Listening to Carl Weingarten’s excellent Living In The Distant Present I wonder why this album wasn’t far more well known. To my ears, it feels like one of the preeminent ambient albums. Forward-thinking, vast, and engaging guitar, looping, and synth excursions that invite the listener to get lost in these ethereal musical landscapes. Weingarten sat down with nothing but a guitar, distortion pedal, a EHX delay looping station, a Casio synth and the desire to create. What he thought would be demos for his band Delay Tactics turned into a truly unique and intellectual solo outing. The album got a cassette release in 1985 and was subsequently swallowed by the neon burn of the 1980s.
Living In The Distant Present is being reissued on vinyl for the first time via Azure Vista Records on August 10th, which is a fantastic thing. This record is truly a lost gem of musical creativity and sonic exploration.
I think a key in understanding Living In The Distant Present is knowing a bit about Weingarten’s distant past. Besides being a sonic explorer, Weingarten is also an accomplished photographer. He received his first camera as a little kid growing up in Missouri. Having a taste for composition through the lens gave Weingarten a unique perspective in creating music. He formed the band Delay Tactics in 1980 with Dave Udell and Walter Whitney which was an all-instrumental trio that was, to my ears, far ahead of the creative curve in terms of experimental music. Their albums Out-Pop Options and Any Questions? were very much influenced by the work of Robert Fripp, using delay and looping techniques to create these minimal yet otherworldly tracks that even attracted the attention of modern dance troupes in the Midwest. In 1984 while recording ideas for the next Delay Tactics LP Carl Weingarten stumbled into his first solo album, Living In The Distant Present. While he would go on to be quite the prolific musician, Living In The Distant Present remains an unsung classic that is now for the first time getting the treatment it deserved over 30 years ago.
The songs here are very much picturesque. They bring up very detailed landscapes; colors, shapes, light, dark, and everything in-between. Weingarten is definitely mining the sonics of Robert Fripp, but where his records could feel cold, detached and desolate(post-war England did have its own personality and unique DNA), Weingarten is pulling from vast open plains and the big sky vastness of the Midwest. That upbringing and those surroundings seem to form from the ether on his debut record.
“The Fifth Season” opens on a light and airy disposition. You can almost see the St. Louis skyline rippling from the summer heat as the warbly tape loop intermingles with the ethereal synths. The track dances from the speakers and unfolds like the miraculous birth of something new and revelatory. “Her Father’s Hands” runs along on the foundation of Fripp-esque guitar. Heavily saturated guitar tone is carried by ambient synth and a vast, cavernous well for it all to slowly dissipate in. Subtlety is the key to a great ambient record, and Carl Weingarten seems to know that very well. “Swing Song” benefits from its similarities to “Frippertronics”. It’s pastoral and psychedelic at the same time.
Besides hints of Fripp and Eno, there’s also nods to minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Terry Riley, though in more subtle tones. Something like side 2 opener “Swim” benefits from an otherworldly tone that was present in Riley’s profound early-to-mid 70s work. It rings like celestial glass bombarding infinity. There’s also nods to Adrian Belew’s guitar histrionics on his instrumental Desire Caught By The Tail. “Dreaming In Colors(at length)” is nearly 8 minutes of sonic bliss. It rings like some ancient phone line from another dimension. This song really is hard to describe, but it is all-encompassing and pulls you into its crystalline world. It’s a lovely place to exist, in this track. “Two Friends” is light and melancholy. There’s a simplicity in the song that without words tells us all we need to know. It is also a goodbye, as it’s the end of our journey into the present.
Living In The Distant Present is a beautifully simple, yet emotionally complex musical journey. What started as ideas being put to tape turned into one of the most unsung musical statements in ambient music. Lost to a decade of neon lights and bright musical excess, Carl Weingarten’s 1985 debut album has found a new home and a new chance to rewire brains for generations to come.
Living In The Distant Present is a precise and exquisite piece of musical art.
8.7 out of 10
Living In The Distant Present will be released on August 10th. Preorder it here.