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Labradford's quiet, transient ambient music seems predicated on two interrelated themes: the first, John Cage's revelatory notion, rearticulated by Brian Eno's '70s and '80s ambient productions, that there is no such thing as silence, that even in the apparent absence of sound, smaller, seemingly innocuous sounds fill the void; the second, that the consumption of music can be an intensely private affair, something that can also take you away from other people and deep into yourself. Much of the work of '90s "post-rock" artists has been informed by these two themes, but perhaps none so much as Labradford's. This is music about the synergistic relationship between consciousness and external sound, about the way private contemplation affects one's perception of outside noise and about the way outside noise helps direct private contemplation.

That may sound a bit esoteric, but make no mistake, this is music, not some sort of science experiment. But this is music that allows you to "hear yourself think." Music nonetheless, though, music often given the "cinematic" tag, a not inaccurate appellation given Labradford's predilection for warm, heavily reverbed Spaghetti Western guitar lines that glide through their compositions like shadows of lost Ennio Morricone soundtracks. These guitars twine sleepily around droning organ tones, brief flourishes of strings, just a bit of bass bounce, and low-level percussion buried deep in the mix. Meanwhile electronic glitches, tape loops, and whimsical not-sounds -- freight elevators in motion, slamming doors, ambient studio noise -- haunt their compositions. Minimalism and restraint are the orders of the day; Labradford's songs evolve at glacial speeds, often returning to the same chord or motif again and again, surrounding you without smothering you.

The trio began in 1992 as a duo of guitarist Mark Nelson and keyboardist Carter Brown in Richmond, Virginia. Their acclaimed 1994 debut album, Prazision, the inaugural release by Chicago's Kranky, established the adventurous, unconventional tone of both the band and the label. For their next release, A Stable Reference (1995), Labradford added bassist Bobby Donne, who has remained with the group ever since. Labradford now has six albums to their credit, throughout which they have explored dub, bossa nova, avant-classical, ambient pop, and countrified cinematic music, growing and changing a little bit at a time. Their most recent effort is the four-song fixed::context (2001), on which the group goes sparer than ever, dispensing with the strings of previous releases in favor of extraordinarily minimal, hypnotic, sun-drenched soundscapes.

Nelson also records dub-influenced ambient music under the name Pan-American. Donne plays in Aix Em Klemm.