Substrate: twin ambient dronescapes of light and dark

ate & NOWA ZIEMIA, Substrate, Poland, Zoharum, ZOHAR 232-2 CD / cassette (2021)

Two acts from the Tricity urban region centred around Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot in northern Poland, ate (Petar Petkov) and NOWA ZIEMIA (Artur Krychowiak) join forces on “Substrate”, an album of two long drone soundscape tracks created with heavily processed guitar chords, electronics and field recordings. This is the kind of album you can play as a mood or ambient backdrop to whatever activity you might be engaged in that don’t require much strenuous physical or mental working out – indeed you could use this album as an aid to release anxiety or stress, to let yourself down gently into a more relaxing state of mind or a state of physical stillness. I must say though that this is not an album to just vegetate to, it is a work that can take listeners to different places in their heads – if they allow it to do so. Layers of drone, light and silvery, steadily unfurl through radiant space and spread a warm mood, a calming feeling and a promise of more and other pleasant experiences if listeners are prepared to take up the journey. There is however a surprise for those who do follow this path: it becomes strewn with dark shadow, a sense of being stuck or lost in a remote vast space where inhabitants, if any, are too far apart to care about one another, and even a feeling of danger being close by.

These devious Polish gentlemen came up with an ambient work of twin dronescapes, one seemingly filled with lightness and the other its dark mirror-opposite doppelganger. Yet all is not completely black-and-white: the darker twin turns out not to be all that menacing but instead offering perhaps another view of the worlds offered by its blander sibling, one more nuanced and all the more fascinating, mysterious and substantial.

The music on the first half of the second track “Substrate B” is the more interesting as the sounds can be quite loud and clear yet soft and fading to near-nothingness at the same time, and the music’s texture extends to fuzz, almost noise in parts. Perhaps the strength of the album lies in the two musicians’ ability to shape their sonic universe in a way that makes it vast and weighty, deep and complex, yet capable of very subtle, small change that can lead to the entire cosmos becoming transformed.