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Olan Mill: Pine

img  Tobias Fischer

On first listen, it’s easy to mistake Olan Mill’s Pine for nothing more than sifting layers of ambient synth chords. The first collaboration of sound artists Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko, Pine is characterized by the cavernous sounds of long chords slowly morphing into one another—the boundaries of their attacks and decays blurred beyond recognition. Listening closer, however, you discover a sea of delicate nuances: an ethereal panoramic sound composed with a limited palette of piano, violin, guitar, and pipe organ. At times the churning notes float weightlessly in space, creating an ambient and impressionistic sound as much atmosphere as it is music in the conventional sense. At other moments, the timbre is closer to the sound of a cinematic choir—the kind that would accompany an image of a sunset over a mountain vista or asteroids spinning weightlessly in space.

There’s little in the way of counterpoint or linear melody on Pine. Recorded in a small church hall, the music has an amorphous quality from which you can often only barely decipher individual instruments. Rather, the sounds blur together into a uniform ambience that ebbs and swells as a whole. Much of “An Obedient Ear” rests on a single sustained chord from which different instrumental textures (quietly sawing violin, held organ notes, vocal-like sounds) subtly emerge and disappear. “Disempowered” moves like a wave between two chords initially anchored with gentle piano before disconnecting into nebulous washes of sound.

There are moments when the haze clears to expose more defined timbres: the delicate piano twinkling of “Pine,” the pensive keyboard and delicate strings of “The Prescribed Individual.” “Country” opens with violin stretching over the sound of trickling water. But those moments of definition are relatively few and far between. Smalley and Samoylenko seem more interested in constructing an encompassing sonic space that slowly churns between darker and lighter emotional tones.

Despite the dreamlike and reverb-y ambiance that pervades the album, the music maintains a very human and organic feel. It’s easy to imagine the musicians improvising the “compositions” while deep in a meditative trance, allowing the childlike sense of wonder that comes with non-preconceived music to make its way into the washes of sound. In the end, the duo achieves a powerful sense of intimacy within the context of its cinematic swells—a quiet subtlety that seems to draw a straight line to the subconscious. 

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Olan Mill
Homepage: Serein Records

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