“The structure being so large, in order for an impression leading towards a possible overview, the participant, of necessity must encounter the limits of what they are able to hold in front of themselves. In doing so, a sort of ’stretching’ must take place, and with it, a kind of ‘friction’, which provides the energy necessary for Work, on a small scale.” - Andrew McKenzie
On this album, Matthijs Kouw presents pensive and melancholic drone-driven music driven by his long-time interest in Daoism and inspired by his visit to the Wudang mountains in China in 2007, where he studied Chinese meditation and martial arts.
Much like the Chinese landscape painting that provides the artwork for this release, the drones on The Great Image Has No Form slowly coalesce, evolve, and morph into metastable structures that linger on, only to slowly evaporate and dissolve into the undifferentiated.
Daoism teaches us that the foundational cannot be named and identified, but rather has to be experienced firsthand. This album is an invitation to the listener to dwell in this space of the unnamable and the mysterious, and to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Review by Peter van Cooten in Ambientblog:
Esc.rec. is a Dutch boutique label and platform for ‘adventurous music’. Its output is diverse, often with a strong relation to art projects, and – indeed – the best way to describe it is ‘adventurous’. Though some of their releases could be defined as ambient music, most are more ‘adventurous’ (duh) than that – ‘experimental’ is a better description. Which is why you’ll only find a small fragment of their output mentioned here. Which obviously does nót mean the other releases are not worth checking out too!
Matthijs Kouw‘s The Great Image Has No Form may very well be their most minimal ambient release to date. Kouw is a Dutch experimental musician ‘exploring the relationship between movement and stasis – combining long-form drone with elements from acousmatic music, noise and microsound’. He does so on his solo work (often as MVK), but he also explores extreme minimalist drones in collaboration with Radboud Mens.
The Great Image Has No Form was inspired by Kouw‘s visit to the Wudang Mountains in China in 2007, where he studied Chinese meditation and martial arts as a result of his long-time interest in Daoism. “Daoism teaches us that the foundational cannot be named and identified, but rather has to be experienced firsthand”. This is perfectly captured by the five pieces on this album, ranging between 5 and 17 minutes, dwelling in the unnamed space of complex drones – the kind of sounds for which you need a certain detached state of mind to fully appreciate them.
It is ‘minimalist’ music, but these are nót minimalist drones: there’s a lot happening in the deceptively static sound field which is constantly moving and shifting. “The drones slowly coalesce, evolve, and morph into metastable structures that linger on, only to slowly evaporate and dissolve into the undifferentiated.”
The album comes in a stunningly beautiful foldout sleeve with artwork by Xia Gui, a Chinese landscape painter of the Song Dynasty who lived from 1195-1224. The beauty of this image is somewhat contradictory to the album title… The Tao that can be named is not the real Tao. Interesting enough to reflect upon while listening to Matthijs Kouw‘s sonification of the principles of Daoism.
Review by Frans de Waard in Vital Weekly:
It is quite a surprise to see Esc.rec. releasing something like a physical object. It's not what they do a lot, unfortunately. They surely have faith in Matthijs Kouw. I must have said it before, and I say it again: I know Kouw from way, way back, when I was working in the office of a record company and he was this young man, armed with a laptop, showing me stuff that he did with sound that looked and sounded like someone who knew what he was doing. I think we even shared a 'stage' on one of those long afternoons of free laptop improvisation. Later on, he moved out of sight but since some two years, he's back and actively releasing music. His partner in crime is Radboud Mens, with whom he has an ongoing relationship exploring drones from modular synthesizers (Kouw) and long-string instruments (Mens). Here we have Kouw in solo mode and the cover lists no instruments or sound sources; just the five titles, that Jos Smolders did the mastering for and the artwork is credited to Xia Gui. I understand from information from the man himself that this CD is made with guitar and e-bow, which in turn has been manipulated with software and that there is no modular synthesizer used here.
In 2007 Kouw went to the Wudang Mountains in China to study meditation and martial arts and that is what inspired this album, along with his interest in Daoism. According to the press release, "Daoism teaches us that the foundational cannot be named and identified, but rather has to be experienced first hand. This album is an invitation to the listener to dwell in this space of the unnameable and the mysterious, and to embrace it wholeheartedly", and listening to this music it is very easy to see how that works out in the music Kouw produces. The D-word is obvious, just as A for ambient. The drones Kouw produces have that all immersive character that good drone music should have, regardless if you play this very loud, or very quiet, if you care to devote all your attention to it, or play as some background music. I tried it all and it works on all of those levels. One's attention is of course drawn to different aspects of the work. I preferred a sort of medium volume, which allows for all the sounds to be heard, with that fine, rich amount of detail, but without forcing itself too much upon your ears. It is not easy to single out any field recordings in this music, so we have to take his word for it that they are in there. The music becomes a fine physical presence in my living room, without taking over my complete environment. When I put up the volume there is a fine layer of mild distortion pressing through the music, which is fine, but for me a bit too much, and when it's too soft the details are not there enough for my taste. It is all together a very refined album of drones, of ambient music and with that right amount of roughness around the edges to make sure it does not become some new age meditation music. This is an excellent release.
Review by Jan Willem Broek in De Subjectivisten:
Matthijs Kouw weet, zo blijkt wel, net als bijvoorbeeld Machinefabriek kwantiteit ook aan kwaliteit te koppelen. Na diverse recente releases brengt hij onder zijn eigen naam de cd The Great Image Has No Form uit op het avontuurlijke label esc.rec uit Deventer. Kouw heeft naast andere artiesten als Orphax al vaker bewezen dat drone muziek geen simpele vorm van repetitieve muziek is, maar een subtiele kunstvorm waarin wel degelijk plek is voor verandering en emoties. Het vergt soms enkel wat meer inspanning en zitvlees om dit te ontwaren, maar dan heb je gelijk ook veel. Een histoloog ziet ook niets zonder microscoop, terwijl er zoveel waar te nemen valt. Precies zo moet je ook naar dit plaatje kijken of nu ja luisteren. Zet het volume hoog of een goede koptelefoon op en je weet werkelijk niet wat je meemaakt. Subtiele details, die op minimalistische doch contemplatieve en schilderachtige wijze gebracht worden, waaruit zoveel melancholische emoties naar boven komen drijven. Het is een bij de strot grijpend prachtalbum geworden!
Review by Richard Foster on Louder Than War:
In this feverish, identity-bludgeoned, algorithm-driven world, it’s more than refreshing to hear work driven by pure process. Work where the listener can grasp for their own form of understanding, however fleeting. It’s liberating.
This is the chance we are given with The Great Image Has No Form by Matthijs Kouw; a mammoth, very inclusive four-track essay in human reflection; inspired by Kouw’s interest in Daoism and his visit to China’s Wudang mountains, where he studied Chinese meditation and martial arts.
Musically the record begins by dragging up memories of that other great sonic barrage balloon, T-Dream’s Zeit. In fact some of more noticeable sonic forays on opening track ‘The Dao is Achieved Through Discipline’, give a strong impression of Froese’s gang in action. If we descend to the astral plane, we can maybe also draw comparison to stuff on Type or Kranky; Anjou’s recent work springs to mind.
Drones are what we get, and then some. But, unlike many other records in this field there is a strong sense of movement, or physicality; of ideas actively formulating as the work progresses. I suppose this is how we are meant to hear Kouw’s experiences of the Chinese landscape. There are plenty of switches and changes of course that go hand in hand with this impression. For example there is a noticeable ramping up of pressure and hardening of the sonic palette during ‘Immersed in the Roar of Crickets on Approaching the Temple’. Was this linked to a particular memory of a (solitary) decision taken in real life? It certainly feels so.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, given the story behind the making of this release, there’s a quiet sort of individual romanticism at play. Tracks like ‘But To Whom Will They Be Told?’ and the glorious ‘Sword Practice’ evoke great feeling – even if gradually. This “human” element to the work reminds me of the approach of another great contemporary Dutch electronic artist, Martin Comes.
Over all The Great Image Has No Form is a very refreshing, even invigorating listen. In fact it’s rare to be compelled to write in a feverish state of excitement about an hour or so of drone music inspired by Daoism, but there you have it.
Review by KN on Yeah I know It Sucks:
Nighttime tripping might not be for everyone, but for the precious special people that are into it, a perfect soundtrack for this ‘hobby’ is always a good find. The latest release on boutique label Esc.Rec. has all the right to be called ‘this soundtrack’ as from the beginning to the very ending, the music on its own is delivering the righteous tones and colors in audio form to get even the most straight edged person in the world tripping like a maniac. Doesn’t even matter if it’s night or proper day time; the listener will be tripping away whatever part of the day it is. Not that this listening person will go out, undo him or herself from the burden that is ‘clothes’ and jump wildly on random cars; no, this person will probably just sit somewhere on a chair staring at the ceiling. Tripping in silent, potentially looking slightly bewildered while holding the ears wide open in order to receive the sound that the professional night time trip hobbyists will be all manically holding close to their chests (if they ever found it!)
I say this, as till my big surprise there are still some copies left of this very pleasurable album, which might as well be called one of those newest in worlds wonders that people aren’t really aware about. That said, it probably won’t be too long before this release will be gone, as give it next to a good look, a wonderful fine listen… and you will know that this album might not just be for the nighttime tripping hobbyists out there, but also for the ones that enjoy tripping on music in broad daylight. The so called day time trip hobbyists mighty simple also want a piece of it.!
Even people that claim that they will never trip, will perfectly tripping away when this album plays and does its wondrous thing – These people might probably make many attempts denying that they are tripping, as if it is something to be ashamed for, but when they will hear this album as sober as they could be, they will definitely do trip balls: it’s that kind of release, one that is superbly beautiful, with a surreal sound design that rings in full stereo into the ears, just like a gentle soul of a butterfly landing kindly on a flower that it adored. Oh wait, that image might just be generated by tripping on this music and might not be the same for everyone..
What we can be certain of is that these ringing tones of warmth give pleasure from top to toe to each and every listener, perhaps not the kind of pleasure related to hyperactive actions, but more in the trend of going into your inner zones, finding peace from the inside out as this music becomes the pretty collider, the door opener, the smooth ear lube to easily get you into yourself, ready for a good healthy moment of achieving some kind of zen-state or for outsiders ‘just becoming like a human plant that can’t stop staring in silence at the wall’. This music is so trippy, but all perfectly done in such a calming calm way that listeners might not even realize how their minds are teleported to this scenery of audio perfection. This album is so trippy that you might not even be able to tell the trip when it’s done – keeping it in your conscious mind as a secret for people around you and your own self.
The tracks take their right time, giving the green light to all that attend them to flow like a person that is so relaxed that the theme of ‘being in a hurry’ is simply something that does not exist over here. All these charming drones, majestic tones of calming hypnosis are making you forget everything, even the existence of time in general: that is what nighttime tripping is secretly all about, but with music like this; it can be totally an all round experience – a pleasant twenty four hours a day and seven days a week kind of thing! Although you just might forget to eat and drink, so be aware, enjoy responsibly and get this album before those hobbyists will get the last copies!
released May 27, 2019
All music by Matthijs Kouw
Mastered by Jos Smolders
Artwork by Xia Gui
Design by Harco Rutgers
supported by 7 fans who also own “The Great Image Has No Form”
Accessible mod classical ambient of exceptional quality. Cinematic at times with piano figures set against hovering strings in a way that echoes Thomas Newman. At others it deftly mixes tonality, abstraction and noise. The Dronarivm label delivers again. Mike G @ Ambient Music Guide