Though A Voice for the Background prioritizes albums released within the past year, we sometimes cannot help but discuss other highly treasured but slightly dated contemporary works.
For me, Ingmar Wennerberg’s third full-length album as Snufmumriko, At First Light, stands as a testament not only to Wennerberg’s adroit musical craftsmanship and sound engineering, but also more generally to the creative potential of drone music as a genre. Drone, in its purest sense, is an exercise in the form of sound production. Its inherent compositional intention (stated in the name of the genre itself) is to take virtually static tones and arrange them in an interesting way. Therefore, because of its emphasis on formalism, pure drone often resonates with, but does not undertake to imitate or invade, the world of the listener. However (and this is a particularly large however) quite a bit of contemporary drone music seems to suggest and sometimes demonstrate that, even with only a few tones, one can construct an immersive aural experience—a world unto itself. And indeed that is the only way I can describe At First Light experientially, as a completely closed diegetic world: it’s not just an album I can listen to, but a place I can go to, like a secret garden or an empty park.
I could attempt to describe At First Light formally. I could talk about how, from the first shining rays of “Eos,” the vinyl-like crackling samples, which appear in much of Snufmumriko’s music, give it an air of nostalgia not unlike the work of Boards of Canada or Black Moth Super Rainbow or The Caretaker or William Basinski. I could talk about how on “Still Early Days” each track, both synthetic and recorded, is treated with a different degree of reverb to give the illusion of distance, so that the water samples may sound like a nearby stream while farther away the bright, high-pass-filter synth sounds could evoke the twinkling light peaking through the forest canopy, while still farther the panned wash synths might well be the low hum of the world beyond the sycamores. I could talk about how “Kingdom of Lost Summers” expertly blends its prominent field sampling—the buzzing of a fly, the crunch of fallen autumn leaves, water dripping off the branches into a puddle—with an uncannily imitative palette of synth sounds. I could go on and on about Snufmumriko’s technical accomplishments for pages… but I will try to refrain from making the futile effort to fit such a tangible—even tactile—piece of music into the narrow conventional demands of formalist analysis.
But maybe it is enough to simply say that Wennerberg masterfully blends the temporal lessons of the so-called hauntological artists I’ve mentioned above—who primarily play with older or older-sounding recording and production styles as a means of invoking the past—with the engineering and synthetic sound design capabilities of more straightforward drone artists like Stars of the Lid or Kyle Bobby Dunn or Final. The only other time I’ve heard both of these approaches blended so fluidly may have been on Bibio’s 2017 album Phantom Brickworks, which of course was released after At First Light. In the past year or so other artists have entered into this territory (most notably the latter half of The Caretaker’s Everywhere at the End of Time (2018 – 2019) and Kyle Bobby Dunn’s From Here to Eternity). If you believe that line of reasoning, perhaps you will agree that Snufmumriko made a truly groundbreaking masterpiece of an album, one that is worth returning to even amidst the currently glorious state of drone music.
By Isak McCune