superambient - compilation

dave stafford



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” compilation.


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” appeared.


“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 collection.





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.






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 day.





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 figure.


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.





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 section.


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 beautiful silence.





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 EXPERIENCE it.


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 creating.





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.



Please see the entry for “Destiny 2000” to read what happens next - the previous record is “The Autoreverse Sessions”.
















notes from the guitarist’s seat:


quiet... peaceful...  ambient music.  pureambient music.

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