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mara - The Formation of a Cloud (Self-Released, 2021)

On her latest release, producer mara continues to provide quiet whispering moments of brilliance, with the wavelengths found within beguiling to the touch and endlessly enticing to the ears.

There's something about audial frequencies that keep themselves close to the terrain, and this perception will forever remain somewhat mystifying yet ubiquitously clear all at the same time. The concept of moulding the potential of hardware into whatever shape and form there may be has been a common feature within many discographies, contexts and scenes for a few decades now, and whilst percussion seems to filter itself out the window there remains plenty of scope and scale for keys, field recordings and vocals to really shine. The music removes us from a clubby, dancy kind of environment and places us in a reflective space, one where the layers that flicker through the hazy memories of yesteryear look to evoke an emotional or even passive response within the listener. Its an all encompassing kind of affair, but at the same time there isn't a demand to always engage with the music on a overtly direct level, as choice remains a key factor in determining how deep we dive. Ambient music has always remained somewhat of a room filler, never landing in a particular spot but gradually climbing up the walls and seeping out the window, and as a genre of music it remains either passive or deeply engaging, depending on the measure of willingness to step foot within its world. Field recordings also provide a similar sense of serenity, with the sounds captured within highlighting a commonality in experience, but also providing a frame for us to actively engage with these sounds, rather than hearing the same old birdsong on our way to work. The two threads are just two examples of the plethora of tonal and textural purveyors that exist within the Electronic Music spectrum, and since the days of Ambient's initial forays there has been a heap of sub-genres that have come along that intake its ideals and add further fuel to the fire of possibility. In the present day, there is much richness to be found within a crop of producers who have embraced the ideals of beatless imagery and have formulated their own bustling sense of vibrancy. The outlay could be dense, it could be sparse, it might be singular, it could even be multiple, but the notions will forever remain the same - the room is being filled, and our eyes remain very much open to the possibilities that new doors turn to offer. Who knows what might be situated behind.

Many of these feels and more leap out at you when you engage with a record made by Mara Schwerdtfeger, who for some time now has been enveloping listeners the world over with her exciting and intriguing take on tonally expressive Electronic Music. Her music persists with a multi-dimensional plain, one where differing lines of inquiry persist along their own path, residing very much in the dense backdrop until it is their time to be called up into the spotlight, such is the dynamism that exists within singular releases and within her wider discography. The languages that present themselves are complex, engaging and multi-faceted, with a wide range of instrumentation and vocalisation being utilised that provides a conversational feel, as if all the elements are speaking to each other and propelling the momentum onwards. This makes the music feel involving, inviting us to meander around the layers that unravel themselves around the core, and as a result we are allowed to familiarise ourselves with the widest reach possible of elements and sounds. Her work is very much engaged with the Ambient side of things but to call it simply Ambient is to do a disservice to the liveliness that is present in all of her tracks, with singular drawn out tones replaced with expressive key progressions, beautiful vocal lines and compelling tonal applications. With each record her world becomes that little bit more complex, as new elements find their way into the spectrum that aid in fuelling our compulsion to keep returning, to keep finding new ways of viewing and experiencing the outlays being presented, and in many ways this is what all good Electronic Music should be able to evoke. Her discography is a bountiful one indeed, with some of our favourites including the endlessly intriguing 'liquid' LP, which pairs quietly pulsating melodics so effectively with sublime vocalisations, with the album arriving in 2016; the expansive and deeply moving 'missing' LP, which expands the vibrations out to incredible heights, with the record arriving in 2017; and finally, the sombre yet texturally exceptional 'Specular' album, a soundtrack made for the Veronica Charmont film of the same name, which arrived in 2018. In all, there is plenty within Mara's world to celebrate, from the wondrous highs to the glorious low ends, and the multitude of elements that inhabit the middling ground, as a lasting impression is always left upon the listener. Her music absorbs the context in which we find ourselves, harnessing its existence and latching on to its spatial dimensions to provide a sense of vibrancy which does much to fill up the world around us. Its electronic music that quietly speaks to itself and to other audial elements that revolve around it, opening up a dialogue that remains expertly intuned with itself. Involving, captivating and always moving, its a universe that accommodates all manner of mental meanderings, its up to us which direction we choose to follow. If you haven't had a chance to check out her works, we highly recommend you do so.

And now we arrive at her latest effort, 'The Formation of a Cloud', a soundtrack to a short film of the same name that was directed by filmmaker Jenn Trann. Trann describes the film as 'different explorations of the suburban waterway', both via memories of place and through revisiting, which she does towards the end of the film. Mara's soundtrack reflects the notion of memory and present day experience, with a mixture of field recordings interwoven within electronic sequences to provide both the fantastical and the profoundly real. As ever with Mara's work, there's a narrative to be told, and over the course of the album we are welcomed into the fold with beautiful melodies, dynamics and progressions, as elements flicker from here to there with an intensity that remains quiet yet highly impactful. You really do get a feeling of tapping into a lost memory of sorts, of a time and place that remains important yet its power remains out of reach, unless you find the passage back to its vividness. No matter what, we are captured by the tones that flow our way, the unravelling waves that gently wash upon the outskirts of our mind, our eyes closed as we look inwards in order to project outwards. Sublimity never sounded so good, and when there's memories to be rediscovered, there's no better soundtrack - and on that note, lets take a deep dive into this superb meander through place, space and memory.....

'At Least It Was For Me' comes on next, and this one begins very harmoniously indeed. The gong like chords break through the mist and help to create an aura of serenity, as glittering lights hum through the seas and sands of time and place. The melodic elements arrive in triplets of sorts, with spacious expanses placed inbetween which help to really draw our attention to the soft undulations. The drifting doesn't stop there, as the wavelengths conjoin and dissipate, riding along the thin lines between what we picture in our heads and the scene we see laid out in front of us, and the manner in which the composition unfurls pays testament to this ability to move from left, to right and back again. The arrangement is so captivating, its inner workings breathing and rustling as if to say it is alive but where is it living - in the past, or the present, and as a conceptual opener to this soundtrack, it truly does set the scene. Breathtaking stuff. 'Rocky Ford' comes next, and this one begins with the sounds of nature to get things going. The chatter is dominated by bird song, their voices creating a sense of depth that you can imagine when walking through the woods, and then as if to signal our arrival at a particular point in time, the flow of water and the soft pads can be heard sliding in from the left hand side. The two elements flow and mingle alongside one another but before long we are left with the keys, the transition between place and imagined place coming full circle as we are allowed to embrace the keys with all our might. 'Abundance' comes next, and this one starts off with plenty of vitality. The woodwind like keys cascade downwards, encapsulating us within their web of uniform yet somewhat un-uniform like structure, as we glimpse through into a quietly building vortex of light, colour and sound. The pulse of this track gently grooves, with the climactic sections really helping to expand the composition, as if it is taking deep breaths in an effort to understand its surroundings. Awesome stuff.

'Trails' comes next, and this one starts off with the calls of the crows and the lightest of pads to kick things off. The two sequences glide alongside one another with a sense of ease, comfortable in each others company, as if the crows are calling out to the presence of a representation' of emotion and memory within their world. 'Artefacts' comes next, and here we find the chimes out in full force. The initial salvo leads the way, before unravelling into a more informal outlay, as a singular layer deconstructs itself into multiple weaves that breed arms and legs as time passes by. The melodic elements then begin mingling with the backdrop ambience, creating this sense of density that reminds us of the scale within which we often find ourselves when engaging with the world around us, our significance small but our perceptions wide eyed and full of wonder. The track shifts into a differing structure in its second half, as the elements spread their influence out quite far indeed, as we continue to drift between two spaces with all the passion in the world. Up next comes 'Infinite Loop', and this cut starts with some very soothing tones to get things going. The chords are packed together fairly tightly, with the spaces inbetween filled with a sombre undercurrent of mood inducing tones, as the two sequences merge continuously as time passes by. This convergence is a delight to the ears, providing a fullness that is easy to dive into and feel very much a part of, as the heart skips from place to place with a real sense of urgency. Further layers drift in and out of the structure, providing additional feels that touch the soul in all the right places, as we fall deeper into our inner consciousness. 'Construction' flows into view next, and this one starts off with a rhythmic feel to get things going. The singular drum like tap grooves through the middle of the pan, as wind like chords flow through the intervals, creating this sense of standing in the middle of the natural world, taking it all in.

'Still' comes next, and this one begins with the key line to get us going. The chords move from one tone to the next, crafting this beautiful scene for us to get lost deep within, as little textured samples grow into the mix with a feverish intensity. Our eyes light up every single time the notes return to view, and as the little variations shine through we are left even further enamoured with the sounds being presented. Mesmerising ain't even the word for this one, simply incredible. Up next comes 'Forming', and this one starts with some distant tones to kick things off. The keys are drone like in appearance, with tonal exclamations occurring along the way that give depth to the spectrum, and like before there is a beautiful sense of density explored throughout, as elements spread themselves out from tight spaces and into vast plains. Masterful. To wrap things up, we have the aptly named 'Something of Endings', and once again we are greeted with a wondrous array of elements. The flickers of harps mingle themselves within a sea of ever shifting chordal placements, as the densities shift from the audaciously full through to the beautifully sparse, clear and crisp. Its a drift through all the emotions we have felt on this journey, and these feelings are given one final do over as the instruments drop out to reveal a picturesque scenario. The bird song is all we are left with, as we contemplate all that we ruminated on for the past few minutes - was it all in the present, or was it all in the past? no matter the answer, Mara has found that middling ground between what we perceive and what we imagine so expertly, that its an experience we can continue to come back to and arrive at differing answers every single time. A glorious, harmonious and captivating triumph.

We began the review talking about audial frequencies and their abilities to speak to us on multiple levels, to help the soul and mind sing beyond our own knowledges and perceptions. Mara has always explored these kinds of interfaces within her music, and on this new album of hers we get to see the concepts reach their fullest potential. Each song contains a differing side to the ideals of memory and place, blurring the lines between the emotions that swell within us when in a particular context and the emotions that come to the surface when we remember how we felt in these environments. The manner in which sparseness is balanced out with spatial densities really does help to conjure up a sense of physical-ness paired with emotion, and the weaving into these sequences of field recordings remains the perfect foil. The balance that transpires is heartwarming, soulful and filled with vitality, our eyes blinking in the morning light as if we are adjusting to the sound being conveyed to us, and its this feeling that allows us to flicker between the imagined and the present. Memories are a powerful thing indeed, and they are bought to life by an album such as this, and we for one cannot wait to dive into it once again.

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