Sampson – Carroll (formerly Embracing the Glass)

Creativity, desire, open-minded attitude, and opportunity all came together at a Central Massachusetts open mic in the summer of 2001. Jeff had just listened to Sean play a set of guitar-based soundscapes and asked him if he’d like to try doing the same with voice added. The two went back on stage and proceeded to stun the audience and themselves with vocal melodies floating on, and entwining with, gossamer clouds of looped and layered electric guitar.

10+ years later, they are still weaving dreamy, haunting melodies with atmospheric soundscapes.

Both musicians have been playing committedly since their late teens. Both bring playing and listening to left-of-center rock and chamber music to this meeting place of spiritual, ethereal sounds – which is not the contradiction it may seem at first, as the willingness to experiment and explore is a foundation of each.

The music Jeff Sampson and Sean Carroll create is lush and minimal; melodic and drone-like; pastoral and edgey. It places a travel mat in the minds of listeners, coaxing them to go wherever one’s thoughts need take them – wherever their emotional state need be. Over the years, the duo has explored sonic and emotional territory that falls under many different “spirits” – from aboriginal to eastern orthodox, from caverns to lofty peaks, from breeze-filled summer fields to close encounters with introspection.

Sampson – Carroll’s music says many different things to many different people. It’s music from and to the collective heart. The duo acknowledges that everyone who, and everything that, has come before influences what is. They are merely a serendipitous channel.

Jeff Sampson: voices; keyboard synthesizers
Sean Carroll: guitars; synthesizers

Discography:
(click album title to listen)

Bijou Theater 06-07-02 (Burning Shirt 2011)
Ease (Burning Shirt – 2010)
Letting Go (Burning Shirt – 2008 / Magnatune 2011)
Split (w/ Haslam) (Cohort – 2007)
From Dust to Dusk (Burning Shirt – 2005 / Magnatune – 2011)
Mandala for Chaos (Burning Shirt – 2002 / Magnatune – 2011)

Visit their Soundcloud page for otherwise hard-to-find music.
Sampson – Carroll on Soundcloud

Some of what has been written about them:

“It’s often difficult to find ambient music that involves the listener and really pulls them into the sound, but Embracing the Glass does just that. Wow!”

— Magick Circle Radio

“A medieval-age-futuristic-voice-meets-instrument ensemble… like the soundtrack to a foreign film”

— Minister of Culture, wormtown.org

“While trancelike in style, Embracing the Glass generates a compelling tension that belies its soothing sound.”

— Worcester Telegram & Gazette

“Mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful, this blend of assorted electronics and a human male voice; by turns ethereal, dark and quirky – you gotta hear “Great Lakes Chain Gang”!

— Wind and Wire

“Experimental duo Embracing the Glass takes listeners through a soundscape resembling that which used to back old-time silent movies, the pagentry of an operatic church service, and the back roads of Africa.”

— Worcester Rising

(re: Split)

“Embracing the Glass is American duo Sean Carroll (guitar, electronics, effects) and Jeff Sampson (voice, etc), and they have been working together since 2001. This split CD-R is their third release, and features just one track by them. But what a track – it’s called ‘Dearly Departed’ and is half an hour long. Whilst the main tools used are voice and guitar, this is as far from a conventional pop record as it’s possible to get – instead this is an introspective, meditative slice of magical, sepulchral ambience. In the opening section, the plangent guitar sounds and falsetto, wordless vocals bring to mind Sigur Ros – and as the piece continues, and the sounds become less recognisable, one is reminded of Nurse With Wound/Current 93’s ‘Die, Flip or Go to India’ or Popol Vuh’s ‘Vergegenwartigung’. The conception, playing and production are utterly assured. The overall feel is like being stuck inside a huge, haunted castle, straight out of Poe or Lovecraft, where nameless terrors await the unwary.”

(Cyclic Defrost)

“In Cohort Records’ split series we once again stumble upon two people that are new to me, Embracing the Glass and Haslam. Embracing The Glass is a duo of Sean Carroll and Jeff Sampson, who are together since 2001. They play guitar-controlled instruments and voice-controlled instruments. They start out nice, with guitar strumming (perhaps the first time in the series?), and some sort of heavenly vocals, but over the course of their piece, which is clearly divided in several parts, they move into the darker land even a bit further, through an amorph mass of sound, through which ethnic flutes and deep synths wash their way. Here I was reminded of the work of Steve Roach and Robert Rich, but Embracing The Glass do a good job here.”

(Vital Weekly #579)

“Here we go with another chapter of the Cohort saga of split releases. This time, we are travelling towards lands featuring pseudo-lysergic explorations of a few remote corners of the psyche and consonant (but still pretty powerful) synthesizer-based washes of sound. Embracing The Glass is the duo of Sean Carroll (guitar-controlled sounds) and Jeff Sampson (voice-controlled sounds), creating improvised tapestries that range from quasi-religious invocations born from crystalline chords and intense vocal humming to abstract paintings where everything becomes blurred, mostly dissonant, at times characterized by reiterated electronic cascades seemingly out of a Star Trek episode yet going much deeper instead. Although not describing myself as a regular consumer of this kind of music, I surely detect love, care and seriousness in Carroll’s and Sampson’s attitude, which means that I appreciated the track enough to like it, naïveté and all.”

(Touching Extremes)

“A desolate loop of a lonesome soft guitar with reverb and a delay. A voice reminding me of Martin Bates. Embracing the Glass is opening this CD with “Dearly Departed” a track divided in three separate pieces. An ethereal atmosphere is breathing like morning dew, touching your skin softly when you are moving slowly in the early hours. The first part is a little like Eyeless in Gaza or maybe Movie Tone and is more towards the ambient side of post-rock and moves slowly in the other part of the track. A storm is coming up and clouds covering the sun. You can hear the wind blow, whistling around the corner and torturing the windows. Where the first part was filled with smooth shifting tones with a warm voice now “Dearly Departed” has become more spooky.”

(Gothronic)

“The near 30-minute piece “Dearly Departed,” by the “guitar/voice” duo Embracing the Glass, is the bastard child of ambient, true sons of the loop da loop era, taking the ancient Eno maxim and diverging from it at a 45° angle. Guitar controllers and voice (plus voice synths) are the fulcrum here, but the duo pull on all kinds of electrical levers. The opening 10 minutes or so comprises a simply lovely repeating guitar figure, one that would prove quite banal if it didn’t sound like it was recorded in an airless void, half-glimpsed particles hovering just out of reach. Eventually the listener is lifted out of this becalming state directly into the void—the sift of extrasolar winds and sustained voices are right out of the 2001 stargate, but their immense power and suggestion of terrifying awe palpable all the same. Superb.”

(ei-mag)

(re: From Dust to Dusk)

“Embracing the Glass are the duo Sean Carroll (guitar-controlled sounds) and Jeff Sampson (voice-controlled sounds) and this, their second recording, contains six tracks recorded “in front of a live audience in various venues at various points in time.” The level of ambient music depth and texture they achieved in these live settings is quite the achievement. From Dust to Dusk is a beautiful album which veers from ethereal floating minimalism to darker stretches of formless more abstract soundscapes. Sampson’s voice, while usually treated somehow (e.g. deep echo) is usually discernible as being of human origin and frequently has a haunting and even delicate quality to it. Carroll’s guitar is sometimes recognizable as such, but frequently it’s indistinguishable from a variety of synths.

The album begins with the best track, the stunning “Moon Over Pi” which floats on clouds of gossamer notes and spacy washes above which Sampson’s voice gently hovers singing in an unintelligible but beautiful language. His voice has a strong choir-like sound to it, and this makes the song even more peaceful and soothing. “Enchanted” opens with a soft and sad acoustic guitar loop and occasional peals of sparse echoed electric guitar. Here, Sampson’s voice is less altered and more straight-forward. I can’t discern if these lyrics are an imaginary language or perhaps an ancient tongue, but I don’t think it matters much as his singing is haunting regardless. Synth strings color the background in melancholic shades of deep blue/violet. The track unwinds patiently over its near ten-minute length with subtle variations yet a sustained mood of sadness and longing. “Man is Sand” is decidedly more abstract than the first two songs, beginning with an assortment of skitching noise effects and swirling textures but eventually veering into a feedback-like number, drenched in the same wall of sound approach as the duo Hammock brings to their music. “Sombre” resonates better for me, with its strummed and slightly twangy guitar, a la Twin Peaks, and background reverberating synth textures containing a high-pitched timbre. Sampson’s voice, again deeply echoed, adds a forlorn quality to the minimalism of the piece. “Invocation” goes in a drastically different direction, with its deep rumbling drones and overtone chanting-type vocals. While not oppressive or dark, the gravitas and weight of the music stands in marked contrast to the more ether-like strains of what has come before. Primal and powerful is how I would describe the cut. “The Eastern Front” closes out the CD in superb fashion, with minimal bell-like guitar notes pealing off in deep reverb. Humming textures add breadth to the music and Sampson’s wordless vocalizings, first in the mid to low range of the scale then back to his characteristic higher end, fit the stark landscape of the track perfectly. Expansive stretches of land are evoked by the sheer spaciousness of the music

Make no mistake about it, these two guys are talented! When you listen to this and recall that this is a live album, you’ll probably be as mystified as I am (or else you’re just too jaded). If you like your ambient music of the floating and formless variety, frequently interwoven with elements of beauty and sad, even tragic, delicacy (with the exception of “Man is Sand,” the only track I’m not overly fond of here), From Dust to Dusk is going to knock you out. I especially urge you to give it a listen even if you’re normally opposed to ambient music with vocals. I solidly recommend the album.”

(Wind and Wire)

(re: Mandala for Chaos )

“Embracing the Glass are Sean Carroll on assorted synths, guitars, delay units and samplers and Jeff Sampson on voice and vocal loops. Most of the vocals on this recording are wordless and you might consider them a cross (from a stylistic standpoint) between Sara Ayers and Jim Cole. Carroll’s synths and guitars come in a variety of “sounds”, such as the warm and fluid ebbing/flowing drones of the first song, “Around” where they are melded to Sampson’s echoed soft vocals. The juxtaposition of the drones (sounding, at times, like a deep church organ chord) with a fragile yet beautiful multi-tracked voice is just one highlight of this daring alloy of the organic with the electronic.

Besides “Around”, there are four other tracks, one of which is a delightfully quirky “real” vocal number, “Great Lakes Chain Gang”. This song is the only cut that is less than nine minutes in length (three selections are over eleven minutes long). The music on Mandala for Chaos is minimal ambient in sound and structure and probably slots in somewhere between neutral in mood and subtly dark. “Chasm of Faith” features Carroll’s Jeff Pearce-like guitar work. Sparse sustained notes somberly anchor the track while Sampson’s vocals (more out front than on the previous number) evoke grey skies, bare trees and lonely spaces. Carroll’s playing goes through several stages of intensity, all of it in a sustained vein, although some sections are more dramatic than others (towards the end, the sustain and reverb gets fairly powerful, somewhat drowning out Sampson’s voice). Sampson’s vocals also sound like he is singing real words now and then, but it¹s tough to make them out.

That quirky number, “Great Lakes Chain Gang”, is next and, personally, I love it. How can you not love chugging didgeridoo, wood stick and hand drum rhythms, and multi-tracked vocals that are so perfectly realized that you’ll think you ARE listening to a mournful bunch of convicts on the side of a rural highway, bemoaning their fate? Well, I told you it was quirky.

The last two songs (“After Dark” and the title song) are a return to the dark/neutral evocative minimalist textural ambient soundscapes of the first two tracks. “After Dark” is probably the darkest of all the pieces here (at over fifteen minutes, it’s also the longest). There is a hint of ethno-tribal music to the cut as hand drums rhythms meld with Sampson’s indecipherable vocals, while an ebbing/flowing drone courses underneath. The later introduction of synth strings dials up the drama of the piece, even as minimal piano keeps the cut anchored in a sparse landscape. “Mandala for Chaos” is much warmer in feel, with gently wavering electronics taking center stage, quiet at first but becoming louder and more sweeping in nature. The track could even be described as pastoral at times. For me, I think things get a little TOO loud as the track unwinds. To my ears, some of the musical textures start to sound a little coarse and overpowering, although that’s perhaps the artists’ intent, especially given the song’s title

Unlike a lot of drone/sparse/minimal ambient music, I enjoyed Mandala for Chaos right away (I usually need a warming up period). Of course, I like the sound of the human voice as an ambient “instrument”, so take that into consideration. Sampson has an expressive voice and Carroll’s guitar, synths, and assorted studio wizardry is impressive to hear. The album itself is moody but never oppressive and is not really what I would call abstract, either. It’s sparse and minimal, but also warm, human, and organic, despite all the electronics. If this debut is any indication what they’re capable of, I hope to hear more in the future from Embracing the Glass.

(Wind and Wire)

“I would call the material on this disc “spiritual ambient,” not only for the place it touches most, but also for it’s inspired sound (though it isn’t particularly religious). Washes of atmospheric synth, guitar and guitar-synth interplay with silken-threaded, mostly lyricless vocal passages, and occasional ambient chants, creating soothing textures to transport you to a more peaceful place. Meditative and enveloping, the title track, as well as tracks like “Chasm of Faith” seem almost holy, not unlike what one might hear upon entering a mystic temple.

Anything but your standard ambient fare…”

(From Dust #4)

“This unusual and original ambient album emerges out of the misty woods of central Massachusetts. Privately produced, it is the work of vocalist Jeff Sampson and instrumentalist Sean Carroll, who call their duo by the enigmatic name of Embracing the Glass. According to Sampson, this is not about drinking but more about transparency and fragility.

Each track on this album has its own individual quality. Sampson’s ambient vocals, like those of the German Stephen Micus, have no words, just meaningless syllables, or no syllables at all. Sampson produces an impressively wide variety of sounds; he can hum, croon, moan, chant like a Tibetan monk, chant like a Western monk, or sing high counter-tenor. And in the weirdly juxtaposed “Great Lakes Chain Gang,” he sounds like an improbable white Aborigine singing the blues. All the tracks, according to the notes, were created live in the studio, with no overdubs.

The general mood of this album is slow and contemplative; only the Great Lakes Chain Gang has any rhythm at all. Track 1, “Around,” moves in like the fog with waves of minimalist electronic sound, the chord increasing in complexity with each wave. Track 2, “Chasm of Faith,” features 12 minutes of Sampson’s plaintive pentatonics, accompanied by Carroll’s cloudy guitar tonalities. “Great Lakes,” track 3, which is my favorite, accompanies Sampson’s glossolalic blues with a wry rhythm track sampled from didgeridoo and tabla. The longest track, #4, “After Dark,” is their “Gothic” entry, with ominous, oozing instrumentals and croaking, dungeon vocals. The last, title track, “Mandala for Chaos,” is reminiscent of neo-medieval ambient sounds like “Dead Can Dance” or “Vas,” with Sampson chanting sweetly like a vampire choirboy.

Mandala for Chaos is not something for a casual listener; it’s best if you are familiar with the minimalist ambient and Gothic genre. But if you like that cold moist wind from the north, and the moving shadows of dark branches, this album will fill your chill.

(Eclectic Earwig Music)

“A hushed wash of synth and vocal currents gleams and fades in the oceanic waves of pretty/spooky Around. Chasm of Faith softly rings with droning resonances and wordless vocal crooning. Against a mechanically throbbing backdrop, the spiritualistic blues of Great Lakes Chain Gang (6:45) are wailed and moaned like a worksong on some alien industrial planet.

Deep tonal rivulets ooze through the nocturnal meditation of After Dark (15:39), joined by thrumming bassnotes and low words, as if groaned by a lethargic vampire singer. The fifth and final piece closes this 56-minute collection of hybrid ethereality; Mandala for Chaos’ human-powered musical abstractions again intertwine with synthetic sheets of sound to lightly swirl in pastel psychedelia.

(ambientrance.org)

“Proudly proclaiming Mandala for Chaos as “live-in-the-studio recordings — no overdubs”, this just might be the closest thing to Brian Eno’s “On Land” to come out of Boston since live performances by members of the Loopers collective. Ambient music has a difficult sweet spot to hit. It has to be laconic, yet have enough substance to catch and hold your ear. So it’s a welcome surprise when, in just about every way as entrancing as Tetsu Inoue’s defining Ambiant Otaku, Sean Carroll and Jeff Sampson make the passing of time shimmer with energy. The duo uses a sparse selection of equipment — a digital delay, simple DOD sampler, and reverb — to formulate their beat-less jam sessions. Possibly in part due to these substantial self-imposed restrictions on their productions, their music throbs with carefully tempered composition.

“Mandala for Chaos” also isn’t without its odd change of pace. The chantings of “After Dark” and “Great Lakes Chain Gang” might turn some off with their dark, morbid (although still mostly incomprehensible) invocations, running counter to the spiritual feel of the rest of the album. Trodding not-so-gracefully on the toes of such industrial staple groups as Coil, these are more tracks for the after-hours Manray club’s playlist than anything else. Thankfully, they run counter to the more graceful babbling falsetto and guitar loops of tracks such as the almost cliche-titled “Chasm of Faith”. The rest of the album can be enjoyed purely on aesthetic grounds, with the looping strains of guitar running exactly in alignment with music of the spheres, despite having originated somewhere as pedestrian as Templeton, MA.

(Northeast Performer)

Languid harmonies generated by synthesizers, guitar and voice. Electronic textures unfurl and hang like translucent fogs, sighing and indulging in elongated pulsations. The guitars are treated to the point of unrecognizability, with string expressions stretched into droning textures.

The vocals are generally non-lyrical. These choruses achieve a drone status of their own with enduring resonance and non-denominational reverence. The voices drift with ghostly demeanor, generating an organic flavor amid the seesawing ambience. Sometimes actual words are employed, usually falling prey to overlapping loops until the language aspect becomes supplanted by a lush textural mien.

Softly pittering percussion and a synthetically generated didgeridoo are utilized in one track.

Contrary to the CD’s title, the effect of the music is one of subdued contemplation, sedating the chaos with soothing tonalities.

(Sonic Curiosity)

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