IF YOU LIKE YOUR shit mellow, and I mean m-e-l-l-o-w, then Oakland-based ambient artist Gregg Kowalsky might be just the man for you. Kowalsky is part of a new breed of collegiate, tech-savvy sound scientists lurking in the fringes of indie music—bearded transcendentalists who are just as comfortable grasping an acoustic guitar in their hands as a laptop. While I'm sure Gregg has drank his share of 40s while jamming with buddies, his heart seems to be from a different place indeed, as he seeks sonic meaning in the unusual, unsung, and unheard.
Kowalsky's upcoming album on Kranky Records, Through the Cardial Window, is filled with the slow motion, pin-drop friction the label has become synonymous with. The plundered sound sources range from the tiny (a broken water heater) to the huge (dissected riffs from shoegazer metal giants, Isis), all melted down into subtle celestial hues.
Ambient music, at its best, can truly be emotional and even spiritual. Still, it is one of the most challenging forms of music to relate to a nonbeliever, most attempts ending up something like, "Check this stuff out. There's no singing, chord changes, drums, or dynamics. You'll love it!"
Kowalsky's music (which, for you "IDM" nerds, has also been released under the name Osso Bucco) is truly full of movement; it's just a slight, ephemeral movement that's difficult to sense without a relaxed mind and a sense of patience. Much like a swamp, all is serene and static on the surface, but there's a microscopic world of swimming melodic activity bubbling beneath.
Not surprisingly, Kowalsky says the primary influence on his soundscapes is the looming humidity of his swampy native state, Florida. Certainly a better thing to take away from "the Sunshine State" than televised spring-break fiascoes or our president's even stupider kid brother. n