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[Review: Alfred Brown, ‘The Seagull: A Song Cycle’]

It’s been a productive year for Alfred Brown, a Buffalo-based electro-acoustic composer and audio engineer. First, he contributed the excellent Music for Moving in Slow Motion to Asthmatic Kitty’s ambitious Library Catalog Music Series. Now he has put the finishing touches on a project that apparently had been hibernating inside his personal audio vault.

According to Brown, The Seagull: A Song Cycle was originally intended as a soundtrack, but then evolved into a “wordless song cycle of sorts” based around Anton Chekhov’s late-19th century play, The Seagull. And while Brown does not provide much contextual insight into the connection the play and his album share, it turns out that the lack of any artistic précis does nothing to prevent one from enjoying this  first-class instrumental production.

Masterfully composed and elegantly arranged, The Seagull will undoubtedly appeal to aficionados of the orthodox strain of ambient (Ambient with a capital ‘A,’ that is). Listener’s who revere the music of Stars of the Lid, Kyle Bobby Dunn, Nicholas Szczepanik, and of course Eno, will recognize that Brown is the real deal and he should perhaps earn consideration as a future appointment to this exclusive pantheon of neoclassical prodigies. Time will inevitably tell.

For now, it is clear that Brown’s training as an audio engineer plays an important role in his ability to construct drones that are at times faint, at other times vigorous, but always layered very carefully and teased out with long, sustained tones that glisten like elongating icicles in the sun. Ellen Fullman, and the trademark sound of her long string instrument, is a definite reference point here. In fact, it’s only a mild exaggeration to say that tracks three through eight flow as if all sound emanates from a single captivating string. That string then bends, rises, and sways under the graceful guidance of the unseen performer. The listener can either focus intently on the gentle fluctuations in rhythm and tone or absorb the cycle as a whole, which is very possible to do since the songs wisp in and out of one another in very fluid manner.

The Seagull: A Song Cycle, put out by ACrawlsPace (a sub-label for Abandoned Buildings), is the second strong release from Brown in 2012 and it will be very interesting to hear what’s in store for him in 2013.

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Review by Taylor Waite