Mick Harris was a busy guy in the early 90s. Not only did he perform one last album with Napalm Death, but he also went on to found a new musical project in Scorn. At the same time that he was working on Scorn, he also had another project, the dark ambient sound-making machine known as Lull.
That’s right, ambient music. Almost a different planet than the grindcore of Napalm Death — or is it?
When it comes to ambient music, you feel more than you hear. The sounds are not obvious, but it’s used to paint a picture in your head.
At least that’s what I think it’s supposed to do.
The official Wikipedia definition for ambient music is “a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. Ambient music is said to evoke an ‘atmospheric,’ “visual” or ‘unobtrusive’ quality.”
So, I guess I’m not too far off.
Harris was one of the early members of the Isolationist movement, which is pretty much what is known as dark ambience. With Lull, he forsook common song elements to concentrate on bringing listeners a picture painted with sounds. And it a lot of ways, Lull’s first album feels like a walk through several blue-toned portraits of scenes while the paint is still wet.
Which gets Dreamt About Dreaming.
To paint his sounds, Harris uses synthesizers programed with some wet organic sounds, samples of voices and some scattered percussion here and there.
While Scorn may have been successful, I’d say that Dreamt About Dreaming is a much stronger first release than Vae Solis.
While it may not exactly be the sort of thing you pop in your car’s CD player and listen to on a three-hour drive, in the right setting, Dreamt About Dreaming catches your attention right away.
And when it comes to ambient music, how and where you’re listening matters.
Released in 1992, Dreamt About Dreaming was on Sentrax records.
The album begins with “Stream Endless.” This 11-minute-plus song layers several sounds on top of eachother, giving it the cold, yet organic, vibe you feel throughout the album. It’s kind of like a lonely walk through the winter woods at night, not being sure if you know where you’re going or if you’re lost. The sounds of birds are sprinkled throughout the cold and moonlit night. This song gives you an idea why Harris’ vision of dark ambience is called “Isolationist.”
“Time” is where the album really feels like it begins. Beatless, it sets the mood. That mood is up to the listener, but if you ask me what it sounds like, it sounds organic and subterranean. Like you’re walking through humid passages with the sound of something digging just beyond the walls.
“Open Closed Apart” sounds a little less organic, invoking to mind the classic mad scientist one would see back in the days of analog TV, filling the wee hours of the night or the dead time Saturday afternoon. There’s something that sounds like a distant growl (which gets louder and louder), possible static (maybe rain) and some samples of a guy talking about the subject of an experiment.
“Eyes Through Walls” leans more to the industrial side of things. For some reason, it makes me think of the movie “Tetsuo: The Iron Man.” It could be the sound of the drum and the grinding metal sound throughout the song. Also, “Eyes Through Walls” uses a sample from the movie “Jacob’s Ladder.”
“Beating Within” makes me invision a dusty landscape with violent winds under a dark blue sky. If I want to add a narrative, it makes one feel like they have wandered that desolate landscape for a long time, finally coming up civilization, only to find an abandoned, wind-beaten town. The use of percussion in this song makes one think of windows opening and closing in the wind and parts of buildings expanding and contracting.
“Travels” kind of makes you feel like you’re being led into a barn, possibly for slaughter, with what sounds like goats being played over the music. Then there’s the sound of what could be a hose, being used to clean up the previous slaughter to make way for another. It’s a song that makes you kind of uncomfortable, but makes you want to listen at the same time.
“Unlit Passage” kind of makes me envision someone trying to start a fire, but that’s mainly due to the sampled sound it starts out with, which is kind of akin to a gas-torch. From there, I get sort of a “The Thing” vibe from it, picturing someone desperately trying to make fire to protect themselves from something in an icey passage as whatever is threatening them gets more frenetic and aggressive.
“Dreamt About Dreaming” is of course the title track. The sounds of this song make me think of someone floating in a lit tank, unconscious, with all sorts of cables and apparatuses attached to them, keeping them alive in the liquid, monitoring and stimulating their thoughts at the same time. Somewhere along the ways, things take a turn for the worse. Turning into a loud nightmare.
“Dreamt About Dreaming” also has one of the rare beats, thanks to an aggressive sounding drum machine, making it less ambient and more direct.
Things end with “Stream Endless Part 2.” This song feels like you’re rising to the surface. Maybe you’re waking up, maybe it’s your drowned body. But you’re rising from below.
I’d suggest “Dreamt About Dreaming” to anyone not familiar with ambient, but interested in expanding their listening horizons. Like most ambience, it works as both background music and something to sit and listen to.
But, if you’re going to sit and listen to it, I’d suggest doing so without distraction. This album aims to take you someplace. Someplace you may have only been to in dreams.