February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Shards of Softness (MP3)

Over at his soundcloud.com/saffronslumber page, the musician who goes by Saffron Slumber put up a track titled “Blind Sower, Reaper.” Slumber is Kevin Stephens of Portland, Oregon, and he traffics in a spare brand of ambient music, one that often has more grit than that of his peers.

One of his Soundcloud listeners, a Boston-based musician named John Ryan, who goes by Would-be Messiahs, made an astute observation about “Blind Sower, Reaper,” and by extension about Stephens’ music in general. On the “Blind Sower, Reaper” track’s page, Ryan posted this comment: “despite the underlying intensity, there’s a wonderful tranquility in the music that is completely at odds with my sounds, which may be why I love your compositions so much… as always, beautiful.” And he’s right. While much ambient music celebrates the ethereal, there’s a tension in Stephens’ — in Saffron Slumber’s — that finds a willfully uneasy truce between placid presentation and rough textures.

An additional thing makes the track tick: the way it regularly changes modes, the way it plays out like a piece of footage spliced together from found pieces. The work may be comprised of softness, but it’s shards of softness, and those shards have hard edges. Each element may be lovely, but the flicker from one to the next lends it a sense of, for lack of a better word, disquiet.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/saffronslumber. More on Slumber/Stephens at embermusic.com and at twitter.com/saffronslumber.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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