Ananta – Four Ways of Redemption

Rain Records (rain 010), 2005

Friends, this one’s a right doozy.

Four Ways of Redemption is over five hours long. Yes, you read right: five hours.

Consisting of four tracks lasting well over an hour each, the album (or albums, depending on your take) is an extreme experiment in longform ambient. One way (perhaps the only way) to approach this release from Ananta is to consider it four albums that are all part of a single work; like four movements of an opera. “The Forest,” “The Mist,” “The Lake” and “The Abyss” seem to document a journey through four landscapes of different tones. The craziest thing about the album, besides its length, is that it works. As you might expect, longform ambient can easily devolve into boring stasis, but Ananta avoids falling into this pit, though Marcin Drabot dances dangerously along its edge for the duration of Four Ways of Redemption.

Structurally, the tracks are put together in a typical manner. “The Forest” moves between the sounds of footsteps treading on dead leaves and heavy waves of processed drone. It’s well put together, with the lone difference being the length, of course; what may have been an eight- or ten-minute track under normal circumstances is telescoped by many degrees. Drabot brings in sprinkles of new elements here and there – new echoes emerge and recede, the layers of muffled noise increase and fade, smatterings of distant melody or speech fizzle in the distance – but while the track does move and develop over its deeply patient pacing, it doesn’t really change identity.

What does happen, however, is how the track works its way into your consciousness. Dark ambient casts its own particular type of immersion upon the listener, but when longform is executed with Ananta’s level of precision, the experience is magnified. The enchantment is augmented as time flows by. “The Forest” really does sound like the recording of a ninety-minute trek through a haunted wood, rather than a mere fragment of one. “The Mist,” with its looped siren (which brings to mind the Silent Hill games), follows a journey into and out of thickly fogged country. These aren’t distilled, compressed facsimiles, but the real thing. Well, they’re not real exactly, but the length and resulting depth imparts a reality that doesn’t exist in shorter offerings. If you were walking through such terrain yourself, your mind would wander, while also snapping towards each new wrinkle in your environment, and that’s exactly what happens when you listen. With fewer breaks, the effects of Drabot’s rooted spells linger and endure. A heavy time commitment is required, as well as an open mind, but when approached in this manner, Four Ways of Redemption offers a collaborative listening experience that’s unlike anything I’ve heard in the genre.

The last two tracks – it feels strange calling a ninety-minute piece a “track” – have a bit more variety in their content, and move farther into the darkness. “The Lake” and “The Abyss” aren’t quite as minimal as their predecessors, but the powerful narrative structure is still present. “The Lake” has some distant samples that I interpret as insects or water-dwelling animals, but they’re too alien to be certain. This is no normal lake we are skirting. “The Abyss” descends into lightly processed noise, as if we are hearing the echoes of far-off subterranean machines as we progress from tunnel to chamber. The theory and concept of longform are still heavily in place, however; things move at the same glacial pace as before, but there’s a bit more going on in the background, as if the landscape surrounding us features more detail as we edge through it.

Four Ways of Redemption is a mammoth release, but it is one worth experiencing for the patient and experimental-minded listener. It takes time to let it settle into you and take hold, but I’ve never really heard a release that has affected me in quite the same way. It’s the closest thing to a collaborative waking dream I can recall having, and is a profound example of the hypnotic potential of ambient music. I listened to Ananta’s quiet behemoth in four sections and went to deep places few albums have carried me. I can’t imagine what the effect might be if the entire journey was taken in one sitting.

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