Live at Quendel
Apparatatus: Philosopher's Stone resurfaces
Assistant A&E Editor
rewards the engaged listener for paying attention to minutiae.
Kranky Records does not generally deal in misnomers. The very name
of the label is, with intentional irony, very indicative of the
mood created by many of Its acts. With Philosopher's Stone, however,
one finds an exception to this rule. The name of this group (actually
one man named Gareth Mitchell) conjures up images of new age or
"stoned" music, when the actuality of its sound is vcry
Stone makes well-produced and purposeful ambient music which avoids
the genres of new age or stoner music altogethcr. The 10 songs on
its second full-length release, Apparatus, are proof of this this.
While some of the songs on the album might be enjoyable to get high
to (i.e. "Totally tweaked out sounds, bro!"), they run
much deeper than the average bong.
example, Philosopher's Stone generally avoids backbeat and solid
rhythms in favor of more complex rhythmic relationships that reveal
themselves throughout any given piece, as one part relates to the
next, rather than dictate its tempo from the beginning.
the sense of timing on Apparatus is more classical in nature than
most popular music, rewarding the engaged listener for paying attention
to what, at least in reference to the simplicity of pop songs, would
be considered minutiac.
in certain spots I feel as though I am listening to the experimental
composer Luc Ferrari when I listen to Philosopher's Stone.
course, this does not imply that Philosopher's Stonc is derivativc,
because he is not, only that he uses some of the same techniques
as Ferrari. In particular he has the great sensibility on Apparatus
to let the beats of his keyboard voices- here I am referring not
to drum beats but pulsing created by wave forms- intermingle so
that they end up playing off each in truly exciting ways. It is
this sort of sophistication that makes me feel Philosopher's Stone
is not just another dude with a processor, a guitar and a sequencer.
like Ferrari, Philosopher's Stone has a penchant for letting songs
blow out. By 'blow out' I am trying to convey the way in which a
piece opens up. A visual metaphor would be this: imagine somcone
has flat line in the emergency room, and then the nurse pulls out
those big shocker things and puts them on his chest.
the person is shocked, a huge pulse is created on the heart rate
monitor This is the way that some of the material on Apparatus might
look if it were on that screen. From a relative flat line to a sort
of unexpected gestalt, Mitchell's compositions, as with the rhythmic
sensibility they contain, reward the engaged listener for staying
thc opening-up of those compositions, one hears many interesting
sounds. This is where my reaction to stoner music comes into play.
If the struclural elements of Apparuatrs were not solid, thcse interesting
sounds might just sit as a jumble of bugged out noises created with
il stands, though, because the structural elements of the music
are solid, Philosopher's Stone has room to play. As his compositions
coalesce, he allows himself the opportunity to cover them with a
thin layer of baroque decoration in sound. This seems a totally
natural move, and it sounds, well, pretty damn cool.
only drawback to Apparatus is that it tends to stay rather dark
from start to finish. Certain portions are not as dark as others,
but the majority of the release is not good-times music. This is
fine by me- life is not always a bundle of joy- but Apparatus may
have the tendency to bring you down if you are not there already.
thc whole, however, Apparatus is an album worth owning, It is inspired
ambient nusic. Whilc requiring engaged listening, it docs deliver
on a number of levels as far as plain old musical enjoyment is concerned.
One only has to get over the corny name to appreciate this.
Sept. 1-7, 1999
Stone Apparatvs (Kranky)
believe that what separates mediocre musicians from innovative musicians
within the non-analogue realm of music is the manner in which they
retrieve their sounds. Do they pick and choose off of a list of
preprogrammed sound files, or do they capture seemingly random events,
transform them, invert, rearrange, and process, until the final
product is something previously unknown to man? Obviously there
is a certain integrity to the latter category, the category in which
I would place Philosopher's Stone, the brain child of Gareth Mitchell.
Supposedly most of the sound came from Mitchell's guitar, but you
would never guess it. The metallic sounds that begin "Komposition"
or the Kafkaesque rhythmic swells of "An Apparition" literally
daze the senses with their unworldliness. Mitchell's complex approach
to composition and song dynamics is really quite unparalleled within
a genre that has the propensity to be smothered by repetition. The
closest comparisons I could draw would be to that of Stars of The
Lid or labelmates Wendy and Carl. Overall, Apparatus is a home studio
Hey!! No, it would never work... Two years on, we are finally graced
with a new album from the enigmatic Philosopher's Stone. The Stone
is the solo-now-permanent project of Gareth Mitchell (ex) of Amp.
On the evidence of this record, quite a bit has happened in the
last two years for Mitchell. I couldn't help but notice he has ditched
the vocals that so beautifully complemented the guitar textures
of the Preparation debut. But perhaps the name, Preparation , was
to be taken literally. Perhaps that record was just a short period
of gestation, nothing more. I believe so. Let's continue that album-title
theory, then, with Apparatus . Fine, it holds water because Apparatus
finds Mitchell manipulating the very essence of the studio to fill
the gaps where his voice used to be. Apparatus is no mere ambient
noodling exercise, either. Mitchell created the whole album in his
home studio, sampling and resampling his electric guitar (among
other items), then processing and editing the resulting sounds to
the point of a new and unrecognizable chunk of sound. And I'm sure
this record could have turned out nightmarish after nine months
of being your own and only critic/editor, but Apparatus is a magnificent
like the way Apparatus is more skittish and nervous than your average
Kranky opus. When you play it, the songs lurk behind corners, loom
over your shoulder and merge with the flickering shadows. Every
time you think you've caught something, the sound darts around a
corner, just out of view, songs cut abruptly into silence and then
whirr slowly back to life. Or perhaps Mitchell will throw out random
white noise every so often, to distract you from the path the music
is really taking, like a red herring. It matters little why. Apparatus
is all about the phantom nature of sound, fading in and out of consciousness,
startling you with unexpected bumps-in-the-night, with the most
beautiful moments always just on the periphery...
Records, P.O. Box 578743, Chicago, IL 60657
Mitchell's second project as Philosopher's Stone features endlessly
refined and processed samples of guitar. The trippiest aspects of
Pink Floyd's early sonic explorations are simply the starting point
for sound sculpture like this. Play this one loud and grow mesmerised
by numbing waves of white noise in the slowly osciliating wash and
sonic wave of "Lost," or the gradually intensifying pulse
of "Confluence," the two purest and most monotonous soundscapes
here. Philosopher's Stone is at its most compelling in the gothic
industrial "Komposition", the minimalist contrapuntal
fractal oscillations of the impressionist "Filament",
the heavily processed circular feedback loops of "Calendar",
the microtonal sonic architecture of "Valetta" and the
haunting intensification of "Apparition." If you are into
serious experimentation with sound, Philosopher's Stone offers some
Box 578743, Chicago, IL Go657) David Lewis