Ambient works are often driven by philosophical queries, paring back the excessive noise of debate in order to reach a distilled rendering of an orderless landscape. Speaking on his last album for Music from Memory, the excellent Rainworks, Suso Saiz remarked that he was trying to channel:
“The possibility of an eternal being, changing its cyclical condition from solid to gaseous state, travelling through and between the Earth and the Sky.”
What if water molecules had memory? asked Saiz, a borderline absurdist question which dictated not only the changing timbre of the seasons, but the textural patter of precipitation.
His latest record, Nothing is Objective, flounders slightly for lacking the same guiding emotive journey, despite its provocative title statement. Where Rainworks orbited its thesis, Nothing is Objective is a sprawl of ideas, and where Rainworks brought a sense of minutiae to an epic deistic voyage, Nothing is Objective is simply epic in scale, clocking in at 2xLPs and 83 minutes. Fortunately, there’s plenty of introspective catharsis to be found in Saiz’s creative excess, particularly if you like your ambient records completely adrift.
Fittingly given its title, Saiz’s subjective outlook permeates this work far more than the unique viewpoint adhered to on Rainworks. The record starts evocatively with ‘Meccano’, as prepared piano hammers strike a steadily rising series of notes, underscored by the sounds of water dripping across a motherboard, Saiz conflates the sensation of waking up from a dream with the suspicion you’re still in one. Nothing is Objective is full of these moments of internal epiphany and thought; the sounds of tapes being rewound and played forward again in slow-motion.
What the rest of Nothing is Objective does best is elicit Saiz’s mental process. As delineated by the playful lilt of ‘Healthy Digestion’, it’s gentle and subtle, drawing buoyant, unerring strokes with a confidence that doubles down on their simplicity. All ambient records by definition have to reckon with their potential to become background tone, but Saiz is clearly comfortable working through his latest aural paradigm at his own pace. If ambience is atmosphere, then Nothing is Objective feels like treading softly through a reflective man’s dreams.
When Saiz takes further steps to contextualise the warm drones, like the melancholy-flecked guitar lines of ‘From Memory’, it’s arresting. Sadly, Nothing is Objective is too often inessential, particularly on the broad slow synth pads that characterise the first LP. A lack of percussion and harsh texture isn’t problematic in itself, and indeed tracks like ‘Anti-stress For Babies and Families’ take subtle changes in tone and sculpt them into self-reflexive pilgrimages. The issue is that this tone of meditation too often feels repeated, and too lacking in a guiding insight.
Ironically given that Saiz’s fingerprints are all over this, the album’s most striking moment is ‘Dulce’, a collaboration with ambient drone peer Fennesz. It drifts by in much the same way, but there’s a hint of conflict that gives it substance. The light touch of the humming synths is grounded by giving them a scratchy fuzz around the edges, creating a hazy tapestry of midnight disquiet. It doesn’t completely disregard the surrounding work, but it does come close to modifying the pervading mood, adding a much needed tonal dischord.
Taken as a whole, Nothing is Objective is still an impressive record. It certainly represents a sonic break from his last album, which is always gratifying, and there are plenty of spots of genuine beauty. The fundamental issue with a work of this breadth, however, is that the low points begin to have a cumulative effect, each one feeling more like an actual sag. At its best ambient music isn’t just mood, it’s a deconstruction of the backdrop of everyday life. With such an insular work, perhaps Saiz should’ve considered it from a greater remove.