Review: Vidna Obmana - 1987 - 2007 Chasing the Odyssee (2011)


artist: Vidna Obmana
release: 1987 - 2007 Chas­ing the Odyssee
format: 8x LP
year of release: 2011
label: Tone­float
dur­a­tion: 5:18:30

detailed info: dis​cogs​.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.

Track­list:

Selec­tions (1987−2000)
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)

Ref­er­ences (1997−2003)
M1 Agony (12:37)
M2 Pulse Tran­scrip­tion (8:19)

N1 A Scenic Fall (5:51)
N2 Leg­acy (7:42)
N3 The Eternal (8:46)

Ref­er­ences (1989−2003)
O1 Out From The Garden Reminded (Jesu Remix) (8:10)

P1 Out From The Garden Reminded (Final Remix) (11:42)