Devotional by Daniel Klag

Release date: December 19, 2016
Label: Patient Sounds

In 1959, cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman coined the “Type A” person, burdened by “a disproportionate amount of emotional energy consumed in struggling against the normal constraints of time.” The Type A’s mind is exacerbated by a frenetic digital environment, where social pings, emails and text messages vie for his attention. He never realizes that the mad dash to address the constant stimulus is an impossible game.

This leads to “hurry sickness,” an affliction that, every year, is reserved for more of us, Type A or not. The digital revolution has officially crested, making technology less an assistant and more an intruder. Silencing our phones, swearing off email on the weekends, uninstalling social apps in favor of meditation apps, and attending digital detoxes bring us only partial success. When did you last take a moment to slow down?

If your life is slipping into increasing digital reliance, welcome Daniel Klag’s Devotional as a remedy. Its four ambient tracks unfurl in a slow haze, presenting an alternate reality to our quick, digitally connected present. Intending for “a syrupy slow-motion feeling,” as he puts it, Klag incorporates organic instruments like the flute, piano, autoharp, and vibraphone, a process he’s explored for nearly a decade.

‘Inmost Light’ derives its name from an Arthur Machen novel. Klag explains that “the story involves a mad scientist trapping his wife’s soul within a radiant jewel. I had a similar desire to capture a thing of beauty, though I’d prefer not to think of myself as a mad scientist,” he says with a laugh. “The acoustic sound sources helped reinforce the notion of contained beauty, like the flutes and autoharps, which provided a brighter tone. Synths can have a cold and sterile feeling to them.”

Daniel Lanois’ Goodbye to Language is an apt analogue to Devotional. Lanois’ pedal steel guitar sketches, divorced of a country backing band, stretch the instrument far beyond its intended purpose. The result is an engaging organic entry in a genre crowded with electronic production. Klag’s stretching of already slow samples takes the approach even further, engaging and subverting the digital manipulation assumed in recording music.

Devotional‘s quartet of songs envelops the listener like a warm blanket in February. In these misty washes, both volume swells and loop points are imperceptible, and the familiarity of the classical palette, divorced from its original intention through elongated stretching, serves to slow time itself. ‘Inmost Light’ is sixteen minutes long, allowing even the seasoned ambient listener to sink deep into its groove. Its duration is the perfect length for meditation, as in what Moby attempted last year with his Long Ambients series intended for inducing calming and sleep.

However, with so few tracks, Devotional begins to sound indistinguishable. Given every track’s minimal variation, listeners would consider it a reprieve to encounter different ideas with each entry. The middle two tracks, ‘Priestess’ and ‘Ember,’ sound fairly similar to each other, as do the first and last tracks. A similar sample in ‘Inmost Light’ makes its way into ‘Ember.’ Klag’s technique is novel, and would behoove him to explore and experiment with other techniques as well as samples to alter the sound of his artistic voice. Those sounds need not be extreme in their difference, and could still feed into Klag’s intention to place his music in the sphere of ritualized practice.

Nevertheless, Klag’s introspective ambient music becomes all the more relevant in accelerated times, urging us to ease up, if only for a moment. Devotional eschews the idea that old instruments have nothing new to tell us, and approaches composition as an almost spiritual practice: “I’m borrowing the idea of music for ritual or meditation. Contemplation is a valuable exercise, taking time to renew your devotion to a cause, an ideology, or a loved one.”

Devotional is available now as a cassette and digital release on Patient Sounds, run by ambient musician M. Sage.

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