1/  canyon : split asunder                     (Mills)                       6.06
  2/  swallow crystals                           (Mills)                       5.07
  3/  rooms of the sixteen shimmers              (Mills,Smyth,Sylvian)         4.29
  4/  all wise fly (pneuma)                      (Mills)                       3.49
  5/  shed lustre                                (Mills,Smyth,Guthrie)         6.28
  6/  a swoon in amber                           (Mills)                       5.48
  7/  causes cause causes                        (Mills)                       5.53
  8/  heaven dips                                (Mills)                       5.24
  9/  cage of air                                (Mills)                       3.36
  10/ golden hair                                (Mills)                       5.44
  11/ all wise fly (grapes and bones)            (Mills)                       4.11
  12/ gleam and drag                             (Mills)                       4.44

          Recorded at September Sound Studios, London and the Shed Studio, Ambleside            
          David Sylvan's vocals recorded at Prarie Sun Studios, California;
            engineered by David Kent
          Engineered by Tom Smyth
          Additional engineering by Mitsuo Tate, Mike Fearon and Michael Webster
          Mixed by Tom Smyth, Russell Mills, Robin Guthrie and Mike Fearon
          Studio Assistants: Mitsuo Tate and Jody Roberts
          Editing at Square Centre Studio, Nottingham
          Sculpted and produced by Russell Mills with Tom Smyth
          Sonic Mandarin: Robin Guthrie
          Mastered by Walter Coelho at Masterpiece, London
Russell Mills: catalytic conversions, uncertain wires, temple bells, knife guitar, blood, cloud bowles, steel and skin beats, music boxes, slate blasting, organic flotsam, industrial jetsam, nervous words, samples, the ‘shed’ method; Ildefonso Aguilar: lava guitar (8); Samuel Aguilar : murmer moog (8); John Aitkin: cruising drums (2); Eraldo Bernocchi: mirage guitars, fulcrum beats; Michael Brook: infinate guitar; Harold Budd: desert keyboards (3); Mark Clifford: splinters; Declan Colgan: synthesizer (8); Huw Costin: curve bass (7); Sussan Deyhim: wind vocals (8); Brian Eno: touchstone sonics; Roger Eno: chameleon drifts; Mike Fearon: stealth guitars; Ali Foster: lucent vocals (5); Peter Gabriel: muted howls (7); Robin Guthrie: honey guitars; Graham Haynes: ribbon cornet (4,11); Derek Hook: tonge drums (4,11); Bill Laswell: bear basses; Graham Lewis: bunker emissions; Hamish Mackintosh: mirror vocals (3); Ian McCullough: liquid acoustic guitar; Tony McSweeney: canine breaths; Ann Mills: cloud bowls (3,6), music boxes (3,6); Sam Mills: pearl river harmonium (3,6), music boxes (3,6); Thurston Moore: root guitar (7); Paul Schutze: vibrating ether; Tom Smyth: nifty digits, reliable surprise; David Sylvian: shimmer vocals (3); Clodagh Simonds: golden vocals (10), pearl river harmonium (10); Mitsuo Tate: exocet guitar (9); Jonny Tomlinson: shining keyboards (12); Emma Townshend: quicksilver vocals (1); Ian Walton: thomas californian (plank) organ (9); Hector Zazou: radium samples.

          1999 - Bella Union Ltd. (UK), BELLACD13 (CD)
          2000 - Instinct (USA), INS501-2 (CD)


Applying his artistic sensibilities and graphic design skills to the construction/reconstruction of sound, Russell Mills (as Undark, along with Tom Smyth) creates Pearl + Umbra, a sonic collage pieced together from the contributions of many other artists, including stellar names like Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Bill Laswell, and Paul Schutze. Dig further in this month's AmbiEntrance exclusive interview with Mills.

Dark, beaty and envigorating, canyon: split asunder swirls with energy as abstract electronics and vocal samples ooze through loosely-structured bass riffs and enthusiastic drum patterns. swallow crystals simmers quietly then gains power, stirred by bass, drum and surging synthsounds, only to recede again to its latent, coiled state. Enticing desolation and haze surrounds the rooms of the sixteen shimmers where David Sylvian's whispery vocals are heard.

From a quietly sweltering murk, all wise fly (pneuma) (3:49) erupts with e growls, pounding beats and jazzy cornet blasts, all of which cycle, ripple and fluctuate before fading away. Mills, along with Smyth and Robin Guthrie wrote shed lustre (6:27), whose lyrics are sung by Ali Foster alongside a smooth guitar and a fuzzy rhythm. a swoon in the amber is a chasmic void, emitting gray vapours and distant almost-musical sounds. From that fog appears ghostlike remnants of a choir, and reverberating beats, then a shift in the sonic winds brings a rising swell of lightness, which reveals hidden vocal patterns.

Poweful and sinuous bass patterns groove through causes cause causes meeting with assorted digital processes and a seething spate of guitar frenzy. In heaven dips, Sussan Deyhim's always-welcome vocals are layered in a wordless mantra, hazily rendered over a quietly spacious backdrop of shimmer and sporadic bass wanderings. In some juxtapositional zone of gritty smoothness, cage of air holds an energetic, bass-powered musical entity which explodes into wicked guitar growls and drumbeats.

Soft and flowing, golden hair features Clodagh Simonds vocals turning a medievalish lyric (by James Joyce) against a background of harmonium drift and assorted textural treatments, including what seems to be a faraway jet roar. Within the slur of all wise fly (grapes and bones), one hears rolling brasswaves, electronic mists, drumbeats, spattering cymbals, streams of synth and more. Lolling bassline and e-radiance surround the slightly dark instrumental gleam and drag to be joined by occasional guitar and self mirroring keyboard riffs.

Like any well-executed collage, Pearl + Umbra is a multi-faceted whole of unified parts, and intriguing in both states. (Mills' own artistic collagework decorates the several panels of the digipack with a decidedly rough-edged beauty.) Kudos to Russell Mills and friends for this most interesting 8.7 experimental musical pastiche. If there's anything else you need to know after reading Mills' interview, check his page in the Bella Union artists' pages.

David J Opdyke (courtesy of the Ambient Entrance website)


For me, Russell Mills´ _Undark_ on the late, lamented emit label (3396, from 1996) stands as one of the best experimental electronics CDs with ambient leanings of the decade. A host of friends including Michael Brook, Hywel Davies, Bill Laswell, The Edge, David Sylvian, Roger and Brian Eno and Robin Guthrie allowed him free reign to borrow from their libraries of sounds whereafter Mills, together with the duo Miasma, created a seventy-five minute sonic splatter painting which continues to fascinate in its richness, diversity and imaginativeness.

With the demise of emit, the long-awaited sophomore effort has now been released on Guthrie´s Bella Union label. Entitled _Pearl and Umbra_, Mills elicited contributions from an even more stellar roster than before: Brook and Laswell (whose contributions, if I understand correctly, are the only ones to feature throughout the entire album), the Eno brothers, Sylvian and Guthrie return along with Tom Smyth of Miasma, and are now joined by Harold Budd, Peter Gabriel, Sussan Deyhim, Eraldo Bernocchi, Graham Haynes, Hector Zazou, Thurston Moore and a host of others. _Pearl and Umbra_ is very much in the spirit of the first release, with Mills manipulating sounds and beats into a dense tapestry. The major divergence from the previous formula is the increased prevelance of vocals this time round - Sylvian´s "The Rooms of Sixteen Shimmers" is a fine number, though perhaps not quite as hauntingly stark as his previous effort "How Safe is Deep?", the lone song on the first CD. Deyhim´s wordless vocals on "Heaven Dips" are just as warm and suggestive as we have always come to expect from her, and for me comprise the most successful marriage of voice and music texturing on the album, whereas Mills´ own first effort at songwriting, "Shed Lustre" sung by Ali Foster, is unfortunately the weakest attempt.

For this reviewer, any effort would have a hard time living up to the sublime results on the first album, but with _Pearl and Umbra_, Mills has once again succeeded in creating a soundscape of such depth and uniqueness that it will reward many, many listenings throughout both the dark and undark months to come. Excellent track-by-track notes to the album are available on the Bella Union website along with ordering info:

Stephen Fruitman


You know, for an album that has so many big name guesting on it, this really is a bit of a disappointment compared to a release like the first Undark. Sure, there are some nice textures created throughout, lots of detail to attention but overall there is not enough to make this album stand out. The 'beats' get a bit tiring after awhile, and sometimes I'm not sure if Mr Mills wanted a pop type album or something more contemporary and challenging. A majority of it is just by the sounds of things an attempt at creating a musical hybrid from the discarded remnants of sounds no longer required by the artists whose names appear as credits. Interesting cover (what else does one expect from a man better known as a leading visual artists) and descriptive instrumentations abound throughout. No longer a guitar, the instrument has now mutated to become a honey guitar; Mills himself performing on 'uncertain wires' and using the mediums of blood flow frequencies amongst other things to create his message. Not even the presence of Harold Budd ( whose contributions even I failed to identify within the layers of other sounds) or David Sylvian can really save this recording. Like the artist Schwitters, Mills is concerned with regenerating found sounds into an acceptable, though not always comfortable soundscape. The real problem to my ears is that this recording lacks heart. It's all head stuff, cleverly constructed to the point where even I started to doubt my own conviction re how I feel about it. The thing is I want to like it. I keep thing is Mr Mills having a big joke at our expense? Why would he? Russell Mills has more than enough cred out there in the so called global music community. I have fond memories of the first Undark release. Maybe one needs to go back and relisten to this before attempting to come to terms with this release. Found and contributed sounds have been shaped and redefined into at times uncomfortable, and at times strangely beautiful hybrid. Saving graces go to the magnificent voice of Sussan Deyhim, as well as Robin Guthrie from The Cocteau's.The potential for alchemy is here, but for this listener, it fails at the best of times to turn into magic. That's a pity because there is so much real talent here and the potential could have been far greater in the long run. Of course I am prepared to admit that maybe I am missing the plot, simply out of respect.

Hans Stoeve (courtesy of the Nadabrahma website)