Ezekiel Honig's Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band is a symphony transmitted from the bottom of the sea. Cold and murky, it's warmed by sudden currents and shifts of sediment from the ocean bed, kicking up brief flickers of light and sound that you notice whether or not you catch the disturbances that created them. Just listen to the way "Past Tense Kitchen Movement" drifts without any heed to time, cloaking the listener in its cozy drowse before clanging him back to sense: a clatter of rusty bars ringing out into this buried infinitude, bubbles and drones issuing from the first tremor that set everything else in motion.
These images are mine though. Ezekiel Honig has his own. They provide the title for his fantastic new album and first for his own Anticipate label, Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band. Described as a work based on a once-dissolved band that's been pieced back together, the album sways between moments of studious musique concrète and shutter-lit urban ambience to pretty lively field recordings of busy public spaces, which lend the album the cheer of soft chatter. Honig uses manipulated guitar, horns, piano and plenty of found sound elements to construct a delicate atmosphere that, for all of its quiet, seems in steady flux.
Honig grounds his compositions in beats that are stockier than they appear from the top, without simply easing them into the steady, Gassy 4/4 throb. His rhythms are tactile and born of natural sources, from sparse ticks to muscular wooden bangs. "Broken Marching Band," for example, feels downright dubby in comparison to most electro-acoustic backdrops, its rhythms like a fat man out of breath aside what might be warbling horns and clips of children. Free of original sources, the recordings give Honig's composition an effervescence belied by its stern percussion.
But perhaps "A Brief Visual Pattern" gets at the dissolute element of Honig's title best. Resonant piano notes and pulses of muted noise spread into clicky stutter beats as shadow objects and desktop things fall to the floor in the background. "Material Instrument 1" is wistful, its re-pitched guitars cushioning bell-tones that are like coins dropped in a jar, muted but melodic. Partner "Material Instrument 2" plays up a sneaky friction between Honig's samples from a crowded room and metallic scraping. Honig unveils its fragile center just as this disorientation threatens to tip you over. It's an anthill symphony, one of small autumnal noise that illustrates his talent for giving the surface-pretty astounding nuance. In a creation like Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band which relies on such elusive drifts for locomotion, Honig's sure-handed subtlety is marked enough for declarative moments on my part: there hasn't been a better "ambient" album this year. - Resident Advisor
Ezekiel Honig's latest album is a gloriously captivating excursion through deep rhythmic structures, cataclysmic audio sequences and soft, melodic vibrations. Though these descriptors might seem ambiguous, perhaps even contradictory, Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band truly embraces them all. This release is a follow up to his 2006 effort Scattered Practices, and in that time Honig has continued to develop a distinct voice in his compositions.
The subterranean hum of 'Broken Marching Band' sets the tone for the rest of the piece, a gentle thud in and out providing the driving force behind the track. Influences are scattered here; there's the measured beats borrowed from more minimal tech sounds, and there's the diffused found sounds that are more characteristic of ambient experimental works. All in all, their fusion works due to Honig's understated production. It's the sort of delicate touch that brings names like Jan Jelinek and Max Richter to mind, in terms of how each track is carefully structured in relation to the album as a whole.
Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band is also, in a sense, a reflection upon the development of Honig's Anticipate label. 'Displacement' is the most straightforward in its connection to this theme, a gentle swathe of piano sitting astride an astringent hiss that keeps building, adding layer on layer to the sound but never settling or climaxing. No other word but 'hypnotic' can come to mind when attempting to describe the sensation matched to tracks like 'Porchside Economics'. There is a wealth of beauty invested in this album, and the payoff is incredibly rewarding. Superlatives they may be, but for all this praise, nothing can come close to describing just how amazing this release really is. - Cyclic Defrost
Ezekiel Honig's second full-length release on his own Anticipate imprint is more confident, accomplished, and, best of all, darker and sadder than 2003's melancholy ambient techno dub Technology is Lonely. Honig sets the mood just right on the monochromatic "Porchside Prologue," then bounces into a murky shuffle on both "Broken Marching Band" and "A Brief Visual Pattern." On each track, he uses field recordings and studio effects, a progression of ascending synth chords and a surprisingly robust bassline to create strangely solemn narratives that leave you believing - like in a great film by Hitchcock or Lynch - that there are fewer things more compelling than mysteries contained in the human heart. - XLR8R
New Yorker Ezekel Honig's ambient music does what the genre promises but often fails to deliver: through careful arrangement of and attention to sonorous material, it creates an environment that's quietly seductive and almost supine. Its attention to texture is finely detailed, but it's not showy about its exacting nature. Rather, on Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band, Honig proceeds as though he's tip-toeing through rooms, across floorboards, carefully collecting and placing sonic objects and arranging them into new, vaguely odd formations. It's music for the hypnagogic state, existing somewhere between wake and dream, and like the best ambient, it functions to tint the air and yields rewards upon close attention.
Part of the evocative power of Honig's music is down to his use of field recordings. His approach is much subtler than many, as he generally doesn't use them to build narratives; rather, they're placed sensitively, threaded through muted, blocky rhythms (that remind a little of an updated version of the Young Marble Giants' super-minimalist drum machine), and tangled with pads, chords, and almost-melodies that are often muffled or muted. The field recordings have a touch of the objet trouvé about them, as Honig creates art from found sounds here. But he also wrings these field recordings for their emotional qualities -- the muted rustle of a passing train, or the restful patter of rain on tin, are rendered rich with pathos through their careful juxtaposition with Honig's exercises in melancholy.
But the overarching mood of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band is not one of overt sadness or mournfulness, even though it often progresses at a stately, almost funereal pace. Rather, Honig aims for something slightly more ambivalent. At its most, as on "Porchside Economics" or "Past Tense Kitchen Movement," Surfaces is wistful, nostalgic, but nostalgic for an undefined time, as though Honig's memories are fleeting and he's trying to memorialise them through sound. This reminds me of several predecessors, from Klimek, whose stuttering, shaky Pop Ambient studies inhabit a similar state of suspension, through Brian Eno's On Land and the instrumental interludes of Another Green World; maybe there's also a touch of the ghostly Other that inhabits Boards Of Canada, though stripped of the sickly-sweet childishness. Some of the guitar interludes hang notes in the air much like Americana figures Steven R. Smith or Scott Tuma, too. But Honig's onto his own thing here -- ambience that cocoons you, slow - freezes you in shades of gray. - Littlewhiteearbuds
Listeners who've monitored the evolution of Ezekiel Honig's music over the past half-decade will know that it has paralleled to some degree the evolution of the two labels he helms. If one were to characterize Microcosm as "found-sound minimal techno" (as crudely reductionist as that might sound), his last full-length, 2006's Scattered Practices, certainly exemplifies that aesthetic, as much if not more than the label's other releases. During the past two years, the New York-based producer's energies have been spent establishing Anticipate's "experimental electro-acoustic" identity with releases by Mark Templeton, Morgan Packard, Sawako, Klimek, and Nicola Ratti, and only now has seen fit to issue his Scattered Practices follow-up, Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band, on the label. In truth, the new album accomplishes two key moves in one fell swoop: it retains clear connections to the style developed in his past output and takes the next, natural step forward in his highly personalized approach. Honig builds his sound world by digitally manipulating sounds sampled from his home environment as well as those taken from the immediate outdoors (Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band 's rich array includes sounds recorded at parties, subway stations, and other places), and consequently the music, no matter how abstracted it becomes, exudes an intimate character. That quality is in turn bolstered by the understated, even placid mood that pervades much of the album's forty-five minutes.
Briefly setting the stage, rippling noises course through "Porchside Prologue" before "Broken Marching Band" unites the two realms of Honig's music: a softly pulsating beat pattern similar to the kind heard in his past work coupled with a more overt and dominant infusion of field elements (voices, environmental sounds) than has been heard before in his material. Muffled horn-like tones call to mind Ernie Mills' trombone playing on Early Morning Migration's "White On White" while Mark Templeton's guitar sounds, fashioned into bleating cries and moans, surface in "Porchside Economics." Interestingly, the title of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band's "Seaside Pastures Part 2" plus its aquatic-ambient meld of dockside clatter and streaming tones evokes the tranquil style of Early Morning Migration, Honig's collaborative project with Packard (of which much the same could be said for "Material Instrument 1").
Honig's no virtuoso in the traditional sense; his proficiency on any given instrument is limited. But his music isn't founded on virtuosic playing. It's composed, or perhaps it would be better to say constructed from a broad array of elements and arranged with immense sensitivity to the make-up of a given piece's vertical and horizontal structures. "A Brief Visual Pattern" neatly instantiates the idea when clattering accents, field noises, and blurred snapshots of piano sprinkles mingle over a skeletal pulse, with a recurring handclap the most prominent rhythm element. On the other hand, by dispensing with beat structures altogether and shifting the focus solely to the layered interplay of acoustic (piano) and sampled sounds, "Displacement" emphasizes the more pronounced electro-acoustic focus of the new recording, something the heavily-textured ambient setting "Epilogue" also illustrates. Take the electro-acoustic balance struck so effectively on Early Morning Migration and sonically transplant it from the remote, depopulated outdoors to the bustling streets of mid-town Manhattan and you've got a fairly accurate impression of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band's sound. - Textura
It's actually something of a surprise that Ezekiel Honig hasn't released something on Anticipate sooner than this, but Surfaces Of A Broken Marching Band does in fact mark the debut outing for the producer on this, the label he runs. Arriving as a follow-up to 2006's Scattered Practices, released on Microcosm Music, this album is conceived as the sound of a band that's been dismantled and put back together again in a different shape, with the smaller, incidental background noises taking up the foreground while the soft patter of dissolved beats seems to drift off into the middle distance. Honig's attention to detail is just staggering over the course of 'Porchside Economics', seemingly filling up acres of space with droves of delicate sonic minutiae all moving around in a carefully choreographed pattern. This is ambient music that brings together the precision engineering of a Biosphere record with the scale and emotional resonance of a Stars Of The Lid release. Elsewhere, 'Displacement' swells with vaporous drones and shuffled piano chords while 'Material Instrument 2' conjures an incredibly vivid sense of location thanks to some lively field recordings, all leant an extra gravitas by an evocative and impressionistic use of digital manipulation and submerged tones. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what makes Surfaces Of A Broken Marching Band such a freakishly good ambient record, but its success must be at least partly attributable to the immersive depth of Honig's ornate production style. Brilliant, and the sort of record you could recommend to just about anyone with an interest in electronic music... - Boomkat
These days it can rather difficult to dig out really good new electronic music. Sure there's plenty of throbbing techno coming out of Berlin and the noise set are doing their bit to re-engage fans of Tangerine Dream et al, but the sort of electronica that filled the shelves at the turn of the century is almost nowhere to be seen. Maybe this is a good thing, because it makes it all the more special to hear this fabulous record from New Yorker Ezekiel Honig, an artist who understands how to make truly great electronic music. Absent is the tiresome trickery of the Warp-endorsed old guard and we are instead treated to a selection of impeccably crafted tracks, clever yet unpretentious and warm without ever being sugary. This isn't Zeke's first record, but it is without a doubt his most complete as he submerges the rhythmic elements ever deeper into the mix, allowing the gorgeous progressions and thoughtful field recordings to take center stage. "Field recordings and ambience," I already know what you're thinking but Zeke's music is far from cliched, and anything but 'another' drone record. His are short, concise and studied pieces, their structure at times owing more to pop music than Pop Ambient and Zeke's choice of sounds is nothing short of masterful. Just listen to the album's highlight "Broken Marching Band" with its effortless 4/4 throb, unusual environmental sound and simply heart-stopping harmonies. Almost Rhodes-like in its warm tone the synthesizer drifts and falls across the subtle clatter of some sort of sampled percussion (is it a clock ticking? A coin rattling? Who knows) and the track unfolds delicately over a brief (in today's terms) five minutes. There are those out there who are convinced that electronic music is a lifeless, robotic affair without anything like a semblance of soul or verve, but Zeke's music is the antidote to this. Organic is a word that has been overused, but these tracks teem with life, and as each track drifts into the next there's never a sense that the human element has been disengaged from the zeroes and ones. A hearty recommendation. - Other Music