Recently I’ve been exploring the music of Ellis Green, an up-and-coming English Ambient and Modern Classical musician. He hasn’t put out a proper release in a few years, so I thought it more appropriate to talk about his work in general, from his two complementary 2016 EPs to his more recent one-off tracks.
Most of Green’s work can be sorted into three different kinds of music, Electronic Drone, which often prominently features experimental tape manipulation; Grouper-esque acoustic minimalism, which sometimes also incorporates tape manipulation and electronic elements but invariably highlights the recording’s acoustic or artificial space; and Modern Classical, which definitely makes up the smallest portion of his work, and it is typically glacially slow and Schoenbergian in its regard for melody. I will focus my attention mostly on the former two categories, as they are the most typical for Green, although the newest track of his I can find (“vampires and ginger cake”) incorporates elements of all three.
Although I think Green’s (if not direct then oblique) influences are rather clear (his Dron-y tape manipulation work falls somewhere in between The Disintegration Loops, early Bibio, and Lull; I’ve already mentioned the likeness with Grouper in his vocal music), what interests me is not that he borrows from excellent artists, but rather that he is interested in effectively synthesizing their sound, and he has done just that in a gradual, documented progression over the course of the past couple years. That said, his early EPs are not to be overlooked; see especially the exemplary songs “Bannisters” and “A League from Land.”
“Bannisters” is probably the closest we will get to The Mountain Goats writing Emo or Low making a lo-fi album. The song’s attention to ambient space effectively gives it four instruments: guitar, vocal, reverb and tape hiss, and incredibly it feels as though these four elements are each equally tempered so that one could just as easily listen to the background noise as the heartfelt singing. “A League from Land”’s tape hiss is just as powerful an ambient tool, but here it acts in conjunction with samples of the sea and rather wave-like tape loops to evince a more deeply moving—and perhaps more nostalgic—scene than the samples alone could paint.
More recently, his tracks “You Are You, Please Keep Being You” (a 20-minute whirling dream of tape bliss) and the aforementioned “vampires and ginger cake” (an otherworldly bittersweet instrumental ballad) have moved into new ground, the former of extreme ambience and minimal change, and the latter an attempt at mixing his Classical, Droning, and acoustic sound—an attempt that succeeds in spades. In both of these works, one may note the markedly increased compositional attention given to setting a tone or creating an atmosphere instead of focusing on a progression of samples or a series of chord changes or any dynamic movement. This effectively boils Green’s music down to something very essential and displays it as nakedly as possible.
The former work extends the ambient potential of his A League from Land EP to its logical maximum: there is hardly any movement over the course of the piece aside from its central loops and the initial play between them, which essentially develops within the first few minutes and then does not shift noticeably for the rest of the piece. The latter appears to be premised upon Green’s acoustic EP, but this time he has incorporated a bowed guitar and new flickering synthetic sounds that bring the track into the same world as his more explicitly ambient music without giving up the unrequited or tragic romance of his acoustic guitar.
All of this is to say that in only a few years with only a few small releases Green has carved out an interesting and unique sound within the global Ambient community. Although he has not yet released a great deal of music, from what I have heard and written about I do have my hopes up for a bright, albeit tape-recorded, future.
By Isak McCune