FORREST FANG: The Wolf at the Ruins / Migration (2013)
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
“This is a nice initiative of Projekt which addresses to those for whom the music is a front door to a universe without borders”
The Wolf at the Ruins 65:14 (1989)
1 The Windmill 4:42
2 Passage and Ascent 11:47
3 The Luminous Crowd 6:26
4 Amelia 3:01
5 An Amulet and a Travelogue 23:58
6 Karina Waits at the Window 2:24
7 Silent Fields 7:19
8 Meditation 5:24
9 A Quiet Place 10:09
Migration 50:36 (1986)
10 Invocation 1:14
11 Through a Glass Landing 6:43
12 Comfort 3:28
13 Koshi 3:29
14 Before Sunrise 2:54
15 Second Impression 1:16
16 Peru 3:14
17 Gradual Formation in Sand 7:24
18 Lowland Dream 5:04
19 Sleep 4:25
20 White Fences 3:03
21 Evening Song 5:48
22 Arpeggiana 2:30
(2CD 115:50) (V.F.)
(Minimalist, tribal and ambient)
The very first time I heard the music of Forrest Fang was with Unbound, released by Projekt in 2011. I had been seduced quite enough to reattempt the experience. And it's with the kind collaboration of Sam Rosenthal that I was able to put my hands on this very nice special 2 CD edition that several consider as major in the career of the Chinese-American multi-instrumentalist. Originally released in 1989 and 1986, in a limited edition of 1000 vinyl pressings on the label Ominous Thud, THE WOLF AT THE RUINS and MIGRATION are two albums which demonstrate the volubility of a feverish artist who refuses any forms of categorizations of his works. Works which redefine the abstract and ambient music horizons and which push away the borders of the traditional and tribal folk towards neo-classic territories where minimalist spirals and orchestral arrangements à la Philip Glass met some more seraphic and more meditative ambiences. The audacious American label dusts out the archives of Fang and offers the remastering of both albums to Robert Rich who gives literally a second breath to these two albums which are now available in a good 2 CD set which include 5 bonus tracks.
This new edition begins with THE WOLF AT THE RUINS.
We are closer of acoustic aromas than pure electronic with The Windmill which makes sing the fragile notes of a Chinese lute of which the pinched chords engender a turbulent static dance into the soporific caresses of a crying violin. If the intro is of ambiences, the second part offers a delicious acoustic ballad which deviates towards a good harmonious duel where the tribal folk moods stun a tearful Chinese violin. This short track depicts all the universe of contrasts, both in tones and harmonies, which guides the album. Between its ethereal atmospheres and its jerky rhythms, Passage and Ascent begins its contemplative trip with a thick cloud of synth pads of which the movements make dance sonic prisms and makes resound delicate gongs. Quietly, this ambient sound Mass goes to a structure of rhythm which takes its source in more jerked pads which juxtapose their breathlessness in a violent gleaming cascade. This curt and hatched rhythm is like as a violent static staccato and receives the caresses of a synth among which some pretty nice musical waltzing winds and breaths of trumpets which awake a bit of nostalgias for Patrick O'Hearn. It drives Passage and Ascent towards a port of tranquillity where are swirling some threatening twisted lines and oscillatory synth pads. It's a brief moment of calm before the rhythm takes back its structure of Babel with cacophonous poly phases jerks, before finding peace in the carillons of meditative gongs. This duality between the Eastern rhythms, the folk moods and the cacophonous escalation gives to THE WOLF AT THE RUINS its so disturbing as puzzling charms.
The Luminous Crowd is a good invasion in the tribal rhythms with an array of instruments, among which some amazing percussions of mixed clan origins. Percussions which draw a kind of serene trance where are coupling string instruments, xylophones and Chinese violin weaver of dreams. If at first serene and smooth, the rhythm ploughs its fury after a brief meditative passage. And when I say fury, I rather make reference to this Babel's state of mind that surrounds the disorder of the rhythms which inevitably end to be knit together into an outstanding allegorical symbiosis. We love? The too short Karina Waits at the Window will seduce you just as much. It's rather special, just like An Amulet and a Travelogue which, after the very peaceful Amelia, makes us go by all the range of emotions. The intro is very filmic. There is a mixture of tension and passion which floats over the first 5 minutes. A soft ethereal melody accepts the melodious notes of an acoustic guitar, or a lute, whereas the rhythm livens up little by little while staying in a rather meditative frame. A tribal essence seizes of the peaceful atmospheres where Fang piles his tones in a dense ambiospherical shroud more noisy than ethereal with a doggedness to make his strings resound into a violence centralized in a closed vase. Then the title purifies its stormy noises to accept the soft riffs which ferret around with the gongs. And An Amulet and a Travelogue tergiversates between its ambiences and its crushed rhythms which are scattered on a structure among which the constant mutation of the sonic genes and the paradoxical atmospheres feed its ambiguity. Silent Fields doesn't really need a presentation. It's as much soft, as much ambient as its naming indicates it, with very slow musical synth waves which carry some delicate arpeggios to the magic powers. And the magic is this fusion of tones and voices which comes from it. It's divine! Meditation and A Quiet Place are the bonus tracks on this new edition of THE WOLF AT THE RUINS. If Meditation is a brook of prisms which sparkle with this blend of guitars of which the silvery tones sing in some dense iridescent color's synth lines, A Quiet Place is clearly more lyrical. More musical with breezes and voices of oracles which calm the turbulence of dark and a bit translucent winds.
Released 3 years before, MIGRATION offers a more esoteric vision of Forrest Fang.
It's a more acoustic and clearly more poetic album where we hear, we feel the structures of the Babelian rhythms that will explode in THE WOLF AT THE RUINS, I think in particular of Through a Glass Landing, Peru, although very acoustic, to the very musical horizontal spirals strongly inspired by Philip Glass in Gradual Formation in Sand and Second Impression, finally to Arpeggiana which seems to have escaped from it. The suite is a collection of short music pieces with approaches as baroque as romantic. Comfort unwinds heavy and threatening layers of black organ before offering a delicate chimed lullaby. Koshi is a good ballad sat astride by an acoustic guitar which looks constantly for explosion. Explosion that will come later by the violent Peru. Before Sunrise is a short ambient track with a pile of floating pads of which the oblong curves draw sonic furrows soaked by seraphic voices. This is rather intense, just like Lowland Dream and its carillons singing in vapors of flutes and trumpets. Sleep used to end the first version of MIGRATION with an intense ambient track which got loose from the contemplative momentums of Before Sunrise. White Fences is one of the 3 bonus tracks on this new MIGRATION. It's a nice lunar ballad, without rhythm but with many harmonies which remain suspended in time while that the very pensive and hyper melancholic Evening Song drags its piano notes into sibylline atmospheres. It's very appealing and rather poignant at times.
THE WOLF AT THE RUINS/MIGRATION is a nice initiative of Projekt which addresses to those for whom the music is a front door to a universe without borders. And there, you should not take the pejorative side of such a quotation, because the music is as much beautiful as it can be troubling. But all in all, we eventually end to appreciate the entire artistic dimension (and believe it, his vision is rather wide) of Forrest Fang. If I can draw a parallel, it would doubtless be with Vangelis and his album Earth because of the eclecticism and of the spirit of contemporary Bohemian which surrounds the personality of Fang and which spatters on its music. I recommend that you start with the small jewels of MIGRATION, so THE WOLF AT THE RUINS will become for you easier to tame. But if you love Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley, you will be in pleasant company.
Sylvain Lupari (November 5th, 2013) ***½**
Available at Projekt Records Bandcamp