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Michael Bross: "Subway Meditations" (Review)

Michael Bross: “Subway Meditations” (Review)

July 13, 2009 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Michael Bross: “Subway Meditations” (Review)on Twitter

Michael Bross is a composer and music producer who broke into the world of VGM when he got the job for two different Oddworld projects: Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath (the latter being a personal favorite of mine). On July 14th, his new solo album Subway Meditations will be released for both physical and digital distribution via Bross’ own “Deep Lever” record label.

If you’re ready for some experimental, minimalist, ambient electronica, you’ll want to read further: after the jump.

So I’m not going to list the tracklist. The twelve tracks are simply named “Subway Meditation 01” all the way up to “Subway Meditation 12.” Thus, we won’t be deriving any hidden meanings or messages by comparing the audio to the track title.

So here’s the deal. Bross sat around, recording sounds heard in a subway. Then he took those sounds and used them as the raw ingredients for what would become music. Recording sounds in a subway for future use is not an unknown concept; it is regularly done for getting sound effects for film and television. But to turn it into music? It’s a mighty clever idea.

Throughout the album, you hear: footsteps used as percussion, the zooming sounds of a subway auto-tuned and pitched to make music, a voice over a loudspeaker barely peaking out over the noise in a way that is rather haunting, the creaking of the brakes as the subway cart comes to a stop, people muttering and coughing (in rhythm!), and more. But, in case you’re worried that these noises are too overt and might ruin a sense of musicality, don’t fear. Bross is a master of subtlety. The noises are gone as quickly as the appear, and they are mixed in to be very soft, below the drones and blips created by the computer software and keyboards that lay out the structure of the electronic music.

And talk about chill. Almost any ambient CD is going to work for chill-time. But Bross has gotten his chill level on strong, and he’s not going to back down by throwing in too much unnecessary percussive loops. Every now and again, there will be just enough noise to rise above the surface that wakes you up from the trance. The change in dynamics, usually subtle, will occasionally be quite sudden. Again, all I can say is that Bross is masterful.

On a somewhat exhibitionist personal note, here’s a recommendation for fans of ambient electronic music, whether you’re new to the genre or not. Go for complete sensory deprivation, but only for your eyes (and, technically, mouth). Head to your bathroom, turn out all the lights, and maybe even put towels around the edges of the door to keep out light. You want absolute darkness. If you have a large enough bath tub, lay down in it. Then turn on the shower. Meanwhile, have this CD (or really, any ambient music, but I found this one works especially well). For an added touch, some sort of incense or scented bath oils/salts will help stimulate the sense of smell. This isn’t technically sensory deprivation. It’s actually sensory stimulation imbalance. You’re depriving one or two senses, and overloading the others. Using ambient electronica for this experience really adds to the surreal touch. Believe me when I say, I’ve never abused any illegal substances, and thanks to this personal discovery, I won’t have to. For me, this was a near-pinnacle approach to “surreal” relaxation. And I’d like to thank Mr. Bross for the opportunity, because this worked a lot better than Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Man, I must sound like one creepy dude now.

If you ever check out Bross’ soundtrack to Stranger’s Wrath, you’ll notice the minimalist ambient genre there, but it’s got a touch of “Western film score” to it, considering the nature of the game. Here, we have a decidedly bleak and urban sound. But I wouldn’t be opposed to calling the listening experience “spiritual,” though I personally won’t call it that, since I’m not into becoming an all-out new age freak (despite the shower idea above).

The music sounds good through headphones and on car speakers, so it’s a perfect album to pick up digitally if you’re a big user of iTunes. But if you like the physical artifact, you can also buy the CD. Go ahead and give it a try!

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