Prolific Vancouver-based singer/composer Ian William Craig returns with a gorgeous new LP of material comissioned to soundtrack the computer game Magnesium 173. Whilst functioning as a score, ‘Music for Magnesium_173’ is far from being a set of short cues cues or lesser material. Released on double vinyl and digital formats, the record comprises a set of twelve bold and immersive pieces – the majority clocking in between 5-10 minutes in length and totalling 80 minutes of new music. These are anything but passive or reserved background sound-beds though; possessing a genuine weight and power, ‘Music for Magnesium_173’ offers another tour de force display of Craig’s peerless power as an improvising composer able to summon and shape the sublime via an arsenal of modified tape machinery, electronics and his own gorgeous voice, with the results forging a unique kind of choral-based, heavily-abrasive take on ambient composition.
Created by Graham Johnson, Magnesium_173 launched in August 2021 via gaming platform Steam and is described as “an elegant puzzle game inspired by quantum mechanics”, which encourages players “to discard their conventional understanding of time and explore what it takes to make a meaningful choice.” Using a branching series of puzzles, it explores a set of rules, with new ideas constantly introduced, examined and twisted. With the game developed with the composer firmly in mind, Ian’s music is likewise rippling with possibility and continually in flux. With delays in the game’s development, his original attempts at a score ended up being released back in 2018 as the ‘Thresholder’ EP. A new set of material was composed but then lost when a computer containing the mixes was stolen. Ian was then forced to try and recreate that music from the stems and some old Logic file versions, resulting in this released version – its form only fixed down as one of numerous possible outcomes with the accidents of the partly-controlled, part-random collaboration of his machines playing their part.
Largely wordless yet rooted as ever in the power and beauty of Craig’s voice run through a variety of customised anaologue tape machines, the album is a bold and singular work which sees Ian introducing elements of modular synthesis for the first time. Wide in dynamics and rich in textural detail, the music surges and shimmers, moving from the airily ethereal ‘Zero Crossing’ and ‘Sentimental Drift’ to the warm, bass-heavy drones Of ‘Sprite Percent World Record’ or ‘Prisms’. There’s a strong sense of movement throughout. The vocal accumulations of opener ‘Blue Suit Glitch’ end up receding beneath globs of blooping modular synth. ‘It’s a Sound, Not an Ocean’ sees gentle vocal tendrils scoured beneath layers of fuzz, grit and a blast of bass-y distortion, re-emerging as breathing surges of overlaid vocal loops , and ending in a web of dancing synth notes. Elsewhere, ‘Zero Crossing’ wades through slashing swathes of blanket fuzz; ‘Prisms’ and ‘Infinite Consent’ are scoured by fizzing distortion; ‘A Crack and a Shadow’ – perhaps the most delicate track here – sees a duet between a looped intermittent crackling of electrical noise and a sparse vocal repeating. The album winds down beautifully in the brief, spiralling arc of ‘Someone Else’.
Slow, expansive and continually shifting, tracks envelop the listener, using looping and repetition in a way that feels organic and amorphous, never locked or rigid. Waves roll. Elements taper in and out of existence. Tracks build in density through gradual accumulation. Certainly, Ian’s voice might act as a soothing balm for the listener, but far removed from any cosy new age ambient sensibility, it is persistently tempered by a weight and a grit that accentuates and elevates it well beyond simple prettiness. Clearly he delights in conjuring and making a virtue out of the visceral, utilising the sonic artefacts of mechanical processing – fizz, crackle, hiss, slurred tape, the clunk of pressed buttons – and sending the whole cycling around itself like a series of Machine lullabies. There are parts that recall Aphex Twin’s ‘Ambient Works Vol. 2’, but overall the feel is less analogue bubblebath, and more akin to the corrosive fizz of the acid bath eating away at etching plates of Ian’s day job as a printmaking technician.
Sound artist, award-winning printmaker, classically-trained vocalist, writer, photographer, composer and performer, Ian William Craig has been heralded by MOJO as “a trained opera singer manipulating analogue recordings of his own voice to conjure up bewitching traceries of phantom arias… a singer destroying his own work, yet creating something more elegiac and profound in the process.” The Guardian described him as “sounding like a collaboration between between Bon Iver and William Basinski”; and Pitchfork as “like Tim Hecker producing the outré Jónsi Birgisson album many expected but never got as Sigur Rós’ star rose.” Ian’s work has found fans in the likes of Max Richter, Thom Yorke and Sigur Rós. He might find peers in the likes of Julianna Barwick or William Basinski and appeal to fans of artists like Abul Mogard, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker or Fennesz, but really – like all of his output – this music sits out on its own.
Another wonderful web of sound for listeners to get lost within, ‘Music for Magnesium_173’ is set for release on September 23rd and will be available as a digital release and also on double vinyl.
The track Viridian was inspired by Hotel Savant’s theatre work Opiate d’Amour, written by playwright and director John Jahnke.