Way back in late 2008, echospace [detroit] issued a mysterious, digital only three track EP entitled The Setting Sun by a hitherto unknown artist called Variant. Of course it turned out to be an appropriately named alias of Stephen Hitchell, used to release emotionally charged, drifting ambient works. In September 2009— a particularly busy year for the label that had been ramping up its line of full-length compact discs—The Setting Sun re-surfaced as a eighty minute, seven track album that, to date, remains one the its most underrated releases. As lilting and delicately rain-drenched as the album incarnation of The Setting Sun was, one particular track from the original EP was conspicuous by its absence: the fifty-two minute ambient epic, “FallingStars.” As an album-length voyage in its own right it was understandably not viable for inclusion on the new CD.
Skip forward to 2011, another year in which echospace [detroit] went into album overdrive, introducing a series of controversial remastered and expanded re-issues, all extremely limited to a mere one hundred copies for the world available exclusively via Discogs.com
or direct from the label itself. Distinct from their digipak clothed cousins, these echospace [detroit] releases were pressed on a mixture of full-colour printed CDr, professionally duplicated or professionally replicated compact discs, housed in plain black card slip-cases with large square metallic ink stickers, wrapped in resealable protective plastic pouches. And so it was that a wrong was put right when this series birthed Variant’s “FallingStars” as a majestic standalone release.
Be assured, this is no simple remaster of the original track either. At sixty-two minutes, it is the longest version of the track so far and has been both extensively remastered, restructured and further embellished, elevating to ambient godhood what was already an unparalleled, spellbinding and emotionally demanding ambient journey. Some may find the track’s central, looped melody a little melancholy, saccharine, even and it’s true, this isn’t a piece that’s ever going to cheer or console, but for many that is precisely the appeal and these emotive facets are greatly enhanced by the fuller, richer and deeper sound of this new version.
New additions to the piece quickly become apparent: the chirping of crickets on a still, humid, starry-skied night, a swaying, piped hiss that is at mainstay of dub-techno, but it is after only three minutes that the most flooring improvement from the remaster kicks in: the bass. The original “FallingStars” was a rather muted, cloudy and slightly chilly affair. This new version makes that mix sound like an early demo by comparison, a subterranean bass pulse that was previously little more than a faint echo now felt as well as heard, pushed forward in the mix to lend the piece a warmth and gravitas previously missing. Twenty-five minutes in and the feedback blossom and blooming strings dissipate, leaving the calmer swell of the delicate pads and sea-salt spray, but very soon the bite of a chill wind begins to whistle alongside the distant, repeated clang of vast machinery to even greater hypnotic and panoramic effect.
At its close, the original mix faded away to nothing on this second movement, but the new version features a third and final one, giving Falling Stars the much needed time to come to a more satisfying, considered conclusion. After a good forty-five minutes, the bass fades, the ghostly apparition floating in the upper registers takes its leave and only the wind, spray and insect chatter remain, slowly and gently carried off into the horizon bathed in the golden glow of a sunset over rustling, tree covered hills.
It is a great shame that Falling Stars has only ever received somewhat “low key” releases, formerly as a digital-only curio and latterly on this extremely limited but fan-pleasing edition, as it is easily up there with the greatest works from Hitchell and the echospace [detroit] label. Certainly it is one of the most deeply moving and this gorgeous, loving remaster adds whole new dimensions of atmosphere and depth that make it utterly essential. You will not regret tracking this one down.