Portals: Music For Mindfulness


Mindfulness, is undoubtedly subjective and situational. But one thing I’ve noticed, is that most of the material you hear on this topic often has a stereotypical sound; normally new-age, and often yoga or meditation focused with buddhist chanting, or crashing waves. Sometimes, you might be lucky enough to find a sweet-spot with Brian Eno, and with it, you draw a sigh of relief. 

I've often wondered how (or why) hotels and spa's choose their music and how this 'background style' has become so mistakenly synonymous with ambient music. Ask anyone who isn't familiar with ambient music is and they’ll likely say "spa music" or "meditation/yoga stuff". No digs on that type of music, I mean some elements even find their way in here - it's the root to many ambient concepts, and I could sit and listen to the sound of the sea and waves crashing for years on end. But as with all of these Portals series, I try to find and explore a different perspective where possible. 

The goal of this feature and accompanying mix was to create a journey of escapism and comfort. Whereas the previous Portals feature, ‘Music For Sleeping’ could be deemed very similar, the approach here focused on keeping an attentive layer/s that ended up being more pure to Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music: “As ignorable as it is interesting”, which aligns very well with the definition of what it means to be mindful; "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”

There’s a lot of ambient music that fulfills this goal, so what’s different here? As I was curating tracks for this mix, I found common themes that resonated with me personally when it came to mindfulness, which I tried to reflect throughout, and ultimately formed a filter for what should be included. Perhaps you’ll identify with one or more and can descend into a rabbit-hole of exploration, or hopefully you'll enjoy it as a whole. 

Field recordings and the pure sound of the outdoors is undoubtedly calming and reassuring. It’s an escape from our busy lives, and a reminder of what’s good in our world. The mix opens with my favorite field recording from Biosphere that somehow encapsulates the exact sound I used to hear from the field behind my childhood house. Nature sounds are a common theme throughout this mix, whether on purpose or inadvertently as an intro or ending to certain tracks. 

The warm, blanket-like approach to ambient music is a favorite of mine, often created through analog equipment, or layers of undulating synthesizers that build, wrap and immerse. Markus Guentner, Donnacha Costello, Marcus Fischer, Heathered Pearls, bvdub, and Billow Observatory are just some of the many moments in here that keep you warm and comforted. 

Subtle/subliminal layers
The KLF’s ‘Chill-out’ album is one of ambient music’s most pioneering pieces, and on paper, it really shouldn’t be. The sound of trains, sheep and Elvis Presley are not the first ingredients that come to mind for relaxation, but the key here, is how they’re interwoven into a moving piece of musical art - an undercurrent of subtle moments that on their own would be distracting, but together form a story. They provide moments of interest and escapism - enough to keep one foot in the door, and one foot in a world of your own. I’ve tried to replicate this approach in this mix, by lowering volumes of certain tracks into the background, or including something a little unexpected in a few places, so if you see something you like in the track-list, don’t assume it will feature prominently. 

Choral sounds
Beautiful, emotional choir singing is pretty cliche, but who can argue against it when it comes to feeling good? Whether it’s the religious connotations, or just the simple realization that the sound you're hearing is coming from a person, is as stunning as it is comforting. Moments from Hammock and Jonsi & Alex provide the highs in this instance. 

String instruments
Whether it’s a slowly drawn cello, a harp, or a lone guitar pluck, there’s something about string instruments when it comes to reflecting positivity (and in the right context, ultimate sadness!) However, I often associate these sounds with light - I have no idea why - but perhaps thats why they feature in here so heavily. Be it the acoustic version of Aphex Twin’s ‘Rhubarb’, Mary Lattimore’s beautiful harp, or Kit’s portrayal of a walk on the beach as fireworks light the horizon. 

Strong-sounds can also go to the other end of the spectrum too, with reverb-laden guitar-haze forming complex palettes that you’d normally expect to come from synthesizers. Examples in here being Manual and to a simpler extent, Neozaïre. 

We’re creatures of habits, and the beat of the drum is what makes all music so special. When it comes to ambient music, this often comes to life in loops, or slowly evolving textures that do just enough to keep you intrigued, yet are familiar enough to hypnotize and make you feel comfortable. Given its minimal nature, most ambient music is repetitive, but sometimes it can become more evident in its form, for example, a track here Klimek that anticipates each evolution and movement with a similar instrumental pluck of strings. 

Overall, I have tried to avoid anything that can be seen as daunting, intriguing or so vividly different that you switch into new worlds with every track. You may notice some distinct phases throughout the mix, where similar sounds are tied together, and you may prefer certain phases to others, but eventually I hope you finish on an extremely positive note. Just sat here listening back and writing this, I’m feeling better than I was a few hours back...

Thanks to everyone who commented on the original Facebook post with their own suggestions, a few of which made it into the final journey. 


Tracklist + links to buy/download:

01. Biosphere - As The Sun Kissed The Horizon [Biophon]
02. Ourson - Mountain, Calm Day, Birds, Saw [Self]
03. Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Daniel Lanois - Deep Blue Day [EG / Polydor]
04. Parks - Forest [Self]
05. Kit - Girl Walking on The Beach Wearing A Skirt [A Strangely Isolated Place]
06. Sage Taylor - Raintime Ten [Cold Fiction Music]
07. Bjorn Rohde - Intentionally Gone [Self]
08. Billow Observatory - Calumet [Felte]
09. Hammock - Now And Not Yet [Hammock Music]
10. Heathered Pearls - Glass Routine [Self]
11. Donnacha Costello - This Way [Ursa/Self]
12. James Devane - Rhubarb (Acoustic) [na]
13. Aphex Twin - Rhubarb [Warp]
14. Marcus Fischer - Arctic 2 [Luxus-Arctica records International]
15. Helios - Halving The Compass [Type/Unseen]
16. Yeter - Dart 2 [A Strangely Isolated Place]
17. bvdub - 10 [Self]
18. Markus Guentner - Express Yourself [Kompakt]
19. Leyland Kirby - Polaroid [Ghostly]
20. Martin Glass - Welcome To The Four Seasons [Kit Records]
21. David Bowie & Brian Eno - Moss Garden [RCA]
22. Klimek - Sun Rise [Kompakt]
23. Mary Lattimore & Jefre Cantu Ledesma - Borrego Springs [Soap Library]
24. Brian Eno - Music For Airports 1/1 [Polydor]
25. Jonsi & Alex - Boy 1904 [XL/Parlophone]
26. Neozaïre - Blue Bell Treasure [Fauxpas]
27. Manual - Azure Vista [Darla]
28. Peter Broderick & Nils Frahm - Sketch 24 [Fugues]

If you enjoyed this, dive deeper into ambient music with our in-depth introduction 'Neither Scene Nor Heard: An Introduction to Ambient Music', or some of the other Portals series, below. 


Billow Observatory - II: Plains​/​Patterns


I have to admit, I didn't see a follow-up Billow Observatory album coming. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb's initial self-titled masterpiece was just that - a truly brilliant album - they somehow managed to encapsulate everything that's good about textured, emotional ambient music without a single note wasted. There was no doubting the purpose and vision they formed and executed upon flawlessly. I didn't need anything else. That was until, I heard their follow-up.

If you listen back to the Billow Observatory's ST album, it focuses on the gentle caress of guitars, lulled into oblivion - a colorful dream inducing pallet of superlatives, commonly associated and overused when describing ambient music (I for one am guilty). I'm not sure if Jonas and Jason felt a sense of achievement with the original album, but with this perceived perfection, comes the psychological inability to replicate it. 

II: Plains/Patterns, is a outstanding evolution on their original dreamy, distant sound. 

As described in the album's notes, "II: Plains/Patterns departs from the first LP’s amorphous ambient haze with a more rigid, albeit subtle, underpinning of rhythm and pulse". It's as natural a progression as evolution itself - the best parts remain, and the core essence of the album has morphed into an even richer, textured experience.

From the very first track, aptly named Pulsus, it's evident Billow Observatory have evolved. A stuttering of distorted guitars in Kercheval bring the album back into more familiar Billow Observatory territory, but the echoes of synthesizers in Nulstil remind us you're no longer *just* listening to the deep textures and dream-like murmurs found on their previous album - there's more energy, more light. Glimmers of their past album still however, remain. Guitars take to the foreground on Plains - perhaps the most stunning track from the album - but this quickly shifts back into a glorious ambient phase, reminiscent of early Biosphere pieces. 

The simplicity of Montclair harkens back to some of the earliest addictive textured melodies from Aphex Twin's Rhubarb, or many of Brian Eno's infamous pieces. The shifting beats and glazed static amongst Vex then tease out some additional electronic elements, before album closer Plum perfects the delicateness that I'm now realizing is the Billow Observatory magic. No-matter what elements have been added, they always manage to create this soft, hazy landscape. 

I didn't think there was any way to better their original album other than copy the exact same recipe. But Plains/Patterns has taken their ambient bedding, and added more color, and richness through these additional elements. The title is likely suggestive of the two layers that now form the music here. The soft, textured and dreamy plains, and the new pulses and patterns, add a new depth to Jason and Jonas' music that will go down as one of my favorite albums from either of them yet. 

Available on Bandcamp.


isolatedmix 49 - Manual


This will be the third time Jonas Munk has graced the isolatedmix series. The first, depicting the many great influences to hail from his native Denmark (isolatedmix 21 – Dreamy Sounds from Odense). The second, alongside Jason Kolb as Billow Observatory (isolatedmix 39 – Summer Memories) and now, as Manual – the very first pseudonym that led me to discover this talented and multi-faceted producer.

October just gone, Jonas released Memory and Matter, a selection of rarities and unreleased tracks that spanned his fifteen-plus-year catalogue as Manual.  It was a culmination of his perfected sound and a compilation of the many shoegaze/post-rock-esque and ambient tracks he has graced us with over the years. If you need to understand how Jonas and Manual came to be, how he pushed his sound, and how far it has come over the years, then this is it.

For many of us however, we can’t settle on the back catalogue alone to truly understand the influences behind some of our favourite Manual tracks like, Summer of Freedom, Tourmaline, Miraparque, and Blue Skied an’ clear. So we invited Jonas back one more time to illustrate the inspirations behind Manual. Jonas has kindly provided an introduction and detailed track-notes to this very special isolatedmix.




1. Two Lone Swordsmen: ”Hope We Never Surface”
2. Autechre: ”Pir”
3. Pluramon: ”Noise Academy”
4. Morgan Caney & Kamal Joory: ”Blanket”
5. Freeshca: ”Abominable Love”
6. Ulrich Schnauss: ”Einfeld”
7. Franco Falsini: ”Cold Nose pt. 3”
8. Tortoise: ”The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls”
9. Dub Tractor: ”Hum (Part 4)”
10. Sensations Fix: ”Music is Painting in the Air”
11. Durutti Column: ”Bordeaux Sequence”
12. Dif Juz: ”No Motion”
13. July Skies: ”Swallows and Swifts”
14. The Dead Texan: ”Girth Rides a (Horse)
15. Mark Isham: ”Sympathy and Acknowledgement”
16. Simple Minds: ”A Brass Band in African Chimes”
17. Roedelius: ”Veilchenwurzeln”
18. Auburn Lull: ”Shallow in Youth”
19. Ashra: ”Ocean of Tenderness”
20. Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno: ”Always Returning”

Introduction and track notes by Jonas Munk (Manual)

A couple of these tracks are recent discoveries but the vast majority of them are from records that have had a very distinct and durable influence on the Manual albums. These are some of the essential tracks.

People who have followed my work extensively will surely be able to recognize obvious traits of these sounds in my work. Which is cool. I’ve never felt it was important to maintain any sense of mystery about where ideas come from, or nurture any romantic conception of genius, for that matter – as if inspiration could appear out of nowhere. Besides, the music I’ve produced as Manual for the last 15 years has never sought to constantly reinvent itself, nor has it been my ambition to produce something strikingly original or progressive. Rather, my hope has always been that if I kept my vision long and intensely enough – if I continously starred at the same idea, only changing the angle from time to time, something personal and long-lasting would crystalize. The degree of success, at least in any conventional way, has always been secondary, maintaining the vision primary. In my view originality, at least in the traditional sense, is overrated. The focus on originality as the prime criterion for artistic quality and relevance is a cultural symptom of limited attention span, and a lack of depth. I have always had a quite limited scope for the Manual sound, always returning to a small but well defined set of ideas and sources of inspiration. And everything on this mix is something I’ve kept returning to since discovering the tracks during the last 15 years.

1. Two Lone Swordsmen: Hope We Never Surface
I got deeply into electronic music in early 1999, the result of a musical chain reaction after seeing Tortoise live at Roskilde Festival the previous summer. Looking back it wasn’t the worst time to discover Warp Records who had recently put out BOC’s Music Has the Right the Children, Autechre’s LP5 and Two Lone Swordsmen’s Stay Down, where this track is from.

2. Autechre: Pir
This track nicely captures everything they did so well back then. I was deeply into Autechre for several years and still find their 1995-2000 output hard to beat.

3. Pluramon feat. Julee Cruise: Noise Academy
It doesn’t seem that long ago that it felt like there existed vast possibilities fusing shoegaze with electronic beats and all kinds of digital processing, but for me this album represents some kind of zenith of that fusion. And yes, it’s Julee Cruise of Twin Peaks fame. Lovely track.

4. Morgan Caney & Kamal Joory: Blanket
Thomas Morr from Morr Music gave me this 7” single on one of my first trips to Berlin. Back then discovering music was such a different activity. This track made a huge impression on me and perfectly captured the sound I was aiming for back then, but didn’t fully have the expertise to execute as well yet. Just beautiful.

5. Freescha: Abominable Love
Freescha is another band I discovered early on and have kept coming back to. They create lo-fi synth-scapes that will appeal to any Boards of Canada fan but they have their own distinctively Californian vibe going. This track is from the Slower Than Church Music mini LP – a good place to start for the unacquainted.

6. Ulrich Schnauss: Einfeld
I first heard of Ulrich Schnauss visiting CCO/Baked Goods (now Boomkat) in Manchester in July 2001. We were hanging out in the office on the fourth floor, all windows open due to the intense heat (and due to everybody smoking Marlboro Lights), and Shlom (CCO co-owner) threw on a test pressing of forthcoming LP with the word Schnauss scribbled on it. Halfway through the A-side I knew this was something truly special. I’ve often wondered why the compositional and harmonic elements in electronic music – even the rather good stuff – so often verges on the banal. Ulrich is a rare exception: at the heart of his music lies an insistence on creating interesting chord progressions and compositional structures. His music, as well as his dedication, continues to be an inspiration.

7. Franco Falsini: Cold Nose pt. 3
This is quite a recent discovery. Franco Falsini made a handful of experimental space-rock albums in the seventies, under his own name as well as with Sensations Fix, that would probably have been called ”krautrock” had he originated from Germany instead of Italy. In a weird way this short piece connects perfectly with a lot of the other stuff included in this mix.

8. Tortoise: The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls
TNT must be one of the records I’ve listened to the most times ever. You can hear Tortoise in everything I’ve ever done, but the melodic aspect is probably what’s been cannibalised into the Manual albums. I also love the way they blend very different things in the mix – in this case marimbas, percussion, analog synths, dub effects and a surf-guitar inspired Fender Jazzmaster melody line. The part when the second guitar comes in halfway through the song has to be one of my all-time favourite moments. It kills me every time.

9. Dub Tractor: Hum (Part 4)
Beautiful, moody piece from one of Denmark’s finest.

10. Sensations Fix: Music is Painting in the Air
Another Falsini piece, this one from the first Sensations Fix album Fragments of Light, released in 1974. Music like this will never get old.

11. Durutti Column: Bordeaux Sequence
I simply had to include Durutti Column in this mix. I’ve always imagined the Manual albums to exist as part of an imaginary tradition, or as part of a family tree of sound – a kind of alternative historic line drawn back through the last four decades of music, bypassing most of the stuff that is normally deemed important, whatever that means. If there’s one artist I feel the Manual albums are genealogically connected to it’s Vini Reilly.

12. Dif Juz: No Motion
Much the same can be said about Dif Juz – a band that has remained in obscurity even though they have out some of the finest releases on 4AD in the label’s history and being far ahead of their time (this is from the mid-1980s!). Exceptional guitar-playing.

13. July Skies: Swallows and Swifts
July Skies, a.k.a. Anthony Harding, has built an entire style on records such as Slowdive’s Pygmalion and Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly. The beautiful calm, inwardness and melancholy on albums such as Dreaming if Spires and Where the Days Go is something very unique.

14. The Dead Texan: Girth Rides a (Horse)
As a whole this album probably isn’t among Adam Wiltzie’s (Stars of the Lid and others) finest, but this track does weird things to me each time.

15. Mark Isham: Sympathy and Acknowledgement
Mark Isham is probably best know as a trumpeter and film composer. I got into him via his work on classic David Sylvian records. He has made a couple of very nice electronic works as well, and this track comes from his 1983 album Vapor Drawings, released on Windham Hill, which is an extremely undervalued piece of electronic minimalism from that era.

16. Simple Minds: A Brass Band in African Chimes
When I was a kid Simple Minds and U2 were my favourite bands in the world. And around the time I started working on Azure Vista I got heavily into that big 1980s sound again. During my rediscovery of Simple Minds I also realized they created some amazing instrumentals along the way, where they would really dig into sound-scaping in an interesting way. This is a reworking of Shake Off the Ghosts, released as the B-side to Don’t You (Forget About Me) in 1985.

17. Roedelius: Veilchenwurzeln
Of all the great electronic music that came out of Germany throughout the 1970s the stuff that Roedelius was involved in (along with Manuel Göttsching’s projects) speaks to me the most. There’s an organic quality to his sound and a certain warmth and melancholy that still feels very timeless today.

18. Auburn Lull: Shallow in Youth
Cast From the Platform is one of my all-time favourite albums. It almost feels weird choosing just one track from it as it deserves to be listened to in its entirety. It came out in the early summer of 2004 and since I brought a mini disc (!) with this album with me around the world that summer, it still evokes images of Spain, Tokyo, California and Greece when I listen to it now. After a surf session that summer I was hanging out in Oceanside with James from Darla and Jesus from Acuarela Records, who was on holiday in California at the time. -We were talking about what a wonderful album it was and Jesus suggested we did a Manual/Auburn Lull split EP. The EP never happened but it did bring me in touch with the band and I’ve been working with Jason Kolb for the past eight years.

19. Ashra: Ocean of Tenderness
I’ve always loved Manuel Göttsching’s guitar playing, his sense of melody and the way he used those incredibly lush 1970s ”ensemble” synthesizers – a kind of instrument I cherish deeply and have used extensively myself . He’s definitely another important part of my imagined family tree.

20. Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno: Always Returning
It’s hard to think of anything more essential than Brian Eno’s, Apollo when considering music that have inspired the Manual sound.

Manual on Facebook Bandcamp | Soundcloud

Manual – Selected Remixes, Rarities and Unreleased Tracks 2007​-​2014


Jonas Munk‘s pseudonym’s may have changed over the years, but there will always be one that hits home with me. From his work with Ulrich Schnauss on ‘Epic’ in 2010, to his more dreamy ambient guise as Billow Observatory (along with Jason Kolb of Auburn Lull), it was his work as Manual that I first fell in love with back in 2001.

His guitar-laden, summer washes have graced numerous releases on Darla, Morr Music and Make Mine Music, and with an elusive discography that’s pretty hard to track down (I was so grateful to find a copy of ‘Until Tomorrow‘ in a record store in Seattle recently) i’ve been frustrated and beaten to hear new (but old) tracks pop up out of nowhere every now and then. Take “Miraparque” for example – previously only released on this limited edition CD alongside Orange Crush back in 2008, it was Milieu that teased me with this track on his isolatedmix back in 2009 and it’s remained elusive ever since.

Take Manual’s remix of City Of Satellites‘ “Skeletons” – easy to overlook yet thoroughly deserving a release of its own; an absolutely beautiful track that defines the very meaning of shoegaze. Or ‘Camellia’ – a seventeen minute expanse of gentle guitars alongside an early 80’s vibe akin to Art of Noise.

This isn’t just an attempt to round-up a bunch of unreleased tracks either. The compilation is perfectly curated with more open-aired guitars and vocals upfront, slowly descending into Jonas’ more ambient works on Disc 2 – a likely introduction to his approach within Billow Observatory, should this be new to you.

This feels like a very-much needed and perfect journey through Manual’s expansive catalogue – I’ve often wondered why he hasn’t gotten more attention, and this release is proof that his work as Manual was an extensive and beautiful labor of love across the decade, and one that needs to be heard far and wide.

Available to buy on Darla’s Bandcamp in CD and Digital formats.