Bokeh

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I have a new album out on the wonderful Home Normal label. Massive thanks to Ian for putting this CD out for me, and here are some lovely words from him about the release:

Wil has been a dear friend and collaborator now for many years, quite a bit before Home Normal even came into existence. We’ve watched in wonder at Wil’s development from his electronic work as Cheju, to running his wonderful Boltfish label, and in more recent years, his super releases on the ever quality Hibernate and Time Released Sound labels. His installation work has seen him work around the UK, as well as maintaining a strong connection to South Korea, and this summer he will even be here in Japan.

‘Bokeh’ is one of those lovely records that doesn’t really hit you straight away to be honest. That, though, is the beauty of Wil’s works. From very subtle beginnings you are left to uncover wonderful variances, discovering new elements coming to the fore with each listen.

The Japanese ボケ味 (‘boke-aji’) relates to a ‘blur quality’, and has in time come to be known as a photographic technique by which ‘out-of-focus’ points of light are processed by certain lenses. You can get ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bokeh which often refers to the level of distraction in the image, with the good of course, enhancing the image somehow in its own mysterious way.

Indeed, bokeh is regarded as an ‘optical abberation’. To steal a final quote: ‘Aberrations occur because the simple paraxial theory is not a completely accurate model of the effect of an optical system on light, rather than due to flaws in the optical elements.’ Isn’t that a wonderful way of looking at things in life itself? As a sort of bokeh perspective. There are no completely accurate models for how we view things, and ‘Bokeh’ perfectly demonstrates in its own quiet way just how individual and unique our optics are.

Finally, and to nicely coincide with the idea of ‘optics’, Wil also created a superb video for the title track of the album. The setting for the film is an urban environment; a blurred (ok…’bokeh’) vision as the watcher seems present but also quietly disconnected from the noise and rush around them. In this simple way the album is perfectly encapsulated, showing the quietude of spirit even in the most urban of environments.

Released by Home Normal on CD, in an edition of 500, 15 August 2014. Packaged in single recycled card insert placed inside 7″ locally cultivated washi cover, including unique vintage slide and photograph.

Written and produced by Wil Bolton
Mastered by Ian Hawgood
Photography by Hitoshi Ishihara (attic photograph)
Designed by togoshi + mondül

homen064
homenormal.com

Album microsite

Digital edition via Bandcamp

Reviews

“Wil “with one L” Bolton has done another album of his gorgeous blurry ambience this week, housed in a delicate 8″x7″ sleeve that you will really struggle to file with your other records and still keep in uncompromised condition. He’s reminded me of Windy and Carl before and he’s immediately doing it again on the opening title track, an ethereal smudge of subtle arrhythmic chimes and gliding, unsourceable drones which gets a little glitchy and digitally corrupted towards the end.

We get various subtle variations on this theme of blurred, smoky drones and dinky chiming details over a further five tracks. ‘Tremadog’ throws in some crunchy static…or is it cars driving through puddles? ‘1887’ has a feverish kind of buzzing thing going on and some new-trainers-on-lino squeaks, ‘Sash’ has pre-concert babblings and weird chopped up orchestra-tuning samples stretched all backwards and inside out, in ‘Pentaprism’ children caw like crows over a rich, droning chord that has a kind of accordion/harmonium wheezy quality to it. I’m not going to give away what happens in closer ‘Moonlight (For Sophie)’. That one can be a surprise.

If you’re into the droney times of the likes of Windy and Carl, Celer or Hakobune and haven’t yet investigated Bolton’s meticulously crafted and brittly detailed sound sculptures, here’s a perfect opportunity. You might want to pick up his ‘Under A Name That Hides Her’ LP for a bargain £3.49 while we’ve still got cheap copies, too! 8/10.” – Norman Records

“Il calore emozionale delle partiture ambientali di Wil Bolton (Cheju, The Ashes Of Piemonte, Anzio Green, Ashlar Le Moors) trova nella sua prima opera solista da due anni a questa parte densa profondità prospettica, veicolata da frequenze modulate, field recordings e variopinte screziature elettro-acustiche.

Nei sei brani di “Bokeh”, l’artista inglese filtra il proprio romanticismo attraverso copiose trame di riverberi e screziature droniche persistenti e talora dotate di consistenza granulosa e a tratti persino distorta.

Ciononostante, le ricche texture di Bolton risultano sempre dotate di una preziosa fragilità, espressa attraverso esili filigrane armoniche, costellate da micro-suoni e loop avvolgenti.” – Music Won’t Save You / Rockerilla

“Fresh from the sonically fecund fields of Home Normal, Wil Bolton’s Bokeh is his latest album of gently pulsing, tricked & tweaked, soothing analog/digital haze. Throughout Bokeh I hear harmonium, crystal bowls, knocks, streetscapes, glass clinks, odd analog key snatches and elsewhere heard, vague recollections of sound. From early in Wils recorded career he has used various bell like tones and chimes, to colour his compositions. In this I’m not talking healing room fairy floss, in Wils rendering, often these tones are sensitively edited and manipulated ( hear Tremadog ), playing with our notions of the previously heard, teasing and tantalising our aural library.  Moonlight (For Sophie) also plays with a similar sound palette, though perhaps more lullaby like (and a smile from yours truly upon readingthis interview), and the chimes are more pronounced, pure – like starlight.

Wil always excells at warm drone too and throughout Bokeh, its tonic is ever present. 1887 is one such piece, it opens as a wet streetside location recording and then evolves into a shifting soundworld of stretched, percussive, lulling pulses. Amidst this haze, location sounds subtly enter the foreground, wheeling gulls, wet road traffic, non-specific surfaces and flitting machinations, a door?  Pentaprism too explores the drone with an oddly celestial (the keys) come earthbound (a pedestrian underpass?) contradiction of sounds  seguing into a keyed assertion to close – a true sound memory.

As always, the title is no random choice. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word for a blur quality or haze and in photography, can refer to the contrasting out of focus material beyond the foreground. You know those lovely nightime photos of out of focus lights through a rain soaked windscreen – bokeh. And so, musical Bokeh, offering both a current statement and perhaps an intention from earlier days – its seems to offer a perceptual renewal of all that has passed and is present with Wils art.

For this release, in keeping with the refined artistry of the music, Home Normal have released the physical edition in a card insert placed inside a 7″ washi cover with an accompanying vintage photograph and slide.” – Periwinkle Hear and Now

The Japanese ??? (‘boke-aji’) relates to a ‘blur quality’, and has in time come to be known as a photographic technique by which ‘out-of-focus’ points of light are processed by certain lenses.

Angelic, shimmering points of light reflect the golden blonde colours; tanned feathers, indistinct in their white, tonal haze. The light is a halo that hovers and then surrounds the field of vision. Amber flares burn against the sky, but the warmth is kind, approachable. The music reels you in slowly, with great care. The opening chimes slowly envelop, carrying the listener away on a peaceable drift, a tonal raft.

The slow tempo is just what’s needed, but despite its pace there’s a lot happening. In fact, the activity on “Bokeh” is off the scale. On first glance, it’s ambient music in the process of awakening, pulling itself out of a heavy slumber just before the dawn. Look closer, though, and you will see a metropolis of glinting, vivid colours, like the trinity of a traffic light, looping endlessly. In ‘1887’, you can hear the background noise as a stream of traffic, the music flowing in one direction, towards one destination.

There are subtle, small variations in the sound. It may be an irregular rhythm, brought on by a streak of notes, or it may be the gentle insertion of a field recording. The field recordings are never an obstacle or a diversion; they just reminder us of our place in the world. The music sways back and forth. She prefers to hover, never really sticks to one tone. The lovely ambient light is an out of focus light, but the crystal clear notes that climb to the front are pointed melodic shards that glint lucidly. Its background is obscured, its supple skin shaped by love. Because of its blurry background, the music leans close and whispers of mystery, placid enough, but not entirely peaceful.

“Bokeh” bursts with a soft and gentle beauty. Like a kiss it softly settles, and even though it is a temporary thrill, it never truly leaves. The music is in flux, a vanilla light speckled with golden sand, rhythmically circling. A light use of static grazes the ambient layer, and the sound of children having fun in the playground represents the ambient layer; the distortion is a tiny cut on the music, but it’s also a graze on the field recording, a cut on the palm and the sting of the asphalt after accidentally falling over.

Seagulls hover, just a little higher than the drone. A heavier drone eclipses the lighter tones. Voices echo, but they remain a distant blur, a long way off, as unclear as the damp, muddied background. They could be a thousand miles away, because by this point there’s a real, concrete disconnect. The outside has melted away. The music has held its promise. It’s sweet escapism that blots out the many dialects and languages, takes them out of focus and replaces the old struggles with the clearer, international language of music. Bokeh is tonal honey. It has a personable nature: affectionate ambient, sensitive to the touch.” – Fluid Radio

Bokeh feels like a true “environment”: ambient music that feels alive with the intelligence of nature. Wil Bolton has done quite a bit of sound work for art installations, where being sensitive to an actual environment is paramount. His compositions are often informed by visual cues (landscapes, architecture) where an initial field recording is made and then expanded upon with analogue instruments and a laptop. The fuzzy synth meditation “1887” opens with traffic, before the seagulls give another clue as to where we are (Spoiler! This one is in Liverpool). In fact, Bokeh on the whole is peppered with traffic and city sounds from various cities, inspiring serenity within a distracting urban setting.

The Japanese word ‘bokeh’ (say BOH-kay) refers to the way a camera lens renders the part of a photograph that is out of focus. Bolton was especially interested in parallels between the aural and the visual and between photography and sound. The abstract concept is perhaps best explained in Bolton’s own video below. Oh, yeah – Wil Bolton does photography and video work, too.

Best capturing the meaning of the word, the essential “Bokeh” could go on forever without any complaints from us. Bells and bowls are struck, then echo and tumble with a meditative cadence. Bolton is very playful with his treatments of these sounds: no two bell tones cascade or resolve the same way. Beneath the bells lives a rich blend of twinkling fragments, gulls and wind, and an amorphous yet deft weaving of analogue and synthetic sounds. The single step on a high-hat cymbal deep into the track continues to intrigue.

Throughout the album, synths weave between one another like wisps of fog, and it is this ever-changing patina that Bolton is so good at. He is using loops, but none of them are timed the same, ensuring unique combinations throughout. While this seems like a simple device, the attention to detail feels molecular. “Tremadog” sounds like Four Tet’s favorite kind of bells and field recordings, but the beats are left sleeping in the shade, encouraging the ever-manipulated bells to flit and stutter. “Moonlight (For Sophie)” is a lullaby for Bolton’s 1-year-old niece, and gosh is it pretty. The original field recording is from little Sophie’s toy telephone and rattle, which are treated with loving care as a circuitous melody cascades like starlight through a drifting curtain. The peripheral magic of this composition wonderfully captures the wonder with which we can view young children experiencing the world, reveling in another’s fresh experience, never really knowing as an adult what this time in our own lives was like.

The album feels like a memory yearning to be experienced fresh, but it is always out of reach. Wil Bolton’s work is truly wonderful and “bokeh” is an apt theme, playing with the idea that modeling our perception can never match how people truly experience the world. The camera lens produces visual “abberations” when elements run out of focus, but many photographic effects caught in the periphery strike us as sublime. Fire up the sensory deprivation chamber and put this one on to experience high quality ambient memories from a life you have never lived.” – A Closer Listen

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