Album Review: “visiting ghost”

Joe Kratzer is an innovative artist of the ambient electronic persuasion who releases music under the moniker “visiting ghost.” They put out their most recent project, an album entitled, “light spills out,” this past spring in May 2020. They describe this work as one of their most fun and broadly experimental projects to date, largely because of their incorporation of natural ratios, rhythms and the tension created by the juxtaposition of those natural elements with the electronic warping they underwent in production.

In many ways, “light spills out” is a monument to their evolution as an artist and the development of their distinct sound. Kratzer explained that when they began experimenting with electronic music years ago in 2014, they were drawn to a much more hardcore sound, emulating the style of artists they admired such as Skrillex or deadmou5. They began their experimentation in the genre using their brother’s pirated music software, which they taught themself how to use via YouTube. During this stage of their artististic development, virtually all the sounds and effects they used were digitally generated using this software. But as they continued their passionate consumption and production of music, they began to broaden their aural scope.

Around 2016 and beyond, Kratzer’s musical study at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Minneapolis, as well as their interest in vaporwave and other genres, prompted them to approach creation from a new angle. As they began to realize the breadth of electronic music’s potential, they veered away from solely computer-programmed sounds and began to electronically meld and warp real recordings of instrumentals, vocals and speaking as well as samples from other songs. They modified these clips by pitching them up or down, layering them and creating subtle tempo variances to modify the song structure and maintain a dramatic driving edge.

What appealed to them about this integrative approach was exploring the tension between calming ambience and the unexpected, the familiar and the experimental. They described this tension within the ambient genre as a constant back and forth between contradictions, something incredibly difficult to balance but never dull to attempt. Kratzer shared that many of the recordings they use are just iPhone voice memos of vocals, pianos or synths, using their past sounds and recordings as a sample library for their projects.

An Oregon-based Bandcamp vaporwave label called Virtual Beach Club that recently facilitated a physical re-release of one of Kratzer’s earlier projects from 2018 affirms the nuance behind maintaining this tension. They encourage listeners via their site to think of “ambient music” not as neutral background music but, instead, as “slowed down symphonies” with incredible artistic attention to texture and detail. This is certainly an accurate description of Kratzer’s discography, as each of their released albums is a product of months of intense, deliberate work and fine-tuning to curate a specific sound perennially just outside the realm of aural comfort.

Kratzer is currently studying music production at Minneapolis Community and Technical College but continues to be as self-driven and explorative as always. Both in their college program and previous arts education, they reflected positively on the freedom they were given for musical exploration and the lack of competitive proscription and pressure that can be present in classical musical training. Kratzer’s work is available for streaming on both Soundcloud and Bandcamp under both the names “visiting ghost” and GHO.