As a fan of ambient music, I’ve always been a little disappointed that there aren’t more Christians working in the genre. There certainly have been a few here and there — Virus’ Ambient Theology, Raymond Scott Woolson’s atmospheric guitar work, the now-defunct Velvet Empire label, and Caul’s Reliquary and Light From Many Lamps albums all come to mind — but not as much as I’d certainly like. And I can’t help but wonder why. There’s a definite serene, contemplative vibe to Ecovillage’s ethereal sounds that seems tailor made for spiritual practices.
Perhaps it’s because ambient music is often (unfortunately) lumped in with “new age” music, since they share certain sonic similarities, and there’s a lot of philosophical and spiritual baggage associated with the “new age” term that then taints any atmospheric music. Or perhaps it’s because Christian music tends, for better or worse, to focus on promoting a particular message, and ambient music — with it’s definite focus on vocal-less atmospherics — is more ambiguous and open-ended, and therefore, less conducive to spreading a particular message.
In any case, I think there’s much to the ambient genre that dovetails nicely with Christianity. At its best, ambient music — unencumbered by normal musical constraints like verses and choruses, or the need for a melodic hook — can evoke a sense of awe, grandeur, and beauty that more structured “pop” music can’t.
Enter Ecovillage.The Swedish duo of Emil Holmström and Peter Wikström started out recording soul and hip-hop music. However, after a 2005 backpacking trip through Asia, they switched to a more atmospheric sound influenced by Indonesian music and scenery — as well as other artists including Boards of Canada, Cocteau Twins, John Tavener, and Arvo Pärt — to convey their travel experience. For over a decade now, the duo have been blending gentle synthesizer soundscapes, natural sounds and field recordings, string arrangements, and wordless vocals.
The duo states that their artistic intention is to create “a meditative place where listeners can feel peace and find inner stillness.” Using terms like “stillness” and “silence” may seem odd when describing music, but there’s a definite serene, contemplative vibe to Ecovillage’s ethereal sounds that seems tailor made for spiritual practices like retreats and readings — practices where stillness is essential.
All the Colors Speak of You: Ambient Works 2009-2014 is an exclusively curated album for Christ and Pop Culture members (with special artwork by Lars Segerstedt) and a fine introduction to Ecovillage’s music that compiles some of their earliest material together with alternate versions and remixes. The album begins with the suitably melancholy “Lament for the Girl Without Tears,” which is characterized by lush string arrangements and sparse piano — and immediately sets the mood. “When Souls Collide” is a highlight, a two-and-a-half minute soundscape of processed vocals and piping synthesizers that sounds downright angelic.
“You Got Me (Markus Guentner Version)” is All the Colors Speak of You’s most purely ambient track. For nearly eight minutes, the listener is taken on a journey through deep wells of sound, as if exploring vast oceanic depths. There’s a sense of foreboding and mystery throughout, with shimmering veils of guitar lending some light to the journey.
“Moments of Divine Harmony” is pensive and delicate, with more wordless vocals, snippets of soft piano melodies, and bird songs evoking memories of lovely spring days. It then flows into the album’s climax, the twelve-minute “Phoenix Asteroid.” A sorrowful violin melody, some golden trumpet tones, sparse piano notes, the sound of a cool breeze… all of these elements and more combine for a truly heavenly sound that slowly grows and develops, leading up to a sublime climax and denouement.If you enjoy All the Colors Speak of You, then be sure to check out Ecovillage’s latest release, Jesus of Nazareth. Inspired by the Gospel of Mark, Jesus of Nazareth is the duo’s attempt at a concept album about the life of Christ. It’s very much in-line with the serene atmospherics of All the Colors Speak of You, and with song titles like “Voice of One Calling in the Wilderness,” “Receive the Kingdom Like a Child,” and “Gethsemane,” it’s certainly an intriguing way to consider and meditate on the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.
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