In 2011, the British Academy of Sound Therapy commissioned Manchester ambient artists Marconi Union in the creation of an eight-minute ambient composition under the title Weightless. The track earned recognition from Time Magazine’s Lev Grossman et al, who recognized Weightless as one of the top 50 inventions of the year and dubbed it “the world’s most relaxing song,” much to the chagrin of a band whose previous jazz and dub-influenced works would never have been pigeonholed as such.
Nevertheless, Marconi Union expanded Weightless into an eponymous full-length work, subtitled Ambient Transmissions 2. The album includes the original composition and five more tracks, the latter derived from the ideas of the former. Each song has the same title, appended with numbers respective to the track listing, such as Weightless II.
Ambient music falls on an extraordinarily diverse spectrum of effects, despite its namesake typically connoting otherwise. Some are intentionally provoking or seek to reconcile the concept of ambience with the harshest noise, as seen in the works of Ironing and Machinefabriek, in addition to Oneohtrix Point Never’s Nil Admirari off of Returnal. Others are designed to fill a room’s mise-en-scéne, as typified by Erik Satie in his musique d’ameublement (translated as “furniture music”) and established in the popular consciousness by Brian Eno’s Discreet Music.
Weightless would be well-placed on the spectrum between the subtly complex and the stimulatingly hypnagogic, rather than its current association of relaxation and sleepytimes. By no means is this to say that Weightless is not relaxing, it is simply well enjoyed through active listening. In fact, Weightless is fantastic for chilling out. But it also has enough movements that are pretty stimulating! It’s easy to get lost inside this album, as Marconi Union’s travelling synths and effects lead the mind to wander: Biosphere and Seefeel did the same with aplomb.
The phrase “addition and subtraction” is used all the time to describe ambient music, but here that is not a cliché. Marconi Union are adept producers that simply know how to use each cycle and each element in a way that just makes sense. Some tracks, such as the first and second, use a vague four-on-the-floor washed out beat that’s reminiscent of GAS on works such as Königsforest and his self-titled debut. A couple of songs have water-droplet synths that will be familiar to fans of M. Ostermeier’s Rules Of Another Small World and Marcus Fischer’s Collected Dust.
The six tracks of Weightless are best described by their eponym. The fluidity and smoothness are effortless, and it quite frequently feels like one is floating in space. Marconi Union’s epithet as the band who created the world’s chillest track is well-earned. The tracks cycle their elements with a generally cold milieu; each song just sounds icy, but not frigid. A good comparison would be Loscil’s Sketches From New Brighton.
Although the other five songs are derived from the original composition, they aren’t mere remix treatments or just the same thing edited a couple times. Each track is its own. For example, Weightless V has a buzzing drone that Weightless III lacks, and Weightless IV has the aforementioned M. Ostermeier sound that isn’t present in Weightless I. This distinction is important, as Weightless topically may not warrant a full-length treatment. But that’s simply not the case here.
Weightless is a solid bit of ambient music that demonstrates how ambience is not relegated to the extremes of experiments or pure relaxation. Each of the six tracks carry loops that go on and on and on, but never boringly so. In general, it’s a strong album and a sure sign of Marconi Union’s continued evolution as strong producers of music where minimalism is more than the sum of its parts.