Music for Acoustic Instruments and Feedback: a graceful and enchanting album of heavenly ambience

Vanessa Amara, Music for Acoustic Instruments and Feedback, Denmark, Posh Isolation, PI 249 vinyl LP (2021)

In case we need reminding – it’s been some time since I heard anything by Vanessa Amara and I myself had forgotten too! – Vanessa Amara is a Danish-based duo of Birk Gjerlufsen and (since 2020, as far as I can tell) Sebastian Santillana who specialise in creating moody atmospheric droning music. This recent album is a collection of unedited live recordings made from 2016 to 2020, dominated by a small group of instruments: piano, accordion, pipe organ, bells and tape recorders. Using the tape machines plus microphones and speakers, the musicians created a system that enabled them to work with acoustic feedback. Working in whatever spaces (including other people’s homes) were available to them – Vanessa Amara does not have a regular studio – the musicians manage to capture as well the acoustic characteristics of the spaces where they worked and of any other objects that happened to be in those spaces, lending an extra atmospheric dimension to the music that appears on the album.

The result is an album of graceful and bewitching music with a spiritual air, sounding more weighty and serious than it really is. Its style is sparing, minimalist and melodic with very resonant tones. The ambience may be heavenly, lending itself to meditation on things spiritual or, as on “Piano & Two Tape Loops”, it can be intimate if dark and not a little melancholy. Tracks are not especially long – the longest is less than eight minutes – and some pieces, especially the last two “Cembalo & Carillion” and the delicate and stately “Piano, Bells & Two Reversed Tape Loops”, really could have been much longer and had more development beyond looping repetition. Music as intriguing and enchanting as this bears repeating over and over but listeners no doubt may feel the same frustration as I do that the tracks and the album overall are short and quite static in their development.