Review: Ben Warfield – Songs of Light and Dust

(Digital, Data Garden, 2014)

The Philadelphia based Data Garden is a label like no other in the terms of the format on which they release their music. It’s even weirder and more fascinating than the concept-pushing releases of Auris Apothecary, who tend to release their music on reel-to-reel tapes, floppy discs, stylus-destroying vinyl records, or even candles. Data Garden, in relation to their name, release music that you can… plant. Like a plant. Each physical release is a strip of seed paper, which contains a free download code. After downloading the album, the paper can be put into soil and flowers will grow. In the case of this album – blue Lobelias. As Data Garden’s “About” page explains this groundbreaking connection between newest findings in science and new ideas for music distribution:

“We seek to redefine traditional music distribution. Digital files are easily lost by the impermanence of computing. Physical objects like CDs, tapes and records last far beyond their usability and possibly even our existence as a species. Data Garden mitigates these challenges by releasing digital album codes on artwork that can grow into living plants. This addresses the need for easy access to music, as well as the natural human desire to own an awesome physical object.”

But the science doesn’t endly on on employing seed paper for Data Garden. The newest album by the label is an ambient journey by Ben Warfield, a musically talented scientist and a lab researcher working on developing lighting systems for astronauts. The music and the themes on Songs of Light and Dust are like Brian Eno meeting Carl Sagan. It is a classic ambient record, “classic” in a sense that it’s soft and melodic, stemming straight from the kosmische Musik and early progressive electronic traditions, when there was much fascination and hope in exploration of space and the early synthesizers gave a lot of previously unheard, unearthly feel. It’s an ambient record which is a legacy of the classic stargazers, for whom ambient music expressed wonder with the unknown, not yet “polluted” by harsh textures or digital glitches that would come later. Some might call Warfield’s album unremarkable or derivative, but I view it more like a legacy for the man’s quest for breaking the borders and making step after step toward the stars. Songs of Light and Dust is a thoroughly enjoyable, wonderfully melodic old-school ambient album. And a reminder that this planet is just a mote of dust in space bathed in light from the Sun.


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