T33.16 – Oren Ambarchi “Insulation”

CD – 11 tracks

Track list:

1. Préambule (0:16)
2. Murmur (3:47)
3. Snork (14:26)
4. Lungs (3:47)
5. Simon (2:42)
6. Strategem (5:01)
7. Study N°1 (3:20)
8. Study N°3 (4:37)
9. Concurrents (2:54)
10. La Notte (4:06)
11. L’Eclisse (5:52)


The Wire (UK):

Like his peers Main, Dean Roberts, James Plotkin, Fennesz and Pimmon, Sydney based artist Oren Ambarchi’s work is rooted in an exploration of the guitar. Eschewing its popular usage, Ambarchi re-routes the instrument into a zone of alien abstraction where it’s no longer easily identifiable as itself. Instead it’s a laboratory for extended sonic investigation.

Insulation is a well-focused, neatly varied work that falls somewhere between the concrète constructions of Tod Dockstader and the abstract soundscaping of Pan Sonic or the Mego crew. Each track is a self-contained entity exploring fresh terrain – from chaotically layered clashes to eerie, isolationist incursions – even as it gets along with its neighbours. Most surprising is how Ambarchi avoids any form of computer processing or editing.

Dense with activity, “Study No. 3” consists of manic, obsessively layered bursts of sound:splinters and shards of punctuation exploding across one another in a brilliant riot, like a roomful of chattering, self-activating electronic toys, or choppy strings of code being pulled from the ether. Avoiding repetition, Ambarchi’s spatial awareness is impeccable. “Simon” strings an assortment of of carefully processed events around a series of pauses, while “Lungs” forms a clever collage of locked-groove clicks, bleeps, bassy tone bursts and background flicker.

With plenty of low end activity, the album has a particularly visceral impact. Waves and smears of heavy bass wash against the body or burst outwards in sudden, shuddering jolts. Drones distort and spear outwards as irritants, while the layers of micro-activity bristle and barb against the skin. (David Howell)

Renegade axe-men keep raising the bar for one another, making it more difficult to push the envelope of six-strings-and-an-amp possibilities. Christian Fennesz and Kevin Drumm may dominate the current heat of guitar innovation, but these popular contenders would be wise to look out for Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney-based musician, late of such diverse projects as the JP-noise-flavored Phlegm and Ambarchi/Avenaim’s The Alte Rebbe’s Niggun (Tzadik), is coming up from the outside with some impressive new tricks up his sleeve. Ambarchi has been self-releasing solo guitar recordings for a while, but Insulation is his first missive to the mass market. Like his peers, Ambarchi seems intent on making his improvised performances sound like anything but solo-guitar performances. He skillfully transcends the instrument‚s conventional range, turning Insulation into a parade of guitar-sonic impossibilities – watery gurgle, wildly zigzagging piezoelectric effects (“Lungs”), percussive tattoos (“Murmur”) ˆ euphonic feedback fabrications, and harmonic afterimages. “Simon” and “Preamble” stretch the guitar’s palette to include expressive reed-chirps, chimes, tongue-flicked brass emulation, and mewling ghost notes. Waves of derived sound wash in rough ripples over the shallow rhythmic bed of the 14+-minute “Snork” one of several collaborations with Adelaide’s Matthew Thomas.

Considering Ambarchi’s source, rhythm is a mystifying constant on Insulation. “Concurrents”, “Lungs”, and “Murmur” incorporate insistent, insinuating pulse rhythms – some quite disruptive – that imply extensive computer trickery. The pseudo-breakbeat maneuvers of Ambarchi and Thomas‚ “Strategem” and the looped glitch entanglements of their “La Notte” seem similarly dependent upon sequencing. “L’eclisse”, dedicated to Ambarchi’s father, recalls the fascinating suspended-in-air harmonic composition of Polwechsel guitarist Burkhard Stangl (see his dazzling Récital CD on Durian) but again echoes with a faint background pulse. Remarkably, Ambarchi claims to have foregone all editing artifice and computer sleight on Insulation. These are spontaneous performances, relying solely upon his technical ingenuity. Which certainly makes the show-stopping “Study No. 1” and “Study No. 3,” dizzy musique concrète-styled displays of cartoon-ish electroacoustic noises, all the more astonishing. If Ambarchi can do this with a guitar – and his results stand admirably alongside even the most splice-intensive “old-school” efforts – I can’t imagine what other feats of six-string defiance this crafty guitarist might have in stock.

gg (USA):

Australia’s experimental musicians have a reputation for drawing extraordinary sounds from unexpected objects. Alan Lamb applies contact microphones to Outback telegraph wires, extracting raw, exhilarating tones from wire and wind. Adelaide’s Matthew Thomas composes with the static sampled from between AM and FM radio bands. Add Sydney guitarist Oren Ambarchi to this esteemed company.

Though comfortable in pop, punk, and other “conventional” settings, Ambarchi is happiest when turning his guitar towards more expansive and exploratory means. In the spirit of such renegade axe-men as AMM’s Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, and American adherents Kevin Drumm and Jim O’Rourke, Ambarchi’s solo improvisations are concerned with making a guitar sound like anything-but-a-guitar. Considering its limited source, INSULATION is nothing less than a parade of sonic impossibilities. Ambarchi’s performances transcend his instrument‚s apparent range, offering watery gurgle, euphonically fabricated feedback, shimmering phantom-notes, wildly zigzagging piezoelectric effects, expressive chirps, and harmonic ghosts.

The intimated pulse-rhythms of “Concurrents”, “Lungs”, and “Murmurs” imply extensive computer trickery, as do the pseudo-breakbeat maneuvers of “Strategem”. Remarkably, Ambarchi shuns any computerized contrivance or editing artifice, relying solely upon technical ingenuity. That makes such showstoppers as “Study No. 1” and “Study No. 3”, dizzy musique concrète-styled displays of amusing electroacoustic noises, all the more astonishing.

Blow Up (Italy):

Just run and get a copy of Insulation. The right key to lock behind you the doors of the old millennium. And if you can do something else: buy another copy and give it to a friend who is resistant to change. Once you have fulfilled this task, come back and read this review, which is the review of the record which the Australian Jew clears the sound of the guitar from the debris of the past, looks ahead and marks a synthesis of influences such as minimalism, traditional aboriginal music (which was the cradle of minimalism), improvised music, Pink Floydian hallucinations, ambient, contemporary electronic…and he condenses them in authentic new forems made by melodic audio games and/or rhythmical, which even when chaos seems to have taken over, show a clever organisational capability. The words contained in the press release by Touch point out that it is made with just a guitar and without any computer processing or editing – these words could turn out to work against the promotion of a work which is more in line with new electronic music – Pan Sonic, for example – than with any traditional guitar work.

Having as a background hardcore and noise, Ambarchi is a classical example of a musician who could be accused of being technically incapable and musically inconsistent – Hendrix stimulates the same consideration. The point is clearly pointless, especially considering that Ambarchi has given proof of his excellant technical skill – when we reviewed his Tzadik CD, we spoke of “indulgence in progressive temptation or in slanted synthesis similar to Buckethead.” It doesn’t matter if you forget where you read his name for the first time – the important thing is that you remember it because you will hear it again.

Illuminations (Turkey):

With the ongoing efforts of adventurers, whose operation areas vary from proto-industrial to minimal experimentation, the guitar surpassed its mainstream uses and captured an important position as an experimental-weapon in search for new horizons. Sydney based musician Oren Ambarchi is one of those 6-string adventurers who tend to dance on the outer limits of the instrument’s capacity. “Insulation” is his first official effort, made possible by Touch. What distinguishes “Insulation” from other guitar-oriented experimentation in that field is Mr. Ambarchi’s sincere dedication to the old-good methods. The album’s 11 songs are made without computer editing and conjured up on a sonic terrain which’s “broken” air may cause a tasty flashback. Yet it will be unjust to count “Insulation” just an album with a retro value, not merely because it is not deprived of the atmospheric & textual qualities of the current products but also because of the good degree Oren Ambarchi has, in balancing the abstract and the concrete on a single line. Throughout the album, the pendulum swings over a rich variety of fragments, each demostrate a different direction that guitar can face in the hands of an innovative musician : Gurgling sounds that feign the aquatic ambience, crunchy collages calling forth the spirits of ancestors, tickling and buzzing minimal gestures that sound like a twisted toy orchestra and so on. All are bound to each other with smooth lines which do not cause a slightest change in the sonic temperature and therefore prevent ecclectism. Atmosphere is another quality “Insulation” is well-focused on – while the term concrete is thought to be referred to the dreggy bottom of music, Oren Ambarchi sets a fascinating mood which is not easily matched by anyone else. “Insulation” is surely not for the addicts of devastating noise and akin sonorities, neither for those who enjoy the mirror-shows in experimentalism : this is, with all it’s subtlety, a piece for lucid listeners who’re willing to see how deeps can be traced without pulling the triggle of exaggeration. [M.Y.]

USA (net):

Bizarre musique concrete achieved strictly from a guitar. On this amazing album, Sydney, Australia-based Oren Ambarchi joins an elite cadre of guitarists who are expanding the instrument1s potential as a sound generator. (See also Kevin Drumm, Christian Fennesz and Hans Reichel.) That no computer processing or editing has occurred here beggars belief. The music on these 11 tracks derives strictly from Ambarchi’s guitar, although fellow Aussie experimenter Matthew Thomas collaborates on three of Insulation’s pieces (what he does remains unclear, but the works on which he appears are among the disc’s best). Rather than displaying virtuoso fretboard typing or creating memorable riffs like more conventional guitar heroes, Ambarchi crafts minutely detailed musique concrete or rather the illusion of the type of music academic composers painstakingly constructed from spliced tapes of non-musical objects. His work also has some of the trademark elements heard in much current computer-based music. Both Study No. 12 and Study No. 3 could be Pierre Henry compositions from four decades ago, with their disjunctive stream of disorientingly fascinating sounds randomly flowing by your ears. Insulation’s peak, though, occurs on Snork, as Ambarchi stereo-pans skittering insectoid utterances, subaquatic slooshes and engine drones to immersive, psychedelic effect. It feels like you’re trapped in a submarine as water enters the vessel and enormous termites ominously chatter. Now that’s refreshing.


Ambarchi’s insulation sounds much like the recent guitar-meets-glitch work of Fennesz and Pita, but with a considerable difference: a miracle of non-multitracking, Insulation was made without computer processing or editing. A skilled improv player, the Australian Ambarchi combines nimble fingers with a compledx array of effects pedals, creating “live” what sounds like hours worth of laptop labor. The result for the listener is akin to being caught in a web of electrical interference. The sound swells around you, a delicate balance of buzzing and silence that cuts time out of the picture entirely. What’s hard to fathom, given Ambarchi’s method, is how he creates so many layers and threads with vaned textures and timbres that move simultaneously in different directions. The obvious descriptors – the hum, the crackle, the static – hardly do justice to a sound that’s as much felt (in the belly, on the surface of the skin) as heard. [Philip Sherburne]

The Sound Projector (UK):

An excellent solo work from this Sydney-based musician, this one with a domestic release, following closely on the heels of his solo record Stacte, which he released as a vinyl LP on his own Jerker Productions label last year. Another guitar record this, but much more fully realised and coherent as a work of art. 11 segments of guitar tape-work are presented together as pretty much a single suite. This music is not noise and it’s not feedback! If anything it is modern electro-acoustic treatments, of sounds whose origin happens to be a guitar – a guitar in the hands of a gifted player, no doubt, but here we’ve got something as far removed from any kind of conventional guitar ‘playing’ as you could wish for. With the possible exception of the more recent work of Robert Fripp, who has extensively treated his solos with two Revox tape recorders in a live setting for his Soundscape series.

Realising three of these tracks with the aid of Matthew Thomas, Oren is in fact ‘playing’ his amplifier, his filters, his echo unit and studio (especially the overdub facility) as much as his ‘axe’. Steadfastly refusing any normal or recognisable or familiar sounds, Oren arranges a series of non-specific bass throbs, underwatery squelches, clacks and echoes, and spaceship motor whines within a sort of vague, rhythmical pattern.Effective it emphatically is – very quickly, you’ll find yourself immersed in this astonishing world and lost within a land of wonder and mystery. Skip to track five, ‘Simon’, if your desire is to hear a masterful nod of the trilby to Pierre Schaeffer, for here we have what I think must be backwards tapes and that haunting muted klang that evokes an old grandfather clock chime. Or the eight track, called simply ‘Study No 3’, if all-out mayhem is your bag – this one is a constantly fragmenting kaleidoscope featuring collage and layers in a hyperactive whirl. Elsewhere, the more solid ‘throbby’ tracks might suggest a stripped down form of Techno to true lovers of the genre.

This issue lends itself well to the Jon Wozencroft packaging which is such a distinctive feature of the Touch series. He’s gone for a blue-and-turquoise key, fitting for this very contemporary Blues record, for that’s what it is – there is true emotion here, and it’s melancholy in tone. The final track ‘L’eclisse’ is dedicated to the artist’s father, and it’s an achingly poignant valediction.

Grooves (USA):

“Oren Ambarchi – Guitar”. That’s the full extent of the credits on this record, but folk picking this is not. Insulation sounds like few guitar records have before, and this Antipodean sound artist seems to be making more use of digital technology and electro-acoustic techniques than his six-string. In some ways, this is a counterpart to Fennesz’s recent full-length (also on Touch). Insulation consists of 11 very low-end bits of feedback given form by some kind of processing. As a result, it is far from the drenched buzz you’d associate with “live” guitar droning. Much of the record is oddly brooding. “Snork”, for example, is particularly foreboding as a buzzing telegraph signal keeps passing ominously into view, as if approaching on a radar screen, whilst surrounded by faint wails and brushes of sound. Menacing and seemingly sub-aquatic, this is Ambarchi at his best. The middle few tracks go nowhere fast, rooted in a series of queasy clanks and judders, but he shows more than enough flashes of inspiration to keep me interested in his next recording. This is essentially guitar sound in an advanced state of decomposition; it requires some assiduous work on the part of the listener to extract its full potential, but it’s well worth preserving with if low-key intrigue drives you. (John Gibson)

tijd cultuur (Belgium):

Gedisciplineerd Death metal, experimentele jazz, surfrock, zuivere improvisatie en musical zijn genres waar de uit Sydney afkomstige Oren Ambarchi al van proefde. Die stijlen synthetiseerden met Phlegm, een driekoppige band die zich ook niet vies toonde van een streepje elevator music of soundtracks van spaghettiwesterns. Met die groep liet de muzikant, bijgestaan door de geluidsanarchisten Nicholas Kamvissis (bas) en Rob Avenaim (drums), een haast dierlijke energie los: krijsend en zingend als een losgeslagen Muppet gaf Ambarchi de gitaar en zijn found footage instrumentarium tot met de tanden toe er van langs. Die woestheid maakt op zijn laatste werkstuk plaats voor Spartaanse discipline. Vorig jaar toonde Ambarchi met het album ÔAlter Rebbe’s Niggun’ (verschenen op John Zorn’s volprezen Tzadik label) al over die eigenschap te beschikken; deze keer zet de Australi‘r een stapje verder. De hoofdrol op ÔInsulation’ gaat naar de elektrische gitaar. In elf tracks probeert Ambarchi daar alle mogelijkheden, behalve uiteraard de conventionele, uit te puren. Het resultaat klinkt ronduit verbluffend: de man die zowel inspiratie uit de popcultuur als uit de elekro-akoestische hoek haalt, cre‘ert met subtiele noisedrones, flarden feedback en repetitieve snaren gitaar een gewichtloze wereld. De troebele blik op een traag schuivend landschap die Ambarchi neerzet, wordt enkele malen bijgesteld. Mattwew Thomas, down under een op handen gedragen jong elektronicagenie, kleurt met Ôclicks & cuts’ afkomstig van de sampler drie tracks bij. Toch hebben we meer bewondering veil voor Ambarchi’s vingertalent. Hij voorziet de lange klanktapijten op ÔInsulation’ immers Ôau naturel’ van een repetitieve structuur. Zin voor tucht speelt sampler, synth en filterbank nog steeds naar huis. (Ive Stevenheydens)