Everything is transitory
Chi. The vital energy that runs through all living things on our planet. And the name of a project that really just existed for a few years back in the 80s. Founded by Hanyo van Oosterom and Jacobus Derwort in 1984 and disbanded in ’87. Their only album was self-released initially, received a second release in the nineties on an equally short-lived Dutch label, and then a much welcomed second re-release on the one label that was destined to bring it back – Astral Industries.
That was 2016 – no less than thirty years after its original release. The founders didn’t bring the project back to life though. Instead they chose to get back together as Chi Factory, released three more albums on Astral Industries until the sad day came when Derwort passed away in 2019.
Once more the vital energies of this project went into transition, emerging in a new identity as Son Of Chi – which is, at least for the moment, just Hanyo van Oosterom. For the first album under this name, he is joining forces with Radboud Mens, another Dutch sound designer and composer. Much to my surprise I found out that his name already entered my collection about 20 years ago – for a while he produced Minimal for the now defunct Audio.nl label and one of those 12″es is somewhere on my shelves.
So here we are, in 2021, listening to “The Transition Recordings”. I’m always happy when a new Astral Industries album comes my way, and I don’t even listen in when I buy them. I know they will be wonderful, and that way I hear them for the first time when the needle drops.
Explaining why this is particularly enjoyable is tricky though. I could say that it is one of the most approachable albums among the first 25 at AI – and you might think oh, okay, this is more in the easy listening corner. Or I could say that this album has a higher dose of rhythmical elements and you might wonder if this is ambient at all. I might mention the fact that it features small snippets of vocals, mostly people talking, and you might wonder if it’s one of those cases where these bits were added for lack of a better idea.
None of these worries are justified here. Van Oosterom and Mens have created an album that is warm and explorative, tranquil and even soothing. Sometimes it is gently ambling forward with the help of softly rolling rhythms, sometimes it floats along on airy and long-drawn flute sounds and graceful synth waves, piano sounds reflecting and voices coming in from somewhere as if carried by the wind.
As little as this may sound like an innovative concept – it really works wonders if you let your stereo fill the room with the delights of this album. There are some ethnic sounding touches here and there, letting the experience turn into mind travel, with plenty of watery sounds, chirping crickets and other natural elements – at times it feels like a nightly exploration along a tropical river in a small boat that just lets the river take care of its gentle progress.
The different stages of this exploration are masterfully connected, as if gliding from one river to another, or walking from a dense tropical forest to vast plains of high grass – listening to this album you never once lose this feeling of looking at something you haven’t seen before, in wonder and with a tiny bit of uneasiness in this foreign yet fascinating environment.
At times, muffled voices are talking and once even chanting as if in some kind of ritual, or from an old record player in a hut beyond the trees, and we are drifting by, unseen in the night, and we realize we are in transit, less from one place to another but rather moving along a world, a life, along memories and echoes, realizations and discoveries, gathering impressions, letting them impact our presence and then floating on again.
Yes, I do like the expressionist side of Ambient – when it’s staged the way van Oosterom and Mens are able to do it on “The Transition Recordings”. Give it a try at the end of a really miserable day. It doesn’t make life better – but it sure lets you understand that misery is transitory.
Release for review:
SON OF CHI & RADBOUD MENS – THE TRANSITION RECORDINGS – ASTRAL INDUSTRIES – AI-25