Ethernet – 144 Pulsations of Light

Ehernet - 144 Pulsations of Light

Ethernet - 144 Pulsations of Light

Kranky’s newest long-from drone artist, Tim Gray, goes by the name Ethernet. It’s easy to just think of the cable you plug into your computer when you hear the name, but if you focus on the roots of the word, ether and net, you start to get a better feel for the music’s approach. You have ether, with its varying cosmic connotations, and net, which implies not only interconnection, but also function. Gray, who has studied the meditative and healing qualities of music at the graduate level, himself says, “The intent of the album is to produce an introspective sonic environment conducive to self-healing work and voyaging into new states of awareness.”

It’s this concept of self-help functionality that is rarely made explicit (perhaps eschewing the dreaded connection to the New Age industry), but which is fundamental in explaining ambient’s long-term success as a genre. I more or less instinctively started listening to ambient music during a trying time in life, increased the dosage and exposure throughout the stresses of working and going to grad school full-time, and have since dropped back in overall listening time, throwing some on more strategically since settling into a work and domestic routine. Part of its appeal undoubtedly has to do with the usually wordless nature of the genre, and the ignorability factor which allows someone with little attention at their disposal to keep listening without expending much effort or being distracted. But there is more going on than mere wallpapering. The body responds to music without paying conscious attention to it, is drawn to specific rhythmic intervals (e.g. rhythms of 12 cycles per minute, the rate of breathing of a sleeping human), brain waves attune to external frequencies (“frequency following”),  and as we move from beta (high frequency) brain waves to alpha and theta (lower frequency) brain waves, the more relaxed we are and the easier we learn. To avoid the negative health effects of cortisol and other stress-related hormones and neurotransmitters, ambient music sounds easier than exercise and cheaper than prescription drugs.

Intellectually, Ethernet’s debut album, 144 Pulsations of Light, is created within this paradigm, only probably with a better grasp of the specifics than I could ever muster. Methodically exploiting these musico-physiological relationships is a curious paradox; the listener doesn’t have to pay attention to the music as long as the musician does. Put Ethernet up against the “theta wave binaural relaxation” MP3s you find on New Age-y Web sites, and the similarities are striking. However, it is separated from the slew of online therapeutic pieces in its additional attention to aesthetics, which put it in some more well-known company. Despite all the theoretical mumbo jumbo, this is the least challenging thing Kranky has put out in a while. In fact, this is some of the most delectable “pop ambient” this side of Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series. As such, this sounds less like a Kranky album than a Kompakt album to me. Or rather, it flows like a Kranky album, with a shorter tracklist and less predictable track lengths, but sounds executed by Kompakt artists. Sonically, “Majestic” feels like a Triola warm-up track married to GAS’s revolving atmosphere, “5 + 7 = 12″ is Boards of Canada’s brains inside Markus Guentner’s body, “Seaside” floats by in front of your face like Andrew Thomas, “Kansai” has some of the droopy bounce of Thomas Felhmann-era Orb, and “Summer Insects” is what Tim Hecker’d sound like if he woke up in a good mood.

The thing is, this album is better than any of the Pop Ambient albums, which tend to drag, especially lately. Due to the hazy atmospherics and occasional kick drum sound, lazy people will probably just say this sounds like the classic and classical ambient of GAS, but that’s way off base, simply because GAS is about stasis, chiaroscuro, and eternity while Ethernet’s pieces are way trippier, incorporating swirling effects, buzzing filters, and more variation and agility in its high end sounds. Where the Kompakt ambient artists are happy to detachedly hang there, suspended and shining like slowly rotating gems, 144 Pulsations of Light invites you into its world, suggesting physical space and place more than mood, offering a living experience with which to cohabit. Perhaps it even takes advantage of the body’s natural tendencies to recalibrate, balance, clarify, and heal – with your permission, but not necessarily with your knowledge. As styles come and go, ambient’s potential for improving the lives of it’s listeners will ensure that people keep coming back for more.