He may not endear himself to casual web searches or floor-filling Friday night DJ sets, but then, Tim Gray avoids the easy route as Ethernet. His goal with 144 Pulsations of Light was to “set out to apply trance-inducing sonic effects to drone-ambient music.” It shows. The cyclical rhythms and muted 808 thump that undulate in and out of your headphones during the course of Ethernet’s seven-song Kranky debut do as good a job as one can ask for lulling you into said trance. Whether or not you take advantage of this environment, “conducive to self-healing work and voyaging into new states of awareness,” is entirely up to you.
Reading enough of the press that accompanies the album, you might start to think it’s all a bit chimerical and silly or, worse, academic. In truth, this is an enjoyable record that seems to have been dressed in some highfalutin language as a means of disguising its relatively simple beating heart. The album is not a particularly brave sound or visionary step forward for electronic music, but it would be unfair to hold this against it. If anything, Gray is paying homage to the heroes and zeroes he identifies on his regularly updated blog, worth reading if you like Ethernet and are looking for similar sounds. The guy’s got you covered with plenty of namedropping and linkage in the healthy paragraphs that accompany his picks.
It doesn’t take long to identify some of the more recognizable labels and artists that have had the biggest impact, conscious or otherwise, on his music for 144 Pulsations…: Mille Plateaux, Kompakt, Oval, Basic Channel, Eno. You can hear the influence of these artists in the thrilling opener “Majestic,” six minutes of blissful droning that bury a beat so deep in the mix, you may not hear it depending on how awful your speakers are. Wolfgang Voigt also keeps a close eye on proceedings and sometimes feels like Ethernet’s most immediate influence. While Gray has said that this is an album more focused on ambient than dub-techno, “Majestic,” “Vaporous” and “Kansai” all throb with a pulse suggesting a moody, distorted intensity in the most Gaseous of traditions. Ambient influences tend to dominate more in songs like “Seaside” or the appropriately titled 12-minute finale, “Temple.”
Gray also mentions field recordings from Central Japan and Northern California, but it’s not obvious what these recordings are of or when they even appear. “Summer Insects” and “Seaside” are my best guesses, but without any definite identity, it’s difficult to discern the field recordings from the studio work and mostly inconsequential. As it turns out, that’s not such a bad thing. The cohesion of Ethernet’s debut work is notable because this could have wound up sounding like either one, bland drone arbitrarily divided or a bland collection of drones arbitrarily sequenced. It is neither. Instead, like contemporaries such as The Sight Below or Emeralds, Tim Gray takes advantage of his numerous influences to create an album that ebbs and flows in all the right places, while still hinting at the enlightened state he sought to soundtrack. This review’s mudra: two thumbs up.