Shima is the very single-minded music project of Michael Ferriss, a fellow I last saw on some tabloid TV show being chased by over-zealous reporters. You see, he’s the NZ head of Scientology, an organisation that has done about as much good to planet Earth as last year’s Japanese Tsunami.
But let’s not tar and feather Ferriss for his “religious” convictions. After all, plenty of great musicians and actors have been suckered under the corporate wings of this cult. I guess it’s a better road to go down than, say, joining the gun lobby and developing a fetish for big game hunting.
Anyway, Ferriss used to visit a record store I ran many years ago, and sold several of his independent electronic releases there, so I got to know him a bit, and found him a pleasant if very focused individual. Up until World Without Music, however, I’ve not found his music particularly gripping. My store was dominated by young men infatuated with digital technology, and making insect electronica on laptops with the latest programs, while Shima sounded a little like those very dated ‘80s ambient synthesiser albums. Of course, in 2012, those ‘80s “new age/ambient” albums are becoming rather hip again. Strange world we live in.
World Without Music is the fourth Shima album, and it easily eclipses its predecessors. The discs I was most familiar with, Not Quite The 21st Century (1999) and Tender Loving Rage (2002) were good, solid one-man-alone-at-keyboards affairs, but nothing to get hung about. His latest, on the other hand, is pretty terrific.
Ferriss hasn’t bowed down to the winds of change, and pleasingly, World Without Music mostly harks back to the glory days of synthesiser music, the 1970s, with a clear line of influence coming from Eno, the space-synth world of Tangerine Dream, and Kraut rock. His aesthetic isn’t so specific that he’s eliminated all digital doo-dads from his rack; that would be pure snobbery, and would ultimately have robbed him of the wide-screen, HD impact of the recording, which captures the sounds in a way that they never managed in the era it echoes.
World Without Music deserves a good hi-fi, and it sounds fantastic on my Martin Logan hybrid electrostatics, which give pinpoint accuracy to the astonishing stereo imaging.
But what’s involving, and seductive, about the album is that it doesn’t go all soft on us. He uses dissonance, but with a subtlety that increases our emotional involvement, and gives the soundscapes a slight air of, if not menace, then at least doubt, that was never the case with those ‘80s synth guys and their new age concoctions.
He’s gone for some genuinely odd, arresting rhythms, some interestingly saturated synth chordings, and where it works for him, he’s used absence to his advantage; on ‘Careless Flight’, for instance, it’s piano and faint (shortwave?) transmissions that project an indeterminate but effective minimalism.
This time, Ferriss has employed the services of a couple of spare dab hands (playing guitar, clarinet and djembe) and there’s even a hint of vocal on ‘Magnetism’. What this does is give it a colouristic, semi-acoustic character just when you’re starting to get overloaded with twitching electronics.
In fact, this long album gets further out in space over its duration. ‘A Thousand Eggs’ is as abstract as it gets, but is given a lovely contrast in the relaxed, ruminative ‘Perfect You’. The last track, ’23:24′, is impressively trippy, like waking up and not knowing if you’re still dreaming and not knowing whether the experience you’re having is pleasant, or otherwise.
Ferriss can be proud of his achievement with World Without Music, an album that still appears to have fallen beneath the radar of conventional media outlets, but is well worth hearing. GARY STEEL
Music = 4
Sound = 4.5
Listen to World Without Music here: