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Nov. 19,1999

Ambient Apparatatus: Philosopher's Stone resurfaces

By Jeff McLeod
Assistant A&E Editor

Apparatus 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 different.

Philosopher's 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.

For 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.

Thus, 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.

Indeed, in certain spots I feel as though I am listening to the experimental composer Luc Ferrari when I listen to Philosopher's Stone.

Of 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.

Also, 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.

When 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 attuned.

In 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 processors.

As 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.

The 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.

On 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.

Columbia Free Times

Sept. 1-7, 1999

Philosopher's Stone Apparatvs (Kranky)

I thoroughly 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 masterpiece. TS

Ink 19

Philosopher's Stone



Psst! 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 success.

I 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...

Kranky Records, P.O. Box 578743, Chicago, IL 60657

--Matthew Moyer


Nov. 1999


Gareth 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 challenging alchemy.

(Kranky, Box 578743, Chicago, IL Go657) David Lewis