Using a palette of guitars, effects pedals, vintage keyboards and field recordings taken from Krakow July 2010, Wil Bolton carefully crafts four highly detailed, slowly evolving dronescapes.
Released by Rural Colours on CD in full colour sleeve, in an edition of 150, 9 August 2012
Written and produced by Wil Bolton
Cover photography by Wil Bolton
Mastered by Fraser McGowan
Art direction by Jonathan Lees and Ian M Hazeldine
Rural Colours RC054
Also available digitally from bandcamp
“Wil Bolton’s been a busy lad lately, I swear this is at least the fourth or fifth CD we’ve had of his this year if you include collaborations (on the likes of Distant Noise, Time Released Sound, Hibernate, and now on Hibernate offshoot Rural Colours). Thanks to their limited nature they don’t tend to stick around long either.
On this disc he’s doling out more casually paced melodic dronescapes with the dominant textures coming from guitars and keyboards. The opening track ‘Rynek Glowny’ is a sonorous guitar drone which everyone in the office is (erroneously) saying sounds exactly like the Pleq & Hakobune disc I just reviewed – it doesn’t, they’re just both quite peaceful and melodic and droney, but this is very much a solo guitar drone piece, much more minimal than the layered tones on that collaboration.
Then on ‘Ulica Kanonicza’ he switches to a warm, pulsing set of layered organ drones for a breathy dreamscape that Business Lady just said is “making time slow down”. She said it in anger but that’s basically what you should be into if you’re going to enjoy this CD. Phil says, “These drones can fuck off”, but I’m quite enjoying the drones this morning. Wish I was stoned though.
Third track ‘Ulica Grodzka’ continues this keyboard drone theme but with much more warm, predictable throbs and buried field recordings of distant speech that sounds wistful and plaintive with the slow emotional swells going in almost a Stars Of The Lid/Winged Victory sort of direction. Finally ‘Plac Szczepanski’ brings back some guitar shimmers along with a bit of glitch and grainy industrial clatter for a much more densely layered, fast-moving piece of sound art with constant unsettling cuts belying the therapeutic nature of the tones for an emotionally confusing piece which demands your attention rather more than I’m used to from this kind of ambient drift. Four very different tracks showcasing this prolific sound artist’s diverse expressive palette. Most impressive. 5/5″ – Norman Records
“Wil Bolton returns to Rural Colours with the subtle charms of ‘Amber Studies’. Against a backdrop of field recordings made in Krakow, July 2010, Wil washes effected guitar drones and vintage keyboard tones in four deftly detailed and slow moving dronescapes, making us feel liek we’re there with him, observing a sunny day in Poland from the shade of a sidestreet cafe, or some place to that effect.” – Boomkat
“In an even smaller edition, 150 copies to be precise, we have a release by Wil Bolton. A long time ago known as Cheju, but in more recent years working under his own name on such labels as Time Released Sound, Cathedral Transmissions, Distant Noise and Hibernate, home of Rural Colours. here Bolton has five tracks which use field recordings from Krakow, Poland. As far as I can judge these matters – and I am usually wrong – Bolton uses these field recordings to mix them along fine woven drone patterns, which he crafts from keyboards, guitars and effects pedals. Again I assume that he uses one of these per track, so ‘Plac Szczepanski’ is all about guitar, in a fine older Oren Ambarchi style while opener ‘Rynek Glowny’ is more about glacial keyboard lines, moving majestically along each other. Somewhere inside these drone patterns we find the field recordings, which is a horse and carriage in a small street, people talking and other, more obscure sounds captured in the city. Bolton differs from Autistici in that he seems to be using the field recordings more plain and straight forward, embedded in long form drone music. Perhaps a bit less on the musical side, but then a bit more on the atmospherics and making hardly remarkable music, but another fine disc altogether.” – Vital Weekly
“Amber… The very voicing of the word may conjure sand-washed colours bronzed by the sun, or a life, now long extinct, cuddled inside a glass of lucid rock and set in a sleek, glazed finish of gold. Amber may be the tanned afterglow of a sunset, ablaze in its glorious last stand of solar flares, as the arc of the sun is lost to the flat horizon, far in the distance. Amber is an alluring colour, and a beautiful feminine name. It may even be a balmy air of warm conversation with friends on a summer evening. Amber, once fluid, evolves into a dormant rock of resin, holding inside it a precious life, laying perfectly preserved in an eternal inertia. Amber may trap all unintentionally, but it seems that music may also become entangled in a sticky form of amber, soaked in the rock of a recording, instead of a substantially thick rock which one may hold, one that has long been stalled in a stasis spanning across millennia, until further down the line the rock is discovered and extracted.
Amber Studies, Wil Bolton’s latest release on Rural Colours, is its own kind of amber, preserving a moment in its prime, bright-eyed, even though any life has already passed. Bolton sets us in a place which we may never have visited, or may never visit. It’s an appearance of skin-deep beauty that is free from any declining, yet natural, sign of aging as we grow older, preserved in youth as if drank from a fountain’s elixir. The allure of Amber Studies is that it effectively allows us all to feel the detailed, cobbled streets underneath our feet, soak in the buzz of a place that is distant to us, and yet at the same time feel so close that it may only be just a touch away, as we stand underneath the lamp-light, casting long shadows and sunbathing in a flickering, artificial amber.
Wil Bolton is one musician who can expertly extract any scent of nectar that there may be in a location’s air, set it down and add deep washes of drone alongside the atmosphere. In this process, a link is created between the one reality of the recorded setting, and the multiple images that shine in the mind’s eye, wherever we may happen to be. The mind may release a thousand and one possibilities, while the field recordings broadcast only one, real truth. Due to the recorded nature, the events the field recordings detail have long become extinct to their location, two years to be exact. The voices have since moved on in their physical area, but through music they remain encased in their own rock amid the drones. As a residual haunting leaves behind any dramatic events etched into the walls, the voices contained in the field recordings are now soaked into the very fabric of the area on the date they were recorded, forever held invisibly in the air instead of inside physical rock. No flight is needed, and jet lag becomes a thing of the past along with any jittery thoughts of turbulence. Amber Studies isn’t set around an equatorial zone to mirror any red-hot imagery that the colour may suggest. Instead, Bolton takes us to Eastern European territory – Krakow, Poland.
Poland’s second largest city is also one of the country’s oldest, which must be reflected upon as Bolton’s four musical pieces circle around four of Krakow’s distinct squares. Krakow as a city is now coated in its very own amber; a thick, syrupy drone that could be a Polish delicacy, and it tastes just as good as it sounds. Bolton’s use of guitars, effects pedals, keyboards and field recordings have always been the kind to entice with a sense of place, and ‘Rynek Glowny’ is an appropriate place to begin exploring. The opener represents the main market square of the city, possibly approaching the street from the side, and suddenly coming out into a thriving main square. Central to the hustle of the city, we are not immediately thrust into the chaos of multiple conversation. Instead, it’s an entry made smoother by the deep wave of drone as we approach the main square, searching for a cafe in which to sit and become accustomed to our surroundings while observing all of the activity. The field recordings take in enigmatic chatter, footsteps tapping over the streets and the clinking of glasses, but Bolton never really hones in on one conversation, just as if we were an invisible presence sitting centrally in the square.
Rumbles of cars and the tinkling of cutlery lay next to Bolton’s substantial drones, which in turn reflects the low tones any shuddering vehicle’s vibrations may leave behind. While this is unfolding, layers are introduced above the drone, like a trail of multiple conversations left hanging in the air, arising out of one topic. The drones aren’t lost in a flowing conversation, firing off into different directions wherever the talk may lead. They have a real course to follow, which complements the live and unpredictable murmurings of the field recordings. Emerging calmly, the recordings give a substance to the city, and turn the record into a living, breathing city, while never representing the chaos and rush hour that is seen in any major city, or people brushing into each other in small, tight squares. Instead, they seem to hum with an evening buzz, one that is carefree and casual, almost like the after hours of the rush hour, when the city is settling into its own nightly rhythm. A cyclist spins the wheels as ‘Rynek Glowny’ ends, and the evening settles in. You can almost smell the strong scent of espresso carried through the air.
As the music progresses, the listener is invited along the many squares the city enjoys without losing our sense of direction. Through Bolton’s ambience, we are allowed to take the time to pause and observe four distinct areas for each of Amber Studies’ four pieces. And it very much is a study, allowing the listener a highly detailed look through the ancient architecture, breathing in the breeze of the city and the life of its people, without the cliched maps and hotel rooms attached to any type of tourism. Although we are visitors to this city from play to pause, we are also in a place close to our home base, as Bolton’s drones and field recordings ensure that we are never left far from home.
The drones aren’t comforting as such, however. They carry darker shades, which could reflect the ancient walls and older brickwork of the city, or the Eastern European chill brushing over much of the continent when winter abides in its long, persevering months, clinging to the cold. Any historic city does have a weight surrounding it, however; London, Paris or Rome, no matter the modernism that takes shape in unsurpassed skyscrapers or designs of modern engineering, they live underneath a backdrop of history, and as is so often seen, the tides of history influence our modern lives. Through the music of Amber Studies, the weighty historic breath of the city is is displayed, entombed in the music.
‘Ulica Kanonicza’ is lit after sunset, when the light-sapped sky turns black and displays a mirrored surface of the serene evening light, changing to a city at night. The cycling of Bolton’s drones advance to the fore, repeating as streetlamps flicker down abandoned alleyways. The recordings are still active, although they are less chaotic than the opener, sleepily zoning out to the repeating drone. It’s reminiscent of quieter seclusions down lesser known side streets, with black shadows scaling the sides of old buildings, clinging on and never letting go. It may slightly unsettle the nerves of the traveller and anchor all footsteps in their place, like staring down an approaching, dark alley and knowing that we must pass through it.
The drone, and the possibility of dawn, is realised on ‘Ulica Grodzka’, in the old town and one of the oldest streets. A harmony truly ascends for the first time in cycles of healthy light. The drones are enduring, and never romanticise the city in any sentimentality. Beautiful streets and trees line the sides, alongside beige brickwork and the grand architecture of white-walled churches. Bolton is more interested in giving us a slice of reality, instead of a poetic delivery. And yet, the music is poetic, and the reality of the drones relieves Amber Studies of any cliche; placing the listener in the city for what it is, and not for what it dreams it may be.
This is really what makes the music so sublime, but it is the concluding ‘Plac Szczepanski’, lying in the old town and sojourning in the square, that ends on a high, on rising jets of a lengthy drone, like the flowing fountain in the square. A concealed bell rings out in the distance. The imagery of picturesque streets and streetlights which pour out a dull light onto the pavement is one that remains in the eye.
Appreciated for its colour, Amber is an almost immaculate preservation. Like amber, Wil Bolton has preserved Krakow’s own sense of place inside his music, and while it may not be millenia-worn, Amber Studies is effective at fossilizing the mood that comes attached with a certain setting and the evocative breath of place. Amber Studies is musical preservation.” – Fluid Radio
“Wil Bolton n’a jamais été aussi inspiré que depuis qu’il a laissé de côté les rivages de l’electronica glitchy. Certains se souviennent de son projet Cheju et des releases publiées en compagnie de Mint (Murray Fisher) sur leur label Boltfish. Le superbe Time Lapse, sorti sur Hibernate il y a maintenant deux ans, avait donné le ton à ses nouvelles trajectoires drone/ambient. L’originaire de Liverpool trouve l’inspiration au gré des rencontres et des voyages. Des labels sérieux et exigents comme Time Released Sound, Rural Colours (filiale de Hibernate) ou Home Normal (à la fin de l’année) lui ont accordé confiance et balise. Sa vision nostalgique et pleine d’affection du déclin de l’industrie britannique dans les West Midlands avait fait son oeuvre sur le superbe Quarry Bank. Tout comme le fruit de ses errances au milieu de lieux aussi enchanteurs que dévastés, sur Under A Name That Hides Her. Le monde semble trop vaste pour qu’il ne s’attarde uniquement sur les territoires vallonnés et contrastés du Royaume-Uni. Voilà pourquoi il multiplie les rencontres dans des résidences d’artistes à l’étranger. Kollane (paru également cette année sur Time Released Sound) avait d’ailleurs vu le jour dans ce cadre, plus précisément en Estonie. Si le Amber Studies dont il est aujourd’hui question est allé prendre le pouls des ruelles et des parcs de Cracovie en Pologne, nos solides informations révèlent que le britannique revient tout juste de Corée du Sud, avec probablement ce qu’il faut sous le bras pour nous pondre encore un grand album.
C’est avant tout parce que chaque voyage est différent que la musique de Wil Bolton ne saurait se reposer sur elle-même. Pourtant, on peut ici encore noter l’impressionnante habileté qu’à sa musique à se fondre littéralement dans la zone qui l’inspire. Cette troublante impression qu’il a su se rendre invisible pour mieux absorber l’essence même de la rue, avec cet inaltérable souci du détail. Faisant de chaque tableau une véritable scène vivante, fourmillante de variations et de mouvements. J’ai une profonde admiration pour les artistes qui savent ne pas verser dans la sempiternelle austérité du drone. Wil Bolton, a cette trop rare faculté de s’émouvoir d’un rien, de souligner un soudain aboiement de chien, l’effervescence relative d’une terrasse, les fragments de divagation d’un autochtone bourré, un vélo sans pilote, ou un klaxon un peu trop pressant. Pour rappeler à l’auditeur que chaque coin de rue contient son lot de grâce résiduelle, de nature pas tout à fait morte. Assujetti des concepts de soudscaping propres à l’ambient, il transporte néanmoins l’auditeur vers une galerie étrangère de vignettes instantanées, avec tendresse et émotion.
Les sources des drones oscillent, entre guitares et claviers vintage, mais sont empreints de ce même trait gras, de cette profondeur chaleureuse propice à la contemplation erratique. On ne saurait dire, si c’est eux qui se noient dans le canevas de captures urbaines ou le contraire. Peu importe après tout, car face au charme humble mais enchanteur de la musique de Wil Bolton, on se surprend à ne plus réfléchir. A se laisser aller vers là où il souhaite nous emmener, sans jamais intellectualiser, ou tenter de décrypter telle ou telle nuance dans l’enregistrement ou l’aspect technique. D’être enfin, cet anonyme que personne ne sent ni voit venir, quand il semble plongé dans un mauvais roman de gare et qu’il scrute et écoute en réalité, le moindre centimètre d’authenticité d’une conversation commune ou du spectacle pas si pathétique d’un chat errant, qui se fait les dents sur un biberon presque vide.
L’usage de la réverbération trouvera ici toute sa plénitude, à l’abri des clichés du genre. Chaque écho, chaque variation de volume ou de fréquence, révélant à chaque fois dans leurs interstices, leurs lots de surprises et de simples trésors. Si les trois premiers titres savaient transmettre autant avec si peu, les sublimes 23 minutes de Plac Szczepanskiouvrent les voies de la cohabitation des guitares et des claviers. De cette richesse sonore enveloppante jaillit la quintessence du genre. Ébloui comme un enfant scrutant l’environnement sur le rebord de son lit, l’abandon n’est pas loin. Qu’il est bon de céder à ces visions friables et nébuleuses dans pareil écrin…
Wil Bolton signe ici probablement sa réalisation la plus aboutie, la plus chaleureuse dans ses témoignages pas si abstraits. Après le chef d’oeuvre All The Other Hearts I Knew d’Hakobune, Rural Colours publie ici une énième indispensable réussite. Une pré-écoute sur le bandcamp pour tenter de convaincre les derniers sceptiques vaut peut être encore mieux, qu’une nouvelle recommandation perdue dans le camaïeu.” – Chroniques Electroniques
“Wil Bolton’s ‘Amber Studies’ has our environment as the glue. Melodies and reality merge together to form a weird hybrid. It explores the concept of melody living among us. As the world continues Wil is there to document every single nuance. Now the field recordings and music are one of the same. Thanks to his careful editing it remains impossible to have one without the other. Throughout the album Wil shows the symbiotic relationship between sound and outright ambience. More often than not, the experience is beautiful.
As the album progress it pulls further and further away from reality. Slowly reality begins to fade away as the all-encompassing drone appears to take hold. With the drone’s ebb and flow reality still takes hold. Indeed the ambient noises of the field recordings give the pieces a certain natural rhythm. Wil notices this as goes through each drone. Yes the drones increase in intensity as they progress. But there is still enough clarity in the album to show the importance of reality. For these pieces do drift off with their attention and repetition. However with the noise of a normal day filtering in we are reminded that this beauty is always around us. We can tune it in and out as we see fit.
That’s perhaps the best element of the album. Wil Bolton studies the importance of our day to day lives in music. Perhaps these pieces could exist without the field recordings but they wouldn’t be anywhere as lively.” – Beach Sloth
“The appreciated sound-artist Wil Bolton, who used to sign his previous releases (mainly on the appreciated Boltfish) with his moniker CHEjU, should have been enraptured by amber jewelleries and peaceable temperament of Krakow citizens I could also witness about people living nearby Baltic Sea when I explored those countries over the so-called route of amber. I’m pretty sure that Wil read many documents about the beliefs concerning the supposed powers of this “stone” – the ones in Baltic jewellery, also known as succinite, is particularly beautiful for their colour gradations -, which is nothing but fossilized tree resin (sometimes containing accidentally “drowned” insects or plant material), but was believed to chase nightmares and headache and bear wisdom and altruism. On the four tracks of “Amber Studies”, he seems to excrete sonic amber by means of effected guitars and thin ambient tones in order to absorbe surrounding reality and ordinary life (people talking, noises of carriages on the pavement or grabbed nearby restaurants or bars on the street and so on), supposedly recorded in the streets and places of Krakow Old City Center he mentions to name his tracks – “Rynek Glowny”, “Ulica Kanonicza”, “Ulica Grodzka” and “Plac Szczepanski” -. An entrancing way for frozening reality whose final result is prominently atmospheric and healing for your head ache. Just like amber supposedly does!” – Chain DLK
“Reduce dalle emozionali partiture ambientali di “Under A Name That Hides Her” e da numerose altre uscite e collaborazioni nel corso dell’anno, Wil Bolton offre il proprio contributo alla collana di cartoline sonore dell’etichetta Rural Colours sotto forma degli oltre quaranta minuti di texture sintetiche e torsioni chitarristiche filtrate raccolti in “Amber Studies”.
A differenza del lavoro precedente, qui c’è minor spazio per il sentimento, poiché ad eccezione del graduale crescendo d’organo di “Ulica Grodzka” (il più breve dei quattro brani) il lavoro orbita intorno a drone spessi e dall’ingente peso specifico.
Strati di rumore e persino clangori post-industriali si rincorrono dall’iniziale “Rynek Główny” agli oltre ventidue minuti del conclusivo monolite “Plac Szczepański”, plasmando dense coltri magmatiche che puntano più su un impatto sonoro abrasivo che non su suggestioni più placide ed eteree.
Quello espresso in “Amber Studies” si potrebbe dunque considerare il lato inquieto dell’animo del compositore inglese, interessante da conoscere ed esplorare, per completezza, anche se meno convincente rispetto al precedente lavoro solista e alle risultanze del progetto collaborativo Ashlar.” – Music Won’t Save You