Deep Ambient With Daniel is a column where Daniel Bromfield, Pretty Much Amazing writer and former host of Deep Ambient Hour With Daniel on 88.1 KWVA, discusses the ambient treasures he loves, lives with, and falls asleep to.
Agustín Mena makes music as Warmth, which is appropriate: his tracks feel more like emanations than anything else. They’re as ambient as ambient gets: no beats, no vocals, maybe one chord change per song if we’re lucky. He likes it that way. “I remember that years ago, the manager of a label, after listening to some tracks I did, told me that he liked them but that he would prefer a more conventional structure, with an intro-outro,” he tells me over e-mail. “It was one of those things which lead me to open my own label and manage my music myself.”
Archives Music is one of the most consistent of the countless ambient labels that’ve popped up recently on Bandcamp, mostly in Europe; Mena runs Archives out of his native Valencia, Spain.
The label’s progression mirrors Mena’s own. Mena came through ambient the way most fans did: through the beat-centric music of Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss, Jon Hopkins, et al. His discovery of dub techno inspired his first record as Warmth, Ash, whose echoing chords and stoned reggae lope placed him in line with second-wave dub techno scientists like Deepchord. But his two subsequent Warmth releases—last year’s Essay and this year’s Home, Archives’ first release on vinyl—veered into straight ambient. “I was using ambient lines as a background on most of my dub tracks and almost without realizing it, I started to focus on them, leaving aside the rest,” says Mena. “It was almost therapeutic, like making music for the first time.”
Likewise, Archives started out as very much a dub techno label, down to the visual aesthetic uniting its artists: all Archives albums are adorned with sweeping shots of nature. Occasionally Mena would release “Ambient Archives” compilations of the softer side of the label’s sound, inevitably featuring a choice cut from Warmth. But its recent releases are as amniotic as Mena’s own music: the plaintive, sawing soundscapes of Chris Weeks’ The Grey Ghost of Morning, the Gas-eous tones of Shuta Yakochi’s Short Stories. The remixes on the CD edition of Home are a great primer to the talent on his label and are, at times, hard to tell apart from Mena’s own work.
Maybe that’s by design. Everything blends together on a Warmth album: field recordings (“most of the field recordings and rain sounds are recorded on my balcony,” Mena says), synths, a thick dub-wise floor of bass. It’s rare to find an individual sound sticking out of his music. Essay occasionally tempered its mid-range flurry with sharp plinks of Rhodes piano. Home is even more stripped-down, focusing more on the bass than the midrange, its palate almost entirely comprising drones. While Essay seemed to echo across vast spaces, Home retreats inward.
“When I did the previous album Essay, I used a lot of sounds on each track, although it may not seem like it,” Mena tells me. “It was even very difficult to mix them with so many sounds. When I started working on Home, the only thing I had in mind was to simplify the process and work with just a few sounds. I think most likely the listener [will] not appreciate most of them.”
But it hardly matters. To “appreciate” Mena’s music is beside the point. To even really engage with it is beside the point, too. Mena’s music is what you put on when you want to listen to music but don’t want to analyze it, don’t want to be shaken to your core by it. It’s helped me, personally, deal with adjusting from the sunless routine of a freelancer to a 9-to-5 job: it knocks me out quicker than just about anything else but keeps me entertained until my brain shuts off.