German ambient producer conjures up dark, haunting but graceful soundscape
Sascha Ring’s brand of ambient music is earthy and archaic, yet simultaneously dystopian and cinematic. Under the moniker Apparat, Ring routinely churns out whimsical instrumentals, combining digitized and analog sounds into a distinct, immersive sonic palette. On Soundtracks: Dämonen, Apparat enlists that signature ambient style to conjure up an impressively moody soundscape that’s equal parts dark, brooding and pensive.
Soundtracks: Dämonen is the product of a collaboration between Ring and German producer Sebastian Hartmann, who enlisted Ring to dream up the soundtrack for his theater adaptation of the classic Dostoevsky novel Demons. As the project’s title suggests, there are plenty of wonderfully haunting and eerie passages woven into its 40-minute duration, but there are also many moments of pensiveness and vulnerability. Impressively, Ring seamlessly melds these disparate moods together, helping the listener find beauty amid the darkness.
“Tolga,” an eerily gorgeous opener packed with dissonance, uses graceful layered strings to make up the foundation of the mix as different sounds fluidly creep in and out of the shadows. Ambient crackling and beeping, hair-raising strings and a glowing organ all contribute to the track’s sense of dread. But despite its supernatural qualities, “Tolga,” like many other offerings on the record, feels surprisingly organic.
“Maleachi” is equally haunting. Hollow beeps drone throughout the track, surrounded by a supremely grandiose piano and vulnerable layered strings that imbue it with a richness that’s simultaneously somber and beautiful. This track, too, has an organic quality to it, as if Ring pulled a scene from the distant past and added a futuristic hue to it. His combination of earthy instruments with progressive production creates that organicness; the instruments feel ancient and graceful, as if they’ve lived for centuries.
But folded in smoothly with these emphatic offerings are passages of delicacy and grace. The song “Fiebertraum” contains perhaps the most gentle section of the record, with its gorgeous glowing synthesizers that alternate between sweet and dissonant chords. Some might give that distinction to “Habakuk,” with its gliding, dissonant synths that can only be described as cathartic. Even in these tracks though, Ring never relinquishes the album’s overarching eeriness.
What’s more, Apparat finds ways to keep that eeriness compelling across the entire soundtrack. Some tracks, like “Joel,” with its bright, ringing keyboard or “Micha,” with its full-sounding strings and ghostly choral vocals, subvert expectations, making even the most pleasant of sounds feel brooding.
That being said, there is the occasional moment that feels out of place. Take for example the track “Sacharja”–sweet, plucked guitar chords make up the entirely of its mix, and its bright and cheery demeanor contrast with the depth and darkness of the rest of the project. “Jona” also feels like somewhat of an interloper. It’s pretty, with regal strings and choral overtones making up most of the instrumentation, but it’s repetitive to the point of redundancy and doesn’t build in the same way as Dämonen’s other offerings.
Despite the occasional misstep, the album comes to a satisfying conclusion with closer “Amos.” It’s a brilliant balance of darkness and light, with a rich organ and a swelling bass synth sitting alongside airy vocals and bright, detuned strings. Ring makes the archaic sound futuristic, warping ambient white noise around the string and keyed instruments for a spacey, almost dystopian effect.
While not every moment of Soundtracks: Dämonen is compelling, the project is an impressively emotive collage of ambient music. Apparat’s fusion of analog instruments with digitized sounds and effects creates the distinct feeling of floating between past and future, archaea and dystopia. But this dissonance is never jarring. Rather, Dämonen feels full of grace and richness, especially in its most haunting, eerie and brooding sections, as Ring masterfully juxtaposes the sweet with the unsettling. Earthy, ancient, progressive, tense, grandiose, vulnerable, creepy–Soundtracks: Dämonen is all of these things, but Ring imbues the record with a charm that allows them all to coexist.