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William Doyle
Slowly Arranged Will Ainsley , October 6th, 2022 07:30

A box set of ambient experiments by the artist fka East India Youth proves as enchanting as Mickey's brooms for Will Ainsley

William Doyle’s expansive new box set, Slowly Arranged, is an exercise in perspective. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a project gathered and made over some three years, throughout the course of listening to this mammoth collection one senses Doyle’s changing focus in each project’s wax and wane. Comprising three separate exercises – Dream Derealised, Lightnesses, and Near Future Residences – the music is, to boil it down to its thinnest broth, ambient music, but viewed variously through different lenses. Towering, impenetrable walls of shimmering synth pads bookend crackling noise carpets, weirdo vocal processing experiments poke through scattered, abstract musique concrète, and skeletal sketches contrast dense, compacted soundscapes.

One of music writing’s cardinal sins is to describe something in a strictly linear fashion, but I think in this case it might be worth indulging in. The progression, the narrative arc if you like, of Slowly Arranged moves from past, to present, to future, from inwards to outwards, from diffusion to consolidation. Composed in 2016 as a way of dealing with mental health issues, Dream Derealised - as its impressionistic rubric might suggest - deals in loose, almost freeform jams. These are often solely based around one particular sound; ‘lo-fi’ is identified as an influence, and I don’t think that’s your classic press release hyperbole talking. Like a DIY musician constructing a song with whatever’s lying around, Doyle riffs on one particular vocal effect on ‘Derealisation LKX’ or, on ‘Field Open Wide’, enjoys messing with short-circuiting synth arpeggios redolent of the guitar or mandolin preset on old 1980s Yamaha and Casiotone keyboards - the preserve of many a bedroom pop project. Simply because of its neutered, sourceless sonics, one doesn’t always associate ambient music with expediency or aimlessness, but Doyle’s approach conveys the way ambient music can be created using improvisatory methods, via this slightly faded, even nostalgic assortment.

Lightnesses is a far cry from Dream Derealised, taking the form of four, immediate, slab-like ambient pieces, almost exactly thirty minutes each. The approach here seems to be, ‘take ‘em or leave ‘em’. Though, like Dream Derealised, the pieces are rooted around one particular sound - the frictionless chimes in ‘History Of Change’, the clammy drones in ‘Number of Harmony’ -, on Lightnesses these sonic themes are expanded on, carried through, stress tested, viewed from different angles. The pick of these four, and perhaps the pick of the entire box set, is ‘Winter of Fullness’. Here glassy drones seem to bluster and squall, forming a towering sonic rock face reminiscent of The Wall in Game of Thrones - huge, icy, impassable, stretching 150 leagues in each direction. ‘Winter of Fullness’ is like one of those gorgeous hunks of sound that Rafael Anton Irisarri pulls off so well. It’s just there.

If Dream Derealised and Lightnesses are respectively of the then and now, Near Future Residence is a body of work that not only sounds from the future (with those uncanny, alien spaces) but for the future. Although albums and songs made for some imagined complementary project (an opera, say, or a film) can be tiresome and Spinal Tap ‘Stone’enge’-y, Doyle roots Near Future Residence in “an imagined place based on real ideas; the soundtrack for an ecologically sustainable housing development somewhere in a not-too-distant future Britain.” I mean, yeah, sign me up now. The tactile sound design here is a highpoint of Slowly Arranged, including the clicking, clacking macaroni of electronic plinks and plonks on ‘Municipal Harmonics’, and how we briefly surface for a breath of air on ‘Next Door's Granular Band Practice’ with IRL sounds of keys being picked up, the wind in the trees, and soft footsteps on (presumably sustainably tarmac’d, pothole-free, government funded, affordable housing adjacent) pavement.

Near Future Residences was reportedly “composed in entirely generative ways using samples… collected and developed throughout 2018.” Perhaps this idea of ‘generative’ is the key that unlocks the entire project. Doyle seems perpetually engaged in sonic composting, of chucking bits and pieces on the pile with a vague view of using them later. Sounds are constantly being recycled, upcycled, chewed up and spat out the other side on Dream Derealised, and even Lightnesses’ giant four tracks evoke mighty generators in perpetual motion, harnessing those granular, fractal loops that appear to whirr of their own accord. Here, Doyle consciously applies different perspectives to the possibilities of creating music, hewing experiences both physical and mental into wonderful new things.