A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life

Ki Oni


Lurien Zittertkopf

September 24, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

Porcelain-frail keys settle gently on serene field recordings, offering a deep spiritual catharsis

Serenity is the sound of Chuck Soo-Hoo’s latest release, but A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life has so much more to offer outside of its gorgeous ambient electronica. Like his other albums under the Ki Oni moniker, these pieces are built off icy synth pads and airy drones, but here the music flows as if over a waterfall, a lush fluid state that seems to go on for infinity. Inspired by memories of summers spent out in his grandmother’s swimming pool and the Chinese tradition of leaving your lights on to guide the spirits home before moving into the afterlife, A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life’s candescent production invites a feeling of loss to sit in the room while letting beauty bloom in its corners. Using field recordings from throughout Los Angeles – the dublab radio station, riding his bike, sitting on the metro – Soo-Hoo captures the city’s subtle beauty and uses it to create pieces where those loved ones can float in and out of the environment, fluid but never overwhelming you with its vastness.

Over its near-hour and forty minute runtime, A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life hones in on the healing powers of new age music while exploring long-form improvisations, building its architecture through the slow process of adding elements quietly enough to not disturb the peace at the heart of everything. Soo-Hoo’s return to the memories of his childhood brings to life some of this year’s most heartfelt and intimate ambient music, connected to the soul as much as it is to the environment outside it. 

Layers of drone and field recordings make the concrete foundation of these pieces, but it's the intricacies of Soo-Hoo’s synth work that makes much of the magic. Opener An Infinite Dive is replete with fluttering background synths and soft melodic pulses, the jangling background noise adding a delightful bit of scratchiness to the mix for an excellent balance of pristine electronica and relatively mercurial ambient production.

Unpredictability is a main feature of the music, but it’s never jarring or uncomfortable, the sparkling glitch synths and barely-audible birdsong tucked behind the clouds of My Grandmother’s Garden, surprising when you first notice them wandering the perimeter but lovely to include all the same. For as long as these pieces are, they’re packed with detail and showered in love as Soo-Hoo makes every second special: the shuffling background noise about halfway into Reincarnation at the End of the World brings some buzzing energy to keep you invested in its development; To Wander Beyond the Aquatic Center’s whistling synth leads at the 10-minute mark add a wistful bounce to an otherwise cold and misty track.

Like the magical afterlife its name suggests, A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life mixes the reality of Soo-Hoo’s memories with gentle spirituality, the fondness he has for the time spent swimming around his late Grandmother’s garden mixed into some of the most celestial ambient music this year, refusing to let these extended drone pieces lose their sensitivity by keeping all five pieces close to his heart. Though you may not be able to hear quite clearly what’s going on in those field recordings, you can sense the activity and life buzzing around Soo-Hoo, and that’s the magic A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life makes such an impact with. 

With its soft glow and ineffably warm spirit, A Leisurely Swim to Everlasting Life makes the prospect of extensive, subtle ambient music incredibly inviting, where putting it in the background is as essential to its enjoyment as putting a microscope to every detail. Soo-Hoo’s slow, quiet process of adding field recordings and going back to add new layers when the feeling strikes instills the music with a carefree but focused energy, not pulling you out of the album’s liquid flow state but always giving you the opportunity to notice something new within it. It’s an effortlessly beautiful listen that only asks you to share in spending time with Soo-Hoo’s memories, serenity with an extra dash of emotional vulnerability. A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life may be what its title promises, but by no means does that make it an inert listen: deliberately and graciously, Chuck Soo-Hoo precisely unfurls these ambient pieces to reveal some of the most sincere and breathtaking electronica of the year. Spend enough time here, and there’s few other places so enchanting through simply letting you watch the sunrise reflect across the rippling waters.