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Dreaming in the Well of Slow Shadows

Dave Fulton
Of Those Things Left Unsaid

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Antonio Testa & Michel Moglia
Forget the Past

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Trances & Drones

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Stephen Philips - Into the Dark

Artist: Stephen Philips
Title: Into the Dark
Label: Hypnos, hyp2751

Stephen Philips - Into the Dark

2007. Debut release by Stephen Philips on the Hypnos label "proper" following his album Dagboken on the Hypnos Secret Sounds imprint a couple of years earlier.

Into the Dark is a beautifully restrained and elegant piece of ambient music reminiscent of Neroli by Brian Eno, and Entering Twilight by James Johnson. Moving patterns of sounds, varying from bell-like chimes to deep rumbles vaguely-ethnic rattles, interact and react to create an always-shifting atmosphere, a sense of "place" and mood while avoiding ambient music cliches.

Stephen Philips is a prolific ambient music composer, best known as founder of Dark Duck Records, and he has collaborated with such diverse and respected artists as Numina, Austere, IXOHOXI, Ben Fleury-Steiner, James Johnson, Rigel Orionis, Ben Summers, and Isomorph. He has frequently performed live, and has worked in styles ranging from drone minimalism to glitch to deep chill, mostly centering around restrained ambience.

A single, continuously-evolving track of over 74 minutes, Into the Dark works great as a background atmosphere for continuous repeat play. But like the best ambient music, it is appealing enough for careful listening as patterns repeat and evolve, and themes emerge throughout.

Track listing with MP3 sample clips:
1. Into the Dark 74:29
Sounds from early, middle, and late.

Purchase direct


"My single favorite ambient record of 2007. Wow, was this one worth the LOOONNNNNGGGG wait. Just a tremendous piece of minimal beauty and subtlety--rare that I listen to something as continuously as Steve's disc--press repeat and new discoveries emerge on each listen--not to mention a state of deep relaxation (which is always a bonus)"
--Reviewed by Ben Fleury-Steiner on the Hypnos Forum


"Finally got to listen to this disc in its' entirety, and it is very impressive indeed. No overload, exquisite balance. What at first appears to be soulful trancing repetition evolves with wonderful sounds, deployed with a deft and disciplined hand. I have never heard Eno's Neroli, to which this album has been compared, but am now tempted to check it out. I do have some basic experience with Eno, though, and can tentatively say that Into the Dark, to me, seems to have a deeper sense of soul (or an animistic outlook on life) and narrative, things I particularly enjoy in ambient music, as opposed to being 'programmed' and designed...Just my initial feeling though...I can sense a kind of thread here, a visual movement through a landscape...It is beautiful...so many subtle sounds and transitions..."
--Reviewed by 9dragons on the Hypnos Forum


"Sometimes even reviewers judge a book by its cover. Hypnos release, check. Stephen Philips, check. Abstract cover art, check. A single track over an hour long, check. It’s obviously going to be deep dark ambient drones for the duration, right? Well, that impression goes out the window on the first note. The pinging noises sound more like the Barron brothers’ “Forbidden Planet” soundtrack or modern classical, than say, the latest Steve Roach hour-plus ambient epic. Bells, gongs and chimes are the predominant sounds, used rather sparsely, with synths and other sounds and effects for good measure. Wood blocks appear now and then, just briefly. Bass notes ring out from time to time and give just a hint of jazz flavor. This is thinking man’s ambient, like Brian Eno’s recordings from 30 years ago. While quiet, it isn’t exactly background music, as it doesn’t exactly flow. Notes are discrete and intermittent. It is subtle yet assertive in a way. The basic overriding theme and sound palette changes little over its course, just the placement of the notes and sounds. It’s like taking a thin slice of something and studying it intently, deliberately, ignoring everything above and below. Engage, listen intently, and see what you find."
--Reviewed by Phil Derby, ElectroambientSpace


"I hear the rain at night on a November evening, and am again reminded of my brush with Japanese aesthetics from my last Electron entry. This time the raindrops speak of a concept called mono no aware ("moh-no no awah-re") which expresses a feeling of transient and melancholy beauty. It's related to wabi-sabi but it's not the same thing. It's hard to explain in words (the linked article is only somewhat helpful, being doubled and also written by a follower of the late Sri Chinmoy). "Mono no aware" is easier to explain in sound and visuals, and a new release by ambient composer Stephen Philips, Into the Dark, is a good example.

Into the Dark is not "music" in the conventional sense of the word. It is a "sound environment," meant for creating a mood and an "ambience," thus it is "ambient" sound. "Real" music is busy and active, full of content reaching out to get you. Classical music is like a lecturing schoolteacher, reminding us of our insignificance before the greatness of past culture. Jazz, no less noisy, stuffs us with sonic food and drugs. And pop music, the noisiest of all, aims for endless hot stimulation and excitement. No "mono no aware" here. But with ambient, you take leave of the requirements of music and enter into a place where you are not expected to do anything, or even listen closely. You cannot judge ambient by the rules of "real" music. It just doesn't work that way.

Into the Dark is a long, single track of about 75 minutes, in which nothing much happens. (Not "real" music, remember?) Sounds come and go against soft atmospheric background chords. Sometimes they are bells, or muffled bass notes, or bamboo wind chimes, or a synthesizer note. That's all there is. It doesn't build to a climax and it doesn't press any meaning on you. It's background. The rest is up to you and your imagination.

I don't impose any cinematic or descriptive "program" on this piece, but I am invited to create a scene for it. A middle-aged couple, one of them disabled, sit in a garden at twilight, talking about ordinary things, before dinner. The sky darkens, the air cools, and just as they are going back into the house, the first drop of rain falls. Or another scene: a terrace with green plants on it, still outside in November as the leaves fly. Should you take them in or let them perish in the first frost? And yet another scene, as Philips' music plays: A pile of once-treasured possessions, now set aside for giving away. "Mono no aware" is quiet and devoid of showy Romantic posturing.

Autumn is the perfect time for this Stephen Philips piece. We are, in the northern hemisphere, literally going "into the dark," into winter and lack of light. You can't help but feel some of that transience and melancholy as the leaves turn colors and blow away under a grey sky. You don't need any Japanese aesthetics to feel that way. The length of the piece is just about that of a November day's twilight: if you start it as the sun goes down, it ends in the early blackness of night."
--Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapiro


"I have had it on continuous repeat since I got it out of the envelope. This isn't the drone that Steve is known for but instead a very addictive, work of highly refined minimalist ambient--as Mike G mentions very much in the tradition of Eno's utterly sublime and timeless Neroli--Steve lays down a very catchy main rhythmic motiff that floats over propulses of light chiming exhalations. over and over again for 74 minutes and 29 seconds.... It's one of the best single track immmersions in a very long time--an immersion that is definitely on the same level as Steve Roach's recent and appropriately titled Immersion discs (particularly my favorite Immersion I)..."
--Reviewed by gearsofsand on the Hypnos Forum