Harold Budd famously proclaimed that the thing that distinguishes ambient music from its illegitimate, golddigging daughter New Age is its strain of evil. In Budd’s own recordings, it was often implied, while others surrendered completely to the dark side and created a whole new genre. Nils Quak‘s Aether is utterly sodden with evil. Produced entirely on a modular synthesizer mixed with field recordings, it lurches and quavers, sooty and sebaceous, and pieces break off from the main flow. A dawn attempts to rise but is forced to go back down.
The album title is a misnomer. The aether is the storied uppermost air; Quak refers to “a vast lucid void drifting without direction”—I’d suggest that this music fills every space, moves in every direction at once and radiates so much heat that it repels any approach. The air is not still but suffocating, low-ceilinged. The listener has to crouch lower and lower but is ultimately and inexorably overwhelmed. An unexpectedly malevolent experience.