Gregg Kowalsky – Tape Chants


Gregg Kowalsky – Tape Chants


Proof, if proof were needed, than less can be more. Part of a series of records by Kowalsky, the list of ‘instruments’ used on the album should give you a decent idea of what you’re going to get: sinewave oscillators, gong, mixer feedback, bass amp, bow, water and glass. It’s not Beyonce but it is a brilliant album of ambient drones. I am chary of using the word ambient because of the misuses it has been put to, particularly the idea that it describes music that is somehow ‘inessential’. Tape Chants is anything but inessential.


The bulk of the album comes with track two (Chants I – IV). When drones are done this well they are all-consuming epics of sound. Yes, they lack tunes, beats and the rudiments of what makes up music: instead they subsume you in a world of pure sound. The easiest way I can think of describing it is by likening the music to looking at a Yves Klein KIB canvas. These are Klein’s series of pure blue paintings. On first glance that’s all they are: blue paint. But the longer you look at them the more you see. After a while different shades appear, the edges appear to glow a different colour and the painting takes one a strange brilliance.


Drones can similarly sound banal on first listen, but as you sink into them all sorts of different sounds emerge. Like accustoming yourself to a dark room, what appears to be darkness on walking in can end up revealing all manner of objects and shapes. On Chants I - IV we eventually get a basic, background beat after about ten minutes: it’s by far the least interesting thing about the track. At some point before the final minutes of the twenty-one minute track the beat disappears again. That’s all that happens and yet it is an entirely fascinating twenty minutes. Chants VI – VII are somewhat harsher and more varied than the warm and enveloping drone of I – IV. A couple of the later chants are gone in little over a minute.


It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, obviously. For fans of Stars of the Lid it takes their restrained and tasteful world of tune-drones and drops the tunes. For fans of William Basinski it has the textures but not the decay. For fans of Sunn O))) it has ambience without the metal. I’d advise anyone who likes the above, or anyone who doesn’t, to give Tape Chants a try.


Words: Chris Dawson