With his latest, Christopher Bissonnette crafts a wholly immersive listening experience, one ideally suited for headphones and quiet minds.
Ambient music in general is best approached as being that of an immersive listening experience, one which either serves to complement some other activity or, through headphone listening, allow for complete and total disassociation from one’s environment, resulting a sort of meditative state. With the mind relaxed and the senses open, the music then flows through the listener, going in and out of focus as certain sounds and tonalities cause the mind to wander while others bring it sharply back into focus. At its best, ambient music is just that: music which creates an ambient listening experience that functions as a sort of personal soundtrack or underscore for daily existence.
Because of this, approaching ambient music from a critical standpoint can be rather difficult as each time listening to an album can have a different result based on one’s state of mind, what they may be doing at the time or what may be transpiring around them. Under ideal listening conditions, one is alone in a room with headphones, allowing the music to permeate the whole of the body, resulting in a sort of musical meditation that can transport the listen far away from the stress and anxiety of daily life. Getting lost within one’s own body is then the end-goal for this type of listening experience.
But rarely are we afforded these types of listening experiences. More often than not, we experience music as the backdrop to something else; driving or commuting, reading or writing, cleaning or doing other sorts of housework. During these times, the music is not our primary focus, although it does serve to supplement whatever the scenario is in which we find ourselves at any given moment. In this, we aren’t doing the music justice and are essentially ignoring the artist’s intended impact for an album or individual track.
So while Christopher Bissonnette’s latest ambient recording, Pitch, Paper & Foil, can be consumed and experienced in conjuncture with other activities, it requires a complete and total immersion to fully appreciate the subtle nuance within the decaying synths and textural drones. With your eyes closed, these recordings begin to wash over the whole of your body, absorbing the senses and bringing on a sense of weightlessness and freedom associated with the best the genre has to offer.
Essentially, the best ambient albums are those that succeed in largely being so unobtrusive they threaten to disappear should we face them directly. In-depth study would reveal little more than sustained drones and subtle tonal shading that, while certainly musical, relies far more on the senses than the emotional core largely required of standard pop music. In this, Pitch, Paper & Foil is best consumed as a whole rather than piecemeal. Rather than featuring wholly distinct, individual tracks, the album is broken up into eight tonally similar sound sculptures, each of which adheres to an overarching stylistic theme.
Only “Surcease” features any sort of immediately identifiable motif or compositional approach that could easily separate it from its peers. Atop a simmering synth layer, keyboard squiggles rush in and out of the frame, drawing the listener out from the lulled state in which they have found themselves during the preceding four tracks. Serving as the midpoint on the album, it functions as a sort of delineation or reprieve between sides, easing the listener back to reality before altogether taking him or her out of it once more.
And so, as with other ambient releases, your overall enjoyment will be predicated on how much you can allow yourself to let go and have the music move over and through you. Those capable of complete and total surrender to the music will find much to enjoy in Bissonnette’s sound sculptures. To the rest, Pitch, Paper & Foil will sadly only be so much background noise.