With Wings (Pressed Back)’ casts you adrift once more into a sublime eeriness of drones utilising samples from the whole array of instruments deployed. To me this occasionally sounds like a distorted dream-like orchestra backed by a rousing cathedral organ. Its a heady mix and winds down gently with a long fading string laden drone.  

This is a great solo debut full of subtle aural delights and sonic trickery. Make sure you turn up the volume to get the most from the rich pallete of sounds on offer here.

The Boy Observes The Ocean by Mark Harris. Hibernate Records HB17. Limited run of 150 digipak CD’s £6.99  from Hibernate, or digital download (MP3, FLAC) from Boomkat.

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