Record Review: Ghost Harmonic – Codex

diana yukawa ©2015 hiro hirata:benge

A more perfect photo of Ms. Yukawa playing in Benge’s Meme Tune Studio cannot exist! ©2015 Hiro Hirata/Benge

The all-consuming Simple Minds thread lasted so long, that items for the vaunted Want List have been announced within that time and have since been brought home to rest in the Record Cell! Primary of these was the debut album by Ghost Harmonic; the new trio formed by John Foxx and Benge of The Maths with classical violinist Diana Yukawa. Foxx had been of the opinion that he wanted to work with classically trained musicians in a loose, improvisatory context, and Ms. Yukawa heard the siren call. The album was called “Codex” and it was released on May 28, 2015 …and thanks to my thoughtful wife, a copy has been on play for the last several weeks.

Metamatic Records | UK | CD | 2015 | META56CD

Metamatic Records | UK | CD | 2015 | META56CD

Ghost Harmonic: Codex UK DLX CD [2015]

  1. A Green Thought In A Green Shade
  2. The Pleasure Of Ruins
  3. Dispersed Memory
  4. When We Came To This Shore
  5. Codex

While Foxx has had violin players in his sphere at various stages in his long career, this is something radically different from Hannah Peel or Billy Currie. This project slots into Foxx’s ambient channel as the five, long compositions were built for maximum resonance over time instead of the sort of immediate pop thrills that his song-based releases deal in. I’ll go further to state that even amongst his ambient works, this one is going out on a limb due to the length given to each composition. The space necessary for these compositions to languorously unfurl, makes even his Cathedral Oceans series seem twitchy in comparison. Another huge difference is that the Cathedral Oceans series builds soundscapes for Foxx to apply his reverberant vocals to and this music is completely instrumental, even though the sounds from the treated violin and supporting synths of Foxx and Benge often sound like a chorus of voices within this framework.

The opening track, “A Green Thought In A Green Shade” began with an abrupt buildup of tense noise before the violin of Ms. Yukawa dispelled the dissonance with her radiant chord sequences. The center stage was primarily hers for the first track, with synths playing a submissive role to her violin before the abrupt chords, like the shutting of doors, herald the end of the song and the begging of the segue into the second track.

The violin continued the motif of the first song while the synths were on a much more even footing with the treated violin on “The Pleasure Of Ruins.” While the first track was over seven minutes long, this one gets over twice that time to develop at its own sweet pace, and the swirling synths sound like foghorns defining the low end of the radiant number while heavily chorused synths or violins flutter upward like dandelions in a ray of sunlight. The interplay between the synths and violin create a marbleized texture of sound where it’s difficult at time to discern where one ands and the other begins. Listening to it on headphones, as I am doing as I type this, it a profoundly moving experience as I am getting a bit misty-eyed. Have I ever heard anything this beautiful before? Yes; side one of Fripp + Eno’s “Evening Star.” This music is already in that caliber of achievement for me.

But the program is hardly a monochromatic one. “Dispersed Memory” speaks to a Gyorgy Ligeti influence with the sounds attaining the sort of massed, slightly atonal choral feel that Ligeti shoots for. I find it fascinatingly symmetrical that Ligeti used acoustic sources to resemble electronic textures in his twelve-tone compositions, while Ghost Harmonic do the exact opposite here. Fans of the “2001: A Space Odyssey” soundtrack will have much to sink their teeth into here. I love the manner in which the “room sound” was allowed to rise into the mix at times with analog tape hiss providing a sonic Rorschach blot for the emptiest moments in this slightly dissonant track.

“When We Came To This Shore” is, at 16:59, the longest track that Foxx has ever released. It opened with synth loops redolent of the intro to “Stationtostation” that gradually slowed in tempo instead of producing a Doppler shift from side to side. Then when the violin entered the stage a deep melancholy overtook the emotional thrust of the piece. The treated violins attained a Mellotron-like sound… unless actual Mellotrons were employed in the making of this album. I would not put it past Benge to have one or two of these in his famed studio of all things analog. The dark, sweet rapture of  sadness was given all of the time that it needed to develop on this track and it’s a real pleasure to hear music allowed to develop at its own pace within these parameters. The levels of hiss apparent in this track as it slowly winds down in its coda is another luxury we have in the digital era. I remember when Vangelis used to release albums where ambient tracks filled a whole side of an LP, and then faded over a 6-10 minute period, until all one heard for the last quarter of the album was surface noise battering the fainter and fainter music into submission.

Then the final title track played out and then 90 seconds in, it began to mirror the chord sequence to the melodic hook of OMD’s sumptuous “Souvenir” as if played at half-speed! Given that the performances of Ms. Yukawa that drove the composition of this music were improvised, this was probably a coincidence, but I’d place money on Foxx and Benge being fans of the Mellotron/choral tape sound of the OMD classic and doing their level best to coax the resulting song into a similar realm. I’m not one to throw bricks since “Souvenir” was one of the highlight singles of 1981; a year filled to bursting with memorable singles. With that, fifty minutes later, it was over.

The album was by far the most beautiful one Foxx had released since “Mirrorball” with Robin Guthrie, and I’m pleased that this came together to allow Foxx’s probings into to be so fully realized. Coming as a fan of The Maths and Wrangler, it is a completely different realm for Benge to work in and here he proves that he is the man to act as a creative teammate with Foxx in a wide variety of contexts. From synth pop, to darkwave experiments, and now coruscating coronas of ambient sound so gloriously moving as to make one weep. And the biggest kudos of all go to Diana Yukawa, who went into this proposition with an open mind and heart and provided the central structure for all of this wonderful music to develop on. She carried the way forward with her improvisations for Foxx and Benge to react against.

The CD was released in a limited edition hardcover book format with gorgeous Jonathon Barnbrook artwork of abstract line drawings given a dignified display in the thick pages of the package. The very last page of the book revealed that the drawings were inspired by “Ernst Chladini’s experiments in visualising sound, whereupon placing sand on a metal plate, he vibrated it at different pitches and drew the resulting patterns.” Only a thousand of these were made and discerning listeners should order while there is still stock, here.  I would not be surprised if there was a mass market CD sans bookpack at a later time, or the de riguer LP pressing, but this original printing is a best of breed package that I highly recommend. Ghost Harmonic have made an auspicious debut and one hopes that there will be more excursions into the synthesis of the violin of Ms. Yukawa and the ever-ready synths of Benge and Foxx. One gets the feeling that they only scratched the surface of where they could go at this point.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Record Review: Ghost Harmonic – Codex

  1. I concur whole-heartedly with this review and was extremely pleased by this release, even as my collection of other Foxx ambient works continues to grow. It’s fascinating how a single new player can make things very different, but the results here are as distinct as the other two ambient albums you mention. It’s a fantastic work that ranks with the best ambient albums I have heard, including the sainted Eno!

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  2. Echorich says:

    This is just gorgeous, emotional music from an under appreciated master of the electronic ambient genre. I’m very impressed with the restraint and respect that Benge brings to this project. Yukawa is a masterful musician and brings a level of distinction to these 5 pieces.
    I agree this work has a similar immediacy that Mirrorball did for me a few years back. This says a lot for Foxx’s ability to get across his musical intentions to collaborators. The fact that he retains such a great amount of respect from his peers must have a lot to do with this.
    Chasinvictoria is right…I’d go a step further and say that Foxx’s work in the genre is more “made to be listened to” that Eno’s most well known works. Where Eno may have wished to wash your world in his ambience, I think Foxx genuinely wishes the listener to take the time to find pleasure in his.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Too true on the whole new sonic wardrobe for Benge. You make a cogent observation in your conclusion that I must nod my head sagely in agreement with. This music gives too much pleasure to be relegated to ignoring it as part of “background ambience.” Moreover, I enjoy the manner in which the previously binary aspects of “Evening Star” have been integrated here with the larger sustained moments of beauty having forays into chilling darkness intruding occasionally for heightened emotional contrast. Sometimes within the same composition! It’s different from the beauty/horror aspects of the flowing euphony side one of “Evening Star” being slapped against the alienating, almost inhuman, insect drones of “An Index Of Metals” on side two. It’s a less drily intellectual, more intuitive approach that is more wholly realized.

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      • Echorich says:

        This may be a bit sacrilegious, but Evening Star has never really done much for me. I admire the musicianship but it never pulled me in. This is my problem with a lot of ambient music – Windham Hill ambience completely loses me. I think there was a point at which Eno definitely over indulged in the genre.
        I do admit to having more of a connection with artists who were influenced – extremely influenced – by Eno – David Sylvian being the best example. A lot of it is in the artist’s approach or use of ambience that triggers something in me.

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