If you want to draw my attention to your album of ambient field recordings, then you can do worse than name-checking long-lost sample-botherers Sleep Research Facility in your promo blurb. Nostromo, their debut offering, was released over two decades ago but is still my gold standard for this kind of deep, layered manipulation of found sounds and corrupted samples, to the extent that little else even comes close. It’s interesting, then, that where SRF floated off into the dark depths of space, Llyn Y Cwn choose rather to drift out into the sea and down into the oceanic abyss.
With Du Y Moroedd, which comes from the Welsh for ‘the black of the seas’, Benjamin Ian Powell’s solo project manages to take the layering of drones and waves one step further than simply browsing a library of sound; most of the original samples, from simple bells to the more obscure cracks and whirrs, were recorded at sea on ships around the world and then pieced together aboard the Research Vessel Prince Madog. The album is saturated with the sea, and with dreams of the sea. As such, like the sea, it’s difficult to take specific sections, even though the album is divided into tracks, and deal with them one-by-one like you might a more traditional music review.
We begin with the clanging bells of Trwyn Du – named for a real-life on the Welsh coast which is famous for the rather ominous inscription of ‘NO PASSAGE LANDWARD’ on its flanks – which slowly fade as we head out into the black waters. It’s an eerie overture but, for anyone who’s slept on a boat, also strangely comforting; the amniotic sounds of the ocean resonate somewhere deep inside the human psyche. The next few sections deal with the various layers and zones of oceanic sound with pips and pings, creaks and groaning infrastructure suddenly, as if passing through a membrane, the resonance of Submergence takes over.
It’s hard not to think of immense black voids interspersed with flickering, acidic bioluminescence, and the occasional sense of something vast, silent, and ancient drifting by invisibly. I’m reminded of the quote, often attributed to marine biologist Dr. Paul Snelgrove, that ‘we know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about the ocean floor’. The title track itself brings us back to the surface, but perhaps the surface of some different sea entirely, with susurrating waves and the ebb of distant engines, until we drop down once more into a near-silent world populated with geothermic rumbling and cetaceous heartbeats.
an excellent example of ambient done well…
The first part of the album comes to an end with the duo of The Skerries and Erebus And Terror. These two tracks, named respectively for rock formations too small to warrant the classification of an island and the ships of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to traverse the Arctic, sound like radio transmissions from some long-lost, subaquatic research station; a subsea sibling of the Event Horizon. I say ‘the first part’ because Du Y Moroedd ends with a single thirty-minute track that is effectively as long as the nine pieces that preceded it.
Stratigraphy, the geological study of strata, is perhaps a strange name for a piece of music inspired by the sea but it’s easy to forget that the open ocean has its own stratified layers of zones from the epipelagic (or ‘sunlight’) zone all the way down to the abyssal and then the deep trenches and intense pressures of the hadal zone, which takes its name from Hades himself.
The track Stratigraphy stands alone on the album, it introduces a strange ticking percussion which a handful of other reviews have picked out as being incongruous but, personally, I find it adds a sense of out-of-place humanity; our desire for order and structure in the midst of the amorphous ocean as well as, more prosaically, our need for machinery and measurements to survive any journey through it. It adds a sense of urgency and, ultimately, futility as it is drowned out by the more diaphanous sounds of the deeps.
It’s difficult to create ambient music that isn’t simply background muzak, to make something that Brian Eno described in his original thinking about the form as music which is ‘as ignorable as it is interesting’, but Du Y Moroedd is certainly an excellent example of ambient done well; sound that can wash over you as much as it can immerse you in thought about its structure and intent.
Scribed by: Daniel Pietersen