Many musics have stylistic markers that become the signposts of their specific genres. These then calcify into repetition, bordering on clichÃ©s. Sometimes, artists then simply overstep the mark and construct a series of those predictable markers. The resulting music feels like you’ve heard it all before, no matter how tasteful and well crafted it is.
Netherworld, Alessandro Tedeschi, has created an album in Alchemy Of Ice which leaves me with that exact feeling. It’s constructed expertly, the sounds do what the artists put them there for, yet there is a hollowness at the core. If you are making an ambient album, things like ‘glacial’, ‘cavernous’ and ‘expansive’ are the kind of adjectives that have become the clichÃ©s. When you begin calling your tracks things like ‘Polo Nord dell’inaccessibilita’ (The Inaccessible North Pole), ‘Icepulse’ and ‘White Silence’, you really are walking, knowingly, straight into some of ambient music’s most overused refrains. You really need something special with which to inhabit those ideas or run the very real risk of falling headlong into the abyss (groan). But Netherworld gives us exactly what we might expect from the titles, based on what we know has happened in countless ambient releases before this. Every sound is washed in long reverb. We are given space, but only the one, cavernous space. There is no sense of depth that different length reverb tails might evoke. Bottom end comes by way of deep groaning sounds. Hazy synth washes blur in the background. Lonely piano figures break through periodically, to melt (or, perhaps, freeze) into the atmosphere. A distant voice three quarters of the way through the album, during ’85@50’S 65@47’E’ – unclear radio contact? lost directions? – place humanity in the midst of the expanse but, again, what is being evoked are such stock, ‘cinematic’ qualities that they really struggle to lift the music.
In Netherworld’s defence, he really does succeed in creating what he has aimed for on Alchemy Of Ice. And the album is released on Tedeschi’s own Glacial Movements label, a label dedicated to the very sounds of icy regions, so there is no questioning his ability to hit his stated target. The problem is, that aim has become a stock standard. The recording is exquisite, everything is balanced beautifully, many of the melodic snippets are lovely. But metaphors of ice, glaciers and space have been covered pretty much exhaustively across the history of ambient music, from Tangerine Dream to Wyndham Hill’s early 90s heyday through to contemporary advances in field recording (and, indeed, right across Glacial Movements’ catalogue) and, here, are treated in exactly the way you would expect. If you’ve never heard Eno before, some of Alchemy Of Ice might sound groundbreaking. But, if you have, I can’t imagine you finding too much here that you haven’t heard done with much greater subtlety and exploration elsewhere.