As an exercise in atmosphere The Spectral Ships (1998) is exceptional...the nine tracks are all named after ghost ships of nautical folklore which would appear on the horizon at dusk or dawn. It's a work of eerie, lovely abstraction with non-rhythmic pieces that don't begin so much as evolve.
country of origin:
Ambient, environmental, art rock
80's - 10's
- The Eternal Now (1996, Quirkworks)
- The Spectral Ships (1998, Hypnos)
- Etherdome (1999, Hypnos)
- Tales From The Incantina (2001, Indium)
- Disorient (2002, Quirkworks)
- The Reality Temples (2004, Spiralight)
Reviewed by Mike G
Richard Bone has long been a respected name in New York music and arts circles. His entry into the world of instrumental ambient in mid-90's came on the back of an already well-established recording career in a genre you could vaguely call art rock. This included 80's new wave band Shox Lumania, solo releases of vocal synthpop, and soundtracks for a variety of mediums. Synthesisers and electronics were always part of his world, however, and within a few years of abandoning vocals he was producing some striking ambient music.
These six albums represent highpoints in the various ambient sub-genres Bone has explored over the years. With a discography numbering some 30 original albums to date, there's plenty more to explore if you want to dig deeper.
The Eternal Now (1996) is his first classic in the genre. It's flowing, multi-layered electronica, the majority being quite structured and active without actual percussive grooves. The clean digital sounds, voice bytes and location samples contrast nicely in places with wobbly keyboards which have a charming retro warmth about them, not unlike the 70's pop electronica of Cluster or Brian Eno. Not that Bone is paying tribute; this beguiling and slightly strange music is the work of an original voice. The album's final third heads in a deeper ambient direction with shadowy drones and luminous washes, prefacing a sound he would explore further in the coming years.
As an exercise in atmosphere The Spectral Ships (1996) is exceptional, the first of several recordings Bone has done for iconic ambient label Hypnos. The nine tracks are all named after ghost ships of nautical folklore which would appear on the horizon at dusk or dawn. It's a work of eerie, lovely abstraction with non-rhythmic pieces that don't begin so much as evolve. A tentative piano melody appears out of a bed of droning synth chords and then vanishes. Electronic winds circle and envelop you. Sonar-like beeps guide you though a foggy landscape. Occasional voice samples are used to striking effect, notably on "The Serpentine Arcade" in which a staid British voice tells us that "the blessed in heaven will often walk to the battlements and look down and delight in the justice of God being properly carried out in hell".
Bone's other Hypnos release Etherdome (1999) is the slightly less dark cousin of The Spectral Ships. It's melodic ideas are more direct at times while still hovering in that same enveloping atmospheric fog. On this album Bone attempts a portrayal of various mind-states between consciousness and unconsciousness and succeeds brilliantly. It's deep listening in the best sense of the word. Tales From The Incantina (2001) almost completely jettisons the darkness of Bone's late 90's Hypnos works; it positively glows. The fragile, melodic, luminous pieces are infused with a wonderful Zen-like calm even though Mayan civilization and myth are the cultural sources of inspiration.
Bone's instrumental repertoire also includes some strongly rhythmic slow-to-midtempo albums. At least two of them fine examples of electronically-produced fusion music. The lovely Disorient (2002) sidesteps world music clichés with its sly humour and sheer quirkiness; check the ringing gamelan drums backed with odd choral sounds, or the Arabic strings soaring over a tight electro-funk groove. The Reality Temples (2004) takes a similar approach to its disparate sources - India, Morocco, baroque music, soft jazz, trippy reversed tape sounds ala The Beatles and other 60's psy-pop. Less striking at first than Disorient, the album reveals considerable charms with some time and patience.