Ned Milligan – Afternoon Hours

2018 has already seen some beautiful music from Fluid Audio, continuing to deliver sounds characterised by emotive sensitivity, in particular through the presentation of their physical releases. Recently the label has hosted the ambient collaborations of Dalot & Sound Awakener, and the electronic constructions of Giuseppe Cordaro on his powerful debut. Both of those releases arrive as intimate works of art in their own right, hand-made in small production runs, accompanied by glass-photographs of unknown people and landscapes, presumably salvaged and repurposed from an otherwise forgotten archive. Here, with Ned Milligan’s release Afternoon Hours, the approach of republishing lost material is used again, with each physical release accompanied by entomological studies from over a century ago, remounted in a small notebook. Each is paired with a page from a Victorian-era study on insects; mine earnestly recounts warfare and slave-making behaviour in ants.

Such physical objects, while intriguing and mysterious, would be lesser things without the creative output of the artist and the emotional contrast that offers. The focus, fuzzily, for much of ambient music is on memory, the nature of the senses, and so being presented with otherwise-unrelated objects from now and then feeds into the wider aesthetic of the ambient musical movement. With releases such as Afternoon Hours we have on one hand the deliberate act of playing and recording sounds, set against the shifting unpredictability of field recordings, contrasted with repurposed, otherwise-lost work that its maker expected to live on a shelf in a library or a university. These delicate insect studies were once the passion of a person, now long departed. Their lifework perhaps, to be viewed again as part of a 21st century musical release, becomes a powerful aspect at the core of ambience; being, time, sense and memory.

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The music here is both sensitive and makeshift. Ned Milligan uses bells as the central instrument, reflecting the field recordings in wind-chime-like randomness, conjuring soft breeze through a rural home, summers, to this listener. The lo-fi ethic is embraced, with extreme levels of tape hiss, warbled recording speed, and even the sounds of the recorder buttons becoming instrumental bookends to some of the pieces. Most but not all of the music here soothes. One track could even be described as violent (as far as ambient goes), with the track Harrumph being a restless, irked battering of bells. The backing field captures what sounds like a house in spring or summer, maybe a dog walking around. In contrast to this moment, the extended rainfall and tape-static sea of Hollowed Stone feels the central statement of the collection. That this is followed by the ninety second long closer Days After Days, makes it all the more precious – it feels the artist is aware of the indulgence of long ambient tracks, and the abrupt closing track mirrors, with different sentiment, the impatience of Harrumph.

Though I imagine the release is the result of careful curation (around 35 minutes over two mini-CDs), there is a lo-fi, reconciled feel to the ambience here; unpredictability and imperfection is embraced, it’s part and parcel. The sound fields, the track and album lengths, draw you away from what could be another bell-tone centric experimental release (but which contrasts strongly with releases such as 2017’s Musique Hydromantique by Tomoko Sauvage). Ned Milligan however, expresses something deeply individual in the edit; while the palette might seem narrow, a range of emotions, times and feelings are expressed through uniting the tape medium hiss, the instrument, and the placeless field recordings. Along with the mystery evoked from the physical additions, the music in Afternoon Hours is another beautiful examination of time.

RIYL France Jobin, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Triac, Taylor Deupree, William Basinski, Olan Mill, Brian Eno.

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