You could call this ambient, experimental, drone, avant-garde, cinematic or simply electronic music, the fact is “Emergent Narrative”, is so impactful it’s like it’s its own genre. It’s as if some new musical form has been created from retro synthwave sounds, and ultra-modern avant-garde motifs. I was stunned by the textures, and the moods that got stuck in my head, along with the intensity and dynamic depth.
This is an album to hear again and again. Loud, raucous, serene, gentle, stretching, insistent, melodic, dissonant. It is a collection of 12 musical pieces with simple one-word titles. Meaning, the Chicago composer, Matthew J Van Howe, gives you the literary cue, the sonic mood and the atmosphere, on which you then construct your own personal cerebral journey on each instrumental track.
Amidst the crumbling walls that stand to sustain the greater part of the music industry, there are still a few innovators like Matthew J Van Howe who are scrambling to keep the pieces together. “Emergent Narrative” is a deluge of his sonic palette which spans from darkly ambient droning to cacophonous titillating synth lines, and everything in-between.
With such an overload of new material to be gorged on, it’s surprising that only two of the songs surpass the 6-minute mark. The track order is also what makes the listening experience exciting. It is in my view, equally as important as the actual tracks here, which contain well-paced and emotionally coherent stretches of music.
The recording finds Matthew J Van Howe at a peak in terms of music flow and focus, and as a collective piece it is absolutely deserving of the album distinction. Do the compositions suggest some very deep and thoughtful commentary, or are they just abstract sonic sketches?
I don’t know what the story of these tracks are supposed to be, or how they might be related, and I don’t know if it even matters; if we’re supposed to obsessively hunt down any inherent sonic clues left within tracks such as “Sand”, “Lavender”, “Peacock” and “Merlot”, or just sit back and thoroughly enjoy the enrapturing sound design, which feels like a soundtrack to a mindset and a mood.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think Matthew J Van Howe is trying to literally create instrumental narratives on “Emergent Narrative” (as the title may suggest), as much as he is attempting to color, texturize and frame sonic portraits. I feel he is trying to communicate a picture in his mind, rather than prose lingering on his tongue.
That picture is obviously connected to an emotion and a mood. Herein lies the beauty of instrumental music – no preconceived ideas, no suggested storyline, no defining words, except the title – we’re all allowed the absolute liberty of interpreting the music via our own personal sensations.
“Emergent Narrative” proves that Matthew J Van Howe knows how to make an enveloping atmospheric soundscape as perfected and excellent as possible, so great that if you rip the track down to its bare bones and reconstruct it, it remains one heck of a composition. Meticulously crafted, each track boasts stellar production values.
I can attest on a personal level to the profoundly meditative aspects of “Emergent Narrative”. It is music that demands thoughtfulness in discussion and consideration, not because it has the pretense of being pertinently complex or ingeniously cerebral, but because, to put it simply, it’s excellent in every aspect of its construction and intention.