Aukai: Aukai (Aukai Music)

Ambient motifs for imaginary film soundtracks

Released Jun 2nd, 2016 via Aukai Music / By Norman Miller
Aukai: Aukai (Aukai Music) Aukai is the musical pseudonym of German Markus Sieber, who has shifted – over years travelling to places as diverse as St Petersburg, Mexico and Colorado - from 1990s East Germany rocker to delicate ambient acoustic soundscaper influenced by the likes of Brian Eno, Nils Frahm and Max Richter.

This album takes its name from a Hawaiian word meaning seafarer or traveller - though it also refers to anyone with a mystical and introspective nature. Which is reflected in the 13 tracks here – each lasting just two to three minutes, each taking the listener on a multi-instrumental journey into a place of general tranquility where your happiness would be complete with a nice massage and cup of herbal tea.

Though the tracks are multi-instrumental, the sound of Sieber's acoustic guitar dominates - though tonal colours are added by a diverse ensemble. Anne Muller (Agnes Obel Band, Nils Frahm) plays cello, Bogdan Djukic pitches in with violin, while Sieber’s wife, Angelika Baumbach, adds piano and harp to several tracks.

Alexander Nickmann contributes electronic keyboards, and Martyn Heyne brings percussive notes. Rounding up the ensemble is Sieber’s longtime musical collaborator Jamshied Sharifi, the New York musician and composer who has worked with folk as diverse as Laurie Anderson, Sting, Dream Theater and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Much of the album was composed during a winter Sieber spent in quiet solitude at a mountain cabin in Colorado's La Plata Canyon, and there's certainly a winsome air to proceedings that sometimes teeters into auto-pilot melancholia, as on the closing Night Rain.

Thankfully, Sieber enlivens most tracks with enough interesting angles to maintain interest – even if this is probably an album best played in the background rather than something you'd sit and listen avidly to.

Alto Paraiso mixes delicate pastoral banjo picking with faint organ sounds and piano skitters, while Hidden starts off like an avant-folk take on Boards of Canada before – sadly – heading off into territory closer to John Williams' band Sky from the late 70s/early 80s.

Swirling Spanish-style guitar mixes with stately piano on the engagingly muscular Agua Azul, and there's also a welcome sense of drive in the acoustic theme on First Of March, backed by deep electronic chords and judicious keyboard splashes. Childhood is a mini-gem that somehow manages to have a beginning, middle and end in the space of a couple of minutes.

The brevity and atmospheric nature of all the tracks constantly makes them sound like film soundtrack motifs – the melancholy beauty of Fled Away one of the best, bringing together Sieber on guitar and organ with Djukic's violin and Heyne on cymbals.