Double Take: Celer – Nacreous Clouds (Remastered)

nacreous cloudsTJ Norris and I have prepared another pair of reviews together. This time out, it’s a re-release of Celer’s Nacreous Clouds. Norris hosts Toneshift.net blog from Ft. Worth, Texas. We’re posting both reviews on both blogs.

TJ’s Take

I probably still have my original copy of the original on Dale Lloyd’s amazing Seattle-based and/OAR imprint (circa 2008), but instead of comparing/contrasting, I am listening to this anew a decade later. This was one of the final projects for Celer which is now a solo project for American composer living in Japan, Will Long when his then wife, Danielle Baquet, was still involved as a duo prior to her untimely passing at age 26 in 2009. Their sound was uniquely refreshing in the ambient world, seemed new somehow to my ears. With the ample usage of processed tape loops Long recommends playing this on shuffle, so the sequencing is open-ended, and I can appreciate that as a lover of all things Fluxus.

So this 10-year anniversary since the original release has seen an onslaught of field recordists, the advent of Bandcamp, the re-re-re-emergence of ambient and drone artists like never before – so how does this stand up these days? Let’s go into the stratosphere and find out. There are 37 tracks here, just as on the original, and with my iTunes on random …

“Scarfs, Blisters and Night Lights” comes up first, and it’s as if a spotlight is rotating to capture something by the sea, something in the murky depths. It’s a bit unsettled, and like many of these very short snippets, flows well into “Metal Master,” even though it was track four and this is track eight. There’s a layer of calm in the ambient detachment here. Very similar to the slow pace of “Passing Hills and Still Windmills,” layered between tones and drones. I force the next track, “Peak Pressure,” to play because I want to experience something lengthier, and at just over five minutes this is it. A bit of low range modulation makes for a segregated dreamscape. That because the furl is sticking to its corner. I’d imagine losing a loved one, in hindsight, would make one lose themselves in the clouds – and I can see why it might be timely to take a look back to move forward.

The atmosphere runs from warm to icy, moreso the latter, throughout, although not heavily relying on too many effects, there seems like a simplistic purity to the playing here. It’s emotional and engaging, fleeting and human. There seems to be some understanding of rural sensibilities, something divorced from the chaos of the big city, a feeling of calm, the type it takes to make a garden grow. They seem to get the importance of pace, and in their way it’s very meditative (“To Be Holy, Be Wholly Your Own, Ice Deserts Over Ross Island”). Then there are pieces like “A Minor Echolocation” which are more like a harmonica around a campfire with a quieted group of friends, and the glints of light and smoulder it’s like an abstract, lyric-less folk song.

There are several tracks named after clouds, and it gives you the impression that the two may have appreciated a staycation, camping from their cozy spot on earth, watching the clouds pass. It doesn’t necessarily become a romantic scenario, moreso an artistic fusion of thoughts like the meteorological masses themselves. The record uses waves of pitch to move it along, after a while there’s shoegaze ambient impression that echoes even as each vignette passes, just like those clouds, up, up and away – into the ether.

My take

Ten years after its original release, Celer’s Nacreous Clouds is proof positive of the timeless nature of finely crafted drone recordings. This welcome reissue is also notable for the first-rate remastering effort turned in by Stephan Mathieu.

The and/OAR label printed 300 copies of the 80-minute LP back in 2008. In those days, Celer was a husband-and-wife duo: Will Long and the late Danielle Baquet. Together they turned a series of tape loops and a bit of digital processing into an evolving sonic patchwork.

Unlike lengthy works like Brian Eno’s celebrated Thursday Afternoon, Nacreous Clouds features 37 short pieces. Hit the shuffle button and it’s a different experience virtually every time.

The lush serenity of this album stood in stark contrast to the world it was delivered into. A decade ago we watched a financial crisis of global proportions play out in the final months of George W. Bush’s U.S. presidency. A mix of poor policymaking and plain old-fashioned greed led to a world-wide slump that we’re still feeling the effects of.

Its scope was unimaginable. No-one could say with any confidence how bad things would get. I asked an executive I was working for at the time what he thought of the whole thing. “Kevin,” he said with complete seriousness, “it’s like we’re peering over the edge of a cliff.”

Amidst all of that, this beautiful, calming work of art came along to remind us that not all would be lost. No matter the headlines, no matter the bank statements, talented artists like Long and Baquet could still make the world a better place.

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