Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
Unreleased live version of "Enchanted" performed live in NYC in 2011. Remastered in Echospace.
Limited Edition CD w/Poster
Compact Disc (CD)
Professionally replicated CD packaged in retro matte finished digipak case with poster, housed in a resealable poly sleeve. Limited to 300 copies of which only 100 will be available label direct. Thank you for your support!
Includes unlimited streaming of the setting sun [remastered]
via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
Seven years since originally released we're proud to announce variant's "the setting sun" will be available again with an entirely new lease on life. Months have been spent carefully mixing the album down once more, re-engineering and re-mastering to capture the vision we felt was absent in the original. With the use of current technologies we were able to bring out a hidden sonic dimension though the use of three dimensional processing and 7.1 surround mixing, this album has never sounded so good. Re-packaged in a retro matte finished digipak, shrink wrapped and housed in a japanese imported mini lp sleeve with a poster.
Past press and reviews:
Stephen Hitchell (Intrusion, Echospace, cv313) delivers a serious treat for his legion of devoted followers with the next logical step in the Echospace saga leading to this release exploring sublime ambient electronics in a textured, analog style. As Variant, Hitchell delves into his most expansive and inspiring palette, layering materials onto his canvas with a widescreen scope and an emotionally-affected, cinematic intent that makes this a deeply engrossing listen. Made for an obviously specific time and place, "The Setting Sun" marks a shift in Hitchell's work, sounding more like Oren Ambarchi or Keith Fullerton Whitman than any of the more familiar names his work has been associated with in the past. Incorporating resonant pianos, hazily thrummed guitars and swelling organs with rippling waves of curling analog distortion, this is surely one of the most outstanding pieces in his catalog. "As Time Stood Still" features a deeply-padded flow of ebbing atmospherics, lapping every intangible surface of the womb-like sub-bass-bubble that Hitchell creates with a concoction of vintage analog hardware and reel-to-reel recording techniques. All taken together, The Setting Sun sounds like the slow inhalation and exhalation of deep, meditative breathing, or like rain falling from a grey sky. This is a hugely involving listen that will appeal to followers of Tim Hecker AND Basic Channel, or Vladislav Delay AND Oren Ambarchi. -Boomkat
Just as yearly resolutions are as much about what you did last year as what you hope to do now, January always brings reviews of albums that we wished we'd gotten around to covering earlier. Given the sheer amount of music we all have to process, these orphans may feel a bit redundant, but the reason we scramble at the beginning of 2010 to shed some light on a few more 2009 records is simply that they're too good to let fall through the cracks.
Not that, if you're at all a fan of ambient or dub techno, it's likely you got through 2009 without hearing at least something from Steve Hitchell. In addition to The Setting Sun, there was his full-length remix of Brock Van Wey's amazing White Clouds Drift On and On and his LP debut as Intrusion with The Seduction of Silence. He might be the busiest man in the genre, but even more singular than his productivity is his talent; all three full-lengths are markedly different in sound and ferociously good.
The Intrusion dubs of White Clouds... are a bit of a ringer, of course, with Hitchell "only" having to reinvent Van Wey's singular achievement in his own musical vocabulary. He did it without a sweat, even as he put out maybe the most classically dubby album echospace [detroit]'s ever released with The Seduction of Silence. But it's his debut as Variant, which he described for RA as an "ambient, acoustic" album, that was the peak of his year.
Here Hitchell's use of field recordings (especially of traffic and other night sounds), acoustic instruments (the closing title track is closer in feeling to a band like Mountains than you'd expect) and subtly melodic elements add up to make The Setting Sun strangely propulsive in both a sonic and emotional sense. From the track titles on down, the record evokes slumber and travel, wrapping the listener in comfortably dense swathes of static and softly pulsing bass; you could call it The Warmest Season.
Hitchell proves here that he's a master at making ambient music that enthralls, that's gentle enough to dream to but involving enough to reward close, intense listening. At its worst, the genre can seem overdetermined, academic or just pointless (qualities that thankfully echospace [detroit] seems determined to avoid), but above all else The Setting Sun is a warm and approachable album. There's not a whiff of crossover or compromise to be found, but Hitchell's grasp of the basic elements involved—his craftsmanship—is so masterful that you could happily recommend this album to someone who has never actually heard Basic Channel, Gas, Pole, etc. It's both immediately ingratiating and deeply satisfying enough that it's a hell of a gateway drug; any novices who stumble on this record are likely to become fans, and—like the rest of us—they can only hope Hitchell continues to be so prolific and so rewarding.
Ambient dub techno is not exactly the most varied field to work in or try and listen to. As with certain rarified subspecies of heavy metal, it’s the kind of music that tends to sound identical to outsiders until and unless they spend some serious time listening to it, and even if they find the deep pulse of the music pleasant, it’s not shocking that a lot of people don’t want to bother. Steve Hitchell’s newest LP as Variant is a clear example of the good stuff.
Hitchell’s a busy man, especially since Rod Modell’s Echospace label has had a resurgence (at least partially based around Hitchell and Modell’s work, especially Deepchord presents Echospace’s The Coldest Season from 2007), and keeping track of his pseudonyms alone takes some doing. That’s him as Intrusion contributing a whole disc of remixes to the excellent new Brock Van Wey album, and while those remixes were a bit underwhelming (mostly just because Van Wey’s work on White Clouds Drift On and On ranks among the finest ambient music), with The Setting Sun Hitchell proves again just how good he is at this stuff. The music Echospace releases comes with a shockingly high average of quality (intrigued newcomers to ambient techno wouldn’t be ill served by checking out Pole, Gas and then anything on this label), it can sometimes get a little monochromatic even for the genre. Seeing as how Echospace is extremely choosey about who they release music by, that’s to be expected, but Variant here offers up something that’s just as richly dubbed out as anything else on label even as it’s just slightly more colourful and varied. In a genre that’s all about minute shifts and subtleties that makes all the difference, and The Setting Sun is an enveloping, aurally rewarding album.
Listening to Variant’s The Setting Sun, it’s easy to imagine Steve Hitchell as a Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound devotee, albeit one whose exposure to those electro-dub legends was through paper-thin umpteenth-generation cassettes played via speakers with frayed, faulty wiring. The devotion to dub and melody is here, but it’s corrupted and threadbare, tugged from the dancefloors of Berlin and resculpted as a soundtrack to post-industrial Detroit. Further research undercovers deeper divisions: Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus’ projects injected the organic haze of Jamaican riddims with a digital crackle born of techno’s computer-based programming. Hitchell, on the other hand, favors analog techniques – The Setting Sun was recorded exclusively to reel-to-reel tape and composed without the aid of a computer.
While Hitchell can drop a lung-compressing beat – as he frequently does with his dubbier Intrusion project – it’s the attention to detail he lavishes on ambient passages that set his work aside from that of other slow-mo practitioners. Peels of tape-loop fuzz, squalls of delay, rhythmic swarms and deep-breathing builds of orchestration provide framework for cavernous beats. Yet, unlike many electro-dub releases, The Setting Sun isn’t a bass record with ambient coloring. Here, ambience gets top billing – this record is meant more as a meditative bliss-out companion then black-lit backdrop for a vampiric underground club. When the beats drop away, the fun truly begins.
In this regard, Hitchell more closely resembles William Basinski or a slightly less hostile Tim Hecker. The craft is in manipulating analog sound sources in ways that alter the source material, rendering it gauzed, gouache. Hitchell doesn’t mind broad strokes and he layers his music with many of them. The title track is nearly 25 minutes of padded tones and melodic interplay that would sound at home paired with anything mentioned in the pages of Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler. When percussive elements slide into the mix, as on "Upon A Dream," they function less as motivation to move than as reminder to breathe.
One note for potential purchasers: The Setting Sun was initially released as a digital-only EP in April. The recent CD release replaces the 40-minute-plus "Falling Stars" with a few shorter cuts. Both versions explore the boundaries of contemporary ambient music and the continuously evolving intersection of electronica and dub.
As soon as I saw the title of the album, I wondered how Echospace main-man Stephen Hitchell was going to conjure up sounds to suit it. His work (and his label) is shot through with analog-generated white noise that sounds like a bitter wind lashing great, treeless mountains of bass frequencies ― certainly not the stuff of golden rays and pretty skies. While these familiar elements are still around it's what's not there that makes this release successful. One would think that Hitchell's Basic Channel channelling dub-wise techno would ensure that a smidgen of Jamaican warmth would always flicker within his music but The Setting Sun jettisons the reggae influence almost entirely. In doing so he's crossed a border into ambience unhindered by the tension of a skanking rhythm. Deep, warm analog pulses resemble bubbles and his typically lustrous sonic architecture conjures up streaky sunlight, even as a granular storm rumbles in the background. By losing the obvious dub-wise affiliation he may disappoint some fans but on its own merits this unhurried pastoral suite suggests Oren Ambarichi or Tangerine Dream in a good mood.
As if White Clouds Drift On and On, the recently-issued, double-CD release by Brock Van Wey, wasn't enough to keep ambient soundscaping devotees in a state of rapture for at least a month or two, along comes another Echospace release, this one the debut full-length by the label head himself, Chicago-based Stephen Hitchell (aka Intrusion, Phase90, Radius, and Soultek) under the name Variant. The Setting Sun's ambient focus makes it the perfect complement to the Van Wey collection (if the Variant release's title sounds familiar, it may be because it was issued at the end of 2008 as a digital release with a slightly different track listing and sequence), with one of its most fascinating aspects being its “no computers involved” production credo, as Hitchell created the recording's eighty minutes using microphones, portable beta recorders, Linn and sequential samplers, and vintage analog equipment, with all of it recorded onto reel-to-reel tape (recordings of a late-night storm during a winter morning in Berlin and a train ride to Narita Airport, Japan also found their way into the project). Anyone looking for Soultek techno or Intrusion-styled dub is therefore shopping in the wrong department; what's on offer here is ambient soundscaping of the most immersive kind.
Which isn't to suggest that there isn't a rhythm-based dimension to the material. Certainly the opening setting, “As Time Stood Still,” receives a subtle push from an insistent pulse, even if it's largely subliminal. The focus, however, isn't so much on the slow-motion beat flow as it is on the track's oceanic atmospherics and mix of thunderous rumble, rainwater dribble, and whistling winds (a gently plodding skank in the later “Someplace Else” also proves lulling). The even-deeper “Enchanted” drenches the listener with blinding wind swirls, thick slabs of crackle and hiss, and clangoruous chords that echo and shudder for fifteen rain-soaked minutes. And there is a dub dimension too, albeit of the production as opposed to rhythmic kind, as shown when “A Silent Storm” and “Adrift” melt their streams of liquidy chords into oblivion. Hitchell often gravitates towards long-form tracks and The Setting Sun is no exception, with the zenith reached in the closing title piece, a twenty-three-minute dreamscape where stately, softly glimmering electric piano melodies stretch out for seeming minutes on end. Like much of the album's material, the piece suspends time in the most seductive way imaginable, entreating the listener like a Homeric siren to be drawn ever further into its orbit. At the fifteen-minute mark, percussive accents briefly puncture the stillness, after which the material retreats even deeper into womb-like quietude, its melodic elements growing ever more distant from one another. Hitchell's gradually building up a pretty awesome catalogue of Echospace releases, and The Setting Sun does nothing but enhance it.
Steven Hitchell vergräbt sich immer mehr in der Unkenntlichkeit. Als “Variant” lässt er sich in vollen Zügen fallen und folgt dem natürlichen Rhythmus seiner Umgebung. Hier ist alles gleichberechtigt. Die Field Recordings, die sanften Dubs und die schier unermesslichen Hallräume. Es ist eine endlose Reise in die entschleunigte Restrealität nach Techno. Hier existiert nichts mehr, nur sanft gesteuertes Rauschen. Und jeder Atemzug projiziert eine ungeahnte Dichte auf die blassen Farben. Ambient, neu erfunden.
It’s been a heck of year for the kind of music I love and two of the highlights so far have come on CD from the Echospace stable. Following Brock Van Wey’s stunning album comes this new project from label main man Steve Hitchell. Having been responsible for so many awesome tracks over the years, collaboratively or in a solo capacity, it’s really refreshing to find Steve coming to the fore with this style of deeply atmospheric music.
You could, in some ways, call it ambient I suppose, but it has way too many hints of his rhythmic background to be 100% beatless. On the contrary he uses percussive elements in such a keen way that they serve to accentuate what we all know he’s so good at: those chords and melodies. Another big feature of this album is the inclusion of a wealth of field recordings made whilst experiencing a late night storm in Berlin and a train journey in Japan. These recordings perfectly fit the ambience of Steve’s work, particularly the train journey elements. There’s something about his tracks that gives you a sense of movement – I can vouch for the fact that this album sounds utterly amazing whilst gazing out of the window sitting on a train.
There’s a captivating spaciousness and mood that instantly clicks with the melancholy side of me and I’m still not 100% sure what it is. The layers, pads and chords are probably mostly responsible, but it’s also the little touches of melody that fade in and out, never overwhelming, just complementing the sound. The other big key is the pure emotion that drips from every moment of every track - you can feel the love that has gone into this, even when it sits on the darker side. The care and attention that pervades the production and structures of the tracks is gorgeous and the title track itself is nothing short of divine, clocking in at a healthy 23 minutes which really allows the artist to give you an intimate and personal sense of how he’s feeling.
Ranging, as it does, from pure ambient / drone through to organically inclined guitar moments (yes, that’s right, guitar) via some uber-chilled out dub-inflected moments you’ll discover that this is a listening album of absolutely the highest calibre. I’m glad the label has this avenue of music to explore and I can’t think of many other people that I’d enjoy hearing do it quite so much.
This is a must for fans of not just Echospace, but beautiful, deep electronic music in general. Pure gold and something you’d be well advised to grab as soon as possible.
Chicagowski producent Stephen Hitchell dał się najpierw poznać w kręgach podziemnego techno, serwując winylowe dwunastocalówki firmowane szyldem Soultek. Z biegiem lat zainteresowania artysty poszerzyły się o muzykę dub. Efektem tego okazały się jego solowe nagrania realizowane pod szyldem Intrusion oraz nawiązanie współpracy z Rodem Modellem, które zaowocowało utworzeniem duetu Echospace. Teraz przyszedł czas na ambient – w tym celu Hitchell powołał do życia kolejny projekt – Variant. Ponieważ wiadomo, że gatunek ten potrzebuje dużych form wypowiedzi, zadebiutował on od razu pełnowymiarową płytą – „The Setting Sun”.
Trwający prawie półtorej godziny album rozpoczyna się od gęstego szumu, z którego wyłaniają się wolno płynące akordy skorodowanych klawiszy. Wszystko to niesie spowolniony bit, opleciony głębokim basem. Całość uzupełniają groźne pomruki dobiegające z tła – to dubowe pogłosy wibrujące w dźwiękowej przestrzeni kompozycji („As Time Stood Still”). Analogowe zakłócenia przeradzają się z czasem odgłos zbliżającej się ulewy. Z trudem przebijają się zza niej rzadkie, kumkające akordy, zatopione w jednostajnym strumieniu onirycznych brzmień, dobiegającym z drugiego planu nagrania („Enchanted”).
Nieustępliwy odgłos padającego deszczu wprowadza nas w następny utwór – „Upon A Dream” wypada w tym kontekście niczym soundtrack do wielkomiejskiego thrillera. Tajemniczo pulsujące klawisze prowadzą w głąb kompozycji, gdzie czeka na nas gąszcz przetworzonych na post-industrialną modłę dźwięków otoczenia: dziwnych głosów, niepokojących szeptów, przemysłowych zgrzytów. David Fincher z powodzeniem mógłby wykorzystać to nagranie w „Siedem” – gdyby ono oczywiście wtedy już istniało.
Zgodnie z tytułem – „A Silent Storm” – ma znacznie bardziej dynamiczny charakter: tutaj główny wątek kompozycji stanowią kaskady podwodnych akordów syntezatorowych, układających się w monochromatyczne wzory dźwiękowych fraktali.
Spowolniony podkład rytmiczny pojawia się dopiero w „Someplace Else”. Wraz z lekko melodyjnym pochodem basu stanowi on podstawę kompozycji, w którą wpisane zostają drżące smugi organicznych klawiszy i rezonujące w analogowej przestrzeni studyjne echa. Kiedy rytm ustaje, rozpoczyna się „Adrift” – najkrótsze nagranie z zestawu, podszyte tektonicznymi odgłosami przesuwających się pod wodą dźwiękowych skał.
Na finał rozbrzmiewa utwór całkowicie odmienny od reszty – tytułowy „The Setting Sun”. Hitchell rezygnuje w nim bowiem niemal całkowicie z dubowych efektów. Kompozycję rozpoczynają dronowe uderzenia fortepianu, które wprowadzają świdrujące ukłucia klasycznie brzmiących syntezatorów. Wszystko zostaje wpisane w monolityczne tło o chmurnej, ciemnej barwie. Muzyka płynie powoli, potem niknie, wracając z pełnym dostojeństwem i powagą. W tym trwającym aż 23 minuty nagraniu słychać różne fascynacje chicagowskiego producenta – od muzyki poważnej (Eric Satie), przez tradycyjną elektronikę (Vangelis z soundtrackiem do „Blade Runnera”) i elektroniczne odmiany kraut-rocka (choćby Tangerine Dream, Cluster czy Harmonia), po minimalistyczny ambient (w stylu Briana Eno).
Na początku lat 90. na określenie twórczości The Orb i podobnych mu brzmieniowo projektów, jak Higher Intelligence Agency, A Positive Life czy Orginal Rockers, wymyślono termin „ambient-dub”. Podobne, choć znacznie bardziej minimalistyczne brzmienia, można było znaleźć w produkcjach duetu Basic Channel oraz projektów związanych z Chain Reaction. Hitchell rozwija w niezwykle twórczy sposób dokonania tamtych artystów, tworząc własną wizję tegoż gatunku. Mimo wpisanej weń z zasady oszczędności w stosowaniu środków wyrazu, chicagowski producent osiąga monumentalne brzmienie – pełne głębokich emocji i wręcz metafizycznej zadumy.