Icebreaker - Distant Early Warning

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Aesthetics
Catalog Number: ASTO9CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 47:14:00

I have to admit that on my first listen, I didn' t like this very much. And, there are parts I still don't after a half dozen or so listens. Repetition and loops are a hallmark of ambient music, and Icebreaker use them to sometimes great effect, and sometimes not. Unfortunately, there are drones where the length that the note is sustained stays static far too long, with no variance in pitch or frequency. At first, I found the higher pitched tone, representing that station and the radar signals that it receives, a bit too high pitched for my ears, and too up in the mix. That assessment hasn't changed. However, the opening track, "Melody For NATO," starts off nicely enough, with a sparkling keyboard piece, evoking images of sunlight on hard packed iced. Yet, the keyboard washes drone on too long on a very odd and unattractive note. Here too is a sharp, rough sounding percussion - kind of like something being scraped against stucco, actually.

In "Co-prosperity Sphere," for example, the peeping keyboard notes overshadow all but the percussion. The keys and sonicscapes are heard but barely register. However, it's what's under the surface that is more interesting than what's on the surface.

Icebreaker are a two piece consisting of Alexander Perls and Simon Break. I was intriqued by the concept, as this music was composed as a "tour of a militarized border, where a radar defense system waits in the silence of the artic." Well, they've captured the frigitity of the region, that's for sure. The press release goes on to state: Distant Early Warning is program music (a concept album) that they have called 'music for an accidental apocalyspe.'" Again, the music certainly fits that scenario - it's chaotic sounding, harsh, cold, and distant.

Perhaps I was expecting ambient on the order of Robert Rich or Steve Roach, or even Tangerine Dream, who seem to have no end of soundtrack work. But this is more discordant, though those droning notes certainly evoke isolation ... and despair, depression ... In that, it's very effective, and I have to credit them for that. It really is as advertised.

"The Artic Night" consists of deep, dark, vibrating tones that you can feel as well as hear. These are less sonic washes and more sonic sludge, sludge in that they modulate very slowly, allowing the sustain to provide the variation - almost a pulsing effect. Only briefly does the pitch change, but then rarely moving more up more than an octave. It blends almost seemlessly into the next track, "Reconnaissance Flight," which is even starker. It is extremely sparse, beginning with the lower octave keys being played in a very monotone like manner, giving this track a very dark feel. Towards the end of the track, maybe the latter third, the same note is repeated over and over, percussively, as the rate of decay is slowly decreased. What these tones will make you think of, as the track ends, is continuous cannon fire in slow motion. The NATOarts press release describes it as "chilling silence." Not really, but it gives you the sense of chilling silence - sort of in a cinematic way; the scene is desolate, devoid of life, silent, leaving the incidental score to enhance the sensation.

There are some interesting keyboard trills underlying parts of "Distant Early Warning System" (track 5), and the overlying keyboards are tolerable, but...

"Listening Station" is just that - the sounds of equipment squelching and sounding off ... soon joined by synths (more drones), some keyboarded notes, and percussion.

For the mood and atmosphere it's trying to create, it does that well. It's quite depressing though, and probably won't be something one will listen to often. Visuals would probably enhance the experience, and in fact, early next year both Icebreaker and NATOarts will present an exhibition of sound and installation art in New York.

Overall, this is more experimental than ambient; for those, like me, used to the sonic textures of those named above, this will come in stark contrast. It won't immediately grab you, but after a few listens, it becomes intriguing.

NATOarts is "a promotional organization which accepts submissions from artists dealing with issues of international security and stability."

[Photo (c) and courtesy Asthethics]

Melody For NATO (5:10) / Co-Prosperity Sphere (5:21) / The Arctic Night (3:36) / Reconnaissance Flight (8:11) / Distant Early Warning System (6:45) / Supply Lines (6:32) / The Track North (3:05) / Listening Station (8:34)

Alexander Perls and Simon Break - programming
Micha Patri and Matthew Sawyer - drums

Distant Early Warning (1999)

Genre: Ambient

Origin US

Added: November 8th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1915
Language: english


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