Review: Celer, “Ariill”

Celer is not the amazing ambient and drone unit that every blog, webzine, and message board in the universe claims it is. At least, Ariill doesn’t prove it. Released as a pair of free MP3s in 2007 by Archaic Horizon and presumably related to a self-released CD-R of the same name from 2005, these two half-hour drones represent the start of Celer’s prolific four-year run, which I assume yielded better music than this.

Following Anthony D’Amico’s review of Vestiges of an Inherent Melancholy, I sought out whatever information I could about Celer. All the blogs and message boards I found trading their music made it sound as though Will Long and Dani Baquet-Long’s recorded output was a heavenly ambient gospel inspired by the same gods that Jacob Kirkegaard, Chris Watson, and Rosy Parlane proclaimed. Such comparisons and high praise sent me looking for anything I could find by them. Thanks to Archaic Horizon, I didn’t have to look far, because they provide Ariill absolutely free of charge on their website.

A paragraph or two can be found there that tries to describe Ariill’s central conceit, but it’s poorly written and more confusing than helpful. The grandiloquent description only explains that these two pieces began life as piano sonatas and were transformed into something new using a relatively simple looping process the band refers to as “triangular synthesis.” There’s a diagram included with the download that is supposed to make that process easier to understand, but it’s entirely unnecessary and only makes Celer look pompous. Whatever they did to transform their piano music into respiring drone noise, the effort just wasn’t worth it.

During the first half-hour, distorted tones, which are stretched to the breaking point, crackle and stutter amidst steaming vents and a rippling, nearly melodic background. The effect is a pleasant one, at least initially, but after 15 minutes it becomes tedious. There is no development, nor is there much in the way of depth, and after just a couple of minutes the song is essentially spent. But Celer keeps the same thing going for an additional 28 minutes. Only very minuscule elements are added or subtracted, so that by the end all I can hear is a repetitive, grating noise, like Charlie Brown’s mom speaking through a broken megaphone. It isn’t meditative and it isn’t poetic, it’s just a long, plodding exercise in generic feedback manipulation.

The second half-hour manages to be worse. A single undulating tone begins the song, and over the course of 32 minutes it is transformed by various effects and the addition of other tones, which interfere with it. As these echoing sine waves lap over one another, distorted chunks of audio similar to those from the first song pan across the stereo in short fits. Again, the effect is pleasant enough at the start, but prolonged exposure generates only frustration. Making matters worse are a number of abrupt frequency changes, where the song’s central tone is either lowered or raised in a distracting and unpleasant way. Without them the song would be better, but it would still go on for far too long.

With some editing, Ariill might have been a fine EP of under-produced drone, but as a full-length release it is severely flawed. Even in abbreviated form, it would lack the color and ingenuity found so abundantly in the music of people like Andrew Chalk or Jonathan Coleclough (check out Jonathan’s Period for an excellent example of highly processed, piano-derived music). It isn’t hard to imagine that Will and Dani released better music during their short time together; this is only their second release, after all. But, for now, I have to conclude that if Celer is as great as everyone says they are, the proof is somewhere else, on one of their other 57 releases.

Ariill is available for free from Archaic Horizon
Sound samples are available at Brainwashed.com

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