Remanence: A Strange Constellation of Events

by Fred Puhan, Ambient Visions

The Morse code signals that open Signal Hill, the first track of this electro-ambient CD may or may not spell out "SOS." Fear not, however, this CD is in no danger of sinking. The thirteen minute track plunges immediately into a deep, almost cavernous, droning and oozing electronic journey punctuated only by sporadic bursts of Morse code.

The sojourn continues for an additional nine tracks for a total playing time of some 63-plus minutes. Included are a variety of field and natural sound recordings that, when played in a darkened and quieted room, transport one under the stars where the music and sounds suffuse the atmosphere. Rainsticks, rattles, gongs, cymbals and assorted percussion instruments are added sporadically, adding to the elemental feel of the compositions.

A sense of continuity is present, as each piece melds into the next. While there are distinct differences, the CD sounds as if it were meant to be consumed as an entire body of work.

Remanence is the collaboration between John Phipps and Brian McWilliams, with some assistance by Michelle McWilliams and Carolyn Koebel. James Johnson lent technical assistance, which may help explain the languid feel of the album.

For lovers of deep atmospheric ambient music, Remanence should be given some serious consideration.

by Phil Derby, Electroambient Space

The first time I listened to "Signal Hill" I thought I was hearing things - which is probably because I was. In addition to the soft ambient tones, the beeping of a signal beacon is heard. I'm still not 100% certain whether I like the beeping or not, but the meaning behind it is explained in the beautiful packaging. Regardless, the track is excellent, the sort of music that definitely conjures up images of standing on a grassy hillside at night and looking up at a sky full of stars. The music is minimal and subtle yet richly detailed, as field recordings meld with such varied instrumentation as rattles, rainstick, metal plates, and my personal favorite, "objects." "Lamkhyer (remix)" has a low rumble and tribal beats that remind me of Steve Roach's classic title track from On This Planet. There is a light touch but a dark tone that permeates the disc. "Nocturne" swirls about in a way that is hard to describe, simple but striking. More complex and experimental is "Stress," clearly a product of the unusual sound sources used throughout. Often the disc is more about sound than music, but it manages to relax and sooth in its own unique way. Sometimes disturbing, sometimes uplifting, always interesting, I highly recommend A Strange Constellation of Events.

by HD, Funprox

Remanence from the USA left a good impression with their previous releases. After a few years of silence, they returned in 2005 with the album "a Strange Constellation of events". As before, Remanence brings us lovely organic soundscapes and a beautiful packaging.

The new cd comes in a smaller type dvd-case, which contains a nicely designed 'velum' insert with short articles about 'synchronistic events', 'fireflies' and 'transatlantic radio signals'. The title of the album probably refers both to the unusual conceptual themes and the struggle to complete this album, with all kinds of adversity like stolen equipment.

There are ten soundscapes on the album with a very organic feel, through all the natural themes and the field recordings that were used. There are many spacious, ethereal ambient layers, combined with darker, 'nightly' drones, microscopic field sounds and subtle rhythms here and there. "a Strange Constellation of events" is carefully crafted and clearly produced. Remanence offers us very pleasant dreamy music to enjoy late at night, making you wonder about the mysteries of nature.

by Dene Bebbington, Melliflua

The latest release by duo Brian McWilliams and John Phipps -- aka Remanence -- is an album of the night for the night. A Strange Constellation of Events is an ambient meditation on night and the idea of synchronicity where coincidental events have meaning. The disc comes in a CD sized but DVD style case and contains a sheet of interesting notes about synchronicity and some small postcards containing relevant quotes and suggestions for further reading.

Getting the album underway is the longest track "Signal Hill". Bleeping Morse code and distant muted static are heard before eerie washes and amorphous explosive rumbles come in. There's an uneasy demeanour to the piece at this point which gets offset a little further in as dimly luminous washes pan across the soundscape along with darker resonating scans. It's as though we're following radio waves across the face of the Earth and off into the depths of space.

In the third track "Lamkhyer (remix)" the gentle hum of insect noises carried over from the previous track slowly give way to brief ominous drones and a brushy percussive beat that develops into further rhythm with wood like drum beats. This nicely poised piece is akin to a less tribal Roachian number mixing rhythms with resonating drones.

Though there are occasional rhythmic elements in subsequent tracks most of the music is rooted in dark ambient territory. A particularly spooky piece is the relatively quiet "Nocturne". Here the sound of distant rustling combines with a variety of effects, it's like the kind of music to a scarey film where someone is walking through dark woods not sure of what's out there. Gong hits and metallic whistling drones also add to the sense of unease.

Without a doubt A Strange Constellation of Events is a beguiling ambient excursion into nighttime related themes. It's ideal listening for a winter evening when you're settled in at home and want to wander mentally between what's in the outside world and what's in your imagination.

by Rik MacLean, Ping Things

Remanence have always been a project who has paid careful attention to all of the details and nuances of their music, a project who care about every little thing down to the finest point. It's evident from the first note to the last that Remanence are very focused on what they do. And with the release of their latest disc "A Strange Constellation of Events", Remanence have crafted another beautiful and wonderful collection of finely honed tracks that are sure to inspire the imaginations of new and old fans alike.

The disc begins with the short staccato morse code of "Signal Hill", a slowly building ambient drift where languid pads weave through each other to create beautiful patterns. "Reflecting Pool (prelude)" follows, a short work suggesting discovery and observation, a vision of things to come. Those of you familiar with Remanence's earlier work will be pleased to find a remixed version of the track "Lamkhyer", a darkly beguiling track filled with tiny details and hidden wonder. "Nocturne" is a lovely flight through slowly roiling waves of sound, small percussive landmarks passing by at irregular intervals. Dark and lonely, this one has so much space in it that it's almost oppressive, but in the best possible way. Trust me on this one. "The Reflecting Pool" delivers on earlier suggestions, ideas and forms culminating in a sweeping and beautiful track that works as a wonderful centrepiece and a fitting end to the first half of the album.

"Stress" opens the second half of the disc, setting the tone for a darker suite of tracks with an abstract ambient piece where found sounds and field recordings create a dark and enigmatic environment. "It Gazes Also Into You" follows, resplendent in drone-y goodness, sounds echoing and swelling through the abyss, chasms of molten magma flowing around its edge. Stunning work that I would love to hear built and expanded upon in a longer form piece. "Echo Canyon III" presents a sparse and minimal drone track where tones rise and fall in volume, sliding subtly through the sound spectrum. "A Reply Beyond Oblivion" uses metallic tones and other sounds to continue the minimalist darkness of the last piece. The disc closes with the track "First Light", a slowly building drone that returns to the brighter sounds of the first half of the disc, suggesting a cyclical nature to the work herein, the idea of a loop that spins forever.

Needless to say, "A Strange Constellation of Events" is a very impressive work, one that connects on many levels, both emotionally and mentally. Surely an excellent disc for one to discover Remanence's work if you aren't already familiar with it, or for those who are, a chance to revisit a tremendous talent. Highly recommended.

by Richard Gurtler, Bratislava, Slovak Republic

I usually don't review too often CDs/CDrs that were released several years ago, but Remanence is for sure one of the projects that deserve to be explored. And then I also keep in mind the words of my good friend Scott M2 of dreamSTATE: "There's certainly no Best Before date on the music." Yes, well said!

Remanence, consisting of Brian McWilliams (also acting as Aperus) and John Phipps (with the help of Michelle McWilliams and Carolyn Koebel), was firstly known as Arcana, but later this name was changed in order to avoid possible confusion, because many other bands/projects were acting under this name.

"A Strange Constellation Of Events" CDr was released back in 2005 on their own mPath Records, now non-functional label, but lately resurrected under Gephonic Records / Remote Activity name. I must say that I was immediately impressed by this release even if it comes as CDr only, but packaged in mini DVD case and featuring some really nice artwork images and various nicely designed goodies like cards with insect photos and a velum insert with stories.

But Brian and John are not only gifted graphic designers, but also as much crafted ambient composers. The album kicks off with 13 minutes long highly evocative "Signal Hill", a piece dedicated to the first transatlantic wireless transmission in Morse Code, that is of course featured in this minimal droning composition. Deeply immersive with enough tension in it, just like at December 12th, 1901, during these groundbreaking days. This is a truly amazing and imaginative piece, guys!

The music on "A Strange Constellation Of Events" is quite diverse as we move from rather more obscure and mechanical structures ("Signal Hill") through more organic soundscapes spiced by tribal downtempos ("Lamkhyer (remix)") to minimal mysterious night journeys ("Nocturne", "Stress"). Then continuing from darker mesmerizing ambience ("The Reflecting Pool", "It Gazes Also Into You", "First Light") through experimental desert dreamscapes ("Echo Canyon III") to noisier industrial territories ("A Reply Beyond Oblivion").

Even if huge dose of variety is delivered here, the overall feel of this album is very homogenous, it requires a very careful listening, but then this work is highly rewarding and strongly recommended to all fans of mysteriously adventurous environmental atmospherics!!! "A Strange Constellation Of Events" is a true gem and I really hope one day Brian and John will re-join their forces for another one, because they have shown a lot of talent and potential. I definitely will keep my eyes and ears ready...

by Matt Howarth, Sonic Curiosity

This CD from 2005 offers 63 minutes of pensive ambience.

Remanence is: John Phipps and Brian McWilliams, with Michelle McWilliams on recorder, and Carolyn Koebel on bowed gong, cymbals and ocean harp.

This music fuses technology with nature, blending deeply artificial textures with environmental samples. Radio signals drift alongside thunderheads of delicate tonalities, while insects and birds contribute their voices on the periphery of perception. The result is a gripping evocation of mankind and divinity, operating in conjunction to achieve a distinctly modern totality.

Flows of tenuous sound seep into being, oozing from silence into a delicate proximity that envelopes the listener with a sedate fog of pleasant resonance. Augmented by shakers, muffled beats creep into the mix, adopting a remote quality that would be tribal if not for their definite cerebral mien. Pulsations of an electronic character rise, breathing and shuddering to create a luscious expanse of seemingly limitless scope.

Effectively separated from reality in this manner, the audience is treated to mesmerizing atmospherics that delve deep into the psyche, tickling long-ignored synapses of relaxation. Stress melts away, swallowed by the power of these minimal passages.

Although keyboards play a vital role in this music, their presence is well-hidden by the manner in which they express themselves. Lavish chords are elongated and hang like phosphorescent mists overhead, providing a hypnotic environment for subtle flashes of understated electronics which cavort lazily like torpid fireflies.

by Bert Strolenberg, Sonic Immersion

Remanence is the ambient duo John Phipps and Brian McWilliams, who's new album comes in a beautiful, special designed cd box. "A Strange Constellation..." assembles a long series of musical experiments which began in 1997 soon after their release "Apparitions".

It contains ten deep ambient excursions which could also easily be labelled as deep atmospheric night music. The journey takes off with "Signal Hill", which dense textures and Morse codes are the core of slow morphing ambience.

The remix of "Lamkhyer", a track of their former 3" cd-r, offers some nice shakers and percussion before things move into slightly more experimental territory with "Nocturne". "The Reflecting Pool" is a light dweller, but the next two tracks are of creepy, deep delving nature, which also applies for the ghostly, experimental atmospheres and dark scorning nature of "A Reply beyond Oblivion", which is a bit too much to my taste.

Happily enough in between we find the beautiful textural floaters "Echo Canyon III" and the album closer "First Light".

...recommended for dwellers and seekers of deep adventurous ambience.

by Daniel D. Stanisic, Spiritual Profit Radio Programme

... I was greatly pleased when I beheld the album in its beautiful packaging: I am still truly at a loss to imagine how you always come to produce such singularly admirable layout and assemble it with all the accessory items into an artistically captivating whole. In addition, the trade-mark use of the tracing paper for the inlay contents is as pleasing as ever. I am very well aware that there are special releases in many forms and guises on the music market nowadays, but you always manage to surprise one in the most agreeable manner possible.

I was immediately stricken by its contemplative nature and its ability to induce in one the state of perfect detachment from all that is prone to corruption in this world: the philosophical term "transcendent" might be one of the most apposite attributes one could resort to when referring to it. The music is quite sobre yet the more beautiful and evocative on that account... The titles themselves are intriguing and aptly chosen... I find it rather difficult to name any favourites at this stage: all the compositions are appealing in their own way, each bringing along a new angle of viewing the whole, without being predictable or dull for even a single moment.

My initial experience with the album does single out a couple of titles that already linger in the memory: "Signal Hill" made an immediate impact; "Lamkhyer", in its present incarnation, although very well known to me from the "Lamkhyer CD Single", is still quite enthralling and refreshing; "Stress" struck me as a very elaborate piece in the manner of Aperus; and "A Reply Beyond Oblivion" is an excellent Dark Ambient track indeed, the more enjoyable for its sinister, noisier Industrial qualities. The production itself is flawlessly executed, it being yet another aspect of your work one becomes almost too readily accustomed to, often forgetting how exacting and time-consuming the entire process must be.

Let me once more congratulate both John and you for your impeccable work... I personally consider A Strange Constellation of Events a perfect example of elevated, flawlessly produced ambient music, something that is inevitably bound to invite comparisons with stars of recognized magnitude, such as Lustmord, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Jeff Greinke, Vidna Obmana, Alio Die or Amir Baghiri.

Effectively separated from reality in this manner, the audience is treated to mesmerizing atmospherics that delve deep into the psyche, tickling long-ignored synapses of relaxation. Stress melts away, swallowed by the power of these minimal passages.

Although keyboards play a vital role in this music, their presence is well-hidden by the manner in which they express themselves. Lavish chords are elongated and hang like phosphorescent mists overhead, providing a hypnotic environment for subtle flashes of understated electronics which cavort lazily like torpid fireflies.

by Franz de Waard, Vital Weekly

Almost three years ago, we reviewed 'Lamkhyer' by Remanence, which was a preview of the then forthcoming 'A Strange Constellation Of Events', which finally emerged now as a release. I am clueless as to why this has taken so long, or if there have been other releases. Perhaps they were just perfecting this release? It could very well, since they did a great job on packaging, with small printed card with quotes from Schopenhauer and Emerson. Very nice work at that for sure. Remanence is a duo of John Phipps and Brian McWilliams, and they work with a load of analogue synths, percussion, sound effects and field recordings. Mixed together this brings us ambient music with the big A. The most obvious influence here, I think is Vidna Obmana in his early nineties period (when he himself was influenced by Robert Rich and Jorge Reyes), with a mechanic ethno percussive sound and long washes of deep synthesizer sounds, all the traditional ingredients of ambient with the big A is there. It's not something that sounds much different than say similar music a decade or so ago. Ambient music is made according strict rules and measurements and the listener knows what to expect... Remanence plays such music in a strong tradition and they do that in a highly professional way.