artist: Vidna Obmana
release: 1987 – 2007 Chasing the Odyssee
format: 8x LP
year of release: 2011
detailed info: discogs.com
It’s been a few years in the making, but this winter, the grand retrospective Vidna Obmana box was finally finished and released. It contains a representative selection of the music Dirk Serries made under this name in the ambient period of the project. It is always a pleasure to dive into a release of such a scale, to take the journey and see what you’ll find along the way. In the case of Chasing the Odyssee, as in many good stories, it is the journey that counts for at least as much as the destination.
The first two records are dedicated to gentle ambient works from the period between 1987 and 2000, encompassing a series of albums on – among others – Projekt records, including classics like The River of Appearance and Crossing the Trail. Two modes dominate here: that of the somewhat ethnic sounding rhythmic tracks such as “Encountering Terrain”, and that of the pure synth flows like the beautiful “In Hollow Embrace” and the dark “The Ominous Dwelling”, both tracks that get maximum emotional effect from their minimal form.
The second set of records is dedicated to four opera in which Serries collaborated with other musicians to create a fusion of sounds. The first one featured is Echoes of Steel, where he is joined by the acoustic guitar sounds of Dreams in Exile. The result is a stunning waterfall of melody, where the natural timbre of steel-string acoustic guitar is morphed subtly and combined with synths to create a rich and dreamy soundscape. This strategy applies to all of these aptly named fusion works, where the instrument used by the collaborator forms the prominent ingredient for compositions that are subtly drawn into ambient territory by Serries’ manipulations. The second part, Phrasing the Air features Bill Fox on soprano saxophone; Reflecting on Scale treats piano with Kenneth Kirschner, and the final opus is The Bowing Harmony with Steven Wilson on (abstract) vocals.
The fifth and sixth LP are dedicated to twelve selections from the seminal Dante Trilogy, the albums entitled Tremor, Spore, and Legacy. On these works, released between 2001 and 2004. Serries took many of the defining elements from various periods of Vidna Obmana, and forged them together into a magnum opus. Combined, this makes for a range of highly varied ambient of a generally dark and obscure atmosphere. Sometimes it is rhythmic, both in an ethnic way and more electronically. At other times, waves and soundscapes dominate, enhanced by various natural sounds and other effects. Flutes, guitar, voice, and percussion are all used in the process.
LP number seven contains a selection of five exclusive live recordings from between 1997 and 2003, again giving a rough overview of different periods of Vidna Obmana works. The sound on these recordings is very clear and gives a representation of the live sound of the project back when it was still active.
The final record, the only one to play at 45rpm, contains more exclusive material, in the form of two remixes of “Out from the Garden Reminded” by Justin K. Broadrick. Side A contains the Jesu version, an upbeat version with a funky rhythm, a touch of heavy guitar here and there, and in general a great track to listen to. It brings out the original melody in a bright new way that really adds something to this collection. The last track of the entire box, perhaps appropriately, is the Final remix of the same track. This time, Broadrick takes us far into ambient territory again by stripping down the song to floating organ-like tones, taking us deeper and deeper, as a fitting homage to Serries’ talent of handling minimalism.
That brings me to the general conclusion. Based on the vast collection of music on Chasing the Odyssee, what is most remarkable from all the songs here, is that Serries is a master of handling minimalist compositions in such a way to create strong emotional effects and atmospheres, and even richness of sound, while at its core, each track is based around a small, modest motif. This, of course, is a talent that has near limitless uses, and it is no surprise – not to mention a blessing for us listeners – that Serries has made the most of this talent for over 25 years now.
With its 5+ hour collection of tracks, a wonderful 12×12″ booklet with photographs by Dirk’s wife Martina Verhoeven, and excellent liner notes by Tobias Fischer of tokafi, this box is a testament to that talent. Loving selected and curated, it has the double edge to on the one hand appeal to those who are new to the project, by providing an excellent overview of many of Serries’ ambient works, and for a price that is peanuts in comparison to the content. For the Vidna Obmana veterans, this beautiful set could very well be the crown of a collection, not to mention bringing interesting new material to the board on the last two LPs. In short, a true achievement for Dirk Serries and Tonefloat, and a release to cherish.
Reviewed by O.S.
A1 Encountering Terrain (8:03)
A2 Mute Grief (6:53)
A3 In Hollow Embraced (4:39)
B1 Guarding Souls (5:46)
B2 Mission Ground (8:18)
B3 Charm Mystique (5:01)
C1 Twilight Came (8:01)
C2 The First Coil (8:29)
C3 The Ominous Dwelling (5:53)
D1 Forest Arrow (8:37)
D2 Until The Glowering Space (4:00)
D3 Before Mutual Grace (7:12)
Opera For Four Fusion Works (2000-2007)
E1 IV – Echoes Of Steel (17:07)
F1 VI – Phrasing The Air (10:05)
F2 IV – Phrasing The Air (9:47)
G1 III – Reflecting On Scale (14:01)
G2 IV – Reflecting On Scale (8:28)
H1 III – The Bowing Harmony (22:07)
The Dante Trilogy (1999-2004)
I1 Skin Strip (8:45)
I2 Cycle Of Agony (7:54)
I3 The Insane Brightness (5:08)
J1 Impious Rising (10:44)
J2 Simulate (6:55)
J3 Spore (4:50)
K1 The Seeker And The Spell (6:58)
K2 Torment And Resolution (9:13)
K3 The Nihilist (7:29)
L1 Creep (5:23)
L2 Mind Tunnel (5:44)
L3 The Virtual Insomnia (11:16)
M1 Agony (12:37)
M2 Pulse Transcription (8:19)
N1 A Scenic Fall (5:51)
N2 Legacy (7:42)
N3 The Eternal (8:46)
O1 Out From The Garden Reminded (Jesu Remix) (8:10)
P1 Out From The Garden Reminded (Final Remix) (11:42)