Regional Surrealism is refined and elegantly textured. With his debut album for Plant Mu, Tom Scholefield (the sole musician behind the Konx-Om-Pax moniker) has crafted a graceful journey through subtly shaded aural landscapes, coloured by furtive and rippling synths.
Despite being released on a label well known for its commitment to new sounds in electronic and dance music, Regional Surrealism assumes a curiously retro sound, eschewing Scholefield’s previous experimental forays into noise on his own label Display Copy. The formidable back catalogue of ambient luminary Brian Eno haunts the entirety of Regional Surrealism. The intoxicating and murky atmospheres of Eno’s masterwork Apollo saturate every corner of this record, particularly on the reverb cloaked synths of Isotonic Pool and Lagoon Leisure’s dingy first half.
Yet, where Eno’s album of 1983 conjured a soundtrack to its titular voyage with mysterious evanescence, illustrating the dichotomy between the serenity and terrifying emptiness of space, Regional Surrealism is altogether more earth bound – as if content only to gaze towards the stars rather than journey amongst them. The chilling otherworldliness of the choral sounds on both Intro and Glacier Mountain Descent is all but negated by the primary colours of the synths plodding on the surface and the gently swooning major key haze of Let’s Go Swimming provides a regrettably insipid conclusion to the album. Each track on this record is built up from repeating four- or eight-bar cells assembled like building blocks and the simple construction of the music pales on repeated listening.
As a mood piece, Regional Surrealism is considerably successful, colouring the passage of time in subtle hues and augmenting the sensual experience of its listeners without demanding focussed attention in return. However, on listening more closely to the album, it seems that this was perhaps the extent of Scholefield’s ambition with the record. The aural surface of this album is decidedly homogenous, uniform in both the sounds offered and the moods evoked. Indeed, on the few occasions when external inputs are introduced into the equation there is a brief glimpse of what might have been; the faintly disquieting monologue of Sura-Tura-Gnosi-Cosi and Zang-Tumb’s submerged vocal samples afford the album extra dimensions of uncertainty and intangibility not hinted at elsewhere.
On the surface of it, Regional Surrealism should have been an engaging and challenging record. Scholefield’s project is named after a particularly enigmatic piece by the particularly enigmatic Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi who, in following his belief that all prior composition had been “in error”, explored the meditative potential of sound with long continuous clusters of notes diverging in slow motion. What’s more, Scholefield is first and foremost a visual artist, having previously made artwork and videos for musicians including Mogwai and Oneohtrix Point Never.
Yet Scholefield’s approach to music making exists firmly within accepted conventions: this is unassuming music informed as much by what has gone before as it is by Scholefield’s own desire to realise a unique artistic vision. It is as if Konx-Om-Pax inhabits a no man’s land between the steely and esoteric realm of Eno’s ambient works and the more evocative, lush climbs populated by the Hypnogogic music of Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never.
In his linear notes for his monumental album Music For Airports, Brian Eno famously stated that “ambient music must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. The problem is that, whilst Regional Surrealism certainly succeeds in providing a pleasant musical backdrop, it is rather more the former than it is the latter.