The latest release from long running project, Pie Are Squared, by Italy-based Egyptian musician, Mohammed Ashraf, Con Calma arrives via UK-based ambient/experimental/modern-classical record label, Whitelabelrecs. It marks Ashraf’s second recent release with the label, following ‘muri’ as part of the label's Home Diaries series.
Assembled as a means of detachment from “mundane office routine,” Ashraf’s Con Calma presents a visceral sense of escapism throughout it’s runtime, and through its expansive sonic textures, attempts to draw the listener away from the routine of day-to-day life, and into Ashraf’s melancholic, neon-dripped world; “a slow, calm exit,” in Ashraf’s own words.
A year in the making, the album began as a series of field recorded samples that were later passed through extensive effects processing, and layered with guitars, Soma Labs’ innovative synthesiser Lyra-8, and Make-Noise’s 0-Coast semi-modular system.
The largely guitar-based opening track, ‘Apricity’, immediately sets the tone for the album; constantly shifting ambient drones, softly rumbling field recordings — firmly giving ‘Con Calma’ a tangible sense of place, though certainly unlike any place in the real world — and soft, spacious melodies echoing within layer-upon-layer of tuned distortion and noise.
Of the many emotional highlights of ‘Con Calma’ is ‘Flügezüge,’ a “journey through air and rail” constructed between work-related flights and extensive train ride through Germany. The ambient noise of flying through the air, recorded from within the plane’s cabin, serve as the backdrop for evolving, atmospheric chords that seem to loop into one another infinitely, constantly evolving in line with the somber mood.
However, on track four,‘All We’ve Lost and Most of What We Miss’, Ashraf relies on the inherent sonic palette (and recognisable drones) of the already extensively-used Lyra-8, and unfortunately dissipating much of the personality painstakingly cultivated up until that point.
In comparison, track five, ‘Heard from a Distance’ — which does incorporate more of Ashraf’s field recordings, as well as both the Lyra-8 and 0-Coast — comes through a lot more grounded and emotionally charged than its predecessor.
Overall, ‘Con Calma’ is a fully realised project and succeeds at cultivating the sense of escapism intended by Pie Are Squared throughout the length of its production. For SceneNoise, this album certainly transported us to a more serene plane of existence, high above the noisy streets of Cairo, if only for a brief while.