For some, an improvisational approach to minimal techno seems like an oxymoron. How can something so seemingly "programmed" come off as spontaneous, or even organic? Yet on this fantastic CD/DVD package, Anticipate Recordings' Morgan Packard, a collaborator of Ezekiel Honig, shows an ingenious flair for breathing life into the inanimate, as he folds cello, saxophone, and accordion into a weightless digital landscape of techno, breakbeat, and experimental micro-sounds. Not only is the music unusually lively, but it's also uncommonly sensorial, summoning images that sit behindyour eyes. Good thing Packard shares a close collaboration with media artist and designer Joshue Ott, whose homemade superDraw software - including a tablet interface for real-time drawing - bends lines and movements harmoniously with Packard's textural meandering. Their relationship is rooted in years of close improvisation, but the quality and connectedness of image and sound belie the single-take necessity of entire pieces, turning "unsimulatable" events into structures that seem all but inevitable.
I don't even know where to begin with this CD as it's just too damn good! Ezekiel Honig's Anticipate label always promised to be something special and so far we've been treated to the simply marvellous Mark Templeton CD and now this, an undeniably brilliant piece of work. Morgan Packard's collaborations with Honig have always been fascinating, but this full album has surpassed my expectations entirely. A fusion of minimal Techno, Dub, contemporary textural work and organic / electronic music that is so sublime, so intricately woven that to dissect it is to do it a disservice. Each track is formed with love, care and attention to detail and using ideas such as ultra-deep 4/4 Tech matched up with an accordion providing the chord stabs rather than the more standard metallic sound is simply inspired. And it's this sort of experimentation that keeps it leagues ahead of the pack. From beatless ambience to funky Microcosm-esque grooves you'll find this to be an exquisite and utterly compelling listen. It's in my list of albums for the year, no question, and it comes with the highest possible recommendation. Brilliant. - Smallfish
Packard's machines process traditions by bringing them into a tense proximity with each other, broadening their dynamics, and forging a dense DNA patchwork, which is played with a casual virtuosity. Many tracks display a strident adherence to the formal structures of breakbeat-oriented microsound and ambient music, letting them unfold like two broad lengths of ribbon. In so doing, Packard teases out nuances of sound. The title track has a loping house gait which whirls through swathes of synth spread like mist across an open field. Asides from acting as a counterpoint to the incessant beat, this amorphous background opens up a space within which flickering metallic accents are dispersed and organised, giving the piece a more well-rounded ambit.
The rhythmic nature of the work continues on into others such as 'A Place Worth Keeping (Part 1)' and 'Kelp Sway'. Both pieces, though controlled, present an exuberant and aggressive clash of styles, which often thrum with energy as they shake and expand. A static rhythm cuts through the oscillating frequencies and waves of textural abstraction, but is then itself overshadowed by a thickening cloud of gossamer samples, as though the component parts were competing with one another. It's these tiny but hypnotic shifts that summon one's attention. Only when these elements achieve a certain harmony at the expense of the essential duel antagonistic aura that compositions lose their pull. By and large, though, an articulate frenzy predominates, an interplay of sounds that are bold and sensitive in their treatment of space and absolute abstraction.
Included is Unsimulatable, a DVD which stands as the fruit of some two years of collaboration between Packard and visual artist Joshue Ott. The latter utilises a digital tablet and pen on SuperDraw, a program which forms a cycle between the movement of Ott's pen and the lines which follow after it. Similarly, the music on this disc references itself, feeding on incestuous transactions with its own image until a threshold is reached and the swollen, sticky tones shift into erratic, harsh textures and subterranean menace. From this death, the energy of pieces is renewed and reorganized. At just over half an hour, the disc works more with pitch, arpeggio and the exploration of hidden textural sonorities. In its swift transitions and transformations, it is a more than capable counterpart to the first album. - Cyclic Defrost
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Morgan Packard's debut solo album Airships Fill the Sky is how much it defies pigeonholing. Scattered throughout its nine, densely-textured settings are elements of techno, dub, and foundsound-styled sampling, but there's no pronounced allegiance to any single genre. If one had to classify it, dub-techno might be the most accurate label but the designation still seems imperfect. This sophomore release on the New York-based Anticipate imprint also comes with a DVD entitled Unsimulatable, an entirely separate audio-visual collaboration between Packard and media artist Joshue Ott (who created the appealing visuals for Ezekiel Honig's "Concrete and Plastic" video). What helps make this release special is that it's really the first opportunity we've had to appreciate Packard's music on its own, as his last release, 2005's lovely Early Morning Migration, was itself a collaboration with Ezekiel Honig.
Throughout Airships Fill the Sky, Packard's accordion and saxophone playing provides a refreshing acoustic contrast to the album's electronic dimension which is more present implicitly as a means of production. Each song teems with detail, percussive and otherwise, and captivating pieces like "Kelp Sway" can be appreciated as much for their organic flow as their multi-tiered arrangements. The album's distinctive character declares itself at the outset when the accordion's wheeze introduces the loping pulse of "Airships Fill the Sky." Percussive rattles add a foundsound quality, while a gentle stream of pitter-patter and bell accents augments the composition's multi-layered flow. A richly-textured dub-techno style dominates "I Think I...," with loud percussive clatter and beat accents giving it a heavier feel than the opener, while alternating chords assume the lead during the lumbering "Dappled." Beats subside during the lovely, classically-tinged meditation "Mink Hills," which makes it all the easier to savour the sound of Packard's saxophone paired with Jody Redhage's cello. "A Place Worth Keeping (part 1)" flows entrancingly, before evolving into a more ambient-classical style where rippling patterns and shimmering waves suggest the morning calm of the outdoors. In its opening minutes, "Waterbugs" returns Packard to the evocate sound-sculpting approach so effectively realized on Early Morning Migration before it slowly morphs into an overlong exercise in jazzy techno-swing. Packard generally keeps his influences close to the vest but the vibes patterns in the sparkling closer "They Will Rise Forever," - intentionally or not - can't help but recall Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. Each composition yields surprises, and impressive too is the meticulous care with which Packard obviously crafted the collection; Airships Fill the Sky is clearly a project to which he gave himself fully and the attention to detail is evident at every moment.
As mentioned, the forty-minute Unsimulatable DVD production pairs Packard's music with superDraw visuals Joshue Ott generates by inputting sketches of lines into the computer using a digital drawing tablet and pen. Using a protocol called OSC (Open Source Control), the artists' respective programs communicate with one another, allowing the creators to trigger modifications like scene changes and colour adjustments. Throughout the piece, washes of sound translate into patterns of mutating colour. At times, the screen fills with upwardly-flowing verticals and blood red shapes against a teal background; at other moments, one careens rapidly towards the center of a white skeletal vortex. On occasion, Ott creates a distinctive three-dimensional sleight-of-hand where objects project towards the viewer. Not surprisingly, Unsimulatable is best viewed on a large screen, despite the fact that the image clarity suffers slightly in the bigger display and shapes' jagged edges become more visible.
Musically, the piece opens with loud stabs and splashes before settling into a more pleasing digi-dub style. Though much of Airships Fill the Sky isn't repeated, "I Think I..." does re-appear with white streams circulating in tandem to the song's percussive shudders. Compared to disc one, the music on the DVD is more electronic and aggressive (one section even adds hints of post-rock to its smeared patterning) and opts for meandering flow over tightly structured construction. In short, disc two is musically less distinguished compared to the first half's methodically composed material. Certainly the synchronicity between the music and visuals is impressive but Unsimulatable at times feels like an improvised jam by the artists (it should be noted that the programs used in its production demand that the entire piece be recorded live in one take). In effect, the ideal context for Unsimulatable is the concert hall where the visual complement to Packard's playing can serve as a stimulating analogue to the music. Certainly Anticipate should be applauded for ambitiously issuing the release in this elaborate multi-dimensional format. Having said that, the DVD might best be regarded as a bonus supplement to the more satisfying Airships Fill the Sky. - Textura
Earlier this year Anticipate, a new label run by Ezekiel Honig, brought us the curiously titled, but lovely, debut album from Mark Templeton, 'Standing on a Hummingbird.' The inaugural release is followed by the poetically named 'Airships Fill the Sky,' a strangely satisfying album from NY based Morgan Packard. Packard and Honig are of the same New York ilk as Microcosm Music: they explore warm electronic beats, improv and a host of other narrow and fruitful paths. The emphasis is on live performance, but they also make elegant recordings - Honig and Packard?s Microcosm collaboration from last year, for example.
'Airships Fill the Sky' is built on loops, skips and folds of electronics and live instrumentation. Though two of the instruments are among my least favorite: accordion and saxophone, Packard manages to transmute them well enough into structure to sufficiently abrogate the effects.
The album has a heaviness that belies the title. It brings to mind the Tim Hecker of 'Haunt Me' and 'Radio Amor', though the second track is experimental in more of a Delay/agf vein with its mysterious vocal sample. The weight of the music, which comes from the lush chords and textured stabs, is balanced by a delicacy in the structures, and this parity gives the album, overall, the lugubrious grace of an old zeppelin. Its depth and pace can offer solace and rejuvenation on a quiet afternoon.
The album is one half of a package that includes a DVD of material drawn from a live performance with artist Joshua Ott. Ott's smooth abstractions are a good fit with Packard's sound; a nice taster for what must be more impressive live. - Resident Advisor
This is the debut solo release of Morgan Packard, and only the second release for this fine new label in less than a few months, following on from Mark Templeton's superb "Standing on a Hummingbird." It is extremely rare that debut releases AND new labels come up with something quite so exquisitely assembled, but on "Airships Fill The Sky," Anticipate have pulled off something of a coup.
This collection manages to systematically re-invent and reconfigure genres as diverse as breakbeat, ambient electronica, and even techno and house in one beautifully crafted album that effortlessly bristles with creativity and a sharp, canny production aesthetic.
From the outset, Packard introduces such "un-techno" instrumentation as accordion, cellos and even saxophone, and weaves them into an infectious, twitchy vibe that demands closer listening. Subsequent tracks deliver shape-shifting moods and atmospheres, combining Packard's unique instrumental touches with glitchy, compelling beats and angular rhythms.
The sparse elegance of tracks like "A Place Worth Keeping (part 2)" are slices of pure minimal ambience, which quickly evaporates and reforms into the wonderful "Dappled", with it's Basic Channel-like clipped and gated keyboard refrains and pin-sharp rhythmic overlay. "Kelp Sway" follows a similar formulaic approach, but this time the keyboard is a more insistent duo-tonal setup, infused with hiccupy, rhythmic stabs, splashed with woody clicks and shards. "Waterbugs" opens with a translucent wash of digital skipping, laced with swathes of evanescent chords that unfurls into a compulsive, jazzy rhythm-fest filtered through itchy, grainy keyboard stabs once again.
This is a sublime piece of work and is (dare I say it) a near perfect debut that elegantly showcases Packard's jazz and classical origins, and fuses them into something very special indeed.
Also included in the CD package is "Unsimulatable"; an enhanced CD/DVD with the digital visuals of one Joshue Ott, a long time collaborator with Packard, and erstwhile producer of visuals for techno and ambient parties, as well as being a former exhibitor in the prestigious Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria.
Whilst I enjoyed Ott's visuals, I couldn't help but feel that this was a somewhat tokenistic offering that did little to enhance Packard's music in any significant way. His home made software, superDraw is perhaps testament to his programming ability, but the dancing shapes and ribbon-like visuals were rarely any more entertaining than the regulation skins on any popular software music player. This is perhaps indicative of the speed with which audio-visual interfaces are developing, and given that Ott also rendered the beautifully spectacular and intricately organic images for the album?s cover, I feel that he has a long and distinguished career ahead of him, if only he had animated THOSE images for the DVD.
All in all, I would say this could possibly emerge as one of the most influential crossover CD's of the year, and is a rare gem of a release?are you knocking on the door of your CD store yet? Essential. - White Line