Kammarheit – Kollektionen

bandcamp, 2016

Kammarheit is a project that needs little introduction. Pär Boström’s flagship project is celebrated in dark ambient circles, and for good reason: it has an elemental and timeless sound that seems drawn directly from some alternate dimension of meditative shadow. There’s little dispute that albums such as Asleep and Well Hidden and The Starwheel are staples of the genre, if not outright classics, but there’s more depth to Kammarheit.

Kollektionen is, as its title suggests, a collection of tracks taken from various compilations, ranging from the mammoth Kalpamantra comps to more obscure oddities such as Compilation for a Cat. In addition to these, there is an unreleased track, “Arch,” all of which have been remastered by Cryo Chamber mastermind Simon Heath. Available only as a download from Kammarheit’s bandcamp site, Kollektionen is a must-listen, as it contains some of Boström’s best work.

It’s not easy to pinpoint the reason why Kammarheit is considered such an enduring and effective project. On the surface, the music follows a simple template: gradually interlaced beds of drone are punctuated by carefully placed loops. Part of Boström’s talent is in his arrangement. He allows silence to voice itself as much as his content; Kammarheit tracks are never overburdened or sluggish, and rarely do they overstay their welcome. Boström is also a gifted sound sculptor, able to draw strange, hauntingly organic, and near-familiar sounds from his machines. He occasionally imparts a musical sense to his compositions; the muted dulcimer-like chime of “Adrift” and the gracefully solemn chords of “Provenience” are of particular note. Regardless of structure, his work as Kammarheit (and as his superlative conceptual side-project Cities Last Broadcast), is ripe with awe and mystery. Kammarheit tracks seem to breathe, slowly and calmly, with natural rhythm. When the volume is cranked, new details are revealed, and the easier it is to fall into the dimensions unfolding from the speakers – quality headphones are recommended.

Take, for example, “I Found It Weeping in the Field.” It paints a stark landscape under a streaked sky, and the alien whimpers and lonely bleats of the curious entity hidden within the tall grass and ancient hillocks. The emotion is palpable without being threatening; it’s one of the finest examples of how Kammarheit’s work is often not dark at all, but hypnotically strange. It is the voice of abandoned places, and here, of the inhabitants who rarely show themselves.

Two of the most recent tracks, “Arch” and “The Excavation Site,” recall the subterranean majesty of Kammarheit’s 2016 album The Nest. Through use of vast echo and meticulous sonic placement and pacing, one feels instantly transported to the depths of the earth, to huge halls supported by grand pillars that dwarf the surface world’s most massive and aged trees. We can only speculate who carved these places, and why; Boström leaves it for us to decide, limiting his vision to the conjuring of atmosphere that envelops the listener. When Kammarheit adopts this concept, the aesthetics and immersion tread boldly through unmarked territory.

Add the arctic landscape of “Tundra,” the void-embracing “Kosmos,” and the dim serenity of “Landfall,” and Kollektionen starts to become a tour of Boström’s personal dreamlands. Taking this into account, and the album is just that – an album – rather than a jumble of randomly assembled tracks. This is an archive of Kammarheit finery that is, in many ways, the equal of the project’s official albums, and in my view, contains more quality than the six-disc Unearthed retrospective set (which is no slouch). Kollektionen is a genre essential, providing further proof that Boström is high king of the half-lit ambient realms.

Kammarheit – Asleep And Well Hidden

Cyclic Law (3rd Cycle), 2003

The music of Kammarheit occupies a space between genres.  It contains the ominous exploration of dark ambient and the delicate introspection of ambient, often within the same track.  Par Bostrom produces expressive atmospheres that can soothe and cause unease in equal measures.  There’s always something not quite right in Kammarheit’s world, and it is up to the listener to discern what it is, and why.

Asleep And Well Hidden is a portrait of quiet complexity.   The structure of the music is straightforward; a Kammarheit track typically uses a single synth line as its base, and repeats it while adding subtle layers of detail.  Bostrom is a master of the subtle, never letting his slices of melancholia venture beyond the boundaries he has created.  Like the best ambient, he gives us a partially defined starting point and allows us to flesh out the full meaning.  “Hiding” has a gentle two-chord key sequence that Bostrom surrounds with gentle passes, flutters, and tones; we could be at the shore of an ink-dark sea or somewhere beneath the earth.  What exactly is hiding and why is never revealed, except in our minds (and perhaps not even there).  It’s not frightening – not exactly – but a stirring experience that shows us a glimpse of something that has been sealed away for good reason.

Bostrom uses this theme of duality throughout the album.  Through its repeated drone and low reversed bells, “The Ruins and the Serene” reflects the awe and mystery of something lost with the calm that can be found in isolation.  “For The Innermost” draws things out even further, with its carefully evolving drone and deftly layered keys punctuated by occasional feedback.  At first listen, the level of detail might not be fully apparent.  Even in a track this minimal, Bostrom folds in quite a lot of content, but in a careful and gradual manner; the keenest and most attentive ears will find much during deep listening sessions.

At just under five minutes, “The Poignant” is the album’s shortest track, featuring a repeated sequence that sounds like the coos and stirs of some lonely nightbird, which sends its forlorn call into the surrounding murk.  It’s simultaneously haunting and relaxing, and Bostrom keeps it perfectly balanced.  “Epitome” is similar, with its stark spaces and quiet shifts containing oddly organic sounds that may have come from some unseen animal; not a monstrous thing, mind you, but certainly a strange one with strange emotion.  Perhaps we are given a glimpse into this animal’s restless slumbers with “Dreamhours,” where we are led through a hazy and uncertain landscape with furtive movements just out of sight.

Kammarheit draws the listener inwards, to places of silent regret and isolation.  The music carries none of the bombast found so often in ambient, dark or otherwise.  Its versatility produces a different experience for the imaginative listener, or an inspiring journey through night-soaked landscapes for those seeking something a bit more passive.  Bostrom’s palette is too edgy and nervous to be completely soothing, but never plunges fully into the depths of despair.  It’s remarkable that such an apparently minimal album never drags or bogs down under its own weight, and that its surprising complexity adheres so strongly to a theme while avoiding the too-common trap of sounding like a demo of the artist’s technical skills.  At just over forty-two minutes, Asleep And Well Hidden is not a lengthy album, but it features a level of consistency, artistry, and conjured experience most longer albums never achieve.

Cities Last Broadcast – The Cancelled Earth

Cyclic Law (21st Cycle), 2009

On one level, dark ambient can be a magnificent example of technological wizardry.  On another, the capturing of specific aesthetic atmospheres.  Many albums achieve one or the other; a percentage achieve both.  And then there are the precious gems that don’t just present a concept, but develop it fully, while presenting both technical and songwriting skills in an accomplished fashion.  It’s the discovery of these rare, high-concept masterpieces that fuel my passion for the genre.

Cities Last Broadcast’s album The Cancelled Earth is a premium example of hitting all three targets dead-center.  Par Bostrom, who’s perhaps better known for his melodic dark ambient Kammarheit project, has crafted something different here.  The Cancelled Earth is darker and noisier; solemn where Kammarheit is reflective, edgy rather than introspective.  The album’s concept is simple: to produce the sounds of a long-lost civilization, as if snatched from the atmosphere of a dead planet, an incomplete and one-sided conversation the crumbled cities once had with themselves.  Drawing from field recordings of his local urban surroundings, Bostrom has filtered, distorted, and processed the audio sources to make them almost unfamiliar, then framed them with drones and waves that he does so well as Kammarheit.

Part of the optional interactivity with music like this is to try and detect what’s source and what is synthetic.  “Cornerstone” has a buried loop of children laughing, perhaps at a park, and “Deadpost” is built around what seems to be the horn of a boat.  Dreamlike fragments of a string quartet rise at the end of “Architecton,” and those with keen ears may catch traces of conversation threaded within “Railroom.”  With hints and pieces like this, it’s easier for the listener to fill in the rest of the tale, as the analyst for this recently discovered recording of ghosts and history.  Typical for Cyclic Law, the packaging is also superlative, with a large-format cardboard sleeve depicting a sepia-toned silhouette of the ruin of a once-proud structure.  One can get a taste of former beauty in the design, which sets the tone perfectly for the music contained within.

As Kammarheit, Bostrom has shown he’s a master at conjuring mood, and The Cancelled Earth is another example of his skill.  The melodies here are slow and expanded, almost to the point of inscrutability; the music is a slow-motion dirge.  Bostrom is also judicious with his samples, dropping synthetic passes at perfect intervals, fading them out, then bringing them back to define each track from the next.  “Antenna” showcases this effect at its highest, with a high-pitched whine that teeters on the very edge of rolling waves of drones – drones that have pattern and shape, and unfold into a low bass rumble capped by a haunting chord sequence and a sampled moan of ancient machinery.  “Bascule Bridge” follows a similar vein, but in a minimal fashion, using an echoed and looped gong to wonderful effect and surrounding it with a repeated series of delicate yet quietly sinister synth passes, before finishing it off with reversed feedback tones that seep through the ether with near-palpable longing.

The Cancelled Earth is an album I return to often.  Bostrom has captured such a strong mood here, and with such enviable ease, that listening to it is much like revisiting a favorite film, short story, or painting.  Consistently remarkable in its tone, inspired in its composition, and accomplished in its production, The Cancelled Earth is conceptual dark ambient at its finest.