Alan Brown: Murmur
Alan Brown may be best known as a jazz pianist/organist around New Zealand, playing with the likes of Caitlin Smith and Nathan Haines, as well as leading Blue Train and his own trio, and as one half of the electro-acoustic duo Alargo. However, Brown has another side to his musical talent that has come to the fore in recent times. In the last decade Brown has been exploring more ambient approaches to composition, ranging from long form acoustic improvisations to electro-acoustic compositions/improvisations to his latest offering Murmur, featuring compositions based on different combinations of electronic textures.
Released November 2021, Murmur is the fifth volume in Rattle Music’s Seventh House imprint, which “serves as a platform for works that are collaborative and improvisatory, music discovered in the process of being formed”, and is Brown’s solo debut on the label. Murmur fits very well into this series with dream-like compositions that play on natural concepts within an electronic soundscape. While it would be all too easy for this type of album to fall into certain tropes prevalent in every ‘chill’ playlist on Spotify, Brown cleverly avoids the obvious and takes the listener on an different sonic journey.
Murmur is not an album that grabs the listener by the ears, but rather one that quietly awaits the listener to approach. It is an album of sonic focus, of allusion, and of sonic suspension with tracks feeling like they could move in several different sonic directions, but it’s never the one that the listener expects. This realm of musical possibility creates an exquisite sense of tension and release, such as heard in the title track ‘Murmur’ and in ‘Explorer’.
Brown’s extensive career as an improviser no doubt helps in the construction of the elegant crystalline structures of the compositions, in particular in ‘Surface Tension’ where Brown layers seeming nature sounds with bell-like timbres to create a delicate fragile structure. The constant attention to the restrained structure of these compositions is woven throughout the album helping the individual compositions adhere to a cohesive whole that is the album. Additionally, although entirely electric Brown approaches these compositions with a strong sense of the acoustic. You get a sense of closeness or distance, of lingering sounds and sounds cut off as you might nature or in a live performance. This type of ebb and flow is heard particularly well in the aforementioned ‘Explorer’ and in the track ‘Sea Change’.
While it would be easy to make comparisons to Brian Eno, and other ambient artists, there are some aspects to this album that actually remind me of good film scoring. The way the music seduces the listener into listening rather than as I stated at the start of this review, grabbing the listener by the ears. If the album can be said to have an aim I would say that it is more in enhancing the experience of your everyday (the soundtrack of your life if you will), rather than making itself the centre of your attention. This is by no means a bad thing- we all need music in our lives (particularly at this point in time) that is mentally restful rather than demanding your attention. Nor does it mean that this is ‘mere’ background music- you’ll miss the charming and delicate subtilties if you don’t pay attention. This is minimalist electronic music at its finest, and makes for an interesting new facet to Alan Brown’s already incredible career.
You can purchase Murmur on both Alan Brown’s and Seventh House Music Bandcamp pages: