Stuart Sweeney 16:9
Rating: 4 stars
"Ambient music is similar to jazz and classical music in that when it’s done right it can be an interactive musical experience that brings together listener and performer in a deep and meaningful way. On the other side of that coin, ambient music that is put together hastily, without the artistic integrity needed for it to succeed, can come across as being kitschy, contrived and boring. Stuart Sweeney is a composer and who firmly fits into this first category of ambient musician, and his album 16:9 is a testament to the emotional connectivity that can occur when this style of music is approached with a keen sense of compositional techniques and a mature level of musicianship.
In the same way that a classical composer paints a mental image for their audience with acoustic instruments, Sweeney accomplishes the same feat with an array of synthesized and electronic instruments. There is no better example of sound painting then the opening track “Where the Shore Meets.” Even before one has read the title of piece, images of waves rolling across sandy beaches, breaking against rocks and luring beach goers into warm waters are cast across one’s imagination. Here, Sweeney has taken one of the most effective compositional tools of Western Art music and applied to an ambient setting, with a formidable result.
The album’s title track should also be noted for the melodic contour and coloring that permeates the piece. Building on an orchestral “buzz” that crescendo’s from a pianissimo at the outset to a forte in the middle of the piece, small melodic fragments swell out from the background, emulating a muted horn and drawing attention, if only for a few seconds at a time, to the intervallic melody line. As well, Sweeney’s use of harmonic suspension to create tension is another reason this track stands out. Several times the pieces seems as if it is about to resolve after a moment of climax, the tension has built and is ready to release, but the audience is denied this resolution in a musically and engaging fashion.
“Gold and Red” showcases the more playful side to Sweeney’s compositional approach. With an East Asian harmonic and melodic feel, percussion and strings combine in short melodic bursts that build upon each other, creating higher levels of interest as they develop both rhythmically and melodically. This is not a typical “process” piece in the standard sense, but one gets the impression that the music is unfolding before them, that they are being led down a musical pathway, something that all too often escapes modern composers.
With ambient music, as with classical and jazz, a common complaint is length. Many composers in these genres favor long, drawn out pieces that tend to lose their listeners along the way. Sweeney avoids this pitfall by keeping his pieces short, succinct and to the point. There is never a moment when one wonders how much longer it will last. Instead, just as the song reaches its creative peak, it is convincingly wrapped up before moving on to the next track on the record, leaving the audience with a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.
16:9 is an enjoyable and intellectually engaging album by the U.K. based, and Scottish born, Sweeney. Ambient music is rarely approached with this high a level of musicianship. But, as Sweeney proves with this record, when it is done properly, it can be just as stimulating and sophisticated as a modern classical or jazz work."
Review by Matt Warnock, Editor In Chief guitarinternational.com
"Stuart Sweeney is a Glasgow born, Northamptonshire based artist with a long history of involvement in music. Here with his debut solo full length release, 16:9 is the result of sixteen months spent in the studio. Likening an experimental album to a film score is such a familiar comparison by fans and musicians alike that it can border on the redundant, but what sets the album apart is that it resembles a soundtrack to the extent that one even wonders if the enigmatic Sweeney has a background in making music for television or film.
16:9 is epic in scope and it feels longer than its relatively average forty three minutes. This is in part because of the many elements which multi-instrumentalist Sweeney has packed in to the album, with the minimalism of Philip Glass, the abstract experimentation of Morton Feldman and the arranging excellence of Ennio Morricone all being felt alongside the influence of more contemporary favourites. 16:9 encompasses the complete gamut of ambient leaning experimental music and it makes for a very engaging experience.
Like a good film, 16:9 has a beginning, middle and an end, with each section containing a slightly different makeup. The album opener When The Shores Meet and following track The Fire Within are beautifully composed and in the vein of contemporary ambient music, while halfway through the album, Sweeney experiments more towards classical territory with Ascension and it is this experimentation which is the album’s biggest strength. Never does the artist seem content to rest on one successful idea, constantly changing and innovating with tone, texture and structure.
One assumes that 16:9 must have been created with composing software and a mammoth library of loops and samples rather than an entire string section but it is to the artists credit the album does not suffer from that unnatural sheen which mars much similar work. Long hours were spent in the English countryside collecting field recordings and Sweeney even went so far as to learn welding in order to construct his own percussion instruments. This time and effort spent pays dividends on this album of remarkable beauty, attesting to the vision of this one man orchestra."
- Review by Adam Williams for Fluid Radio
The album starts off with "Where the Shore Meets (16:9 Version)," a series of windy synths and volume swaying orchestral sighs that inhale and exhale in a monotonic and spiritual state. The heavenly phonics could easily share film time in Spielberg-like epics a lá E.T. or Close Encounters of The Third Kind. The artist loops the sound for the duration of the 4:00 track while layering and building on sublime choral elements. The ensuing song, "The Fire Within," is almost like a reprisal of "Where The Shore Meets...," promulgating the spiritual overtures offered in the previous song, here with a tinny tape-like quality. Another cinematic-scape is the title track, “16:9.” The beginning of the song has hints of John Williams' theme song from the 1978 movie, Superman. The spirited thrusts of the orchestra are like the first stanzas of an unfolding narrative.
Cinematic qualities are also commingled with Asian themes on tracks like “Gold and Red” and "Kaiyu-Shiki." The former, probably the best track on 16:9 because of its brilliant use of syncopation, casts a staccato of violins, along with the fits and starts of strings and backing synths. "Kaiyu-Shiki" has dangling bells to start it off along with some siren-like atmospherics creating an eerie allure. Its meditative vibe would also be suited for background music in yoga or meditation classes.
Fans of ambient virtuosos like Jacaszek, Marsen Jules and Biosphere will be right at home with Stuart Sweeney’s sonic experiments and theatrical diversions."
Blogger for IndieSoupRunner.com
"16:9′ is the début solo full length release from Glaswegian born Stuart Sweeney. An epic score of forty-three minute and sixteen seconds, conveying the talent and establishing Sweeney as a soloist into the music sphere of today. His minimalist style is quite similar to that of Philip Glass but with added abstract themes and experimentation portraying Sweeney’s unique selling point and take on the genre. Both structured and grand as if a voiceless narrative only to be conveyed through a mind-blowing instrumental score, with a film like quality. Although compiled by twelve individual tracks, ’16:9′ is shown as one solid movement of beauty and breath taking sound, both differing from the dramatic to the calm and gentle. Leaving you lost for words, deep in thought and mesmerised by its remarkable sound, making it almost indescribable. Simply wonderful."
Khadija Pandor- AAA Music
Rating: 4 Stars
"Well a quick one is due for this baby. Opening with sweeping waves of neo-classical inspired ambience it's clear that Mr Sweeney's opening release for the new Oomff imprint is going to be quality. Producing the sort of considerate & evocative drone music such as this requires more of an understanding about how your source material can affect people, rather than just marrying up a couple of fluctuating tones over some crackle 'n' hiss. Like Biosphere with his re-reading of Debussy some years ago, the title track of this album is a glorious semi-decayed piece of lovingly stretched & treated classical music that I find incredibly affecting if played in the right circumstances & mood. There's some glorious moments of near-epiphany on this CD, lots of secret passages - I'm looking forward to some proper uninterrupted immersion soon. 16:9 is an album that more than stands up to many of the quality contemporary labels pushing the sound art & experimental drone style mediums. Nice!!"
Stuart Sweeney says he spends much of his time roaming the local Northampton countryside, gathering both inspiration and field recordings. And while there is indeed much English pastoral pleasure to be had in his swelling soundscapes, like all good ”local” music, it is universal in ambition and appeal.
His debut collection opens with a gentle sweep. Many of the twelve, computer-generated pieces have a breadth and acoustic quality reminiscent of a symphony orchestra. Despite the depth of field, they do not make the listener feel small, but rather at the centre of things, as one would be with a panoramic view over the heath from atop a hill on a clear day. His palette is dabbed with restrained colours, flaxen, rusty, restful to the eye rather than dazzling.
”Impressions of a Golden Age” is thickly-textured and looped, seemingly borne on a strong northern wind. ”Ascension” opens like the heavens in a Hollywood biblical epic before a crash of cymbals tears the air open for a dramatic, almost melodramatic angelic chorus. I said almost; Sweeney always exercises laudable restraint.
”Gold and Red” could be heard as a deliberately stilted deconstruction of Aaron Copeland´s ”Hoedown”, while the strings lurching slightly out of phase on ”A Time of Change” nod to early Steve Reich tape-delay pieces.
Sweeney is also a dab hand with the just-right small gesture and detailed handcraft. A lone bassoon wanders unobtrusively through ”The Fire Within” that briefly flickers. Because of its acoustic properties, ”Memories Lost” sounds almost like an old recording of some violin virtuouso and segues nicely into ”Talinn (Excerpt)”, a short, leisurely stroll through a summer garden. My only objection is the foley insertion of a gate being opened and footsteps being taken. Too literal for an otherwise so suggestive piece.
He also travels abroad to Japan for the delicate ”Kaiya-Shiki”, one great, big windchime that Sweeney seems to love as much as I do, as he allows to tinkle longer than any other track. The elegiac finale, ”Cherry Blossom Falls”, is spookily precient given recent tragic events, a sorrowful string quartet which both grieves and eases the heart.
Stephen Fruitman- Sonomu
I finally got a quiet hour to listen to the whole CD. It’s beautiful! I’m very impressed. Two tracks that stood out to me in terms of some surprises in development and texture were “A Time of Change” and “Fantasia for a Storm.” “Cherry Blossom Falls” has really beautiful melodies and orchestration. I don’t know your process in producing this, but you certainly have the musical ideas and the ability to get them recorded beautifully. I liked it all very much.”
Allan Chase, Chair, Ear Training, Berklee College of Music, Boston
"I get a feel of Arvo Pärt's spiritual minimalism and touches of Glass, lovely work."
Daniel Cullen, award winning composer- Striking Media Music
"Vast cinemascapes abound, Sweeney's deftly produced compositions straddle contemporary classical and electronica with maturity and an enviable attention to detail."
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt- freelance, clickmusic.com
"Both the frost glazed ambient sparseness afforded to ‘Where the Shores Meet’ and ‘16:9’ are in their own right serenely coaxed oceanic overtures, lonesome and lulling and both perfect for maximum listening pleasure, solemnly serenading through headphones at full volume in order to saviour their statue-esque panoramic grandeur. That said nothing quite prepares you for Gold and Red’ - an exquisitely enchanting moment of brittle brushed beauty, cast upon a playfully alluring oriental motif, treated with a lushly vibrant and teetering classical signature - a youthful post YMO Sakamoto anyone?"
The Sunday Experience Blog
"With an air of majesty, and composer-like elegance, music-industry veteran Stuart Sweeney arrives with his debut solo effort. And, at the same time, throws one in the eye of everyone who thinks terms like ‘boundary pushing’ and ‘dense’ can’t sit comfortably next to ‘enjoyable’ and ‘accessible’.
So what exactly is this record all about? Well, it’s sound art without the pretence, and ambience with something to latch onto. Take, for example, the layered strings of Where The Shores Meet, a truly remarkable aural representation of some vast sonic seascape. It’s beautiful, and blissed out, but it also comes complete with enough actual music to ensure that while your eyes may glaze over, this will do anything but send you to sleep.
It’s also true of the title track, which offers a greater sense of electronic-futurism, a little like Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. Again, we’ve got a textured arrangement of warm noise, but it has both form and structure that are equally identifiable. To accomplish so much from relatively so little is impressive, and it’s good to see how more complex tracks don’t fall short of the mark set by the aforementioned. Listen to the crystallised Orientalism of Gold & Red, or Cherry Blossom Falls, a tune destined to soundtrack the greatest of European epics. Then try not to imagine a symphony orchestra inside Sweeney’s Mac.
Downbeat, avant-garde electronica is a vast plateau on which the list of diverse styles and interpretations that exist is almost endless. There’s even room for artists who themselves would deny they belong on these somewhat spuriously titled shelves. In contrast to many other synthesized genres it’s within these blueprints that classical, and 21st Century compositions can blossom together. After hearing this album, and then learning that, while beatless, percussion instruments hand-welded by the artist make up many of the sounds therein, it’s clear this is one release that truly straddles classical and contemporary."
Plain & Simple
"Le titre de ce disque impose une écoute “cinématique”. Et, oui, la musique de Stuart Sweeney fait fortement penser à une musique de film. 16:9, son premier album, est un croisement entre l’univers post-classique d’Olafúr Arnalds et l’authentique musique de film de Teho Teardo. Délicates ambiances tantôt électroniques tantôt acoustiques, avec cordes et piano, le tout très doux, avec une pointe de mélancolie et de douleur assumée. Pas super original dans le rendu, mais soigneux et bien senti. Recommandé."
François Couture - Monsieur Délire / All Music Guide
Beruhigend und anregend zugleich
Stuart Sweeney bereitet uns mit seinem irgendwo zwischen Minimalismus, Ambient und zeitgenössischer Klassik angesiedeltem Sound eine Zeit der Muße.
"Auch wenn man derartiges irgendwie schon zu oft gehört hat: Die Musik des in Northampton lebenden Stuart Sweeney lässt beim Hörer Bilder im Kopf entstehen und gehört irgendwie in die regelmäßig heraufbeschworene Gattung des Soundtracks ohne Film. 16:9 besitzt eine orchestrale Intensität, die jedoch einzig einem Mann und seinem Computer geschuldet ist („Mac Sweeney“ quasi, was ja zu dem gebürtigen Glasgower passt). Für seinen ersten Longplayer hat Sweeney unzählige Stunden damit verbracht, Field Recordings in der ländlichen Umgebung seines Wohnortes zu erstellen und zusammen mit Instrumental-Spuren auf seinem Computer zu bearbeiten. Mit dem Ergebnis seiner Kompositionen verhält es sich ähnlich wie mit der auf dem Cover abgebildeten innenarchitektonischen Ansicht.
Das Ganze wirkt schlicht und pompös, beruhigend und ungewöhnlich zur gleichen Zeit. Wer hat diese Räume für welchen Zweck derartig entworfen? Oder: Wie ist diese Musik eigentlich zusammengesetzt? Letztlich bleiben Antworten auf derartige Fragen zweitrangig, da man schnell vom Fluss der Musik gefangen genommen wird. Irgendwo zwischen an Philip Glass erinnerndem Minimalismus, zeitgenössischer Klassik und Ambient-Sounds versetzen einen Stücke wie Impressions of a golden age oder a time of change in einen seltsamen Zustand. Die Musik erscheint beruhigend und anregend zugleich, gleich einem Naturschauspiel, wie es in fantasia for a storm thematisiert wird.
Sweeney´s 16:9 ist ein anschauliches Beispiel dafür, wie Musik unabhängig von der Entstehungsweise oder genremäßigen Kategorisierungen in der Lage ist, den Hörer aufs angenehmste in eine andere Welt zu entführen. Wie beim Verlassen des Kinosaals nach einem beeindruckenden Film, so nimmt man auch nach den knapp 45 Minuten dieser CD erst zögerlich und etwas entrückt wieder Kontakt zur gewohnten Umgebung auf."
Tom Asam- Titel Magazin
"A one man analogue orchestra producing a soundtrack that needs no film', is how Oomff promotes this debut album by Stuart Sweeney from Northampton. Apparently he uses 'hand-welded percussion, without an audible drum' and a computer. But somewhere else in the press text there is also mentioning of 'countless hours exploring the English countryside surrounding his home and the sounds to be found, and more importantly recorded, therein', which suggests the use of field recordings. Whatever it is, I think it involves a great deal of computer treatments, so that both percussion (non-rhythmic I should add) and field recordings melt in a fine way. Partly rooted in electronic music, the ambient section of course, there is also elements of contemporary classical music to be spotted in here. 'Ascension' has a Vangelis like choir, but at its more soaring moments, one could easily think of Arvo Part instead. Indeed like a soundtrack to a movie, Sweeney shows he's capable of presenting music that could be used by any movie, rather than settling on a specific kind of music. There is sweetness, suspension and dreamy soundscapes. As such Sweeney has a perfect introduction into the world of Hollywood."
Frans de Waard- tokafi.com
"Quoi de mieux que de terminer notre sélection par un pur moment d'abandon, un de ceux qui ne devraient normalement s'accompagner d'aucune explication tant celui-ci est évocateur et cinématographique. Ici pas de phase d'approche, on plonge directement dans une ambient riche, charnelle, mélodique et parfois même légèrement vocale. On pense d'instinct aux merveilleux travaux de GAS sur sa série Nah Und Fern (le kick techno en moins), ou encore au monument proposé par Leyland Kirby il y a deux ans (Sadly The Future Is No Longer That Is Was), bref on pense à la beauté pure, à celle qui ne pose aucune question. A la fois modern-classical, ambient et sound-art, ce 16:9 montre à quel point Stuart Sweeney maîtrise les standards du genre, quitte à s'effacer devant eux pour fournir des articulations certes classiques, mais une fois de plus essentielles. Le genre d'œuvre qu'on croirait avoir entendu mille fois auparavant, mais qui séduit encore, comme un premier coup de foudre. Simple et magnifique comme peut l'être l'ambient à ce niveau de maîtrise."
Off The Radar
De:Bug Magazine, Germany, March 2011
Roberto Mandolini, Rockerilla Magazine, Italy, March 2011
Jakob Bækgaard, Geiger, Denmark, March 2011
STUART SWEENEY: 16:9 (oomff) Schätzungsweise in spätestens fünf Jahren wird dies hier ein Klassiker sein. Klar, für uns Heutige ist es vielleicht erst einmal nur eine Macbook-Symphonie mehr, aber die hat es wirklich in sich. Und ihr Produzent ist beileibe kein Pixelschieber-Stubenhocker. Für sein Debut ging der junge Brite in die Countryside seines Wohnortes Northampton und sammelte Fieldrecordings, die er dann zuhause in Feinarbeit zu einer fantastischen 12-Stücke Audio-Cinematografie umtransformierte. Majestätisch, gravitätisch, pompös auf der einen Seite, introspektiv, vital und pastoral auf der anderen. Phillip Glass und Arvo Pärt könnten tatsächlich als mögliche Referenzpunkte für den orchestralen Gestus dieser Musik gelten, deren Gesamterscheinung sehr geschlossen und komplex, aber alles andere als "mashed-up" erscheint. Spitze. Honker
Terz, Dusseldorf, Germany, April 2011
Elegy, France, April 2011