One reviewer of this album said it best; “newcomers [to Ambarchi’s music] will be scouting the back catalogue.” In The Pendulum’s Embrace is such a good introduction to the sonic capabilities of Australian guitarist/sound artist Oren Ambarchi. He really shows his teeth here but without embracing the same thematic values present in his other sound works. Pendulum is supposed to be the darker half of his last Touch release Grapes From The Estate (2004) but I have a hard time drawing a connection.
For such a prominent figure in the vein of experimental guitar work, with cohorts in this field such as Keith Rowe, Otomo Yoshihide, Elliott Sharp and David Stacknäs, this album features mostly the dark droning bass pulses of both electronic and instrumental sources, as opposed to a natural reliance on the guitar as his main tool. His palette has extended to include percussions, strings, piano, glass harmonica, bells and even voice, with this release however his identity is never in question. No matter where you try to run in the cavernous scenery he creates here, Ambarchi follows.
In The Pendulum’s Embrace is a piece split into three parts which, in interesting ways, can be compared to and contrasted with the movements of a film plot. The first track introduces the themes of the album and hovers a bit before taking off into the wild. The second track falls back like a slow interlude playing on the same underlying theme of cyclic pulsation, but panning out like a landscape of hills instead of a close shot of one meandering through them. The third track picks back up the tension created between instruments, yet instead of resolving, it evolves. Ambarchi fills his compositions slowly to include more sound sources, which leads to congestion rather than conclusion. Other instruments pick up the tension and build it back up, only to watch it crumble to yet another change. And finally, the album comes to a close before the last song does. Ambarchi abruptly cuts the ending off of “Trailing Moss In Mystic Glow” which both leaves it open for the listener and at the same time, closes the wardrobe door behind his “Narnia” world that he creates.
This sound work is less a piece of sound art and more a twisted open-ended narrative with a beginning, middle and no end. This basic principle correlates with the design of a swinging pendulum itself, which can be released or prompted (the starting event), moving fluidly (the middle) but will swing forever if left alone. Resisting force never takes over the object but equalizes in cyclic pulses, shifting the tension back and forth forever. An interesting and random fact is that according to Wikipedia, there are two bands based in Australia named Pendulum. Hmmmmm….