Detroit’s Ian Kennedy is not this Ian Kennedy, let’s get that and any other jokes about K/BB rate or FIP/xFIP out of the way. This Ian Kennedy records as Attenuated, the nom de guerre of his solo synth project, whose sole purpose is to concoct ambient/drone music for hopeful hearts. It’s easy to immediately lob adjectives at ambient synth music – aptly, perhaps, or in this case erroneously – like clinical, cold, or monotonous, but Attenuated’s Deep Opacity, a Type II 76-minute cassette released on Michigan tape-only label Space Slave in an edition of 100 (!), aims to obliterate the notion perpetuated by the genre’s more vacant and boring practitioners that drone is made up of background-only releases. Let’s get it out of the run-on sentence – Deep Opacity should be paid attention to deeply, to borrow its own term.
Let’s get right into it, because “Quartz” does, and it’s nothing short of amazing. The track features essentially everything I long for in a lengthy minimal drone/ambient piece, unfolding with deliberate grandiosity and clear delineation of its parts and dynamics. It opens on horn- and reedlike synth blasts, sounding like an orchestra tuning up before a performance (or the insanely beautiful laser feedback chords of Unwound’s “We Invent You” that opens Leaves Turn Inside You – completely different genre, I know, but no less effective). The track rests on an organ chord for a bit before dropping out completely around the five-minute mark, but only for a second. A brief vocal sample reintroduces and reinvigorates the tone, now strings, synth, harp, and voice, the latter of which re-enters. It’s absolutely magical, a celestial harmony that permeates everything and obscures even the most menial actions – I can’t even tell if I’m spelling stuff correctly as I’m listening to it, I’m kind of relying on my fingers’ muscle memory here … my brain’s in the cosmos. Static and bass, uncertainty, start to flicker around the edges, gradually taking over until it all drops out in favor of a deep galactic ringing. The instruments gradually re-enter, and carry the track pastorially to its eighteen-minute conclusion.
Sigh. I’m hard pressed to find a better experience within the genre in recent memory. This is an absolute standout, a must-hear.
The vocals by Michelle Collett on “Plainsong” lend it an ethereal atmosphere, a haunted, human one. It’s a welcome addition to the mostly instrumental passages, and her wordless voice is an attractive instrument in the mix. “Plainsong,” too, achieves steep crescendos, a quality I find mind-boggling in the ambient field, and the fact that Kennedy is able to achieve the sort of release he does again and again on Deep Opacity is staggering. This is a master of the genre at work, ebbing and flowing tides of stardust and sound to elicit emotional responses where I wouldn’t anticipate them. I expect to react with a mere pleasant calmness as the sound washes over me. I don’t expect to be stirred within the recesses of those expectations.
“Pendulum” is reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s scores, particularly for Upstream Color, but it lasts for almost twenty minutes, and is absolutely a majestic wall of synth sound by its ending. Actually, I kind of want to watch Upstream Color again now. (Good thing it’s going to be part of our next podcast, hint hint!) But I think if Kennedy wants to get into that whole film-scoring thing, the trail Carruth is blazing is a good one to follow. “Technical Individuals” is – am I sounding like a broken record yet? – a lengthy piece beginning with heavy drone, cut by 1980s fantasy synth runs and devolving into wind-chime/found-sound atmospherics, accentuated by ethereal tones, for the track’s second half.
It’s hard to recommend this album enough – it totally jumped out and surprised me, in a way that I’d never expected an ambient tape to do. It’s at once transportative and internal, and highlights the deep understanding that Ian Kennedy has of the genre and his place in it. The album ends, appropriately, with “Dilate,” another beautiful synth piece that surprisingly and abruptly ends with about ten seconds of static feedback, building until it’s suddenly silenced. It’s perhaps a nod that we can expect something entirely different from Attenuated next time out, or maybe it’s just a cinematic ode that bigger things are beyond the ending. I can only imagine great things are ahead for this composer and sound sculptor. Now, let’s get him a movie gig.
PS – there’s a free download link on the bandcamp page if you want to check it out – scroll down to where it says DOWNLOAD. But it’s worth the $8.00 for the actual artifact.
RIYL: Sean McCann, Calypso Borealis, Brian Eno, Shane Carruth