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Limestone Ziggurat | The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand – 2022 | ALBUM REVIEW

By Derek Howie

Label: Machine Tribe Recordings

Limestone Ziggurat – The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand Album Cover

With the constant swell of music today, the attention span needed to consume it all is only a few seconds; the swipe left culture I suppose? Yet sometimes, it's just these fractions of time, you get that feeling to go right and that is where this is for me. Limestone Ziggurat's ambient/drone structure is the creation of Brian Grainger, a copious artist who has his hands in over one thousand (yes 1-0-0-0) releases via his Milieu Music label here.

This solitary track ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’ is an encompassing 55-minute piece, released in 2022 on the Brooklyn-based Machine Tribe Recordings label. An audio aurora of deep, rich orchestral tones that pulsates comfortably in its own skin. This softly radiating monolith is very easily absorbed, not deviating much further from its base. Filling up my room with soundwave after soundwave, reverberating in from all angles, more on that later. This is peak drone music; my preference to cinema, as the moving pictures are in my mind!

This could be background music for the blissfully berauscht, but I much prefer it, straight, upfront, and personal. Intently concentrating, following each repetitive cycle, picking out the subtle transitions that do occur along the voyage, or just maybe I imagined them, art is all about perceptions after all. The procession is maybe a tad too delicate for most, you really need to focus, be willing to ingest. This is not an hour of relaxation, I’m too wired and wide-eared to chill out! 


Interview with Brian Grainger

By Derek Howie

Derek Howie. “Hey Brian, thank you so much for joining me to talk for The Vinyl Hole. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’ as Limestone Ziggurat. Can you outline the history behind the creation of Limestone Ziggurat (LSZ), which is one of your newer personas? 

Brian Grainger. Limestone Ziggurat is a set to contain all sets, in mathematic terms. It was conceived in '20 after the pandemic broke, and a year and a half later it debuted at Celebrate Psi Phenomenon. It is designed primarily to carry my tangential experimentation with my first modular system, which I started building at the same time. As secondary functions go, it was also meant to be a genre-less space of unbound creative freedom (as opposed to the more rigidly defined Milieu/Coppice Halifax paths), and one that I could feel free to express myself "autobiographically" through, if I so chose. It offers many philosophical considerations along with the sound it produces, with commentaries on the creative act, procedural generation, politics and protest, among other themes. The name was chosen to represent a long list of references and specific symbolism, which is self-effacing, prosaic, functional, and topical all at once.

DH. Electronic music has come a long way from the early ‘90s days when critics proclaimed that it was ‘easy to make’ and ‘soulless’. As still largely an underground movement, even with the huge number of original compositions being created for both film and computer game soundtracks, do you ever envisage a time when the majority will see what lies beneath our genres beside the predictable troupes of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno or Kraftwerk?

BG. I really don’t know that I think about this too much, or care. The mainstream will always be there, and I am ambivalent about what it contains. It serves a purpose as an entry point for the widest possible group, so I am always glad that it exists in that sense, and many people are more than content to let their interests remain there. I think there’s always going to be a gulf of difference between the enjoyment of music and the general public understanding of how it is created, or even the industry of publishing it, and if I can act with a level of impunity where the creative process is concerned – “There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions” – then there cannot be any wrong interpretations of art either. 

Everyone like me, or like yourself, who explores the deeper levels of something that interests them, we all began at the topical level of the mainstream. The more important thing to consider about that, I think, is that it is a series of overlapping Venn diagrams, rather than a binary definition of what is mainstream and what is not. Artists working in the so-called mainstream often refer back to less commercially viable works, and vice versa, and to believe otherwise is pointless. The most negative part of a mainstream definition is, to my mind, the connection (and perhaps the subservience) to commercialism, which is where we find the appraisal of art deferring to the commercial viability of it as a product, and this is a self-defeating system in art, I feel, because it removes the emphasis from the creative act and places more importance on the finalization of it in some preconceived and overly idealized way. I have always maintained the stance that I create music because I enjoy creating music, and whether or not it serves a purpose in anyone else’s life besides my own is incidental. That may seem flippant, here on paper, but if I am not content with that as the beginning and end of a creative process, I have no business doing it to begin with. Whether or not self-styled critics or listeners, however topical or dedicated, can appreciate that is not something I am concerned about.

Milieu ‘Swirling Tinsel Singalongs’, ‘Snowradius’ and ‘Garland’

DH. To my shame this was my first time hearing your work, which LSZ would you recommend that readers check out next?

BG. I don’t think there’s any shame involved in being new to something – at least, there shouldn’t be. The joy of discovering new things, and the notion that there are still new things left undiscovered, is so important to the human condition. Coming from the piece you’ve started with here; I’d suggest listeners seek out recordings like Ecce Nihilo or Pillar of Persephone for more of what I call “held-tone” composition. For something more dynamic, an album like Wind Send at Minimal Resource Manipulation might interest fans of more musique concrete material. Finally, there are five loop studies published at Psoma Psi Phi in a collection called In Curvature, which I am quite fond of. As a general indicator, recordings published as Limestone Ziggurat will be more drone-oriented, and recordings published as LSZ will be more broadly experimental. 

DH. ‘Shame’ probably is my overdramatic realisation that as a lover of this style of music, as well as an ardent Discogs contributor and cataloguer of my own music collection, I hadn’t crossed your path until this LSZ release. I will certainly follow-up on your recommendations, but the more I delve into your career, the more it yields! Have you ever calculated how many hours of music you are responsible for?

BG. Hours, no. Occasionally, at the end of a calendar year or upon the completion of a serial work, I will tally up how many individual releases there currently are, but writing this now, I cannot remember the last time I tried to do that. I think it was at least five years ago now, maybe more, and after the number went past 1000, I felt that there was just no point to counting beyond that. I will take this opportunity to point out that Discogs is a very flawed and incomplete database of my work, and really Bandcamp itself isn’t a reliable indicator either, so I have been working slowly on a website that catalogues everything in detail, and perhaps once that is realized I’ll have a better idea of how deep the ocean really is. 

Coppice Halifax ‘Green Shape’, ‘Winterthaw’ and ‘Winterhearth Monolith’

DH. With such a deep discography under many guises, Milieu, Coppice Halifax, Bike and Vhom to name just a few, how soon into starting a new piece do you know which alias you are writing as?

BG. Obviously, this depends on a myriad of different factors – tools used, on-paper ideas, relevant themes around me that I wish to explore or even just pure child-like curiosity – but generally speaking, things that possess a repetitive rhythmic pulse begin life as Coppice Halifax pieces, and things that are more melodic begin as Milieu pieces. Most of my compositions for guitar are published under my birthname, though the last year has seen a lot more guitar in Milieu and Coppice Halifax recordings. Limestone Ziggurat, as mentioned prior, is all of these things at once, and also apart from them, so there’s always a possibility that anything I work on will end up under that header. It’s difficult to discern when and where the lines are drawn, and I tend to just navigate these decisions (and most others in the creative process) by feeling, although the irony is not lost on me when I step back and realize all of these projects originate from the same one person. Still, having so many tributaries branching from a great river can be quite useful for organizational purposes, as well as for helping listeners like yourself find their way. 

DH. Releasing under a multitude of pseudonyms seems to be an endemic and unique trait of the electronic music scene. Why do think this is so prevalent in the genre and hasn’t migrated much to others?

BG. I’ve never really thought about it through the lens of being more of an electronic musician’s approach, and perhaps that is true. My best guess as to why that may be true is that it has something to do with the more modular and transitory nature of the creative process and the tools used to create music in this way. If someone spends their life studying one instrument or proficiency, it may simply be easier to classify the fruits of that work than it would be to organize the various things that I produce. I would recommend it to any artist, however, because there is a liberating sense of enjoyment that can emerge from a mutable creative process. Personally, I’ve always looked at pseudonyms being more analogous to literature, and the idea of a view being presented from a differing perspective. Historically speaking, writers have embraced this working method quite a lot, and it has allowed many of them to write without fear of their writing being interpreted as autobiographical. If an artist feels able to explore different perspectives, disciplines, creative possibilities, I believe that they should, and that art will be richer for it. 

Brain Grainger ‘Winterspheres’. ‘Silver Anthelion’ and ‘Benthnic Ice Barrows’

DH. Later I will outline that for the past 3-decades I prefer to listen to music like ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’ in surround sound. Have you ever thought about mixing or rendering material to a multichannel format?

BG. Absolutely. I've listened to multichannel music for many years, with different 5.1 systems. I even have software that is designed for multichannel mixing, but I need to install more sound cards to utilize it. Ever since I was younger, reading the liners on Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings, about how it was mixed in "near-quad" for a stereo LP, I felt compelled to produce music that had a lot of dynamic interest in the stereo field. On many of my recordings, there are always elements that move around a lot, and I would say that composing spatially can be just as rewarding as focusing on texture, melody or rhythm, for me. I'm sure when the time comes, and I am all set up to compose in a multichannel space, it will end up quite wild. 

DH. I’m excited to hear that a multichannel album from yourself is a possibility in the future, I know specifically mixed albums in 5.1/DTS are rather scarce. Is there any albums you could recommend, besides that Wendy Carlos record?

BG. I don’t have many of them, no, besides deluxe reissues of famous albums, but one that always comes to mind as enjoyable and unique is easily the collaborative work between Autechre and the Hafler Trio. I also have some beautiful music in the 5.1 format from Anders Peterson, who operates Ghost Sounds in Sweden.  

Limestone Ziggurat ‘F.P.R.’, ‘Molybdos’ and ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’

DH. I gratefully accepted your generous offer to download 25-winter themed albums via your Patreon and Bandcamp pages. These avenues of DIY distribution have become paramount, but how else do you use the socials to reach new listeners?

BG. Thank you for picking up all those albums! It is important to me to offer free and easy avenues of discovery for my work, if people wish to explore it. I don't have a lot of positive things to say about social media, just that I've been a participant in all of these platforms for many years, just because it's the thing you have to do if you want to have any chance at all in the information age. None of it has enriched my work in any way, and if I could live without it, I would.  My usual haunts, for anyone reading who would like to follow me for a regular stream of updates, are my Patreon page (which I also use like an old-fashioned blog) and Bandcamp itself. If and when the bottom falls out at Bandcamp, you can fully expect me to throw my weight into my dot-com website, and start selling zipfiles of FLACs again, and mailing CDs off from a PayPal cart, with a blog and mailing list attached.

DH. I was very interested to read about another avenue of yours for this year, starting a 24/7 ‘Sleepbuilding’ radio station. It is not my first foray into such a continuous music concept as a Patreon backer to 65daysofstatic’s algorithmic-based ‘Wreckage System’. Where each of the 65 songs, or ‘systems’ as they prefer to call them because they uniquely each generate independently to the others and regenerate differently to the last version. Are you aware of this idea and can you tell us more about your own version of a 24/7/365 streaming platform? 

BG. I am not aware of the artist you mentioned, no, but it sounds interesting to me. My idea isn’t very novel, really – I’m actually stress testing it today at Twitch as I type this – but it is primarily focused on capitalizing on my deep catalogue of recordings and making them freely available in a way that I have not tried before. The ‘Sleepbuilding’ series you’ve mentioned here is an ongoing arrangement of overnight broadcasts with my modular system, which plays ambient music in a hands-free procedural fashion for a full sleep cycle or more, and streams this via my YouTube or Twitch channels. These sessions are eventually mastered and published at Bandcamp for free, so the 24/7 broadcasting idea has grown out of that, as another way to offer this music to the public consciousness. One of the more gratifying things I’ve found from doing these broadcasts is how people have chosen to listen to them, with many using them as a balancing backdrop for their day to day work, or even their own creative ventures like writing, programming, designing and painting. I feel there is something prosaic about that – my music being used as a tool to facilitate other creative acts – which reads to me as an idea that has been made complete, instead becoming a process of recreation. If this process can be made more accessible on a momentary and impulsive basis, then a 24/7 channel for broadcasting is a worthwhile notion to me. 

DH. Finally, thanks again for joining me. According to Discogs, aside from the 247-releases listed under your name, it says you and your wife Sophie also have pets, what animals do you have?

BG. Thanks very much for inviting me to speak. Animals, yes - we have always kept a lot of pets, and always rescues too, although these days we've dialled it down a little bit for sanity's sake, and for a bit less pressure on our finances. Today, we have two dogs and three cats. The two dogs are Homer (a husky/hound mutt of some kind, and a very old man) and Plato (a chihuahua/rat terrier/demon mutt, suffering from Short Man's Disease). The three cats are, from oldest to youngest, Pepper (a mackerel tabby who runs the household), Dobie (an almost totally white tabby, thinks he runs the house) and his brother Maynard (a black void kitty, who is a bit more mellow). Recently, I commissioned my friend Greg, who is a brilliant artist, to illustrate humanoid versions of the cats for Milieu's Watch the Head album, where Pepper is a "furmaiden" from a sci-fi serial that the boys are watching on their TV in a cluttered dorm room. It was a lot of fun to make on many different levels, and I hope people will check it out. There's even a big poster of Pepper fighting a tentacle alien in space!

There we have it folks, my interview with the highly simulating and equally prolific Brian Grainger. I can’t thank him enough for that, he certainly cover more ground than I had ever dreamt of. I hope you reading it half as much as I did. 

You can find out even more about his Limestone Ziggurat output here or buy ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’ on very limited-edition cassette tape or as a digital file from the Machine Tribe Recordings’ own Bandcamp page, here.

Playback Overview

As I mentioned earlier in the review and while talking to Brian, I am going to outline my setup for playing ‘The Iron Shipwreck Consumed By Martian Quicksand’. 

The pure nature of music like this lends itself to experimentation and using my surround sound receiver only enhances the enveloping sound of this Limestone Ziggurat’s work. I’ve long been an advocate for such practices and even though this recording was not encoded into a true surround format, the technology available within my new Denon Integrated Network Receiver allows for 2-channel pieces to be reproduced, often known as “upmixing” to a multichannel signal, mine is currently 5.1.2, and it’s an experience that I highly recommend. 

As far as the source chain is concerned, my Hewlett Packard 250 G7 laptop plays the file, [in this case a FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) file, which is the bare minimum in terms digital downloads these days] from an external Toshiba hard drive via the music management program Audirvana Studio in to an iFi Zen DAC, and on towards my AVR, the sound really does radiate all around me thanks to the 4 DALI Lektor 2 speakers at the fore and aft, with the same company’s Fazon Mikros as my centre and 2 height channels, with a Wharfedale Diamond SW150 subwoofer taking care of the low frequencies.

I know there are detractors who’ll cite ‘…music is only 2-channels...’, but I love ambient music and have done this for 30+ years. So, what do those individuals know about listening to this style of music? The answer, I’ve found when they’re challenged has always been “not very much!”. The fact that the majority do seem to understand that music doesn’t start off life in the 2-channel format, but as a series of several individually recorded single-channel mono parts, that are subsequently all mixed together to create the final stereo output. Yet, splitting those 2-channels upwards is still seen as a gimmick. Almost as distasteful as when around the turn of the century the audiophile advice emerged, that adding a subwoofer actually aided a pair of speakers, or more recently when MOFI (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab) admitted to using digital recordings in what others that previously thought was a wholly analogue chain, you can read about that particular incident here. Furthermore, it’s also a safe bet they’re the ones who now unwittingly sound like their parents, spouting nonsense like “...this is not even music!”. LOL. 


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