Oren Ambarchi - Audience of One [Apple Lossless edition]

Artwork & photography: Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Francois Tetaz at Moose, Melbourne

On Audience of One, Oren Ambarchi presents a four-part suite which moves from throbbing minimalism to expansive song-craft to ecstatic free-rock. His previous solo albums for Touch exhibited a clear progression towards augmenting and embellishing his signature bass-heavy guitar tones with fragile acoustic instrumentation. Audience of One, while also existing in clear continuity with these recordings, opens the next chapter.

Remarkable in its confidence and breadth, but also in the sensuous immediacy of its details, this is the first time a single record has come close to encapsulating Ambarchi’s musical personality in its full range and singularity. The techniques and strategies developed in his refined improvisational work with Keith Rowe and his explorations of the outer limits of rock with Sunn O))) and Keiji Haino are both in evidence, alongside the meticulous attention to detail and composition of his solo works. And on the cover of Ace Frehley’s ‘Fractured Mirror’ which closes the record, Ambarchi even points to his roots as a classic rock fanatic, in an epic yet faithful version which extends the shimmering guitar patters of the original into a rich field of phase patters reminiscent of the classic American minimalism of Reich and Riley.

The album features a multitude of collaborators, who, far from appearing in incidental roles, are integral to the pieces on which they perform: on ‘Salt’, Ambarchi paints a hypnotic, chiming backdrop for Paul Duncan’s (Warm Ghost) vocals, and Joe Talia’s virtuoso drumming and driving cymbals are at the core of the epic ‘Knots’, in which Ambarchi, alongside a chamber arrangement by Eyvind Kang, weaves a net of frequencies and textures with the organic push and pull of a 70s psych jam, the bass response of a doom metal ritual and the psycho-acoustic precision of an Alvin Lucier composition.

On his previous records, Ambarchi’s signature guitar tone was the ever-present bedrock over which other elements sounded. At moments on Audience of One, this disappears entirely, as on the beautiful ‘Passage’, which, recalling the 70’s Italian non-academic minimalism of Roberto Cacciapaglia and Giusto Pio, is composed of overlapping tones from Hammond organ and wine glasses, Jessika Kenney's voice, various acoustic instruments, and the delicate amplified textures of Canadian sound-artist Crys Cole. Rather than being provided by any particular sound, the unified feel of Audience to One stems simply from the unique, patient sensibility Ambarchi has developed over the last twenty years; abstracting musical forms into their barest forms, while somehow always managing to leave their emotive power intact.   [Francis Plagne]

Track listing & info:

1. Salt
(Composed by Paul Duncan and Oren Ambarchi)

Oren Ambarchi - Guitars
Paul Duncan - Vocals
Elizabeth Welsh - Violin
James Rushford - Viola and Piano

Guitars recorded by Oren Ambarchi at Jerker House, Melbourne
Vocals recorded by Brendon Anderegg at Telescope Recordings, Brooklyn, NY
Strings and piano recorded by Byron Scullin at Electric Dreams, Melbourne
Strings arranged by James Rushford
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi and Byron Scullin at Electric Dreams

2. Knots
(Composed by Oren Ambarchi)

Oren Ambarchi - Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Autoharp, Percussion
Eyvind Kang - Viola and Igil
Janel Leppin - Cello
Stephen Fandrich - Voice
Josiah Boothby - French Horn
Joe Talia - Drums, Percussion, Spring

Guitars recorded by Oren Ambarchi at Jerker House
Strings, voice and french horn recorded by Randall Dunn at Avast, Seattle
Drums, percussion and spring recorded by Joe Talia at Chinatown, Melbourne
Additional guitars recorded live by Mike Harding (London), Joe Kasmanntod (Luz) and Attila Faravelli (Milano)
Strings and horns arranged by Eyvind Kang
Mixed by Randall Dunn and Oren Ambarchi at Avast

3. Passage
(Composed by Oren Ambarchi)

Oren Ambarchi - Guitars, Hammond Organ and Wine Glasses
crys cole - Contact microphones and brushes
Jessika Kenney - Voice
Eyvind Kang - Viola and Piano

Recorded at Avast by Randall Dunn
Additional recording by Chris Townend at BJB, Sydney
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi and Joe Talia at Chinatown, Melbourne

4. Fractured Mirror
(Composed by Ace Frehley)

Oren Ambarchi - Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Bass, Mellotron, Wine Glasses, Percussion, Vocals
Natasha Rose - Acoustic Guitars

Recorded at Chinatown and Head Gap, Melbourne by Joe Talia
Additional recording by Simon Connolly on location at 6 Chelmsford St, Kensington
Mixed by Oren Ambarchi & Joe Talia at Chinatown


Other Music (USA):

Easily one of Oren Ambarchi's best works to date, Audience of One is an amazing four-track suite of songs that succinctly binds many of his disparate modes of production into a satisfying whole. At turns expansive and intimate, the album opens with a shimmering, long sigh of a pop song that seems to harken back to his much underrated singer-songwriter project from the early 00s, Sun, before launching into an epic, loping thirty-minute-plus track of shifting tones, low-end feedback, and clicking percussion. The following two songs delve into moments of crystalline minimalism and cyclical guitar patterns augmented by lovely, hushed vocals.

Pitchfork (USA):

It's a strange kind of fate that has caused Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi to spend most of his career making records that demonstrated his singular guitar sound, only to gain greater notice for an album that barely shows it off at all. But that's the way Audience of One, released by his longtime label Touch, is panning out. Ambarchi is also known for his collaborative work with Sunn O))), with whom he's recorded and played live, complementing his extensive solo releases and further alliances with musicians including Keiji Haino, Jim O'Rourke, and Christian Fennesz. Other guests emerge on Audience of One's four pieces. Among them are impressive contributions from Warm Ghost's Paul Duncan, providing vocals on the opening "Salt"; and Eyvind Kang, filling out a chamber arrangement on the expansive "Knots".

There's a sense of new life forming, of Ambarchi's re-contextualizing his place in the world. His music has taken in vast stylistic shifts in the past, but here he forges deeper into the unknown, loosening control over his work to allow his collaborators to leave a more indelible footprint and pushing many of the shapes he forms into a tighter framework. Those shapes on the opening "Salt" mirror the glass-like ambience of Markus Popp's Oval, sifting a stilled beauty into the track as Duncan's keening vocal echoes softly over them. When a hushed swell of strings momentarily enters the frame it scrapes close to the kind of work Jason Pierce was experimenting with circa Pure Phase, where a chilly tone-drift provides a simple backdrop for raw, unhampered emotion.

That may be a surprising comparison for longstanding fans of Ambarchi's work, but on Audience of One he's clearly happy to buck a few expectations. On the 33-minute centerpiece "Knots", there's a greater widening of his vision, bringing in the pitter-patter of drummer Joe Talia's metronomic ride-cymbal playing, initially counterbalanced by shards of abstract noise, ranging from barely extant slivers of sound to a blackened, all-encompassing bedlam. It's strung up in an unusual space, full of gaps for the musicians to move around in but also striding forward with purpose and goal, ricocheting back and forth between the known and the unknown. It's reminiscent of Thomas Fehlmann's work with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra on "DFM", where all the players are intuitively aware of how to expand into spaces without overwhelming the track's fragile fabric.

"Knots" is intricate and fascinating, the kind of piece that's impossible to digest in one or two hearings, always holding back secrets to reveal on further plays. There's a lightness and a density to it, with Ambarchi's black-hole soloing at the midway point falling back into near-quiet in the final third before a series of forceful, metallic clangs push and pull it to a barbed close. The only way out after that is to return to the buttoned-up euphoria of what came before, with singer Jessika Kenney cooing over "Passage" while Ambarchi caresses out ambient noise by kneading the rims of a series of wine glasses. It's a necessary climb-down from "Knots", an escape hatch that stops the mind from reeling on what came before.

To complete the picture, and to continue the strain of reinvention that runs throughout Audience of One, the album closes with a cover of Ace Frehley's "Fractured Mirror". It's a marginal lift in tone after "Passage", with the plush march of a drum machine providing a steady pulse for glass-cut guitar playing to echo around. In 2004, Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy reviewed Ambarchi's Grapes from the Estate, wondering what the guitarist could do with Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher". "Fractured Mirror" may be the closest we get to an answer, with the overabundant guitar playing of Frehley's version sucked out and replaced with a downplayed beauty that's just about perceptible if you listen closely to the original. But that's typical of Ambarchi's approach on Audience of One, which feels like he's listening harder than ever to feel out new ways to move forward, causing him to quietly cleanse his vision in ever more compelling ways. [Nick Neyland]

The New York Times (USA):

The Australian guitarist and drummer Oren Ambarchi is after transcendence and gets there via two impulses that aren’t as mutually exclusive as they seem: free improvisation and playing within tight conceptual frames in service of a single idea. He finds a way to make one impulse fit inside the other. He’s into recklessness and symmetry.

Mr. Ambarchi, in his early 40s, is a compound musician down to the core, shaped by his travels through improvised and extreme music scenes in Sydney, Melbourne, Vienna, Tokyo, New York and other places; through minimalism, noise, rock, free jazz, doom, electro-acoustic improvisation. And “Audience of One,? recorded in sessions around the world, assumes that listeners won’t be turned off by changes of disposition among and inside its four tracks. He doesn’t mind breaking his own spell.

The first piece, “Salt,? sounds like beatless, ambient art-pop; Paul Duncan, from the Brooklyn band Warm Ghost, sings interior lyrics about gravity and memory in a baritone. But in the middle the key, form and sound change: the morose vocals drop out, and a string group arranged by Eyvind Kang produces gorgeous, consonant, deep-echo long tones over piano notes played so lightly that they seem half-erased.

The centerpiece of the record is “Knots,? which lasts for more than half an hour. It reassures the listener with a few constants: a brisk, quiet, ride-cymbal groove, played by the drummer Joe Talia, and a single note — an A — relayed through the piece by different instruments. But the constants keep evolving. After 10 minutes the cymbal rhythms start to grow more aggressive, and a welter of different sounds slither around the note, from cello, autoharp, French horn, electric guitar. One sound disappears, overlapped by the next, all of them constantly moving. It’s like an aural shell game.

They’re placid sounds, but right in the middle of the track — and also the middle of the album — Mr. Ambarchi, playing electric guitar, breaks the pattern, soloing expressively for five minutes with deep, low-frequency distortion. A horn arrangement appears, playing a series of notes too slow to be described as a melody. Toward the end the A takes a distant background as an intermittent hum, a bit of pure digital voltage. The piece tails off into vocals and reverbed dead-guitar-string sounds: wiping, splashing, flaying noises. The piece moves slowly enough for you to grasp its complete form in real time; it is dark and serene and complete, with a sense of proportion and risk, and one of the tracks of the year so far.

After the midpoint aggression, the record cools out again. Mr. Kang returns, with the singer Jessika Kenney, for “Passage,? held together by the constant throb of a Hammond organ chord and whistle of rubbed wineglasses. And that segues into the last track, “Fractured Mirror,? a cover of the acoustic-guitar instrumental that was the last track of the 1978 solo album by Ace Frehley, of Kiss. The original was contemplative; this is more so. It repeats a consonant fingerpicked pattern for nearly twice as long, into the horizon. [Ben Ratcliff]

The Outer Church (blog):

When someone tweeted earlier today that Oren Ambarchi had covered Ace Frehley's instrumental 'Fractured Mirror' - the closing track from his magnificent 1978 debut solo album - I had to investigate. I'm happy to confirm that Ambarchi's version is every bit as good as I'd hoped, retaining the bittersweet beauty of the original while making a case for its validity as work of non-canonical minimalism. 'Fractured Mirror' is a special track for me, for reasons I find very interesting and rather unusual. Thing is, the track reminds me of a very specific time in my life - in fact a very specific moment. So far, so nostalgic. But what I find curious is that at that particular point in time, I had not heard this piece of music. It took about a decade for me to discover that Frehley had recorded a composition that reached forward in time to that moment, distilled its essence with pinpoint accuracy, then lay in wait for me to stumble across it and find myself involuntarily transported back to that moment. Suffice to say, this raises some interesting questions concerning the less-than-straightforward relationship between music and nostalgia.

VITAL (Netherlands):

Its been a while since I last heard something new by Oren Ambarchi, which may be entirely my problem of not noticing, or perhaps Ambarchi's output was slowing down. Whatever the case, its good to hear something new from him and its surely quite a surprise, or two. One surprise might be obvious, the presence of singing, which is not entirely new in the world of Ambarchi, but then is in his Sun band, but here on Salt we have the voice of Paul Duncan. Another surprise, perhaps a bit hidden, is the presence of a cover of Kiss' Ace Frehley. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the omnipresence of many different collaborators, which, apart from Duncan, includes Elisabeth Welsh, James Rushford, Eyvind Kang, Janel Leppin, Stephen Fandrich, Josiah Boothby, Joe Talia, Crys Cole, Kessica Kenney and Natasha Rose. Many of them contribute violin, viola, cello, but also percussion, piano and voice. Its not a record to be compared with his previous solo records easily. Mainly due to the fact that the sound not always evolves around Ambarchi's guitar playing, slow, peaceful, heavy with low tones and minimal. This new album is much varied opening many new doors for Ambarchi. The simple ticking of rhythm machine, wine glasses, voice and acoustic guitars on the Frehley cover, but that's at the end of the CD. It opens with the Duncan sung 'Salt', which is perhaps the closest link to the old Ambarchi sound, but already extended with voice, violin and piano. A slow dramatic song. 'Knots', with thirty-three minutes easily the tour de force of the album, accelerates slowly into a heavy free rock improvisation, full on distortion and Talia banging the drums heavily, but with rather majestical heavy ending. More psychedelic music than guitar ambience for sure. Ambient is surely present on 'Passage', with all sorts of instrumental passages, but strangely enough, perhaps, the signature guitar of Ambarchi seems absent here, moving gently into the aforementioned Frehley cover. A CD full of surprises, lots of different textures, yet absolutely very coherent. Great return! Excellent work. [FdW]

Zero Inch (UK):

Experimental guitarist Oren Ambarchi matches the intimacy hinted at in the album's title with two songs, the fragile 'Salt' and the more Emeralds-like 'Fractured Mirror', which frame the two remaining, more drone-like tracks of 'Audience of One'. Lovely.

Beard Rock (UK):

On 'Audience of One', Australian multi-instrumentalist and sometime Sunn O))) collaborator Oren Ambarchi takes a voyage beyond his previous core sound and sets sail for avant garde pastures, through a tempest of biblical proportions.

It begins with the rather lush 'Salt', the first part of a four-sided epic suite. So gentle is the electronica and strings, it’s a wonder it doesn’t collapse under the weight of singer Paul Duncan's (from Warm Giants) delicate vocals.

Ragnarök is occurring and 'Knots' is the soundtrack. This 33-minute leviathan begins with Joe Talia's mono machine-like drums chattering on and on. Knowing the track's length, you assume it's going to be nothing like 'Salt' and, indeed, it isn't. Ominous dark tones, unsettling drones, deep-in the-mix guitars, abyssal basses and Goliath horns (the loudest horns I have ever heard on record, if that is indeed what they are) develop and intensify while the drums are hammered frantically. This is pure free-form, setting the perfect foil for the rest of the sound.

'Passage' and 'Fractured' seem like one track, they flow so easily into one another. After a bleak piano opening, 'Passage's angelic choral vocal glides over me, and the womb-like safety of Jessika Kenney's voice gives flight to the song. It's the perfect tonic to soothe the mind after the onslaught of 'Knots' unrelenting cavernous doom. Before I know it, 'Fractured' is underway; a cover of a song by KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. Over a crisp artificial beat, acoustic guitars fall over one another in perpetual motion, sumptuous tones accompanying them until the arrival of Oren's trademark guitar sound.

In places, ‘Audience of One’ reminds me of Spiritualized Electric Mainline, Asva and Brian Eno. However, avant-garde innovation is deep within its core, and to compare it to anything else is demeaning to its creators. There is something here for everyone who likes their coffee laced with something strong. Open the suspicious package. [Darkwülf]

Etherreal (France):

Ayant beaucoup vu Oren Ambarchi en concert depuis un ou deux ans, on s’était un peu lassé de ses prestations fortement portées sur les drones. C’est donc avec une légère appréhension que l’on posait ce nouvel album de l’Australien sur notre platine.

Or quelle ne fut pas notre surprise à l’écoute du premier morceau, Salt, d’une électronique limpide et rêveuse, parsemée de quelques crépitements, avant qu’un chant, à la fois grave et doux ne transforme cette electronica acoustique (piano et violon) en une chanson pop pleine d’émotion.
Oren Ambarchi ne chante pas. Pour cet album il s’est fait accompagner d’un certain nombre de musiciens, violonistes, violoncellistes, pianiste, percussionniste et ici Paul Duncan pour le chant.

La pièce maitresse de l’album est Knots qui occupe un peu plus de 33 minutes du disque. On retrouve un peu ici l’approche poursuivie dans ses récents concerts, avec un long développement de guitares lentes et graves, menaçantes, qui évoluent petit à petit vers des drones puissants. Mais Oren Ambarchi va ici beaucoup plus loin puisqu’il embarque quatre musiciens avec lui formant un combo cordes / cuivres / percus jouant de concert. On notera la place toute particulière donnée à la batterie, fine, précise, frétillante, les baguettes flottant au dessus des cymbales afin de lancer une course effrénée. Petit à petit cordes et cuivres prennent de l’ampleur et la rythmique éclate. On se rapproche alors des musiques improvisées, d’un free jazz soutenu par les ronronnements d’un cor et les glissements de cordes. Une musique foisonnante et pleine de vie.

On change encore de registre sur les deux derniers titres, avec dans un premier temps Passage, avec la participation de Crys Cole. Place ici au minimalisme avec notes de piano éparses, field recordings et quelques notes de guitares évasives qui permettent d’enchainer avec Fractured Mirror au jeu très franc qui nous fait plutôt penser ici à Steve Reich. Une base extrêmement répétitive dans laquelle Oren Ambarchi nous surprend encore avec des cassures mélodiques et relances du plus bel effet.

Un disque que l’on attendait pas, et donc une très belle surprise.

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Oren Ambarchi - Audience of One [Apple Lossless edition]

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