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Thomas Watkiss – Ancestor – Phase I: Silence

Thomas Watkiss - Ancestor - Phase I: Silence

CD, The Seventh Media, 2008

A visual artist and experimental composer, Thomas Watkiss brings a distinct iconographic perspective to his sound projects. The layered, fluctuating and circular drones that compose “Ancestor: Phase 1 – Silence” often form oppressive patterns, the compositions themselves giving an undersea sense, or perhaps even more claustrophobically, under ice. The repetitive subsiding and resurging droning tones comprise the strongest thematic element of the album, not unlike the heavy atmospherics and corresponding crackling noise one might associate with glacial movements. Watkiss owes his experimental sound bent and gradual song structure not only to dark ambient orchestrations, but also to extremely decelerated grind-cum-shoegazing density and minimalism.
According to Watkiss’ website, “Silence” commences a “three-part series of albums combining ambient synthesis with drone-riffing and textural sonic landscapes over photographic themes.” It merges ambient passages with drone constructions and found sounds, adding a self-described “aftertaste of slow heavy metal” (an infusion more in line with doom and post-metal) to the snail’s-paced mix. “Extinct” is the most obvious example of this claim, its plodding advance and retreat of drone layers cut through with fine drilling tones that, in the final minutes, transform into a dominant, heavily distorted guitar. Other instances are subtler, and this is where Watkiss succeeds. “Two Stone Circles” features a stifling pulse that builds in intensity, joined by a stygian bass drone and later followed by a buzzing treble layer, just before everything drops away. “Harvest” spins extended orchestral tones above deep, unsettling chimes, and “Silence/Fall” makes slow thrusts in differing chords, tones reminiscent of wind instruments, while a horde of metallic insects scuttles underneath.
What is exceptional about “Silence” is its undeniable delicacy of movement. As with many of its peers, this is music of meditation and patience, funereal reverb and thick layers of emptiness. But its power lies in the understated and tentative, the barely audible oscillations, passionate organic textures and rumbling arrays. “Locust,” with its deep-throated drone and twinkling particle cascade is a favored instance, as is “When Slaves Rest,” its aspect adhering to sharp tendrils of noise while breathy tones sigh from the shadows. Quintessential to the album’s theme of visible ebb and flow is “Silence Rise,” where, like a pulsar, the drone rotates in empty space, accompanied only by occasional washes of indistinct, high-pitched sounds. Finally, with tracks ranging from seven or eight minutes to between three and four, Watkiss has also made “Silence” more accessible for those who pale at the thought of expansive tundras of droning pulses and hellish winds.


— Dutton Hauhart

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