Aperus: Tumbleweed Obfuscated by Camera Failure
by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
Brian McWilliams (recording here as :aperus:), one half of the ambient duo Remanence, has released an eerie, moody, yet also intriguing and inviting solo effort with what has to be the most obscure (until you read the liner notes) album title of 2003. "Tumbleweed Obfuscated by Camera Failure" contains eight tracks that traverse the boundaries of forbidding primal soundscapes ("Dark Moon [initiation]"), cross over into Tim Story-like piano and synth-textured minimalism ("Magnetism"), walk amongst potently sensuous dark tribal rhythms ("Earth & Clay"), glide into the cosmos on billowing waves of classic spacemusic synth washes (the first half of "Radiant") and crawl through dramatic and subtly dissonant subterranean caverns filled with both rustlings and roarings ("Vanishing Terrain"). There is also a visit to "Echo Canyon," a place of glurping and glooping sound effects, primal percussive effects, and ominous drones and textures, before settling into quasi-serene washes of Roach-ian keyboards, as well as a brief stop to listen to "Leaves, Waves" which creates compelling blankets of sound (as if thousands of rustling leaves were mixed with waves crashing against the shore) from assorted organic and electronic sources.
McWilliams plays a variety of instruments: keyboards, piano, bass guitar, assorted ethnic hand percussion, and some purely electronic studio wizardry effects. A few people help out on some tracks (John Phipps on keyboard textures and guitar, Carolyn Koebel on rattles, and Michelle McWilliams on "rocks and objects"). As with almost any ambient recording that is formless and shape-shifting, it's hard to "hear" who does what, so I'll just tip my hat to everyone and say "Well done!" because it is all very well done. "Tumbleweed Obfuscated by Camera Failure" is a voyage through myriad musical mysteries; this is one of those rare CDs that reveals itself oh-so-slowly, delighting the listener who patiently wades into it slowly and purposely. That's not to say you couldn't enjoy it as background sonic coloring in a room, but its relative lack of continuity might prove to be off-putting in that respect. The same patchwork of shifting moods and motifs (from floating to rhythmic, from primal to ethereal) that breaks up continuity also makes headphone listening that much more enjoyable, though. And I sure did enjoy listening to this recording on headphones. McWilliams, who produced the disc, and was assisted in mastering by James Johnson, crafted a dense, multi-layered musical experience. The percussive effects, in particular, echo and resonate deliciously. The drones and washes of keyboards are blended in with the other elements perfectly. Basically, from a technical standpoint, the album is textbook perfect.
From an artistic standpoint, the CD is an amazing and rewarding journey. From the opening crashing sound that ushers in "Dark Moon (initiation)" and morphs into haunting swells of synths and clicking rainsticks to the eleven-plus minute long walk into darkness ending amidst powerful swells of both dissonance and majesty on "Vanishing Terrain," McWilliams is your expert guide on a trip to musical vistas that will evoke images both vast and intimate. Here is a recording you can sink your psychic teeth into; it has tons of substance and will leave you sated (until your next itch to visit these mysterious lands snags you once again). Highly recommended.
Postscript: Worthy of special mention is how this CD is presented and packaged. It is packed in a DVD case, which also contains a collection of photographs taken by McWilliams while on a geologic/photographic hike. The images are sometimes quite startling and they also fit in nicely with how the album got its name.