A long way off from some of the bands to which Marvin Ayres has contributed, such as Culture Club, Simply Red, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Prefab Sprout, makes his latest release "Harmogram Suite" an intriguing addition to the ambient and modern classical genres. Between his new wave days Ayres delved into film soundtracks, audio-visual installations and ambient jazz. Now he's produced his most ambitious work: a six-movement symphony.
The most amazing facet of the current release is how contemporary it sounds. The use of the 5.1 surround sound format is one example which aids in its immediate and immersive quality. More importantly, Ayres blends his experience in the ambient field with his love for modern composition in order to create an effective hybrid. He has meticulously recorded 140 layers, each played by Ayres with the exception of a choir. While surround sound mixes provide for vastly more separation than a stereo mix, on this release the layers are so intertwined that it is difficult to tell them apart. With this sophisticated layering, Ayres creates the "hologram harmonics" aural experience to which he aspires. The majority of parts are played on a detuned cello, leading to what the artist calls "old notes hiding in new places". Simply a perfect description for the symphony, as it invites the listener to immerse themselves, listening for these hidden notes.
It seems that Ayres wishes to convey deep encompassing resonance for his suite. The 5.1 surround mix enhances the listening experience as parts slowly roll in and out from different spaces within the sound field. Harmogram Suites is not the kind of piece suited for casual listening, nor background music. To best enjoy the material, spend some time relaxing, allowing the songs to unfold around you. Additionally, a slow changing video accompanies all the pieces.
Building quietly, the first movement emotionally escalates grabbing hold of the consciousness by the second movement. Despite the complexity of the multiple layers, the pieces come across as clear melodic passages arriving from the shadows, twirling slowly and suspending before exiting. By the fourth: movement a sudden, multi-dimensional effect rises out of silence with 31 notes that advance and retreat, creating the album's most immediate segment. By the closing piece, "Lament", the listener has been led by the hand on an incredible journey. The suite descends into a somber spiritual undercurrent. This spiritual side can also be found in his newest project, Sacred Spaces, which honors the sonic nature of cathedrals, observatories and other settings.
Fans of ambient and meditative music will find this a worthy addition to their collections. Surround sound enthusiasts seeking a relaxing album must pick this up, as it is a truly immersive listening experience.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.