For aficionados only
Over the past two decades, Steve Von Till has been a sludge metaler, a noise musician, an elementary school teacher (seriously) and now, an ambient composer too. His latest release, A Deep Voiceless Wilderness, is completely devoid of guitars and vocals. It’s instead marked only by synths, pianos, cello, mellotron and field recordings.
But this isn’t his first record to completely eschew guitars. He did the same thing last year on No Wilderness Deep Enough—in fact, this record is exactly the same as that one, just without his vocals.
“Without the voice as an anchor or earthbound narrative, these pieces have a broader wingspan,” Von Till said. “They become something else entirely and unfold in a more expansive way. The depth of the synths, juxtaposed with the strings and French horn, have space to develop and allow the listener to imagine their own story.”
This isn’t a new concept—“instrumental versions” of preexisting records have been around for years. Generally, these reworks share a similar purpose (in addition to being a great marketing ploy for music nerds): to bring attention to the textures and layers of music that listeners might be distracted from in the presence of vocals.
But on No Wilderness Deep Enough, Von Till’s vocals weren’t particularly distracting to begin with. If anything, the hoarse, gravelly quality of his voice complemented the earthy textures that signified the album’s “rural psychedelia.” So while the lack of vocals on A Deep Voiceless Wilderness might bring attention to a few sonic details that could’ve previously gone unnoticed, the claim that each track has become “something else entirely” is dubious.
On “We’ll Always Have the Sea,” it’s easier to appreciate the steady, glimmering synth that quietly hums throughout the track like a beam of sunlight. The distorted wildlife noises that adorn “Shelter in Surrender” are clearer than before, as are the warm string textures on “The Emptiness Swallows Us All.”
It’s not like these details couldn’t be discerned on No Wilderness Deep Enough—they’re just more apparent here. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t result in a completely new listening experience, like Von Till suggests. Thematically, texturally and musically, the original record got the job done, vocals and all. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of Von Till’s, the instrumental version is nonessential.
Still, there’s one valuable difference between No Wilderness Deep Enough and A Deep Voiceless Wilderness, but it’s not in the way one listens to each record, like the Bandcamp description suggests. Instead, it’s in the way people ignore them. A Deep Voiceless Wilderness can be actively engaged with, or it can act as background music, depending on your preference. No Wilderness Deep Enough, however, is only suited for the former.
On the original release, Von Till’s vocals catch the listeners’ attention—not to the degree that they take away from the music, but just enough so that they hook people in and encourage intensive listening. The instrumental version, meanwhile, is more versatile. Just like before, people can focus their attention on the woozy synth textures, hypnotic piano lines and serene field recordings. But without vocals, it’s also easier to zone out to it as one would with any good ambient project.
Von Till’s assertion that A Deep Voiceless Wilderness offers a wholly distinct listening experience from that of its predecessor isn’t entirely accurate. The difference between them is mostly functional, so whether or not you should listen to this album depends on what you’re looking for. If people are a Von Till aficionado or they want some good study music, it’s worth checking out. But if people are a casual fan who just wants to hear what Von Till sounds like at this point in his career, the original record should do the trick just fine.