James Johnson,
Entering Twilight
(Hypnos, 2000)

Above you, a gibbous moon floats, its illumination constant behind the outlines of silhouetted branches shifting in the wind. The moon remains visible despite the moving clouds, its light glowing through thin cirrus formations, fading under dark cumulus clumps, merging with ragged hybrids of form that defy your meteorological terminology. It's like an endless sunset, all gradual changes and complex evolutions, fronts and currents and tides. As time passes, you know that the stately moon too follows its own invisible path, leaving you no constant reference point. There's only a diffuse combination of vectors and cycles, a pattern so spacious and delicate that it may or may not be comprehensible, may or may not even form a unified pattern at all. Perhaps time and careful reflection will tell....

If the above were a musical landscape instead of a visual one, then it might be the equivalent of Entering Twilight, James Johnson's 2000 release on the Hypnos label. As twilight itself is a single constantly shifting experience, so is this disc a vast and subtly cycling soundscape. Composed of one self-titled track more than 60 minutes in length, crediting no specific instruments and listing only Johnson as a performer, Entering Twilight is the definitive document of an Eternal Now, the soundtrack for a single elongated yet evolving moment in time.

Pushing metaphors aside for the more concrete, Entering Twilight is a quiet, slowly paced combination of bells, synthesizers, tones that almost resolve into human voices, and a few other subtle and less identifiable sounds. As with much of the ambient genre, many will call this "not-music" for its lack of clear tune or resolution, but there's more here than synthesizer runs of endless duration or idle wanderings across a piano's keys. Delicate, half-formed portions of melody seem to float in and out of the piece, as if Johnson is deliberately meandering through fragments of some glacially improvisational tune without ever quite formalizing it. The musical progressions here are difficult to pin down, but there's a definite sense of developing patterns, and that indefinable feeling of progress sustains the work across its full length, even beyond its gorgeous atmospherics.

In short, Entering Twilight is a quintessential example of a certain minimalistic approach to ambient music, and a classic of its kind. Past that, maybe it's best to return to the metaphorical after all, as trying to get a Materialist-Rationalist handle on Entering Twilight feels a bit like trying to corral a pod of roaming amoeba. Instead of grasping for the essence here, perhaps it's best just to absorb it, as one might meditate upon a flame or watch the passing clouds at night.

So, if your mood allows it, set aside the noise of your own mind and let the sounds of Entering Twilight take its place. Watch the flames or observe the sky, and see if those grand patterns at the edges of your perception will make themselves known to you now. And if, as is likely, they don't reveal themselves in full, then accept those minor but precious insights they can offer you in the interim, and be glad for them.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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