[10 December 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Structures and Solitude is ambient composer Tor Lundvall’s second box set. His first one, The Seasons Unfold, collected three out-of-print albums and a fourth odds-and-sods disc. Structures and Solitudes collects four out-of-print albums and has its own exclusive album called Night Studies as its fifth disc. So, as you can see, Lundvall is a very prolific musician. But music isn’t all that he does, he also paints. There are dozens upon dozens of thumbnails of his paintings on his website’s gallery. And it’s not a stretch to say that Tor Lundvall’s visual art goes hand-in-hand with his auditory art. They both traffic in the same mood: somber.
Lundvall’s paintings frequent the outdoors where the spaces are wide open but the atmosphere isn’t particularly inviting. Some cool colors, and downright cold ones, shade the sky and the landscapes, making his imaginary world look like a dead one. If faces are to be had in these pictures, they are either sad, unfriendly, or disturbingly vague. An impressionistic concern of the vague is key to ambient music. Lines are not clearly drawn in this type of electronic sound. The fuzzier the borders, the easier it is to get lost inside of them. This is one of the things that draws me to ambient music; I enjoy not knowing where or when one idea ends and where or when the other begins. An artist like Tor Lundvall has no shortage of this kind of aesthetic. But having said that, Structures And Solitude is not meant for an uninterrupted listen. Feel free to try, but just know that you’re looking at 74 tracks spanning more than four hours of soft, ambient soundscapes that don’t really test the dynamic range of your sound system.
Not all 74 tracks of Structures and Solitude are instrumental. Lundvall’s voice makes an appearance in the third disc, Sleeping and Hiding. But when the vocals first drift into the mix on “City Rain”, “Spring Song”, and every other track on the album, Lundvall’s voice and lyrics are just as soft and unobtrusive as all of the other components. This can be a double-edged sword, with the con being that Lundvall’s voice does not introduce anything new. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since, between his paintings and his instrumentals, Tor Lundvall is all about establishing mood. And his singing voice does not disrupt that mood.
The sounds of Structures And Solitude have an industrial/musique concrète bent to them as well. It’s hard not to read track titles like “Scrap Yard”, “Night Work”, and “The Shipyards at Dawn” without thinking of hammering, sawing and other rhythmic, manual labor. Other track titles are just as telling in different ways, like “2:00 A.M.”, “3:00”, and “Early Hours”. “Dark Roads”, “Factory Glow”, “Sunday Evening”, and “Empty City”: The recurring theme of the shipyard mentioned earlier (from the set’s fourth disc, simply called The Shipyard) shows a sound sculptor obsessed with…well, solitude. He didn’t throw the word into the box set’s title for nothing.
If you were one of those people who procured most of these in their first pressing, Tor Lundvall has thrown in a few extra perks. A total of eleven bonus tracks are scattered at the end of each of the four previously released albums. The fifth one, Night Studies, sounds like its title. The tracks are brief, eighteen of them spanning only 39-plus minutes. Instead of fussing over a coherent thread to tie them all together, they come across more as exercises in incidental music—something to keep on a résumé in case a film producer or experimental theater troupe came knocking. In other words, they are Studies.
Tor Lundvall is a highly specialized kind of electronic musician. His music revels in a subtlety that leaves almost no room for hard-lefts and curveballs but takes its sweet time in dealing out the cards that will determine its path. Should you step inside of Structures and Solitude, be sure to leave the door cracked open just a little bit because it’s dark in there.