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When I Know You Will Too - Astoria

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Artist: When I Know You Will Too

Album: Astoria

Label: Asaurus

Review date: Jul. 31, 2003

Ambient Ambivalence

Austin’s Sean O’Neil makes beautiful, engaging ambient music as When I Know You Will Too, a moniker that, on first glance, seems to refute individual cognizance in favor of a pervading consciousness, a theory furthered by his nebulous sound environments. O’Neil’s debut album, Astoria, issued on the Detroit CD-R label Asaurus, is a collection of swirling, disorienting overtones that pulsate with interstellar exoticism and unrefined warmth. These sonic clouds of dust and dew depend upon the blurring of parameters, meshing not only Sound A with Sound B, but the aural with the tangible. Astoria, at its best, escapes a conscious audience and finds refuge in assimilation.

The bells, whistles and wind chimes of Astoria often reverberate like antithetical air sirens, signaling serenity rather than danger. On the opening track “mter”, O’Neil cycles a sequence of elongated chimes while drawing various ambient tones in and out of the mix. The chimes’ timbre is gradually morphed beyond recognition, with only the cycle’s endless footprints providing a clue as to what came before. Seconds lose their sovereignty as the piece stretches out past eight minutes.

O’Neil’s layering of sequences is reminiscent of Alex Paterson’s early Orb material, but only in an ethereal sense. O’Neil eschews traditional rhythm almost entirely on Astoria; his sonic rearrangements resemble weather patterns, where shifts are only discernible in hindsight. “yr3” is an ideal example. The 12-minute peace levitates in zero-gravity somewhere between the earth and moon, owing allegiance to neither, until the layers of minimal tone suddenly disappear to reveal a bell, ringing. It’s an incredibly lonely moment, and one that reinforces O’Neil’s ability to weave webs of equanimity out of the ether.

Which is not to say O’Neil abstains from dissonance. He counters the peaceful vibrations found earlier on Astoria with somewhat disturbing pieces like “bel fin” and “windw”, truly alien soundscapes that border on the obnoxious. Their temperamental motifs demand attention, maybe too much for their own good, but their inclusion does accentuate the bliss found elsewhere on the record.

On Astoria, O’Neil doesn’t play music so much as he presents it. The demarcation between atmosphere and autonomy is essentially the domain of the listener. These sounds have the power to thrive on their own, but it’s their ability to integrate and weld to the surrounding milieu that makes this album such an intriguing affair.

By Otis Hart

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