Carbon Based Lifeforms

Hedberg and Ringstrom construct their tracks with great care, blending ambient trance, beatless ambient, electro and Euro ambient-techno elements with patches of static, garbled radio transmissions and disembodied voice bytes. The collision of genre patterns often works brilliantly.

artist:
Carbon Based Lifeforms

country of origin:
Sweden

style(s):
Ambient trance, acid trance, psy-ambient, breakbeat, spacemusic

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Hydroponic Garden (2003, Ultimae)
  • World Of Sleepers (2006, Ultimae)
  • Interloper (2010, Ultimae)
  • Twenty Three (2011, Ultimae)

as Sync24:

  • Comfortable Void (2012, Ultimae)

Reviewed by Mike G

Since its inception in 2000, French-based underground label Ultimae Records has been setting the global standard for what could broadly be called ambient trance and its various genre spin-offs. For a broad view of the label check out the superb various-artist collections of the Fahrenheit Project series (2001-2007); for a close-up of individual talent on Ultimae look no further than Swedish duo Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Segerstad, aka Carbon Based Lifeforms.

Carbon Based Lifeforms earliest releases were several self-published albums issued through the old MP3.com portal. Listening to them now it's clear at that point that the various elements of their sound were still coalescing. Their Ultimae debut and breakthrough third album Hydroponic Garden (2003) is the first in a trilogy of sorts, where each successive album one seemingly picks up where its predecessor left off. This music revels in mystery, charting a course through slow, slightly distorted breakbeats and slow 4/4 doof with layered and lush synthetic chords, suggesting something akin to a long scuba dive in the waters of an alien world. Hedberg and Ringstrom construct their tracks with great care, blending ambient trance, beatless ambient, electro and Euro ambient-techno elements with patches of static, garbled radio transmissions and disembodied voice bytes. The collision of genre patterns often works brilliantly.

The melancholic "MOS 6581" from Hydroponic Garden, for example, summons the exquisitely-layered liquid harmonies of Tangerine Dream but confounds expectations with its brittle, crunchy trip-hop drum break. These albums are wonderfully deep and immersive, still dreamy even amid the dark, urgent intensity of tracks like "Proton/Electron" from World Of Sleepers (2006) with its Roland 303 acid-house snarls and massive bottom end. World Of Sleepers is positively storming at times and the album is particularly well suited to cranking up the volume. Interloper (2010) is noticeably less dark than the other two, with the shimmering "Frog" being perhaps the most luminous, openly loving piece of music they've done.

Post-Interloper, the band has taken two detours into beatless ambience. VLA (2011) is a single 60 minute track that's rather too minimal to work as anything other than background wallpaper, but Twenty Three (2011) is a stunner. Tracks like "Terpene" and "Somewhere In Russia" offer some of the most cosmic, richly harmonic float music since the late 70's/early 80's heyday of Californian new age. CBL's sound design remains immaculate and its a revelation to hear the duo apply their craft to eight beatless, drone-based compositions. Twenty Three is something of an exception to the classic CBL sound but an absolutely essential one.

Also essential is the solo album Comfortable Void (2012) from Daniel Segerstad, recording as Sync24.  The music has his band's same sense of mystery but is a little more personal and idiosyncratic. "Nanites" is a quite indefinable blend of slow breaks, electric piano sounds and a looped choral sample; pretty yet with a slightly sinister edge. "Sequor" spreads a slow, hypnotic arpeggio from acoustic guitar over a droning bass progression and hints of field recordings. "Something Something" and "Oomph" are probably the most CBL-sounding tracks; layers of bubbling machine bleeps and 303 acid lines beneath soaring, celestial melodies powered by muscular slowbeats. Comfortable Void is superb, up there with anything by CBL and one of the best Ultimae releases of all.

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