Album Review: Federico Durand and hofli - Niebla y jardines tomados por las plantas

As we wrap up 2017, I would challenge you to find an artist who has had a more prolific year than Argentinian ambient composer Federico Durand, who, outside of tour only cassettes and CD-Rs, put out, like, four proper albums already this year—and has now just issued another.

Collaborating with like-minded Japanese artist Takashi Tsuda, who performs under the moniker ‘hofli,’ the duo’s Mist and Gardens Taken by Plants (a very crass translation of the original Niebla y jardines tomados por las plantas) finds Durand exploring and merging almost every aspect of his abilities as a composer of ambient and experimental work.

Plantas was assembled in an ‘exquisite corpse’ fashion—meaning that the pair traded field recordings, and the other would complete the composition by adding instrumentation and other miscellaneous processing. With that being said, it is difficult to tell who contributed what to each of the album’s 10 tracks. But maybe that’s the point—where one artist ends, the other begins, blurring the lines between their respective cultures and aesthetics, working to shape one cohesive sonic identity.

The idea of both dreams and gardens factor in heavily with the compositions found on the record—field recordings of crickets chirping at night are the first thing you hear, and the opening piece is titled “Into a dream garden”—a slow, almost eerie track structured around haunted, reverberating tones cascading through the dark night, one of which sounds a heck of a lot like the mystery sound emanating from the Great Northern Hotel in season three of “Twin Peaks.”

Throughout Plantas, Tsuda and Durand work diligently to strike that balance between the wonderful and strange—the unsettling and unnerving with the whimsy—that comes from dreams, and they find themselves straddling both sides of that balance at times. There are times when the field recordings are very light hearted and include the sound of water splashing, or children speaking excitedly—both of these are elements that have peppered Durand’s work in the past.

Then there are moments when the compositions take a turn and are decidedly less playful in sound—either veering slightly into an ominous place, or at the very least, something slightly more mournful sounding.

Occasionally all of this converges within the same piece, resulting in what can become an emotionally jolting listening experience.

A number of Durand’s ambient trademarks are accounted for throughout Plantas, including the gently plucked guitar strings that beautifully swirl through “Last night I was a cat in your garden,” the decaying tape loops of “And I looked up at the constellation,” and the otherworldly drones and long sustaining moments on “Menta” and “Jazmin del pais.”

Niebla y jardines tomados por las plantas is an album that is gorgeous, evocative, and surprising—much like the pattern of dreams that inspired it; and much like we do with dreams, it is advised to follow this album to wherever it takes you as you listen.

Niebla y jardines tomados por las plantas is out now as a digital download and compact disc, available from Nature Bliss.