LETTERS TO THE FARTHEST STAR is an ambitious and deeply personal dispatch: a far-reaching sojourn into the diverse ambient/electronic influences that helped shape the last three decades of Fang's unique "Fourth World" style. Fang began his tenth album with a challenge to himself: create a single work that acknowledged both past and present explorations while hinting at new avenues to come.
Like messages from a universe without geographic borders, these pieces shift from dark, organic ambient passages to emotional, melodic interludes. In those moments, the tracks are textural, propulsive, expressive, and transparent; Fang's sound is anchored by an Asian sensibility that reflects his fondness for stringed and percussion instruments from China, Indonesia and Turkey.
Fang says, "Letters represents my style boiled to its essence. These tracks represent my musical past and present. I love variety, so I'm expressing different moods and styles in these pieces. They are both light and dark, often simultaneously, while being serious, intense, quiet or more spirited elsewhere. Some pieces are compact and to the point while others are more expansive and immersive".
In his early years as a musician, Fang studied violin and classical composition while simultaneously creating electronic music on analog modular synthesizers. After moving to the Bay Area in 1984, Fang developed an interest in non-Western music; he studied Chinese classical music on the gu-zheng (Chinese zither), Balinese gamelan and gagaku (Japanese court music). Over the course of 13 albums, Fang has internalized and incorporated these Asian influences into his ambient minimalist style.
The instrument list for Letters (ranging from violins and Turkish lutes to Indonesian percussion) provides a hint toward its stylistic and textural diversity. The album begins with a four-part suite, "The Unreachable Lands", which charts an imaginary voyage through unknown light and dark regions populated by lutes, drums, zithers, violin, piano, guitar and complex electronic undercurrents. The mood turns pensive with "Burnt Offerings", which features cumbus and Japanese palm harp. A complex landscape of exotic polyrhythms and textures follows in "Veldt Psychosis", a piece that evokes a hallucinogenic dream. "Fossils" and "Lorenz" are deep sonic meditations into abstract interior spaces. "Seven Coronas" offers a lyrical turn through a melodic violin riding over a hypnotic cyclical gamelan. The album closes with "Lines to Infinity" featuring layers of delayed electronic mandolin processed like a guitar and played in a 70s German progressive style.
In addition, renowned ambient guitarist Jeff Pearce makes an ethereal appearance on the piano-based track "Hermitage".
LETTERS TO THE FARTHEST STAR, in effect, comes full circle by returning to Fang's roots as an electronic musician. It is a moving and powerful testament to the exotic musical influences of his past and present.