Dave Stafford, September 2010: At the end of the 1990s, I decided it was time to
take one last look back, before trying to move forward into the 2000s, so before
beginning work on my next solo album proper, I had a go at making my first ever “ambient”
In the previous year, 1998, I had gone back and collected together all the viable
non-ambient pieces, and released the “Song With No End “ EP, so that tied up those
loose ends, but now, I wanted to look back over the ambient catalogue and create
a compilation that really showed Dave Stafford at his ambient best.
That compilation is “Superambient”. It has a very straightforward concept, to gather
together the “most” ambient, the “most” beautiful tracks, all onto one CD, so as
to create a beautiful, peaceful mood, and give listeners the option of owning a collection
that was far more pureambient than any single album release – because it was, for
the period 1995 – 1999 at least, the “best of the best”.
So I started with “circa”, from the “Transitory” album, because I consider “circa”
to be almost a trademark “Dave Stafford” track, it’s gotten a lot of comment from
reviewers, and it’s one of those tunes that sticks in your brain.
Lilting, lovely, with it’s beautiful saxophone riff and hanging-in-the-atmosphere
energy bows, “circa” then leads us to an even more ambient piece…
“arena”, which is more serious, more beautiful still – and is just a pure energy
bow piece, with no samples used. It’s no coincidence that this track also comes
from the “Transitory” album – as the most advanced, most ambient of all my works
to date, I leaned heavily on “Transitory” when the task of assembling a “best of”
“arena” had a wonderful mood to it, indescribably, mournful one moment, joyous the
next, pausing, thoughtfully, then moving on – atmospheric, moving – and once “arena”
resets the mood to a more serious one, we move on to the first circulation in the
CIRCULATION MOVEMENT NO. 3
This track has a fantastic ambience of it’s own, its really included because it’s
possibly my favourite circulation, and I was careful to pick a circulation that was
not too strident, one with a long fade in, and, one with very gently picked notes
– so as not to disturb the “mostly” energy bow theme that the album naturally has.
Also, I selected this one because it’s in a fairly deep reverb well, and as much
as possibly, I wanted to select the tracks that had the “most” atmosphere, and often,
but not always, a high level of reverb gives you a very ambient-sounding track.
I was torn on the idea of including circulations, and at one point, I was not going
to. I was afraid they would make the collection “too active”, but in hindsight,
I don’t think it is a problem, they do not disturb the flow at all, and in fact,
bring a welcome change of texture while providing a different kind of ambient feel
to the record.
THE PRINCESS OF THE TEMPLE OF THE AZURE CLOUD
This is the only piece on the record that was previously unreleased, basically, it
was a fairly recent loop that I had finished, liked very much, but it had missed
the release of “Transitory” so it was basically sitting in the can, not earmarked
for any particular project, so I thought – since it’s quite ambient and lovely, why
not include it in the ambient compilation?
This is one of the first loops that I did that had quite a bit of high-pitched content,
but I feel that it’s also quite a successful loop in it’s own right, it has a fairly
“short” pattern to it, but I love the way that it’s like, two loops moving in tandem
– the high pitched section being one “set” of loops; underpinned by some beautiful
lower register work that just shimmers under the radar, making the whole piece sound
so fragile, delicate, just floating on air.
I am glad that I included “The Princess Of The Temple Of The Azure Cloud” on “superambient”,
because otherwise, an excellent ambient outtake might never have seen the light of
Yet another track taken from the “Transitory” album, a short excursion, but one with
an incredible, unique mood – an absolute must for an ambient collection.
“exeat” is all about atmosphere, but the loop itself is so compelling, with that
beautiful, long ebow figure suddenly and overwhelmingly joined by a swelling of notes,
that comes around like clockwork, supporting, holding up, the “top note” of the melodic
For me, I don’t know whether to listen to the long ebow melody, the beautiful swelling
sound, or the other tiny loops sprinkled in amongst the main piece – the ears can’t
decide, sometimes I’m wholly focused on the melody, other times, I don’t hear the
melody at all, and the piece is all about the swelling, growing massed ebows, many,
many ebows, making that fantastic, combined sound that rises so quickly, and then
is gone again before you can blink.
“exeat” is a short, moody diversion, and then the album flows on…
Whereas “Circulation Movement No. 3” is a “looped capture” of a built circulation,
“Miniature Garden” is a complete, live take, which includes the “building” of the
loop, and I am very happy now that this piece was included in the compilation.
It does an excellent job of demonstrating the “solo circulation” form, which was
an important development for me in the late 1990s, so really no Dave Stafford compilation
should be without a “full”, live, built circulation like this.
The piece builds quite slowly, it’s in a beautiful, beautiful reverb room, and has
an almost oriental tonality, some of the notes are slightly bent or “wavy”, giving
the piece a most unusual feel. Probably most astonishing of all though, is the beautiful
turnaround at 5:55 where the piece, which has been building slowly for nearly six
minutes, is suddenly turned backwards, and runs reversed, until it fades away forever
a short time later. The sound of the reversed circulation is absolutely spellbinding.
Taken from the album “The Autoreverse Sessions”, “Miniature Garden” is a place, a
mood, an ambient atmosphere, and, despite the use of the plectrum, it holds it’s
own against all of the pieces created with the energy bow.
Another completely live loop – a long ebow note to start, and then slowly, harmonies
begin, a descending motif, very slow, very sad with lovely silences – then, those
amazing high notes, carefully wandering in amongst the ordinary notes, the loop building
EVER so slowly (as live loops tend to do when you are using long phrases).
I think that there are an unusually large number of pieces from both “Transitory”
and “The Autoreverse Sessions” on “superambient”, this track coming from the ”Autoreverse”
album, and that is simply a function of the fact that most of the “best” loops, the
absolutely state of the art, well developed, well executed loops, tend to come from
the later albums rather than the early ones. Not that the early loops are bad, or
lesser – just not as refined, not as perfected, not as polished – perhaps not QUITE
”as ambient” as the later works are.
So I am not surprised that I’ve included two in a row from “The Autoreverse Sessions”,
because it was a very recent, totally live, and provides a really good example of
real looping. So I am pleased that this track made it onto the compilation, and
it’s an excellent representative of a “standard” live Dave Stafford loop performance
– it’s just what it is.
Again, I’ve picked a piece that is slow, that is sad, that is drenched in a lot of
beautiful reverb – because this is exactly the type of track, in a very similar way
to tracks such as “arena” or “exeat”, that creates the desired very ambient mood.
Almost as if to belie what I said above about the most ambient tracks being from
more recent albums, I reach much farther back to pull this piece out – all the way
back to 1995 and the album “Charm Zone”. Again, this is a piece that should be in
any and every Dave Stafford compilation.
It’s unusual, it’s made with mostly synthesizers, and a little bit of ebow guitar
- rather than the more Dave Stafford traditional “all energy bow guitars” approach,
and it’s a deliberate “composition” – but, it successfully captures an atmosphere,
a pure feeling, an amazing mood of reflection.
This is a track that I wish I had a much, much longer version of, because I could
imagine this piece playing on and on and on for hours on end, and myself never tiring
of it. It has a special feeling to it, and, it’s unlike any other track in my catalogue.
I can detect the presence of the Yamaha DX11 synthesizer, which adds a very distinct
characteristic, but “the mood’s the thing” with Reflective – it grabs you, and pulls
you along, into its inescapable and relentless, loving grip.
This is music for dreaming if you ask me.
CIRCULATION MOVEMENT NO. 14
And now for our third and final circulation, in the end, I decided on having just
three in all, so that MOST of the album would be ebows, ebows, and still more ebows.
This is, again, blessedly, a full, live, complete solo circulation performance. A
long, descending motif, with a strange note midway, and two lovely, super soft notes
in bars 11 and 12, and we are away – notes added quickly, confidently, until the
piece is fully built.
I love those two bars that begin with the quiet notes, the way the “other guitarists”
respond to that is brilliant, they adjust their own mood and respond with quieter,
gentler notes – beautiful!
It really is a bit odd, that’s just one person, playing the parts of eight different
imaginary guitarists. It’s strange to behold, but I think in the end, it works very
well indeed. This is a fairly upbeat piece, fairly bright, quick and happy, but
with those two quiet, bittersweet, “thoughtful” moments to balance out the happy
The change in texture from energy bow or synth and energy bow is a welcome one, as
if awaking briefly from a dream, to see and hear this amazing musical construction
being built – and then back to the dream.
I love how this piece ends, too, on the next-to-last bar, one of the “thoughtful”
bars, it’s just so undefined and lovely, and it fades into a very mysterious and
Intentionally keeping “the best” till last, hoping that if nothing else reaches the
listener, “vivid” will. Stately, deliberate, this mixture of intense, deeply mixed
energy bows with its fragments of orchestra embedded deep in its musical heart, “vivid”
is as unusual as it is beautiful.
As yet another piece representing the “Transitory” album, this piece is an essential
guide to what a loop should be – perfectly formed, flowing, liquid, beautiful, transitory
– floating past your consciousness, you don’t really listen to “vivid” so much as
I placed this in the penultimate position, truly literally saving the best for last,
wanting the stately beauty of “vivid” to win the day if none of the other tracks
had done so. I feel it has an undeniable beauty and it is the one loop of which
I am ridiculously and inordinately proud, and always will be.
I was lucky – the loop I had was beautiful, but the even more inspired idea of dropping
some random bits of strings into it – that gave it the final, ethereal quality that
makes it one of the strongest pieces of music that I’ve ever had the pleasure of
WILLING PARTICIPATION IN THE DREAM
I wanted to end the set with something that was both traditionally beautiful but
at the same time a bit edgy, and “Willing Participation In The Dream”, taken from
the “Other Memory/Sand Island” album, fits the bill perfectly.
The piece has an eerie, dreamlike quality, because of course it’s been slowed to
half-speed, this was a guitar loop that I had completed but wasn’t 100% happy with,
I’d tried many treatments and reverbs and so on, and I just never could be truly
satisfied with any version or mix that I created.
Until one day I realised that I felt it was going too fast, and it struck me if I
slowed it to half-speed, not only would it go at the speed I wanted, but that would
also enhance some of it’s other qualities – which it really does, the layers of ebows
in the middle of the mix are just so lush, the vibrato running at half it’s normal
speed but still very lovely, and when the loop “cycles around”, it hits a couple
of high points – one, where it become very melodic, another, where it seems to pauses,
think about things, and then resume on it’s way…
I find this piece to be so relaxing, it moves from pensive to calm to positive to
bright to thoughtful to moody to happy and then back to pensive, but the overall
feeling is a calm, happy, content one – so I wanted to end the album with a feeling
of beautiful, calm contentment – and with a track like this, how could I lose?
”superambient” was really my first attempt at compiling an entire set of very ambient
work, and given that it was my first try, I feel it came out very well indeed. It
does cover well, the many styles and approaches I’d been using during the previous
four years, and gathers together the very best examples thereof from the albums made
during that period, 1994 – 1999. I include 1994 because some of the pieces on my
two 1995 albums were actually recorded earlier, and added onto one or the other of
the 1995 projects.
But, after eleven years, as a compilation, if you just put it on and let it play
(particularly if you let the entire disk repeat a few times) it really does pull
you in to a world of it’s own, with a certain mood, atmosphere, and ambience – so
based on that, I would say that I was successful in every way that mattered – I have
a collection here that accurately represents the looping and circulation work that
I did in the latter half of the 1990s.
“superambient” is probably a very good place to start if you want a quick overview
of what Dave Stafford sounded like in the 90s, but for the full picture, you would
need to go to the individual albums to hear the whole story.
Of course, then came the 00s, and Dave moved forward with a different agenda, and
musically, the 00s were a very challenging and diverse musical time. The loops evolved
further still, and other forms appeared as time went on. But this snapshot in time,
that is “superambient” – it captures the true essence of what is “pureambient” so
I feel it has value because it performs that function.
If you were to take Bindlestiff’s albums “Quiet” and “LOUD”, and play them alongside
“superambient” – those three records epitomise the “pureambient.com sound”, what
the label was trying to accomplish, the kind of music we wanted to create and share.
The latter half of the 1990s was an amazing time, and the music that we created
during that time resonates still over a decade later.
You could argue that perhaps it should be “Quiet”, “LOUD” and “Transitory” instead
– but some combination of those, would be the ultimate representation of what pureambient.com
was capable of as the 1990s drew to a close.
So with the release of “superambient”, one chapter of “the pureambient.com experience”
comes to a close, and we move now into the more uncertain waters of the 2000s, and
we will see what they bring for the label and the artists still working there as
time went on.
2003 was to see the release of the long-delayed Saffron Matted Voids album, and later
in the decade, events unfold that brought on a temporary retirement for the label,
as it was actually shut down as an active web site and label, and turned into an
archive in 2004, only to be revived after a six-year absence, in 2010, when Dave
Stafford returned to active duty both in the world of live and recorded music, as
well as being the label’s head.