Whether you let it wash over you, or dive headfirst into it, the Portland artist’s latest album is a fully-realised conceptual space.
Ambient music mirrors the tide; sometimes it’ll lap away in the distance, while at others you can’t help but let it wash up against you, and – as I’ve often discovered – it can be almost alarmingly enveloping when it does. On one level – with its sporadic synthetic caresses and maze-like melodic structures – ‘Opus 2’, the second release from Ethernet (Portland’s Tim Gray) sits comfortably within such a framework. But ‘Opus 2’ also operates on a more intense level. Most of the album was composed with Gray in a state of self-hypnosis, stifling any predetermined artistic intentions from seeping into its space – instead reaching for a free flow of organic, subconscious improvisation.
This isn’t a new tool of composition for Gray, but rather one built over time. An accompanying note to 2010 recording ‘Temples’ describes it as “all synthesis with no samples and most of the layers recorded in real-time”, almost apologetically referring to the sequencing that was later added in Ableton. Interestingly, while ‘Opus 2’ is the most fully realised reflection of Gray’s trance-work, this isn’t achieved by pushing its textures in any radical directions. Echoes of contemporaries surface throughout: the shards of synthetic lightness that bounce off Monarch call to mind Kranky labelmate Steve Hauschildt, and Dog Star feeds into the battleground mists of Dominick Fernow’s Vatican Shadow project. While the tools of others go into the craft, ‘Opus 2’ succeeds by being doggedly committed to concept – determinedly staying true to impulse.
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Self-coined artist descriptions can be a minefield, but Gray’s view of Ethernet as being “pulse ambient” is instantly useful. It speaks to the unbreakable rhythms that overwhelm with their spiralling continuity, and to the tracking of synaptic leads towards the beckoning in of a trance state. It also chimes with the work’s recording taking place in between Gray working into the night in surgical operating rooms. Closing track Pleroma is embedded with the vulnerability a pulse takes on in such an environment: setting swathes of machine-like fuzz around a human melody, the rhythm here concealed as a barely audible thud, like the heartbeat of someone under heavy sedation.
While the more sceptical may huff at the self-hypnotic claims, this concept is really the key to unlocking the unique space that Gray has crafted in ‘Opus 2’. As the name references, Ethernet’s pulsations take in not just the bodily but extend to the inexorable flow of data, and observe the meeting of these lines – a collision of human/technology powerfully evoked in the modern hospital space. As much a mind-map as it is an album, you can feel free to simply dip your feet in its transcendental warmth. But step further, and follow Gray’s lead within, and even the greatest cynic may be enlightened by the immersive results.