Minneapolis-based Mike Olson is a composer and producer who has developed his own rather unique style and sound in an evolutionary and organic manner. At first blush, his recent release, Six Projects, seems to plant him in an as yet unnamed category – musicians utilizing a combination of space / ambient music and modern electroacoustic composition and improvisation. Others who might be placed in a similar musical geography include Sound Awakener and Robert Scott Thompson.
But any attempt to classify Olson is an exercise in futility. While the first two of his “projects” on this release, Flute Clouds and Noopiming, do harken to the works of Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich, they also incorporate snippets and samples of actual instrumentation. These micro-recordings, however, seem to be heavily manipulated into each piece as a whole. For example, in the 20-minute Noopiming, overlapping vocal shards slowly build into a dense wall-like texture, then dissipate into a looming atmosphere. Rather than composing with notes, Olson seems to be using samples as his atomic elements.
Other tracks take on a tribal-ambient approach with emphasis on complex patterns of percussion with background drones. What They’re Doing approaches being a modern chamber-orchestra piece, with squealing sax and manipulated spoken word over vibes, strings, and drums. Implied Movement combines sequencers with metal percussion and undulating waves of sound.
Another aspect of Six Projects that makes it an ultimately rewarding listening experience is Olson’s clever use of dynamics. Parts of these recordings are barely audible, or make use of a frequency range outside of the expected. This results in, at least in my experience, hearing the album anew when piped through powerful speakers instead of a computer or headphones.
Regardless, it takes a while to get your head around what Olson is doing here, but doing so is time well spent.