A new ambient

Brock Van Wey brings fresh atmosphere to the genre with White Clouds Go On and On
Van Wey: dreamily unsettling


INTERVIEW Maybe it's in the air? Whatever the case, the subtle morphing of ambient music is bringing some extreme albums. Extremity isn't a quality one usually associates with ambient, a genre that — Brian Eno or not — is too often thought of as meditative Muzak without melody, or comfort music for snoozers. Yet some of the most unsettling and intense recordings of the past twelve months seep out from the ambient realm. On Labyrinthitis (Touch Tone, 2008), Jacob Kirkegaard generates sound from the act of hearing itself by recording hairs within the cochlea — the result is a slow mad spiral in sound form. On Radioland (Die Schachtel, 2008), Stephan Mathieu uses shortwave radio signals to create a near-symphonic elegy to...radio. Now, with White Clouds Go On and On (Echospace), San Francisco's Brock Van Wey is adding a direct melodic touch to the extremity of the new ambient.

Listen up: by no means does quiet mean soothing. The intensity and extremity of White Clouds Go On and On stems from Van Wey's fierce compositional dedication to emotion as a subject and as a source of inspiration. The collection's six songs (reinterpreted by Echospace's Steven Hinchell on a companion album) clock in at just under 80 minutes in length. A native of the Bay Area, where he's made low-key but important contributions to electronic scenes for well over a decade, Van Wey — a.k.a. bvdub — resides in Twin Peaks. That location makes a certain midnight-in-a-perfect-world kind of sense: his latest songs possess a vastness and isolation that suits that part of town. But, as the interview below makes clear, they also deeply reflect his sense of being.

SFBG Can you tell me a bit about the titles of the songs on White Clouds Drift On and On? With instrumental music, a title can color the music, and the ones here have a potent melancholy that gradually shifts into optimism.

BROCK VAN WEY The titles of the songs are the emotion I sit down to try to express. Basically an emotion begins to occupy my thoughts all the time or in some cases pretty much overwhelm me, and then I sit down to try to get it out — sometimes in an attempt to become closer to it, but just as often to try to resolve it or distance myself from it. Whenever I make a track, the title comes first, because that's what I'm trying to say — then I set about trying to say it.

Since most of my life and thoughts are enveloped in melancholy, it's no surprise that the majority of my titles reflect that. However, you are very right, in this album, there is indeed a shift from melancholy to hope from the beginning to the end. Most of my personal melancholy comes from hopes unfulfilled or dreams dashed, and if I never had hope in the first place, the sadness wouldn't be there either, so they are pretty inseparable.

SFBG While vocals aren't dominant in White Clouds, they are present on tracks such as "Too Little To Late." But they have a diffuse, almost vaporous quality — which makes their sources or original contexts difficult to pin down.

BVW Vocals I use or create for my tracks are always ones that help put that final punctuation on what I'm trying to say. Working with vocals is tricky, because they can easily just seem slapped in or heavy-handed, with no real point. Sometimes it takes me days or weeks to find just one miniscule part of a vocal (sometimes literally one second) that, to me, fits that exact part of the song like it was meant to be there all along. It's no surprise that their original sources or contexts are difficult to pin down, as the majority of the time, I go through a million different processes to get them how I want them, and they are usually a million miles from the original.

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