For two decades, Ghostly International has functioned at the joints of genre, distinctly connecting many, demarcated by none. Among the more curious throughlines in the label’s stylistic architecture is its use of the tag SMM. Launched discreetly in 2003, the undefined acronym has designated calm, slow-moving music that straddles the synthetic/organic divide in surprising ways. 2011 compilation SMM: Context pieced together landscapes imagined by the likes of Leyland Kirby and Christina Vantzou. 2013 follow-up SMM: Opiate proposed the evocative possibilities of sound with artists such as Noveller and A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The letters have since emphasized releases ranging from harpist Mary Lattimore to synthesist Steve Hauschildt. In 2019, alongside the label’s 20-year milestone, Ghostly extends Thousands of Eyes in the Dark, a collection celebrating international talent with an outward gaze. Ten original works of contemporary melodic and incidental electronics — fragments, moods, vignettes — sequenced as one continuous suite, a pairing of personal expression with wide angle vision.
Submissions stretch far beyond Ghostly’s roster and roots. Tracing the tracklist on a map, we begin in the Netherlands with Suzanne Kraft operating under his SK U Kno alias. Stabs of guitar mingle with washes of restless sound design on “Cut and Faze,” a gripping, asymmetric opener. Pan over to Los Angeles next, where emerging modular synth practitioner Emily Sprague patches “Mesa,” lightly coiling the tonal hymn skyward. The third track, “This Was Us,” belongs to Berlin-based Dutch-Italian composer Aimée Portioli aka Grand River. She says the tender, strolling piece references the dissolution of a relationship and was improvised on a Yamaha DX7 following a night with friends; “I just sat with the instrument and started to play. I kind of needed a moment to myself.”
Back in Ann Arbor, Ghostly’s first home, label mainstay Tadd Mullinix renders an oscillating study of sensations titled as a nod to the film Woman in the Dunes. In his words: “I was inspired by the beautiful imagery and mood of the film which conveys, very sensually, passion as a consolation for life’s looming impasse of bondage and drudgery.” Closing side A is Canadian composer Sarah Davachi, who drafted her cathedral-filling drone for Mellotron and Hammond organ. She explains, “The title is multivalent: taken in the middle ages from Latin origins, a Sybil was a sort of pagan fortune teller; in recent history, it refers to a psychiatric disposition to feel away from oneself.”
The entry point to Side B hazily stirs and crackles in the care of Orcas, the collaboration between veterans Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Thomas Meluch (Benoit Pioulard). They cite a lineage of classic ambient inspirations: Mark Hollis, Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Fennesz & David Sylvian. Vancouver producer and recent signee Dylan Khotin-Foote provides one of the series’ sweetest moments yet, “Angel Epicenter,” his signature dream-like climes anchored by a steady pulse. Immediately following is its twangiest, “Shepherd Canyon” by Saariselka, the meditations of Oakland, California composers Marielle Jakobsons (Fender Rhodes, organ, synthesizers) and Chuck Johnson (pedal steel guitar and treatments). That pastoral terrain is left to linger a moment before into turning to concrete, courtesy of Manchester duo Space Afrika, known for their vast, disintegrating urban dubscapes.
Thousands of Eyes in the Dark finishes its first cycle in Japan, as producer and field recordist Yosi Horikawa leads listeners through a lush forest of sound, outlining every step with melancholic piano phrasings, inching into the sublime. Designed for repeat play-through, these ten tracks from some of the world’s finest sound artists double as a worthy metaphor for Ghostly’s 20-year run with SMM: a discerning set keeping us engrossed and guessing.