The world can be a terrifying place. History has proven this time and time again. As humans, we have allowed ourselves to co-exist in societies and governments, working together to protect the lives and rights of one another. However, just as we can co-exist with one another, we despise one another. Mankind is inherently evil, as all men were born sinners, and just as we can show a force of compassion and love, an equally violent and reckoning force is waiting to cause the nuclear apocalypse of billions of innocent people around the world.
In the same way that these forces equal one another, so do the forces between ambient and rock music. Ambient music is often meant to be an indirect haze of emotion, devoid of rhythm and form. Whether these emotions are happy or sad, they mostly tend to have a calming, healthy effect on listeners, putting them in a better state of mind. Ambient music, though, is a niche genre, as most people do not want to spend a minute listening to something that calms themselves down. Instead, they want something upbeat and to the point. At its most accessible, rock music fills that void, as billions of listeners hear its direct lyricism and simple three-chord structures everyday. In the last few years, the two genres have somewhat coincided with each other, but they have never fully impacted one another to create something different.
Now comes Edinburgh-based producer and composer Matthew Collings, whose debut album “Splinted Instruments” addresses the distinction between neoclassical ambience and disturbing rock directness. Collings stated that he felt a violent force inside himself his entire life, and that he wanted to finally get it out of himself. Collings isn’t the first to feel this intense force; sound artists and musicians like Michael Gira (Swans), Ben Frost, Merzbow, and Lustmord have dedicated their lives to creating intense emotional soundscapes that sometimes transcends the relationship between sound and its physical properties. Collings, however, has created an album that is intensely emotional and sonically disturbing, but also creates a vein of melancholy and accessibility that ambient music rarely sees.
The soundscapes are vast and immense, partially helped by the contributing musicians and the post-production mastering taken by Ben Frost and James Plotkin on this album. Noisy shoegaze guitar, broken vocals, ethereal bells and strings, skittering percussion, and harsh electronic noise permeate most of the first half of the album. Whether it’s the rigid beat opening “Valisia”, the incredible strings and guitar textures in “Subway”, or the massive dissonant crescendo leading to the unnerving and literally bone-crushing crunch in “Crows”, Collings shows that his music is not a force to be reckoned with. Only the strong survive halfway through the journey. The second-half, however, is more beautiful and melancholic. Violins, vocals, piano, and a clarinet provide an excellent acoustic counterpoint to the rather icy electronics in “Pneumonia”. “Paris is Burning”, however, plays the same melancholic texture with upbeat rickety percussion and heavy guitar processing. If anything, this song should be the backdrop to an extended chase sequence that reveals something about the life of mankind. The last song, “Routine”, is even more sorrowful. The saddening electronic drone that opens the piece suggests a guilty state of mind. The prepared piano and resonant percussion later on even worsen the feeling. At it’s conclusion, the broken trumpet-trombone duo even further reveal that even at mankind’s more civilized nature, there’s still an animal inside, waiting to get out.
In conclusion, “Splintered Instruments” is an album that is certainly enjoyable and succeeds in its musical ideas and raw, unfiltered emotion. Collings proves himself to be a composer with a keen ear for sound design and melancholic melodies,smoke of which makes the album stand out slightly. Those who are already well versed in this niche, however, may find the album’s sound to only last for a few short listens before they want to hear something a little more extreme. For Collings, however, this is certainly a great stepping stone, and one that will hopefully lead him to explore more sonic textures and emotion. If an even deadlier force is eager to come out of him, then who knows what sort of music will come out next. Certainly worth a listen.
Album: Splintered Instruments
Artist: Matthew Collings
Genre: Neoclassical ambient industrial/noise rock
Now available to purchase either digitally or in a beautiful physical package via Matthew Collings’s official site.