The third album by Ashlar, my collaborative project with Phil Edwards (PJE), is out now on Whitelabrecs.
After the first two Ashlar albums Wil relocated back to London, which meant that when the duo began to work together again, a very different approach was necessary. Instead of jamming and producing together, they worked remotely, usually initiated by the sharing of recordings, which were then added to, processed and bounced back and forth until the final tracks emerged.
With ‘Distant Scenes’ most of the sounds began as piano loops (played by Wil) and acoustic guitar parts (played by Phil), which were heavily processed and re-processed several times using both software effects and guitar pedals. Where the first two albums featured environmental sounds from the local area, the field recordings here were made by both artists separately, in wildly varied locations including Japan, Korea and the UK.
Unlike their initial work, this new method of working has taken a great deal longer to fully realise, given that the process was less immediate and more meticulous.
Distant Scenes is an album built around distance, time and space as their different recording locations inspired new but separate ideas. A warm but blurry canvas has been woven over a four year period, as time has rusted the memories of the good old days spent jamming on their earlier albums and newer ideas have been corroded into a melancholic fuzz.
Released by Whitelabrecs on limited edition CD and download, 20 July 2018.
Written and produced by Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards
Mastered by Wil Bolton
“Lazy Saturday afternoons in Liverpool provided the context for Ashlar, a collaborative project of Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards. The two began collaborating about 7 years ago ahead of their debut release Saturday Drones (Time Released Sound, 2011) which was based on sessions recorded in the public houses of the city’s Georgian quarter while St. James’ Gardens (Hibernate Recordings, 2014) was inspired by field recordings made in & around the park of the same name. Bolton has since relocated to London, but the project lives on in a new record aptly titled Distant Scenes based on a similar modus operandi with adjustments made to accommodate the geographical separation. This time the field recordings come from locations as varied as Japan and Korea as well as the UK and the impromptu recording sessions have been replaced by an asynchronous approach of sharing, augmenting, processing, and remote exchange. While this may have been a dramatic change in how the project was conducted, the listener will find the languorous beauty and friendly experimentation that characterized Ashlar’s previous work lives on albeit with a new patina burnished with welcome touches of melancholy and nostalgia.
The field recordings on this outing are mostly pastoral in nature and perfectly complement the organic field of sound Bolton and Edwards create with piano loops, acoustic guitar, and warm washes of static and distortion. The location and scenery may have changed, but this is still music that dwells in the spirit of lazy Saturday afternoons that should never end.” – Stationary Travels
“Torna a manifestarsi dopo quattro anni di assenza il progetto condiviso da Wil Bolton e Phil Edwards, le cui due precedenti uscite, “St. James’ Gardens” (2014) e “Saturday Drones” (2012), si atteggiavano a ostentata estemporanea di ispirazione e realizzazione. Una dinamica creativa parzialmente diversa è invece alla base di “Distant Scenes”, avvenuta per la prima volta a distanza, dopo il trasferimento di Bolton da Liverpool a Londra, ma proprio per questo strutturata in maniera più organica e studiata.
Quella distanza, richiamata anche nel titolo dell’album, costituisce dunque elemento decisivo delle nove tracce che formano il lavoro, dalle quali non a caso promanano sensazioni spiccatamente nostalgiche, veicolate dalle note pianistiche di Bolton e dalle vibrazioni di corde acustiche di Edwards. Entrambi tali elementi sono lentamente stillati dagli strumenti dei due artisti, nonché variamente processati in modo da amplificarne le calde risonanze, interpolate dagli abituali field recordings, nell’occasione raccolti in maniera separata in varie parti del mondo.
Più che la rappresentazione sonora di tempi e luoghi individuati, come nei due lavori precedenti, “Distant Scenes” offre infatti quella di sentimenti universali, che si alimentano della lontananza fisica per trasformarsi nel tepore sommesso delle persistenze armoniche di un’ambience elettro-acustica placidamente palpitante.” – Music Won’t Save You
“A new album popped up on my radar while scrolling through an Instagram feed of people enjoying the Summer and vacations abroad. I don’t like hot weather and my bank account laughs at the idea of a holiday, so I turn my attentions to discovering new music and writing about from behind closed blinds with a desk fan on full pointed it my direction…
Ashlar is the duo of two well-established artists within the contemporary ambience scene, Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards. I had the privilege of sharing a stage in London with Wil Bolton at a recent Hibernate Recordings event; I have known Phil for his extensive contributions to ambient music in the form of the label Assembly Field. ‘Distant Scenes’ follows Ashlar’s debut release. ‘Saturday Drones’ on Colin Herrick’s Time Released Sound back In 2012, and 2014’s‘St. James’ Gardens’ on Johnathan Lee’s Hibernate Recordings in 2014. The duo of Bolton & Edwards have now delivered ‘Distant Scenes’ on Harry Towell’s Whitelabrecs; an album that demonstrates the skill and dedication to detail and musical nuance of the two artists combined.
The album’s third track, ‘Fused’ provides disjunct guitar chords, sampled and replayed at unintended intervals. Warping noise, hiss, and the unobtrusive sound of muted keys create a world of sound that constantly evolves around the guitar-based construct. Further reading into the production of the album reveals the locations of field recordings included in the album were gathered across the world, bestowing sonic contrast and creating a sense of place only achievable within the auditory; an accidental metaphor that reflects Bolton & Edwards no longer living near to one another, and working together remotely from to separate places. Longer chordal passages can be heard in the following ‘Insects and Dust’, where the original guitar compositions remain mostly intact, giving a loose and direct sense of flow.
Once at the halfway point of the album, keyed instruments begin to take prominence, with gently played movements that draw comparisons to the earlier ambient works decades ago, wherein rigid structure gives way to simply playing and enjoying. This comes across well to the listener, providing moments of respite. A darker sound-palette emerges from ‘Same Fate’, as environmental recordings focused on the lower frequencies open for reversed and heavily warbling guitar loops spread out across the stereo field; a contrast between the industrial and organic can be heard as the sounds of birdsong and passing chatter challenge the sounds of the mechanical.
Closing with ‘Patterns and Memories’, the sombre tonality of the duo continues in place of the colour and playfulness of the earlier tracks. I find that I’m more drawn to these pieces, as it is during the sparser moments where the weight of Ashlar’s true attention to detail and sonic nuance is brought to the attention of the listener.” – Irregular Crates
“This naturally sold out album sees the duo mix up sounds, styles, techniques and textures to create an album that fuses electronics, field recording and ambience. Mastered By Wil the sounds are crisp, at times gritty and present, while at other coated in haze and fuzz. A track like “Insects and Dust” is the perfect sort of track to single out as it encompasses these qualities. The acoustic guitar, field recordings, fractured, dislocated sound, blurring ambience all intermingle throughout the piece changing its texture along the way. Throughout the album the main elements change in their role and influence of the track. Field recordings are essential in the opener “Beneath the Haze”, while the second track “Set Apart” focuses on a mix of rippling almost glitchy sounds and field recordings before gradually becoming a drone piece.
“Orchid” feels like you are out in the park with water running, birds chirping and sounds that coalesce to make music. Rather than field recordings added to instruments it feels like that the instruments are just part of the natural ambience. “Postcards at Home” feels like a distant cousin to “Orchid” with a similar sort of structure, but with a very different outcome. While “Orchard” felt warm and inviting, Postcards…” makes the air feel chilly with a slight sense of dread that hangs as the notes drone and fade. “Colourless” borders on noise with its tactile, metallic, grinding drones that twist and surge throughout the track, but the calmness and relative beauty that permeates through the album has returned with the closer “Patterns in Memories” with its gentle, relaxed and contemplative sounds. While “Insects and Dust” distilled the elements of the album int a single track, this particular piece shows the duo leaving the best for last. A delightful mix of field recordings, drones and instrumentation it is a track that benefits from what has been left out rather than what has been included. The space is clear for the all the elements to gently reveal themselves with a nice subtlety that makes it a joy to listen to. The best ambient I find is one that isn’t forced, just natural and this track feels pure with an attention to details and soundscapes.
With each release taking on average three to four years, it should be 2021 or 2022 before we hear from Wil and Phil again, but until then we have “Distant Scenes” to enjoy.” – Drifting, Almost Falling