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Todd Anderson-Kunert
Conjectures Joseph Burnett , October 2nd, 2019 08:58

Amongst the bucketloads of ambient records currently on Bandcamp, Todd Anderson-Kunert's Conjectures stands out, finds Joseph Burnett

I’m not a betting person but if I was, I’d be willing to wager that a large proportion of the albums currently on Bandcamp are ambient records. Not being a composer myself, I don’t want to suggest that this is because ambient is an easy style of music to produce – far from it – but the bedroom music-making software programmes available to most of us perhaps lend themselves most readily to the slow, steady drones of ambient music. Which is a roundabout way of saying that when it comes to ambient music, sorting the wheat from the chaff can be a task – simply because there’s so darn much of the stuff.

Luckily, that’s why we have labels like Lawrence English’s Room40 to guide us and the Australian stable has long been a reliable repository for the very best in ambient composition and creativity. But even on so illustrious a roster, Australian composer Todd Anderson-Kunert’s Conjectures stands apart. And I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful, but it’s because it’s such a – for want of a better word – hesitant album.

I honestly mean that as a good thing. Anderson-Kunert himself says that he feels he doesn’t “know much”, that he’s “trying to engage with the world while simultaneously trying to understand it” and this Socratic approach seems to extend to how he made Conjectures. Granted a residency at the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio, Anderson-Kunert forwent the temptation to tinker with their sizeable roster of synthesizers and electronic devices and homed in on their super-rare Moog System 55 and explored his lack of knowledge of the instrument.

As a result of only working with the one synthesizer, Conjectures is a very stripped-down album that more often than not feels like a work of improvisation more than composition. Tones surge and recede, sometimes ephemeral and almost intangible, other times dense and foreboding. Yet even when the drones Anderson-Kunert coaxes out of the Moog are at their heaviest, there’s a fragility to them, a sense that at any moment they could recede into the ether.

Melodies are not really a factor on either of the two 15-minute pieces that make up the album, with the composer’s focus being solely on the tones he produces. At times this produces moments of almost frustrating abstraction, such as when he farts out a few solitary notes of sub-bass towards the latter stages of ‘I See What You Mean’. But at others, the unrelenting, shimmering notes are captivating. It’s no wonder Anderson-Kunert cites Éliane Radigue as an influence.

Another signpost for drone lovers would be the mysterious and enigmatic Eleh and fans of the latter’s Floating Frequencies / Intuitive Synthesis series will get one hell of a kick out of Conjectures. But for my money it’s Anderson-Kunert’s tentative approach that is the most fascinating. Even the track titles – ‘I See What You Mean’ and ‘It Feels Right’ – reflect a man who is considering his options and figuring out where he wants to go with his music.

It’s a refreshing angle to let the listener in on and while many will find Conjectures to be coldly opaque – and certainly a long way from the vast majority of ambient drone albums out there – it never ceases to be interesting, even when Anderson-Kunert’s exploratory technique sends him down a blind alley. Sometimes it’s all about the journey.

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