On local ambient artist Patricia Wolf’s Twitter page is one of the last photographs of her mother-in-law, Kathleen Karle, before her death in 2019.
Wolf and Karle stand together at the foot of a hill as the long shadows of twilight begin to fall. In the background, dozens of curious structures, superficially resembling flowers, but clearly artificial: lights installed by artist Bruce Munro in Paso Robles, central California.
“All the little lights made me think of people’s spirit and energy,” says Wolf, who gets audibly emotional as we talk on the phone. “I made such an important spiritual connection with him.”
The same installation adorns the cover of his new album, I will look for you in the others, released this month on Indianapolis vibe label Past Inside the Present. It’s calm, patient and instrumental, consisting mostly of wordless vocals, field recordings and synths.
Still, its contrast of gorgeous ambient sweep and minor-key introspection reflects the emotional beats Wolf experienced following the death of his stepmother, and she hopes it will connect with listeners dealing with loss in the same way. that Munro’s lights connected with her.
“I like to communicate something that I think will connect with other people, even if it’s just a small group,” says Wolf. “I was hoping that maybe other people who are in the same place could find some sort of refuge or understanding there.”
While this is technically Wolf’s debut album, she’s not a new face on the Portland avant-garde. She first rose to prominence in the local music scene as a DJ, and from 2017 to 2019 she ran and lived above the Variform gallery on the border of the Old Town and the Pearl District, hosting performances by local and international experimental artists.
Still, even outside of Karle’s 2017 breast cancer diagnosis, the past few years have been tumultuous for Wolf. She closed Variform in 2019 due to concerns about crime in the neighborhood (“I would feel really bad if someone came for an event and ended up getting shot or something”), and when the pandemic arrived in Portland, she found herself barely able to work at all. Much of the music during this period did not feel “right” to listen to, and his tastes began to lean towards ambient music.
“We changed our lives to be there for family and away from social activities,” she says of herself and her husband, Max Wolf, who masters her music and designs some of her works. “So the music got a little more introspective and thoughtful and slowed down and thoughtful. When you’re going through a lot of grief, you don’t feel like dancing in a club.
During this period, Wolf found herself tweaking old recordings, abandoning her aversion to digital processing and running her synths through plug-ins. “It was good to get me out of my head a bit,” she said of that material, which makes up the bulk of I will look for you in the others.
Wolf is not touring behind the album, but she will be playing her first public DJ set since the pandemic began on March 28 at Holocene, opening for German guitarist Fennesz and rising Kenyan ambient artist KMRU. Don’t expect a party: “I haven’t done a dance DJ set since 2018.”
She has also recorded a new album, which has no name or release date yet, but will be released on the Balmat label run by Portland-born DJ and electronic music specialist Philip Sherburne. She describes it as light compared to I’ll Look For You in Others.
“I’m really proud and happy about this, because it took me a lot of time and treatment to get to this point,” she says. “Things are improving. You will still carry that loss and sadness with you, but you can get back to a state where you don’t feel so heavy about things and feel light and cheerful again.
SEE : Patricia Wolf performs at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., 503-239-7639, holocene.org. 8 p.m. on Monday, March 28. $27. I’ll Look For You in Others is available now at pasinsidethepresent.com.