An entirely non-profit label, Children Play Records came onto my radar recently with two solo releases from past Audio Gourmet netlabel contributors Darren Harper and Gimu. The pair are fresh from a stunning long distance collaboration which resulted in a physical 3" EP on Rural Colours.
Darren Harper is an artist that I have been following ever since I got into ambient music, with his early album releases on Earth Mantra. Patient and modest, Darren has quietly amassed several releases which span netlabels Earth Mantra and Audio Gourmet as well as his own self-released material via Bandcamp.
Through each of these beautiful ambient projects, Darren has displayed a gradually building arsenal of production techniques and has laid them out for all to hear. Now approaching the physical format, armed with years of fine-tuning and experimentation, he is quite the refined producer. Incorporating subtly glitching electronic tones, chimes, field recording, light noise, drones and various instrument sounds, Darren's varied palette is rich in texture.
'Falls', his latest production, delves through six perfectly weighted slices of soundscaping that should firmly place Darren Harper on your radar if you haven't already discovered his work. Opening out with 'Floating Filigree', a simple jittering of shimmering digital tones presents itself as being surprisingly organic despite its roots lying predominantly with the electronic. Minus the piano, echoes of M'Ostermeier's 'The Rules Of Another Small World' filter into thought whilst listening to this piece.
Evocatively titled 'A View FromWithin A Smaller Space' continues where the first piece left off, opening with what sounds like a digital wind chime backed by the hum of machinery. This hum gathers with intensity, unfurling slowly through an 8 minute duration. 'Reflective Shards; Filaments Of Light' return the listener to a slightly lighter state, with a lush drone bed forming the back drop for a more sparse arrangement of digital tones, all lightly affected by the sort of gentle noise application that we might hear on a Herzog or Hessien record.
Onto the second half of the record, or the flip-side if you will, this masterpiece fittingly opens with what sound like vinyl crackles. Here we find Harper spreading his sound design into a more open electro-acoustic territory, with the use of a simple and short guitar ditty accompanied by reversed samples of it. Following on is another short piece, the title track, which is a textured stormy affair littered with lots of tiny and barely discernable details. A strong sense of marvel is apparent here as I listen - it's one of those tracks that really heighten the impact of the landscape or hark the mind back to an early school science VHS.
Lots of albums tend to leave the longest track until last, to draw out those final moments and to allow the artist time and space to develop one final 'act'. This one, 'Solace and Sines; a Walk Through the Garden' opens out with the most clearly discernable natural element featured in 'Falls', some light bird chatter, presumably in the garden. The feint dischordant shrill of sine waves punctuate a truly beautiful and otherworldly texture of droning sound. This develops for the duration of the piece allowing the listener to really drift off into a dreamy state. This is an often cliched phrase for the ambient music reviewer, although rarely truly captured as perfectly as Darren does so here.
All in all, a really solid and mesmerising piece of work from Darren Harper for his first full length CD release. There were only 20 physical copies produced so get in quick to avoid disappointment. Otherwise, the label have made it available digitally through their Bandcamp account. It comes with my highest recommendation if you are feeling that there are few new and challenging ambient artists developing at the moment. Darren may be a new name for many, but as I mentioned earlier he has been gradually honing his techniques for years and is a noticeably talented artist. Never more the case than on 'Falls', which could be his finest body of work to date...