Release Date: Oct 7, 2014
Record label: Kranky
Genre(s): Ambient, Pop/Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Ambient
Out of all of the incredible artists signed to Erased Tapes there has always been a feeling that it is the music of A Winged Victory For The Sullen that is the most distilled, crystalline and pure. In a year that has seen the label release a number of albums that have quietly expanded their usual boundaries it seems only appropriate that Stars Of The Lid‘s Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran follow suit on their second full-length work, Atomos. The album’s origins can be traced back to Royal Ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor playing their music during rehearsals with his dancers and witnessing the positive reaction and natural fit.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Contemporary dance may not be the first thing which comes to mind when you hear the music of A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The ambient classical ensemble formed by Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid) and Dustin O'Halloran created a beautiful, melancholic mix of low-end piano, strings and drone for their self-titled debut album, so perhaps it comes as a surprise that this follow-up, Atomos, was written for a new work of contemporary dance at the request of Wayne McGregor, founder of the radical Random Dance company.
Between the release of their self-titled 2011 debut and the recording of this, their second album, Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O'Halloran's studio work as a Winged Victory for the Sullen was limited to appearances on compilations released by Erased Tapes and Ghostly International. Commissioned by choreographer Wayne McGregor for his Random Dance production of the same title, Atomos supplies another hour of what the duo terms "harmonic robitussin. " While this material was composed and recorded to suit a specific purpose, it resembles a proper follow-up that varies only slightly from the debut.
Years ago now I reviewed A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s masterful, droning, ambient-orchestral debut for this site. One interesting thing to note about that record—aside from the fact that it made me come over all gooey and start using words like 'celestial' —is that, like Atomos, it came out in the autumn. I’m not sure that you could put Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran’s music out at any other time of year, really.
Wayne McGregor has great taste in ambient music. I saw his piece FAR a couple years ago, and hearing Ben Frost's delicate yet concussive score, then unreleased, was as rich a part of the experience as watching the dance. McGregor has also commissioned music from the likes of Max Richter (Sum and Infra) and Ólafur Arnalds (Dyad 1909), and you can add to that list A Winged Victory for the Sullen, a collaboration between Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie and pianist Dustin O'Halloran.
British choreographer Wayne McGregor is known for opening up his artistic process to ideas and methods of science. The Random Dance director has collaborated with experimental psychologists and cognitive scientists on the development of his pieces, and used heart imaging and other cutting-edge technologies to spur creation. McGregor is also known for working with a range of en vogue composers and artists who hover somewhere near the line between classical and more commercial genres, from Max Richter and Nico Muhly to Jon Hopkins and Ben Frost.
Much like music, dance has evolved far beyond its founding building blocks. Neither rhythm nor melody lie at the core of much modern 'music', which is now assuredly a term broad enough to take in all manner of sound-as-art. Likewise, dance has eschewed its founding skeletal confines within the boundaries of the beat, ancient traditions, and the visible spectrum of bodily language.
Without wanting to descend too far into the kind of terminology that lends itself exclusively to classical music - because there’s much more to A Winged Victory for the Sullen than that - the fact that this second record is effectively split up into a collection of suites means that plucking one of them - “Atomos VII”, to be precise - and releasing it as an EP with which to preface Atomos allowed the duo to both give listeners a representative taste of the album proper and encourage them to use their imaginations with regards to how “VII” would sound in the context of the record itself. Sonically, of course, it slots in seamlessly; Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie are primarily concerned with using classical instrumentation and composition faithful to that genre’s fundamentals - the way the strings are cut on Atomos, they wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 3 - and then incorporating that approach into what essentially amount to ambient recordings, although that’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional, subtle nod to Wiltzie’s drone background in Stars Of The Lid. What’s genuinely intriguing about “Atomos VII”’s relationship with the rest of the record proper, though, is the way in which it actually only represents one point on an incredibly broad emotional spectrum that is pretty much covered in its entirety over the course of the album’s hour-plus running time.