CD, Strange Fortune, 2006
Tor Lundvall’s latest release for Strange Fortune describes itself as ‘ghost ambient’, a term which only goes some way to capturing the bittersweet beauty of this album. “Empty City” is ambient in the much-mined vein of Brian Eno’s “Ambient” series and, like his acclaimed “Ambient 4: On Land”, “Empty City” explores the sonic space where sounds form mental pictures of locations, conjuring these images from the listener’s synapses with effortless calculation and, occasionally, the sounds become songs.
Exploring the concept of the industrialised cityscape is, on paper, nothing groundbreaking for this scene or even this genre, but Lundvall manages to inject a warmth and humanity to it that creates the feeling not of a city deserted through nuclear holocaust, but of a city winding down as the sun sets on an autumn day. Lundvall’s sonic palette consists mostly of soft, warm drones and plinking tones akin to a Coil/Badalamenti fusion punctuated with hollow, mechanical clanks and wordless human voices. Perhaps it is these floating voices that are envisaged by the term ghost, perhaps not. Sometimes they are peaceful – as on the stately, Badalamenti-lounge of “Early Hours” or the wistful “Open Window” – and sometimes they moan in quiet discomfort as on “Running Late” where a slow, metronomic tick marks the lazy rhythm like a clock watching over the hurrying citizens. Either way, these voices invest Lundvall’s city with the sense of inhabitancy – as if it is not the city that is deserted but, rather, the listener who is one second out of phase with the urban environment, walking through it but not a part of it. The album artwork conspires with this idea as Lundvall’s paintings show a city that, however unmanned, bears its traces in the lit streetlights and smoky chimneystacks.
As you might imagine from the review, the album is clearly effective in its goal to portray a geographic context through sound and it is perfect music to play in the dark, whilst staring into the sky or, perhaps, even whilst wandering through your own sleeping city. “Empty City” encapsulates the listener as it drifts by but also makes excellent background music. The only complaint, if one is to be made, is that all the tracks feature the same or similar sets of sounds, allowing the album to sometimes slip by too easily as one image of the city fades into the next.
Haunting textures for urban dreamers and well recommended.
— Christopher Fry