I was driving down a country road late at night in 1993, desperately trying to get something on the radio I could stand to listen to before I fell asleep at the wheel. Somewhere on the left of the dial, drifting in from an almost-out-of-range college radio station out of Houston, I heard something so strange I wondered if I was dreaming. I wasn’t even sure if it was music. It had tribal-sounding percussion, but it wasn’t exactly a beat like a normal song. It was moving, fascinating and a bit ominous. I had to know who and what it was.
The DJ named the song and band just before the signal faded: “The Ascension of Jolene” by Voice of Eye. It sounded so mystical and otherworldly. From then on, for years, I would ask about Voice of Eye at various record stores. Nothing but blank stares. Finally, sometime in the late ’90s – paydirt. Waterloo Records in Austin didn’t have any VoE, but they had heard of it and put in an order for the 1995 album Transmigration. Beautiful and strange, the album’s theme is the journey of the soul after death. Listen to it in the dark and it will take you places.
That was my introduction to a type of music known as dark ambient. And of course straight up ambient. From there I discovered numerous ambient artists, including Brian Eno, who coined the term ambient. I started hunting down ambient collections and discovered folks like Lustmord, Life Garden, Randy Greif, Caul, William Orbit and Paul Schutze.
Eventually I tracked down the album that had that first VoE song I heard, “Ascension of Jolene.” It was on a compilation called Arrhythmia 2 (good luck finding it. It’s way out of print, but you might have luck at Randy Greif’s online mailorder store, which is where I got it.) That compilation in turn introduced me to yet another musical scene, experimental underground percussion by the likes of Crash Worship ADRV, which is a whole other story and something for another post.
I’ve introduced a few people to dark ambient who found it disturbing, comparing it to horror movie soundtrack music (not a bad comparison for some of it). I guess I’ve been expanding my musical horizons long enough that it doesn’t bother me. I like music that challenges me and carries me through a range of emotions. Ambient per se, is usually something you can either listen to or use as background and ignore. Dark ambient, while it can be beautiful and relaxing, often demands your attention. I have no problem with that. I like music that takes me on journeys, something VoE definitely does.
Voice of Eye (Jim Wilson and Bonnie McNairn) aren’t the electronic artists you might expect. They do use electronics, but not synthesizers. They produce their soundscapes organically, making a lot of their own instruments with names like “bass thing” and “jeemna.” According to their “About” on MySpace, “Voice of Eye’s modus operandi is to take sound sources that are acoustic in origin, then process them through little black boxes to warp time and widen sonic perception.” You can see a slide show with pictures of those instruments at the bottom of their MySpace page.
And below are a couple of YouTube videos, one of them showing a live performance (wish I could catch one of those):
VoE took a bit of a hiatus a few years ago, but they are back at it again. Originally from Houston, they have since set up shop in Taos, New Mexico. They’ve also released a few more albums. One of them, Seven Directions Divergent, I just ordered via PayPal and their website. Apparently it contains more song-oriented material than the other VoE albums I’ve heard, which is intriguing.
They have four CDs available on their website. Check them out here: