One of the challenges I’ve encountered while traversing a philosophical path has been developing the ability to distinguish between the times when it’s more appropriate to fight or to flow. Tricky, tricky, tricky. About a month ago while I was in full preparation mode for a piece I am starting to flesh out, I received information from a handful of unrelated sources over the course of the day involving portraiture. After considering the subject for a short time, I set it aside and continued with my task at hand which was relatively easy to do. I have little interest in portraits in general, unless I perceive more information in the piece than just the sitter, and I’ve had zero interest in self-portraits as I’ve never been comfortable appearing in photos or video to begin with. I actually drew one self-portrait when I was about 15 years old, and since that time I’ve completely lacked any desire to revisit the subject.

But then last week I received prodding from disparate sources regarding portraits again, so I decided to take a quick trip to investigate. I started sketching a self-portrait on Wednesday night, and it was easily the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever undertaken artistically. Over the course of the hour that I worked on it I had to leave the easel every few minutes or so and walk around the house to get away from it, I couldn’t look at it for extended periods of time, overall it was a very strange experience. It wasn’t until 3 days later that I finally finished it, and even that was a struggle, although once I got to the point of reducing everything to contours, shapes, and angles, my stress level diminished accordingly. Regardless, I was fatigued from the work fairly quickly and decided to let it go for the time being. I’m happy with my first pass, and I think that my prize at the end of this endeavor is the desire to do more self-portraiture in order to improve and expand on what I’ve started, as there seems to be a lot of potential for exploration here. I’ve also acquired an interesting heightened awareness of the bones in my face. So even though it appears to be a successful flow this time, I am kind of excited to return to my task at hand.

charcoal, Strathmore charcoal paper 95 g/m2

charcoal, Strathmore charcoal paper 95 g/m2


Splendid Labyrinths

It’s been nearly two and a half years since Max Corbacho released his last album, The Ocean Inside, which was an epic two and a half hour journey through monumental soundscapes and gorgeous atmospheres, the entire album an ambient masterpiece, concluding with the hauntingly beautiful Deeper Into the Ocean, a song I wished would never end. All of that time spent in anticipation of his new release was well worth the wait. It seemed to me that The Ocean Inside started a story that his latest work Splendid Labyrinths effortlessly picks up and continues, and as I’ve been absorbing this new soundworld, I’ve come to feel that it’s easily one of his best works, as well as the perfect follow up to the previous album.

As the music gradually drifts in on The Flowing Path, I have the distinct impression of wandering into another one of Max’s dreamscapes, and he wastes no time expertly weaving together all of the aural threads that immerse and guide me through this liquid labyrinth painted in sound. There’s a more pronounced dimension of harmonious complexity in his music reminiscent of an orchestral composition, an element that surfaces in some of his earlier releases, but on this album it flows more into the foreground and complements his own unique sound fantastically. Three minutes into the first track the event horizon is crossed via the most sublime musical transition, and I pick up the thread of mystery and follow it through converging, interweaving, and deviating currents of lightness and tension, melancholy and beauty, sometimes lost, sometimes found, yet always moving forward and deeper into the rich depths of Max’s soundworlds. The opening theme is a powerful one, and it accurately sets the tone for all that follows as it meanders through both expanded and confined spaces. And much like his last release, each track and the album as a whole bear a remarkable resemblance to breathing, the long, slow inhalations and exhalations established by the organic modulations of tone and volume.

Moving Towards the Center, the sense of negotiating a way through spaces less organized creeps in as chaotic elements and higher frequencies make an appearance and energize the motion. There’s a pulsing synth pad off in the distance akin to a lighthouse or beacon that wanders in as the energy picks up and continues all the way through to the descent towards the more remote and confined regions of Into the Earth Womb. The light dims here in the stillness, and the environment reverberates with a low frequency intensity that is strangely familiar for reasons that always seem to be just over the horizon. One of the strengths of Max’s compositions lies in his ability to balance tension and release, to give the dark and the light equal appeal, creating natural scapes where chaos and harmony are always at play. The more sinister sounds that he generates have a seduction about them, they aren’t jarring, nor do they leave me waiting for something more uplifting to drift in. His darkness has an allure to it that fascinates, in part I think because he doesn’t dwell in it, it feels to me like more of an exploratory excavation that will invariably lead into ethereal places. Places like Wonderheart.. an absolute gem of a track with a flowing orchestral air about it, and the most uplifting beautiful melody held fast by the gravity of the bass tones, all blending together into an impressive richness in sound, yet again demonstrating the balance inherent in his music.

One thing that struck me in particular about this album was how well suited the track titles are for each composition, as I listened through the album and sank into the mood created by it, I’d randomly take a look at the track titles and immediately recognize a correspondence. The closing theme drifts into a luminescent space that digs right into the heart with lovely synth lines which intersect and diverge within the movement of something massive and awe-inspiring. As the track trails off into the distance, I can feel that even though this has part of the voyage has ended, there’s still more space to be traversed and that the ultimate journey is far from over. Without question this is a brilliant album. This isn’t background ambient music, it is an art form that will compete for the full attention of the listener, and if you can tune yourself out, and sync up with what Max is sharing, the results are highly rewarding. His work has always carried with it a most effective means of loosing the temporal bonds on the spirit, and the long form track Future Terrain, which he released just prior to the Splendid Labyrinths album, works really well for this purpose.

Once again this gifted composer has given to us another masterfully crafted ambient journey, and as usual leaves me looking forward to more work from him.