Lubomyr Melnyk

Substrata 1.5 - The Final Immersion


The esteemed Substrata festival has come to a close after an epic, final weekend in Seattle. Rafael Anton Irisarri’s yearly ambient/experimental festival, which has been pushing some of the best music to grace this style, and the many (both unknown and known) associated artists, labels and projects, was highly regarded from all corners of the world, and as a result will leave a big hole in the ambient community.

I was lucky enough to attend the past three years, making the journey up from Portland to immerse myself over the long weekend of evening shows. This year was no different, but ultimately very different in meaning. Being the last show, many friends made the trip from across America to show their support and catch the last edition, and it was the first time I got to meet some of them after speaking on email for years. It was a community - a gathering of likeminded friends, more than a festival. We didn’t need to hang out the entire weekend, but we still made the time to grab a beer, a slice of pizza, or go record shopping, then sit and enjoy some beautiful music. 

The opening night always seemed to be one of my favourites at Substrata, and 1.5 opened with Tara Jane O’Neil’s murky drones and angelic voice. Rauelsson surprised many with his experimental approach to the piano, harmonica, xylophone, a tape recorder and audience participation - echoes of "Nils Frahm live" heard throughout conversations after, and the epitome of Rafael’s curation - he was one of the lesser known artist's on the bill, but will undoubtedly be one of the remembered. bvdub then closed the evening with his immersive soundscapes and some haunting visuals from Leo Mayberry. Inverted silhouettes, inspired from many of Brock’s album artwork, crossed with slowly descending cats and intense fire-scapes framing the euphoria and concentration emitting from Brock’s on-stage presence. 

The Friday night opened with a 7ft Gold Harp alongside Mary Lattimore, plucking and looping, twinkling notes, shimmering around the Chapel space. The highly anticipated Lubomyr Melnyk then took the stage, and began by explaining how scientists had got it wrong - sound, was much more than waves, and he was about to prove it to you.  Two pieces of “Continuous Music” in, and Lubomyr preceded a final third piece with a story of a windmill. The story was transferred to his magical fingers and throughout what seemed like a 45 minute spell (it was a little long), page-by-page came to life throughout an entrancing piano master-class. It was then the turn of 12k’s Taylor Deupree to close. More stunning visuals, triggered live by Marcus Fischer, accompanied the descending sunset, with Taylor's intrinsic meddling of the many synths, patches and unknown mechanics laid on the floor in-front of him, showing us a world of delicate sounds you’d likely find hidden amongst the undergrowth on a warm sunny day. 

Melodic drones and the warming sounds of both Tiny Vipers and Panabrite teased the highly anticipated Rachel Grimes, where she would be accompanied on stage by Substrata Alumni, Loscil. With Scott’s laptop turned towards the audience, Rachel poised stern behind the grand piano, and the summer heat finally getting to most of us, the stage was set for the most dramatic show of the weekend. The warmth and undertones resonating from Loscil, complimenting the stark beauty of Rachel’s Piano that we’ve heard on many of their collaborations. It could’ve been the finale to end all finales, but that was left to the legendary Shuttle 358 and his graceful return to music after many long lost years - Paul Clipson’s stunning visuals resonating from 16mm film, complimenting the shimmering beauty resonating from Shuttle 358; the perfect drones to signal another legendary weekend in Seattle, and the celebrated end for one of the most important festivals to ever grace the ambient, modern-classical and experimental community. 


You can read about a little Crate Digging trip I took whilst at Substrata with bvdub and Mike Cadoo here , and features on previous Substrata Festivals 1.3 (preview), 1.4 and 1.5 (preview). Please note, the lack of photos for this post was on purpose - I decided to keep my attention focused on the music this year.


Spotlight on Substrata 1.5 - the final edition

This years ambient pilgrimage to Seattle will thankfully happen after festival curator Rafael Anton Irisarri pulled out all of the stops from the other side of the country. 

After a painful year in which his entire studio was stolen prior to his move to New York, the annual intimate sound and visual art weekend was at risk of never seeing a fifth edition. But after months of hard-work, Rafael has managed to pull together one of the best line-ups yet, all for what seems to be the final Substrata.

The curatorial once again sees Rafael mix-up the bigger names of ambient and experimental music alongside local artists and well-respected yet perhaps lesser-known musicians. Out of the five editions, I'm yet to be familiar with every-single artist on the lineup, so once again I'm going to take a dive into what's in-store for what's set to be a very special fifth and final edition to the Pacific North West's (and probably one of the world's best) small festivals dedicated to this type of music. 

A very limited amount of tickets are available for the weekend at


With ASIPV003 set to be released in a few months time, Uwe's release alongside Hior Chronik titled In-between, will mark a very special occasion for ASIP. It will be our first dedicated artist release, and it will also see Uwe move away from his more recognised IDM style, into ambient music. Perfect timing, as Uwe is set to play a rare and exclusive ambient set for Substrata, hopefully echoing some of the approaches we'll witness on the album, alongside "entirely new material based on field recordings, treated with granular synthesis and electroacoustic/computeracoustic sounds".

Uwe has been releasing snippets of his studio work on his Soundcloud over the past few weeks, which might be the workings of what we can expect on the night. You can also listen to a couple of tracks from his upcoming ASIP release  here.


Taylor Deupree

Taylor Deupree runs the infamous 12k record label (home to Marcus Fischer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Marsen Jules and Simon Scott (of Slowdive fame) to name just a few. A producer in his own right, Taylor's responsible for a plethora of experimental and ambient albums over the years, and this intro could be a pretty massive rabbit-hole for anyone new to the name. 

Below, I've decided to showcase Taylor's Shoals, an album which might closely mimic the type of performance or sound we're likely to hear at Substrata. "After the first day in the studio, Deupree quickly realized that he was less interested in the traditional ways these instruments were played and more fascinated by the sounds of the surfaces of the 
instruments. And so he began to utilize their edges and undersides and find their flaws, such as broken strings. These instruments, played by scraping, tapping, or with an eBow, became the basis for long and meditative looping beds of sound".


Rachel Grimes

A pianist, composer and arranger, Rachel Grimes is someone I've come across regularly, but unforgivably failed to look further into. She has a wealth of experience working on film scores, commissions, and collaborations and has played at some of the worlds most diverse music festivals. 

Rachel's upcoming release on Temporary Residence is what may interest most of us. In collaboration with the likes of Loscil, Scott Moore, Kyle Crabtree (Shipping News), Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Jacob Duncan (Liberation Prophecy), and Helen Money, The Clearing represents "a wide spectrum of textures in strings, harp, piano, woodwinds, and percussion".

It'll be interesting to see who, and exactly what turns up on stage for Rachel's performance with such a variation of experience to choose from. 


Lubomyr Melnyk

Known for pioneering 'Continuous Piano Music' (and to some, as one of the worlds fastest pianists) the Ukrainian is a recent addition to the brilliant Erased Tapes label and a match-made in heaven for Substrata. I can't wait to sit back as the evening sun descends on the Chapel, and absorb the never-ending paintings that Lubomyr constructs. The video below should give you the best insight into what to expect. Rumour has it, he'll be leading an advanced piano-class on the Saturday of the festival.


Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Known by name to me, but not with as much familiarity as I would've hoped, Jefre is another artist which has been floating on my periphery for quite some time. He is known to many for his work in bands such as Tarentel, the co-founder of the Root Strata label and has also partnered with Substrata veteran Grouper as Raum

The below video is taken from his February 2015 release, A Year With 13 Moons. Going by this album and his production roots, it sounds like we'll be treated to a wall of glorious and colorful sound come festival-time.


Tiny Vipers

Bringing it home for Seattle is local acoustic singer Tiny Vipers. Similarly to Jefre above, Jesy Fortino has also partnered up with Liz Harris (Grouper) on one production in the past, but is perhaps better known for her solo acoustic performances, often seen playing live across Seattle on Kexp, or at the infamous Triple Door. For her performance at this Substrata, Jesy is set to play all new music made for analog synthezisers & tapes, in a similar vibe to German music like Tangerine Dream or Popol Vuh.

Below, her 2009 album Life On Earth seems a good place to reflect on what's she's done before, but it sounds like we'll be treated to something completely new at the festival. 


Tara Jane O'Neil

With a release on Mississippi Records dating back to 2006 - an infamous record store and label here in Portland, we could ascertain what kind of sound Tara may have in-store for us. Fast-forward to 2014 and it's Tara's release on Kranky which might have peaked the ears of festival curator Rafael, but similar to the above Tiny Vipers, Substrata will pay witness to a newly commissioned ambient and drone set. 



The beauty of this feature helps me get to grips with the type of music I can expect at Substrata, but as Rauelsson is likely to prove in a few months time, it will probably be the performance, not just music that becomes engrained in my memory.

A multi-instrumentalist, combining modern-classical with subtle electronics, it could be the type of performance I've witnessed from the likes of Nils Frahm and last years Evan Caminiti, judging by the below video and his latest release on Sonic Pieces (home to Otto A Totland).

My most anticipated performance of the festival for sure, we'll no doubt be welcomed with a stage-full of instruments for Rauelsson's return to the Pacific North West. 


Mary Lattimore

We'll be treated to a dedicated Harp performance this year by Mary Lattimore, and just like last year's solo cellist, Julia Kent, I'm hoping for another educational yet encapsulating performance on an instrument I very rarely get to see live. 

Mary has 'performed, collaborated, and recorded with who’s who of the indie rock scene: Jarvis Cocker, Thurston Moore, Sharon Van Etten, Meg Baird, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, 
Ed Askew, Fursaxa and many others', 
and this is one of the many reasons I enjoy and respect this festival. I would never choose to go and see a Harp player playing solo, yet I'm pretty sure we'll experience something unforgettable and perhaps, my musical senses will broaden just that little bit further.

Below, Mary playing alongside Jeff Zeigler in a mesmorizing and hypnotic performance.



Another local Seattle musician with a healthy back-catalog. Norm Chambers' latest release Disintegrating Landscape is a 47-minute long journey, beginning with very obvious rattling field recordings and slowly evolving into an intensely varied electronic spectrum - from organic instruments, through to atmoshperic washes into bleeps and synthesizers. This kind of extended, probably improvised set, is perfect for the attentive audience at Substrata. 


The last two artists on the lineup, Paul Clipson and Leo Mayberry are set to provide the visuals to the weekend's performances. With such an intimate space, and an audience looking to exploit such detailed and immersive music, artists such as Paul and Leo play a critical role in the experience and the vision Rafael seeks.

Leo Mayberry's local experience has previously seen him take the role of Decibel Festival's Visual Coordinator alongside gigs in pretty much every local Seattle venue, and San Francisco's Paul Clipson has featured within the New York Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival to name just a few.