The Career of No Death: Purveyor Of Ambient

The No Death project is one of the most interesting not only within drone and general electronic music but also through its visual art component. It’s the brainchild of Wisconsin-based Jack Duros, who has recently taken on the bass guitar with local band ‘Lulu the Cat’ and currently runs the ‘Alien Garage’ label with Rhucle, another extremely talented musician with whom Jack collaborates under ‘The Rubies’.

Opening up the discography we have ‘Still’, a 2016 album originally released on the now-defunct Bedlam Tapes that has changed homes a few times until currently settling on the artist’s Bandcamp page. This is a classic example of what the artist creates, be it the long-form ambient tracks (of which there are three here, accompanied by a shorter piece) or the album art itself, created by Mark Saab who would go on to inspire No Death to follow the realm of 3D art in his future releases and as a freelance artist.

Following this, ‘Signals of Unknown Futures’ was released the same year on BLCR as a split between Jack and 暗い自然 (‘Dark Nature’), an alias of former BLCR co-owner Lyndon Wier. As of today only the first half of the album is available, which ultimately works by telling a different story from the artist’s other releases – a darker, brooding narrative coupled with album art completely different from the usual bright and sharp visuals.

No Problema Tapes of Santiago, Chile released the third No Death album, ‘Maarlus War Victory Celebration’, a truly focused and well structured project with a wider range of instrumentation than what we’d seen before – the addition of rhythm with drums completely transforms the vision being pushed from a shy drone to lush music that’s able to really tell a story.

2017 opens up with ‘Waiting At The Gates‘, a collaboration album with widely celebrated ambient artist Sangam, released yet again with BLCR. Definitely a standout in the catalogue, as both the artists’ styles blend together perfectly, complementing and building off of each other. Not only that, this marks the first-ever 3D album art made by No Death himself for one of his own albums, and quite a stunning one at that.

BLCR side label ‘Nebula Collection’ hosted the following release ‘Forget’, again with artwork by Jack himself. This time we return to even longer-form ambient tracks, with a single 33-minute long piece taking up the entire album run time. Even though there is no separation between them, various themes appear throughout the release, again contributing towards the lushness that had been building up with every release from No Death.

Now back with No Problema, ‘Smile of Unconditional Love‘ dropped halfway through 2017 and displaying yet again a couple of drone infused ambient tracks, entitled ‘A’ and ‘U’. Similar to t e l e p a t h, track length is a part of the album listening experience, each being exactly 27 minutes and 50 seconds long. This shows a clear development in Jack’s artistic skill too, as the cover is still regarded as one of his best.

Album and art by No Death

The year of 2017 closes off with 2 collaborations: The soundtrack to ‘You Deserve It’, a short film created by visual artist 918, and a split album with Rhucle released on BLCR, ‘Small Lights’. While stylistically similar to what the duo would go onto with ‘The Rubies’, this is still a somewhat primitive version of what would come, the only crossover between the artists here are a couple of remixes they did of each other’s tracks.

Finally on Dream Catalogue, No Death’s masterpiece ‘Angel Tech‘ gets released in early 2018, with amazingly intricate artwork by Pieter Jossa resembling the sort of work Jack brought forward utilizing programs like Blender. Sonically, we get a taste of every facet of the artist’s work – a slow-building jazzy MIDI track, flowing into a drone track, morphing into an aquatic-like track that resembles the soundtracks of late-90’s videogames such as Super Mario 64, finishing off with a smaller and more focused piece, again influenced by jazz and the aforementioned videogame soundtracks.

Album cover for Angel Tech, designed by Pieter Jossa

Following his DC debut, the artist works with Rhucle to produce their first-ever true collaboration, ‘Sketch of Love’, released on No Problema yet again. This differs from what had come up to now in the sense that the musicality isn’t being created by drones and MIDI instruments, but guitars and pianos, which give the duo a much more organic feeling. The art utilised here is by Rhucle, a visual artist in his own right who mainly works with paint on canvas.

Jack’s latest solo album (to date) is ‘Cold‘, released on Aurawire. A more simplistic approach was taken here, comparatively to The Rubies’ last album. The droning synths heard in ‘Still’ make somewhat of a comeback on this release, and one of the few uses of sampling through this discography is heard at the beginning of ‘Break’.

The Rubies come back with their latest effort ‘Sleeping World’ as the first release on their own label, Alien Garage. It functions as a continuation of the ideas both musicians began on their debut. The link between them can easily be made through the artwork, which carries the Rhucle style just as the cover on ‘Sketch of Love’ did.

As far as 2019 goes, we’ve seen the independent release of ‘Be‘, an understated 3-track album or EP (as you wish to interpret it) that was thought to be lost for about 8 months, as well as ‘Station,’ a sweet 12-minute piece written in Tokyo, and dedicated to ‘all of the musicians, venues, friends, and everyone else who made the first week of my Japan tour so wonderful’.

We can conclude that this project is one of the most interesting and shapeshifting in the current scene, and definitely one to look out for. Not only is there a constant stream of releases and singles from Jack, he’s constantly trying new initiatives, like for example, a Japanese tour with fellow collaborator Rhucle and other Japanese artists. Outside of electronic music, he’s now part of a Wisconsin math-rock band called ‘Lulu the Cat’, having released a single (‘Omega’) so far, but touting a full album in the future.

Personally, I find the best way to describe No Death is a modern-day version of the ‘Still Life’ concept, initially made popular within the oil on canvas medium by artists like Paul Cézanne, though in a brighter and often more nature-focused alternative, a reconstruction of the dull colours from the past, which ultimately creates a window into a brighter future.

Written by Holo