Vidna Obmana & Willem Tanke: Variations for Organ, Keyboard and Processors

The indefatigable Vidna Obmana returns with another hour of high-concept Ambient product. Here he’s come up with a series of variations and treatments of organ pieces composed by Willem Tanke. Tanke was inspired by Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics, which draws parallels between modern Western physics and Eastern mystical traditions. The sleeve note claims that Tanke and Obmana “attempted to capture the atmosphere of the mystical visions and subatomic whirls” which form the subject of the book. Not being familiar with Capra’s work, I’m not in a position to judge the success or otherwise of this venture. But in purely musical terms the results are moody and elegant, a striking dialogue between ancient and modern that largely avoids the soporific tendencies of Obmana’s earlier The Shape of Solitude.

Tanke played his original compositions on a classical pipe organ, and Obmana then processed parts of these electronically. The organ tends to occupy the upper register while Obmana’s treatments rumble away in counterpoint. The pace is formidably slow: Tanke plays the organ with evident respect for its origins, careful not to rob the instrument of its spiritual context. Obmana layers in sonorous drones to the point where it becomes hard to distinguish between his contributions and those of Tanke. The combination is reminiscent in places of such monuments to inner space as Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, enveloping the listener in warm cocoons of sound.

Occasionally the mood deepens. On the lengthy ‘Canon III’ the electronics quietly recede, allowing the dramatic swell of the organ to dominate. On ‘Choral (Midi-Etude)’ the clicks and noises of the original acoustic recording are looped to form soft but ominous beats. Such interventions strengthen the impact of this impressive recording.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)

Vidna Obmana & Serge Devadder: The Shape of Solitude

Vidna Obmana is a Belgian sound sculptor whose recent Motives for Recycling, a remix of work by Asmus Tietchens, was reviewed in the last Sound Projector. On this occasion he teams up with guitarist Serge Devadder for an hour’s worth of fairly run-of-the-mill Ambient fare.

The CD opens with some virtuoso guitar playing from Devadder. His technique may be faultless, but the effect is soporific. Interwoven with these tasteful pluckings are Obmana’s more testing manipulations, which gradually come to dominate the album.

‘Perceptual Edge’ sees Devadder’s playing move up a notch, his intricate picking complemented nicely by Obmana’s sustained washes of sound. The lengthy ‘A Stinging Memory Of Shared Skin’ is the album’s high point; the heavily treated guitar floats malevolently around the listener, producing an eerie, alien sound world. This ominous mood continues in the album’s effective closing piece, ‘Leaving This Place Again’.

Over the course of an hour, however, interest palls. The above highlights aside, it all sounds so terribly inert, its aimlessness evidence of a lack of imagination and spirit rather than any kind of contemplative detachment.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 7, 2000)