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Bill Nelson - Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights album review

Two-CD version of ambient set originally issued in 1987

Cover art for Bill Nelson - Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights album

Featuring 21 tracks from the 1988 bonus edition, this double set was originally released under the titles The Angel At The Western Window and The Book Of Inward Conversation. Bill Nelson himself said of this music that it was the “most personal and least demonstrative” he had made, conceived in moments of “intense stillness” and “musical vacuity”.

Not very many artists were doing ambient in the late 80s, just prior to the chillout post-rave era, but Nelson had always had an interest in the genre, paying homage to Erik Satie, who arguably conceived the genre on Furniture Music.

Often clocking in at under two minutes, the 63 tracks on this collection are an accumulation of discreet pearls, vivid but fleeting musical sketches whose titles (Revolving Globes, Staircase To No Place) evoke their oblique, temporarily vivid moods.

Nelson, a staggeringly talented guitarist, sublimates his skills here amid soft, filtered washes of watercolour electronica. However, compared to the likes of Harold Budd and Brian Eno, you sense he can never quite prune down to the minimal extent they do – just occasionally, these tracks are a little busy. “Too many notes,” as the king said to Mozart in Amadeus. Generally, though, this is a customised and highly immersive set.

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.