When it comes to the Philosopher's Stone albums on kranky, no-one can accuse Gareth Mitchell of making the same album twice.
Gareth Mitchell was a member of Secret Garden, a Bristol U.K. band that also counted Richard Walker of Amp and David Pearce from Flying Saucer Attack and now in clear horizon as members. Relocating to London, Mitchell ended up playing guitar in the live and touring incarnation of Amp, he contributed to the Astralmoonbeamprojections album. Around 1996 Gareth Mitchell sent kranky some solo recordings he had made under the name Philosopher's Stone. With the exception of a bass guitar contribution from Andy Revell on "Spirit Leaves the Body", all the songs that ended up on the debut Philosopher's Stone album, Preparation, were written, performed and recorded by Gareth Mitchell.
Preparation was released in the spring of 1997. The new music was distinctly unlike Mitchell's previous work, like the cover art of snow covered megaliths, the music on Preparation seemed distinct and, somehow, old.
"Gareth Mitchell... is at heart a songwriter of the Scott Walker persuasion. It's to his credit that this album is more an exploration of the power of music than words. Too many songwriters are half-assed about the textures and possibilities of their medium, while too many sonic explorers seem cold and passionless, in it for the art not the heart. Philosopher's Stone is a project that filters its lyricism through manipulated sounds so that most of the music is instrumental, and the vocals come, when they do, as a further distillation of mood. Such restraint characterizes the whole album...This is music in which emotion is wrung out of effects boxes and computers, humanity pitched against manipulation, and as such is something of a soundtrack for our times. Where Gareth Mitchell succeeds uniquely is in his measured use of vocals.
When he sings - not mutters, not whispers, but really sings - he makes sense out of his music. What is implicit in the instrumentals, in the melancholic drones and dislocated samples, all the nostalgia and decay and regret and longing, is finally made evident."
Lucy Cage, Silencer
For his second kranky album, Gareth Mitchell got himself a computer. Confining his sound source to his guitar, he proceeded to sample and manipulate the tones he created. The resulting album, Apparatus, was almost the polar opposite of the Philosopher's Stone debut. Released in the fall of 1999, the album challenged preconceptions;
"I popped Apparatus into my player and was soon awash in a sea of waves and tones... When I read that most of the sounds had been culled from the guitar I expected warm, analog abstractions, but was delighted to find pieces that also were tinged with dark, very electronic drones and frequencies. The standout track, for me, is without a doubt 'Komposition'. Pulsating frequencies build on each other, washing each other out in dense waves, creating a nice rhythmic chaos."
Carter Adams, The Brain, Oct. 10, 1999
David Lewis wrote in the November, 1999 issue of Exclaim;
"play this one loud and grow mesmerised by the numbing waves of white noise in the slowly oscillating wash of 'Lost', or the gradually intensifying pulse of 'Confluence', the two purest soundscapes here. Philosopher's Stone is at its most compelling in the gothic-industrial 'Komposition', the minimalist contrapuntal fractal oscillations of the impressionist 'Filament', the heavily processed circular feedback loops of 'Calendar', the microtonal sonic architecture of 'Valetta' and the haunting intensification of 'Apparition'. If you are into serious experimentation with sound, Philosopher's Stone offers some challenging alchemy."