Vostok is the new long-form (fifty+ minutes long) ambient recording from Craig Padilla (who, by my experience, usually operates in a more obvious Berlin school-EM vein). Well, within a few minutes of listening to Vostok, it's obvious he's left not just Berlin or Germany behind - but most (not all - I'll explain shortly) of planet Earth for that matter! This is a supremely sublime long-form recording - it took me three listenings before I really started getting into the almost organic feel to the ebb and flow of the drones (sounding like the slow measured breathing of some slumbering yet musical subterranean beast). Drawing inspiration from (as he puts it in the liner notes) ‘contemplation of the inner stillness reflected by a distant sub-glacial lake beneath Antarctica...’ Padilla crafts icy yet comforting waves of slowly morphing organic-electronic sighs. The subtle changes in the early part of the CD are indicative of the best of the new long-form ambient subgenre. What may appear monotonous to the uninitiated is actually both constantly evolving and yet also maintaining a smooth equilibrium, even as new elements (e.g. whistling mournful synths, hand-percussion rhythms) are introduced over the bellows-like breathing of the main drones.
As with any long-form ambient piece, one of the tests I use is how well the music itself permeates a room and subtly alters the atmosphere. I won't go as far as to state that playing Vostok will make you see your own breath by lowering the air temperature, but there is a pleasant ‘chill’ to the album's overall vibe. Somehow, Craig found a way, musically, to impart the feeling of cold without resorting to various clichés usually found in dark ambient. Of course, I don't mean to say this is new age music or anything ‘light’ (either substantively or thematically). But, as I stated earlier, the textures on Vostok are comforting - as if one were walking on an ice floe under the midnight sun, but dressed warmly enough that, while you are aware of the intense cold, the inhospitable environment does not keep you from taking in the unearthly beauty of your surroundings.
Padilla does not just use drones and whistling synths, either, on this album. Tribal rhythms, muted and echoed, evoke both spiritual and ancient feelings. The introduction of various (more Padilla-like?) spacier synth/EM touches neither distracts nor detracts from the main undulating presence of the work, as he keeps them on the recording's periphery, most of the time at least.
There are other elements throughout the remainder of the album (this is only about the first half I have commented on so far), but as with all long-form reviews, it would take more words than most people would care to read to comment fully on each metamorphosis of the music. I heard echoes of Steve Roach (from his Structures from Silence period) when Craig introduced a repeating series of clipped notes at about the 35-minute mark. (but Vostok is not the least bit derivative, I assure you). About ten minutes later, the music becomes more active and, while the same base motifs are there, there is a more electronic passage that offers a nice contrast. Another thing I admired on this CD was how Padilla intermixed the tribal rhythmic elements with spacier textures and more overt (but subdued) EM touches (whirring synths at the twenty-minute mark also carry the hint of Berlin, especially because at around this point, the ebbing/flowing that has permeated the recording up to this point briefly subsides).
This album is quite unlike anything (to my ears) from Spotted Peccary, although it does continue the label's movement into purer ambient territory (which began several years ago). Craig Padilla's Vostok is worlds apart from other artists' visions, yet it certainly deserves to stand alongside such gems as Silence Speaks in Shadow, Lost at Dunn's Lake and Unafraid of the Impending Silence. While not as ‘transparent’ as any of those three, it's not truly obtrusive unless the listener wants it to be - however, I do recommend hearing it at least once with headphones because it is a startlingly well-mixed and engineered recording (mixed by the artist and mastered by Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary). Recommended to fans of both ambient and EM, with the understanding that this is not a sequencer-happy beat fest and that it contains tribal elements amidst the frosty electronic waves.
- Bill Binkelman, Wind And Wire