James Vella came into my consciousness, oh some many years ago, with his band Yndi Halda for whom I have long held a rather sustained affection, with their prog leanings and willfully arcane influences.
Initially a project to produce a series of ten drone based pieces each on its own cassette (someone will someday help me understand this odd return to the cassette…) whose edited versions now form part of a very limited physical CDr release (hurry, only 30 left when I looked last) which itself comes with links to the longer versions, running between 35’ish and 50’ish minutes apiece.
More erudite people than I will no doubt have better informed histories about drones, but from my limited knowledge they can be found across many cultures and many epochs. Celtic music abounds with them as does the sacred music from the Indian sub continent. They are found too in that deep and elemental southern United States music whose contemporary exponents include the wonderful Daniel Bachman for one, channeling Jack Rose before him. Many current ambient soundscapes use them as well and Sound in Silence would be a good place to discover new musicians of this ilk.
The drone for me though takes me swiftly to cathedral spaces, choral work and timeless sacred chants. The work that Vella has created here is both locked together in its similarity whilst each piece remains distinctly its own. Even the edited versions are immersive and enveloping, capable of placing you in that indistinct but comfortable ‘fog’ that Brian Eno’s work sometimes does.
Last year by accident I saw a post on (shiver) Facebook when Vella referenced his close listening to the Dylan Henner edit of the Josquin de Prez choral work, La Deploration de Johannes Ockenghem. Henners piece is a mesmeric and soaring edit which was a genuine treasure to find. I hear the echoes of that approach through much of Vella’s drones here as he creates a shimmering collection of music, deeply human but ethereal, uplifting and spiritual, the musical equivalent of motes of dust spinning and dancing through shafts of sunlight as they catch the softest of currents.
Really Mr Vella, this is a thing of magic and wonder, not perhaps in truth music for every day or every place, but there are times and places where these would unquestionably be the ideal sounds to get lost to.