Post-classical composer Steve Gibbs's debut solo EP, Adrift, is an ethereal piece of work which gorgeously brings together piano and strings with ambient electronic textures. Released in 2014, this solemn five-track EP sounds positively cinematic. It is not difficult to understand why Gibbs' work has been used in movies and ad campaigns. The general lack of prominent melody throughout the album makes it perfect as soundtrack music as well as, of course, being ideal listening material when in a reflective and open mood. The opening track 'Adrift' begins with an ambient soundscape that is astral and recalls Brian Eno's Apollo in its expansiveness. The sounds of reversed guitars steadily filter into the mix. Soon there enters the muffled sound of piano chords which light up this tapestry of sound. We are certainly 'adrift' now: there is a sense of hanging in the ether to this track which sets the atmosphere for the rest of the EP. This sense of intedeterminacy is not a troubling one, but a feeling of liberation from constraints, a cool and calm lack of focus which is perfect for this sombre time of year. Softly dancing, arpeggio-like treble piano figurations come in out of this abstraction and are given warmth and depth by the prominent, swelling baseline.
“And then, the mountains moved” – an EP that captivates and uplifts with a refreshingly harmonious bellow; one that threatens to tear the world away and leave you lost in contemplation. With an ethereal tranquility that appears to pulsate in time with the landscape it claims to represent, natural, classical and contemporary inspiration becomes apparent, with juxtaposing genres complimenting each other magnificently. James Joshua Otto achieves high levels of quality through his expression of skill; a great sense of depth and drama become immediately apparent and set the precedent from the opening of the first track “One step enough” – a gentle introduction which foreshadows the excellence yet to be discovered.
Skilled craftsmanship opens “Revelation”, the persistence of the piano bringing the piece to life and slowly and artistically ending it – a finite constant; a singularly that accompanies each and every device it their role before seeing to its own glorious end. The EP does not rush for the next piece, and it is easy to imagine the artist savouring the creation of the music, and the unhurried progression through to “Water & Spirit” audibly transcribes a serene atmosphere. Sporadic yet candescent chimes evolve slowly at first, accompanied by the undeviating thrum of light percussion that mirrors an increasingly furious raincloud. This ‘mise en scène’ of the mind is fuelled by this pathetic fallacy created with the almost onomatopoeic noise, with mind and music corroborating to create an exceptional sensory experience.
Although the artistic range is unprecedented, it is perhaps a shame that a greater inclusion of sounds is not present; the EP is not lacking, but the horizons could possibly be greater challenged with the introduction of more instruments adding to the harmony.
As your mind is encompassed and engulfed by the plethora of sound, you find that the tracks quickly pass by as you lie immersed in newly-provoked thoughts. Gradually, much as a river flows to the sea, “What is whispered in your ear, proclaim it from the rooftops” comes to an end, and as it leaves, as the last trace of life awakens its successor, a new vibrancy begins. The EP reaches its’ crescendo with the title piece, and the full might of the mountains are released in an awesome display of composition genius; the rhythmic entrancement of the electronic buzz, which grows and swells from subtle beginnings, blending and intertwining masterfully with sublime classical elements, which seem to be somehow more furtive in demeanour and yet equally as active and engaging. The strength of the confident strings bring a hearty confrontation to the listener, before they are swept away and the piece erupts into tumultuous beauty with every note; each sequence of chords striking an understated yet singularly powerful tone that resonates with the listener on an almost primordial level.
The cyclical nature of the album, in that no track flows directly into another, creates a seasonality that shifts the mood in a subtle yet effective manner. The album steals away one to a place of negation, both meditative and frighteningly invigorating, simultaneously. With an excellent skill set presentation and highly commendable focus and tone, “And then, the mountains moved” is a unique collection that James Joshua Otto is deserving of praise for. You are enveloped by every note, every resonance, and the precision with which James Joshua Otto achieves the distinguished yet familiar sounds is to be admired.
Written by Kristian Hale