When discussing his original concept for ambient, Brian Eno has always emphasised not only the evocative, atmospheric nature of the music itself, but its relationship with the environment. Eno’s primary concern was, according to interviews, the relationship between the music and the space in which it is listened to. Over the years, many musicians and producers have interpreted this slightly differently, using field recordings to intrinsically link studio-based recordings with the places and spaces that initially inspired them.
Two such musicians were Dutch experimentalists Jacobus Derwort and Hanyo Van Oosterom, whose cassette-only CHI release – recorded and released to little fanfare or acclaim in 1985, but subsequently reissued by Astral Industries earlier this year as The Original Recordings – tweaked Eno’s original blueprint by putting sampled loops and homemade field recordings at the heart of the action.
In some ways, Derwort and Van Oosterom were trailblazers. During the period in which they were active, ambient music had faded from view, discredited by rock-obsessed music critics who considered it the sole preserve of irritating new age hippies. Yet listen carefully to The Original Recordings, and you’ll find tracks that extensively utilise atmosphere-creating samples, years before The KLF and The Orb’s rave-era comedown classics Chill Out and Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.
This forward-thinking stylistic trait is much in evidence on The Bamboo Recordings, an album the duo had been working on before they went their separate ways in 1987. It has been inspired, like other unissued recordings that Astral Industries plans to release this year, by an extended stay on the Greek isle of Patmos. While there, Van Ooosterom spent months living in a cave, and the duo spent many happy hours making field recordings of local wildlife. They also crafted their own flutes from local bamboo, fusing these with recordings of indigenous singers and musicians from across Europe and the Far East, plus their own manipulated guitars, piano, bass, saxophone and clarinet.
While the version of The Bamboo Recordings presented in 2016 apparently contains some new recordings, and has been extensively remixed by Van Oosterom, it nevertheless confirms to their original concept. It’s comprised of two 18-minute suites of tracks, mixed together to create two exotic, sticky and humid journeys through the duo’s vivid imaginations.
From start to finish, it’s hugely atmospheric. In its construction and execution, parallels can be drawn with numerous works, from the sample patchworks of music concrete, and the evocative field recording travelogues of Chris Watson, to the conceptual ambient albums of Brian Eno, and the sticky, trip-across-America that is The KLF album Chill Out. Some may even notice the kind of rhythmic, spaced-out textures more commonly found in dub techno productions.
The duo’s choice of sampled voices – from Tibetan monks and Japanese singers, to African and Far Eastern storytellers – combined with their own vivid field recordings gives The Bamboo Recordings a delightfully international feel. Musically, too, the album seems to come from no one particular place, with intoxicating, Eastern inspired flute lines mingling with dubbed-out, lo-fi jazz grooves, spine-tingling piano lines and dust-covered violin lines.
In some ways, what the duo has delivered is the distillation of 40 years of ambient music in its myriad forms, presented in a way that tweaks Eno’s original formula whilst retaining that key relationship with environment. Above all else, it’s a beautiful and endlessly atmospheric set with incredible depth. The more you listen, the more subtle sounds, samples, textures and instruments you will discover.
A. Part 1
B. Part 2