On The Turntable: Warren Sampson's Traveller May 21 2018
Warren Sampson released his only album, Traveller, in 1987 and not long after, it was gone. Not gone in the figurative sense as in ignored or quickly forgotten, but rather literally gone as Sampson threw most of the original pressing in a landfill. It's fortunate for us, then, that Chicago-based label Love All Day (who resurrected another beautiful, private-press obscurity, Planetary Peace) presents a timely reissue of this lost ambient classic.
At its heart, Traveller drew inspiration from a painting that Sampson first saw in London in 1980. About that painting, the artist reflects, "Looking for it online now I find I had the title wrong and it probably wasn't hanging in the gallery I thought it was. Oh well. How much new art is created by trying to copy something and getting it completely wrong? ... Chinese ink painting in particular is something I have to restrict to those small doses. It absolutely, completely overwhelms me. I mean holy shit. The power and depth and atmosphere of simple black ink – the stuff they sign checks with – applied to take the maximum effect of the swirling, cloudy texture of silk. Those Chinese painters invented negative space."
This sentiment perfectly captures the vibe of Traveller: poignant without pretension. Displaying a warmth not usually associated with the "fourth world" scene, Sampson finds solace and humanity in the sparse contours of Traveller. Perhaps the fact that he is from Minnesota appears apropos. Where else does one find tenderness amid the icy brutality of nature?
Built on repeating guitar and synth patterns that slowly unfold over 46 minutes, Traveller is a journey through the long Midwestern winter. Its sound is reminiscent of Sampson's influences like Brian Eno and Jon Hassell, but also of post-rock artists like Explosions In The Sky or Stars Of The Lid. While electronic music of the '80s is often presented as an offering to a higher power (supernatural or technological), the beauty of this LP is in its simple earthiness – an offering to the dirt, the ice, the unending flow of a river, the purity of black ink on paper.
Limited edition of 250 copies.