I think it was 1997 when I first discovered Dirk's music. A friend of mine had compiled a cassette for me, one with his favorite "calm" music. Back then, I didn't know that there was such a thing as ambient music. I was a metalhead and to me the genre we now know as ambient were merely album intros. I had one of those cassettes too, with intros and ambient passages from bands like Amorphis and My Dying Bride. However, the tape my friend gave me opened a whole new world. Dirk unknowingly opened that compilation with a Vidna Obmana track. He was followed by one from Brian Eno. I have been an ambient fan ever since.
Years passed and some Vidna Obmana albums became constants. I was a confused adolescent, not knowing which direction my life was heading into, but Vidna Obmana always managed to calm my nerves and ease my pain. I spend whole evenings listening to 'Tremor' or 'Memories Compiled'. I was devastated when I lost disc one of the latter. In fact, ever since the day I lost that disc, I have been taking exceptionally good care of my physical music collection. No more discs laying around, no more broken jewel cases, no more scratches, all thanks to Dirk Serries and his mesmerizing music.
Still fully moving in the world of metal and everything gothic-related, I moved to Antwerp in the first decade of this century. There, I discovered something new, live looping. It was a festival in the Arenberg theatre with acts like Premonition Factory, Darkroom, Aidan Baker and... Dirk Serries' Microphonics. Again, I had no idea, none whatsoever, that this was the same man that got me through emotional rough times several years before. I was enjoying his guitar drones in that small theatre in the back of the venue, and quite some times after too, since I immediately bought the album.
That was also the first time I met Dirk in person. I told him that I liked the music and I bought the album, something I probably do too much. The second time I met Dirk was at Incubate when I asked him if he knew where Sjaak (Premonition Factory) was. Sjaak was about to drive us home, which is why I was looking for him. The third time was at Dunk! festival. I was talking to Erik from Snoozecontrol. He introduced me to Dirk and to Ronald (Stratosphere). Dirk said: "oh, are you that guy from Merchants Of Air?" After my affirmative answer, he and Ronald quickly rushed off to get me an album to review.
In the years between, I often saw Dirk perform live. Mostly solo, but also with Fear Falls Burning, which is to this day one of the most impressive live performances I have ever seen. I have seen thousands of live performances but this was something I will never ever forget. That power, that atmosphere, unrivaled. At a more recent edition of Dunk! festival Dirk turned me into a jazz fan with another brilliant performance, this time with The Void Of Expansion. Soon after, he impressed me again, during a Yodok III gig at Trix. That gig pretty much kickstarted my book 'Cecilia's World', especially her adventures in the worlds of drone, ambient and jazz.
By now, I'm starting to realize that this article is a bit different from my usual reviews. I'm just doing what I always do, listen to an album and let the words write down themselves. That is how I work. That is how I write my books, my columns, even my old love letters have been written that way. I don't know if Dirk, or any musician for that matter, realized what an impact his work can have on a person. I guess that is the power of music. I guess that's what happens when you're continuously recording and releasing work for thirty years. You reach people, you touch people, you change people.
For me 'Epitaph' is a look back at those years as an adolescent trying to find his own identity and maybe for Dirk this album is something similar. He has been evolving from an ambient amateur to one of the most influential people in the entire genre and far beyond. 'Epitaph' sounds like the end but it also feels like a new beginning. Gates close and gates open. Today, we see Dirk hanging around with jazz musicians, pushing even that age old genre into new directions. That resulted in several 'New WAve Of Jazz' releases on Tonefloat. He might be the third most important Belgian in that scene, after Alphonse Sax and Toots Thielemans.
'Epitaph' is also a breathtaking ambient album, featuring ten enigmatic tracks. I can hear those thirty years in pretty much all of these tunes. I can see my young self dreaming about the future in 'Brittle Air Elegy'. I can feel the harshness of life in 'Alternation and Return'. I can sense the depressive end of those childhood dreams in 'And All The Murmur Fell'. I will definitely cherish this album. It is a perfect overview of what Dirk has been standing for all these years. At least, it represents his solo work, his minimal but immersive approach to soundscapes, drones and ambient.
What the future holds in store for Dirk Serries? I have absolutely no idea but I'm damn sure it will be interesting. First off, there will be this 'Epitaph' event, organized by Consouling Sounds, who will celebrate their tenth birthday already. On that event, Dirk will be performing with Yodok III, Fear Falls Burning, Scatterwound and Stratosphere. After that, Dirk will undoubtedly continue to push his mark on any musical direction he desires. In the meantime, I will make 'Epitaph' another constant in my day-to-day playlist and I suggest you do the same. This is a remarkable album from a massively talented artist.