On her latest album, the composer and sound artist builds an immersive world through mesmerising drones.
In a recent interview with Kit Records' Richard Greenan on NTS Radio, Cheng spoke about how she associates purple and yellow colours with drone music when discussing her latest album, Instead Of Dreams. This project is a research-based drone album, created as part of her Creative Practice Master's thesis at Goldsmiths University in London. Released via NX Records, a label home to music students studying at Goldsmiths, Instead Of Dreams is a selection of meditative synthetic drone compositions. Through Cheng's combined use of analog and modular synthesisers, she's created an immersive world that draws on inspirations from her background as a trained choral singer as well as the work of La Monte Young, known for his exploration into sustained tones, and Éliane Radigue, a French electronic music composer. With an interest in the different ways people engage with drone music, Cheng was fascinated by using drones for meditation, as a way to momentarily escape from reality. Throughout Instead Of Dreams, this idea of escapism is presented in Cheng's slow-changing and stretched-out sounds. They elicit a sense of timelessness, along with smooth textures that make you feel like you're gently gliding along with each track, comfortably easing into a reflective realm.
There's a strong sense of contemplation on Instead Of Dreams, as Cheng reflects on her experience through the first lockdown last year. Song titles like "Seeking" and "Somewhere Beyond" represent feelings that most of us could, and probably still can, relate to. On "Somewhere Beyond," the overlap of the meandering synths with the bold introduction of new drones clearly illustrates a sense of hope. To me, it conveys the anticipation of what's to come beyond these lockdown periods.
The mixture of low and high-toned drones in "Somewhere Beyond," and across the entire album, is similar to the bright and dark-coloured branches presented in the album's artwork, a risograph by Cheng. Even though these branches have their own path, they still meet in the middle to form a singular line, akin to meditation bringing wandering thoughts together. With this idea in mind, Cheng has created an admirable album for meditative purposes at a time when we could probably use more of it.