16th October, 2013
The Geometry Of Shadows is a five-track – and the third overall – album by the Canadian Ambient artist Broken Harbour aka Blake Gibson, released in October 2012 on John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery label, available to purchase and fully streamable at Bandcamp. I have to admit that I did not know of the album’s existence until very recently, despite Koch-Northrup’s standing invitation to browse through the label’s back catalog which is organized by him, Steve Brand and Geoff Small aka Apne Sinn. Luckily, The Geometry Of Shadows came to my attention during its first anniversary which Broken Harbour celebrates by giving it away as a name-your-price download. Mastered by fellow label mate Peter James whose works are reviewed on AmbientExotica as well, Broken Harbour’s album is a dedicated Space Ambient work, although this specific term does not appear on his site, but is suggested by the synth-driven formations, overarching setting, intrinsic elements and, in the artist’s own words, “the concept of faster-than-light communications over galactic distances.” I could leave it at that by simply stating that The Geometry Of Shadows lives up to its title and worships the concept of darkness, light and every shade in-between these diametrically opposite forces, but this album must not be belittled and deserves an in-depth review, if only for the magnificent encapsulation process Blake Gibson evokes, builds up and maintains throughout its runtime. Camouflaged bells, liquedous synth spirals and dramatic light formations make this an exciting monolith that is utterly compatible with desk-related tasks as well as the ivory tower owner’s hour of contemplation. Without further ado, here is my attempt of shedding some light into the shadows.
The album kicks off with Superluminal, incidentally the longest piece of 14+ minutes, with no minute wasted at all! When a track carries such a title, it must live up to the literally luminous and vigorous language, and the reason this is not the case in the first few minutes is thankfully a positive one: the longevity of the piece allows for a shadowy start with a cautiously increased incandescence. In the beginning, everything is eerily dun-colored, and if this color range was not already used by a popular phone, I would have described the atmosphere as space gray, but now refrain from doing that. Even right from the get-go, one can sense the ambivalence of earthbound loftiness – or aeriform gravity – in-between the glacial chime-interspersed wind gusts. The abyssal bass drones conversely throne below the enigmatic wasteland, the listening subject is encapsulated in a densely wadded void, one which only hints at turmoil or protrusions via arpeggiated clangs and brazen polar lights. Soon enough, however, the synth fluxion grows and prospers, its helical formations moving ecclesiastically through the flecks of glistening lights. Harmonious overtones are nowhere to be found, Superluminal emanates a mystical gravitas, a pompous majesty that carries the weight of the known universe. Reaching the culmination point after approximately eleven minutes as shown by the voluminous synth cascades and menacingly glowing ashen light, there is only one contravening amalgamation of opposite ingredients, and these are aqueous harp-like flickers of pure gentleness which shimmer through the translucent seriousness.
A slow fade-out phase leads to the eponymous title track. The Geometry Of Shadows runs for almost 12 minutes but is much more bustling in comparison. Strongly histrionic and polyhedric maelstrom spirals twirl through a click-accentuated backdrop of a supposed nonentity. This allows the afterglow to fill the space. Down-pitched gamelan bells rev up the already strikingly eerie tension. This is Space Ambient of the dark kind, and darkness the listener shall receive when the processed bells or whistles reach disturbingly low frequency ranges that are otherwise not connected to the concept of bells, not even the large, heavy ones. The ones implied by Blake Gibson could house a stampede of elephants! Despite the long runtime, The Geometry Of Shadows is not progressive at all, always relying on the same medulla-emptying loops that scythe through emotions and suck out what little life-affirming joy there is left. A very impressive title track, darkly bubbling and otherworldly. The follow-up Between The Darkness And The Light then worships the interstice called twilight, but leaves this state soon enough to turn into a hymnic ethereality of glaringly glowing light. The opening phase meets both the album-related endemics and the listener’s expectancy: elasticized metallic fog banks drone through the vaulted antra, piercing beams traverse the cold wasteland. And yet a slow but decided change takes place throughout the piece, as the amount and Candela of these beams increase, transforming the bejinxed ignis fatuus into proper rays of rapture. Completely transparent, emitting emerald-green cyber coppices and a crescent chaparral, Between The Darkness And The Light only knows the last word of its title in its final stage, ameliorating the embracing amicability with space whistles, Northern lights and sun-soaked molecules. The perfect closer serves as the album’s apex.
If it has not been apparent by now, this centroid track in tandem with the remaining two compositions shows that The Geometry Of Shadows is a concept album. If one feared the shadows heretofore, one can be lucky, as he or she has overcome the various spheres where the color gunmetal is the brightest and most vivacious tone. The fourth track Luminosity does not care for steampunk sceneries or architectural prowess and instead presents a delightfully streamlined plateau of foggy lights, cosmic cymbals and prolonged spectral clangs which could function as devices of echopraxia, reminiscent to the whispers of purely energetic life forms of the shapeshifting kind. Once the synth-fueled base frame increases its loudness, the listening subject bathes in a stream of multiplexed glowing rays. The setting may not be as euphoric as in Between The Darkness And The Light, but both solemnity and incandescence burst at the seams due to their neon colors. Broken Harbour augments the layer entanglement in the final minutes for a divine microgravity, but also takes his time to literally dim the lights by letting them fade away into the distance in order to make room for the closer Ansible, a meaningful endpoint, as the whole album was to be released with this title originally. Although it sounds like a cheeky pun, Ansible is (exp)ansible, relying on the power of galactic light phenomena one last time. Flowing, floating and flying through the ether that makes the Pop-related adage walking on sunshine feel like an audacity, the layering technique consists of legato synth washes and mellowly pulsating blebs which vesiculate in close proximity to the intergalactic highway. The album has not come full circle yet. In order to accomplish this last mission, Blake Gibson lets the main aorta of Ansible fade out early and then fills the rest of the runtime with a contrastive blur that tends to foreshadow the darker things to come. What could they be? Press repeat, and you’ll know.
A synth-driven Space Ambient album with vestibules to – and vestiges of – New Age characteristics, The Geometry Of Shadows is as keen on its gloomy shadows than the elating warmth of light. No review of such a work would be complete without the stale wisdom à la “without darkness, there would be no light,” but I must at least mention it briefly, as this antediluvian sentence captures the innermost nucleus of the album better than anything else, notwithstanding its overused appearance in cultural works of all sorts. Blake Gibson carves out all the various states of a shadow by the means and limits of the Ambient genre, and he does it skillfully. I have to admit that I am often a bit wary of synthesizer-heavy Ambient albums that want to describe nature in a transformative way and without the use of field recordings, but this is not the problem of Broken Harbour at all, as the concept of a shadow is luckily aesthetic, abstract and even academical, no matter how often it appears in traditional Pop songs and Ambient music alike. Here, the geometry does not so much rely on a towering architecture or skeleton rather than a spineless flow, a riverbed of light beams which float through space… and gleam beyond. The story arc depicts the perpendicular floating operation, from shadowy barriers over a hole-and-corner duskiness to luminescent particles which waft through time and space without compromise. Not only can I relate to each of the five tracks, I feel able to distill and absorb the sound-related qualities. No witty press blurb or detailed explanation is needed – although I just did the latter –, for I am sure that the devoted listener will sense the transition from darkness to light, both from track to track and in-between the boundaries of each arrangement. The Geometry Of Shadows lives up to the Relaxed Machinery canon and is a valuable third entry in Broken Harbour’s discography.
Source – http://www.ambientexotica.com/ambrev272_brokenharbour_geometryofshadows/