As a producer and mixer, Scott Solter has worked with Superchunk, Okkervil River, the Mountain Goats, Pattern Is Movement, and the Court and Spark. One River is a re-release of an ambient album he made in 2005.
Ambient music is by nature intangible, meant to evoke sensations and feelings rather than the structure and explicitness of most music. I started listening to One River after visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, and I immediately saw the connection between Rothko’s monochromatic paintings and Solter’s washes of sound. Neither is meant to be appreciated in the same way as traditional art. There is no subject matter in Rothko’s paintings just as there is no verse-bridge-chorus structure in Solter’s piece. Instead, both artists are concerned with creating emotions in more subtle ways than does traditional art. What ambient music and abstract art offer is an opportunity to experience art that isn’t trying to define the listener/viewer experience. You aren’t distracted by the form, and so can better experience the sensation that the art evokes in you.
One River is meant to be listened to as one piece, and it slowly ebbs and flows over its 33-minute running time. There are processed guitars, synthesizers, and subtle percussive elements. It pulses and runs like the river it is named after, and the end result feels natural and organic despite the digital tools used to produce it. The overall mood is peaceful and reflective. It never veers into new age cheesiness, and doesn’t contain any unsettling or dissonant moments. I love Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, but there are several tracks on that collection that are truly unsettling; and I was happy that One River avoids getting creepy.
Mark and Laura Solter created a film called Twins and Wives to accompany the re-release. While it is an interesting visualization of the music, I prefer to listen to One River without the visuals. Part of my enjoyment of the album is what images and feelings it brings up. It taps into an area of the brain that most music doesn’t touch.
I really enjoy this album, and I’m thankful that Perth-based Hidden Shoal Recording chose to reissue it. It’s gotten me to explore more ambient music, and has been a wonderful contrast to the majority of music that I listen to. One River is an excellent album that fans of ambient music won’t want to miss.
Article first published as Music Review: Scott Solter - One River on Blogcritics.