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August 2010

 

8 new reviews this month - but wait, 6 more have been added...

 

 

Rudy Adrian “Distant Stars”

(www.spottedpeccary.com, 2010)

6 tracks, 75.50 mins

 

Rudy Adrian is equally at home doing sequencer-based upbeat music or minimal ambient, and Distant Stars falls firmly in the latter category. This is music for the far reaches of space, to get totally lost in the vastness of it all. The title track starts with 20 minutes of pure floating, evocative of Jonn Serrie’s early works. “Trajectory” is perhaps the darkest ambient Rudy has ever done, seeming to spiral ever deeper until the rumbling blackness hits bottom. “Le Songe Du Singe” is an extended version of one of my favorite pieces from my favorite Rudy Adrian album, Kinetic Flow. “Voyage Through Darkness” is not as bleak as “Trajectory,” but it is aptly named nonetheless, another lengthy journey into the depths. After another dark turn on the brief “Netherworlds,” things brighten a bit with the closing track, adding shimmering lighter tones while retaining the expansive quality that permeates the disc. Distant Stars will take you to the outer rim and back.

 

 

ARC “Church”

(www.din.org.uk, 2010)

5 tracks, 74.28 mins

 

Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve played a phenomenal show at The Gathering in Philadelphia in November 2009, judging from the results on Church. The title track begins powerfully, with deep, booming drums and dark mellotron strings. Things then give way to a low rumbling ambience and a few space twitters. A single bass note then sets a slow tempo, followed by a warm flute synth as the bass line starts dancing around just a bit. Inevitably, the sequencer takes charge and raises the energy level. In the right hands, the retro EM sound never really gets old, and this is as good as anything these guys have put out before, which is saying something. “Bliss Plane” sounds like the aliens have landed as it begins. Deep bass and strange otherworldly popping drumbeats add to the cool vibe. This one is equal parts modern and retro skillfully joined together, another energy-filled romp. “Torch” begins in a more ambient realm but a pulsating bass line slowly morphs into another hypnotic sequence. A lone synth playfully starts “Veil”, then soft brushes of percussion and pleasant flutes. It grows powerful, almost menacing, quite dramatic without going over the top. This brings us to the closer, a variation on “Rapture” from their last album, full of subtle textures for the first several minutes before the sequencing once again takes center stage for the remainder, allowing a couple of minutes of softer music at the end for the audience to catch their breath. Church is sensational.

 

 

Marc Barreca “Subterrane”

(www.palaceoflights.com, 2010)

10 tracks, 62.49 mins

 

Subterrane by Marc Barreca fits in nicely with the Palace of Lights label and its unique brand of minimalist processed sounds. This is all about sonic manipulation and experimentation, using glitches, buzzes, brushing sounds, whatever is at hand, and combining them in fresh, innovative ways that stretch the bounds of what we call music. Each track contains numerous distinctive sounds that in and of themselves are not really musical, but they are put together with a definite structure so that it at least resembles music in some way. Titles like “Fractured Bronze” and “Allen’s Strange Land” seem well thought out, accurately describing their unique part of the sonic puzzle. Some are strangely relaxing, many have a restless edginess to them, all are fascinating. Vaguely reminiscent of some of the glitchy electronica on the Dutch label Databloem, Barreca’s Subterrane takes that sense of exploration a bit further, pushing but not quite breaking the boundaries. This is certainly not music for the masses, and it is not the sort of thing I will play regularly, but on those occasions when I do, I will enjoy it.

 

 

K. Leimer “Degraded Certainties”

(www.palaceoflights.com, 2010)

6 tracks, 72.07 mins

 

Kerry Leimer has quietly been putting out some impressive experimental electronic minimalist music on his Palace Of Lights video for a few years now, and this one may be his best yet. Atonal and yet strangely compelling, this collection of synthesized, processed, treated sounds challenges the definition of music and yet gives the listener the same pleasurable listening experience. Each of the 6 tracks is almost exactly 12 minutes long, although the musical structure ends there. Buzzes, shimmers, and washes of sound are delicately layered over one another in a pleasing sonic array. Imagine a sound collage created by the likes of Brian Eno or Biosphere and you start to get the idea. “Hommage” is typical of the sound and mood, as abstract sounds breathe in and out, hanging for a few seconds, repeating or not. Background noises, some readily identifiable and others not, often pan back and forth. The quality of the recording and the sense of space are quite remarkable. Crackling sounds, dripping noises, seem to emanate from all around. Degraded Certainties is music to immerse and lose oneself in, to fully revel in the letting go.

 

 

Mac “Genesis of Alpha Nebula”

(Free download here, 2010)

3 tracks, 44 mins

 

This album is Mac’s foray into early krautrock, hence a name that conjures up images of early Tangerine Dream albums. We start with the 22-minute epic “Imploding Star,” full of fuzzed-out, distorted organ music and a cool, pulsing bass sequence. Mac intentionally gave it a raw sound and production quality, lending an air of authenticity as if this were some recently unearthed Tangerine Dream bootleg album. We then float out into deep space, as formless and meandering as TD classics like “Fauni-Gena” Later on, a light, playful bass line, flute, and a few drums and cymbals gently rock out a bit. Then some wavering, warbling synths go a bit crazy. This is mind-blowing psychedelic stuff. Once again I’m amazed at Mac’s ability to reinvent himself, but I suppose I really shouldn’t be anymore. Eerie, melodramatic tones emerge on “Light from the Second Sun,” which get quite intense in the latter stages of this relatively brief track. “Radiation from the Planet’s Core” gets even trippier if that’s possible, bubbling and jumping about, sounding like old sci-fi films from the 1950s. After several minutes of seeming randomness it coalesces into a wonderful slab of Berlin school bliss with a rock edge to it. Fantastico!

 

 

Michael Neil “Silent Light”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2010)

6 tracks, 66.13 mins

 

Silent Light is synthesist Michael Neil at his dreamy best, layering delicate synth textures into a thoroughly pleasant album. The title track is quiet but has just a bit more structure and energy than usual, with a gentle rhythmic loop and a bit of piano to brighten things up nicely. “Still Voices” is much softer, a sparse piece that has that orchestral touch that permeates Neil’s earlier works. “Fractured Symmetry” almost immediately raises the energy level with brisk, bright, sequencing that pings side-to-side in sharp, clipped, crisp tones. Still, it has Neil’s light touch, not the typical Berlin school sound though certainly in that general vicinity. It builds ever so slightly over its 20-minute course, changing things up just enough. Contrasting this is “Sea Life,” a beautiful quiet number that barely gets started before it’s over. “Teufelsberg” is another lengthy piece, bright and shimmering with bubbly electronics. It strikes me as a parallel to “Fractured Symmetry,” similar in form but with different timbres. “Echoes” is a unique yet simple piano piece that forms a perfect denouement.

 

 

Nettless “Phobos and Deimos”

(www.earthmantra.com, 2010)

8 tracks, 2:08:50

 

Nettless is Finnish musician Toni Viholainen, and Phobos and Deimos is over two hours of fantastic floating music on the free netlabel Earth Mantra. Nearly every track runs well into double digits, allowing plenty of space for the music to grow and breathe. The 7-minute opener “Perihelion” seems like a short pop single by comparison. It has a little pulse that propels it along just so, even as it remains light and airy. The 20-minute epic “Comoving Coordinates” consists of low, resonating metallic drones with occasional brighter shimmers of sound. It is as if the sound of deep space has been captured and its essence put to music, imbued with a certain softness that makes it more peaceful than most dark ambient. “Known Unknown” is the most structured piece, with some beautiful classic Berlin school sequencing toward the end. For fans of pure drifting space music with experimental tinges around the dark edges, it doesn’t get much better than “19X = 1.3.3.78B”, 26-plus minutes of subtle sonic exploration. Sparse acoustic guitar makes an appearance for a few minutes toward the end, working surprisingly well with the surrounding ambience. “Tharsis” is the perfect microcosm for what Nettless does so well throughout this album - creating soft, billowing ambience that is dark yet exceedingly peaceful and relaxing as well. Just when you think a track like this will stay purely electronic and ambient, some beautiful, understated piano joins in. It is the little things like this that set Phobos and Deimos apart as a superb space music album. Highly recommended.

 

 

Phaenon “His Master’s Voice”

(www.malignantrecords.com, 2010)

4 tracks, 73.13 mins

 

Szymon Tankiewicz returns with his dark ambient project Phaenon. His Master’s Voice is four lengthy forays into the depths inspired by St. Lem’s book of the same name. Formless billowing black ambient clouds emanate from part one of the title track, subtitled “Neutrino Radiation.” Unusual rumblings and vaguely industrial churning sounds are surprisingly soothing though certainly not intended for fans of more conventional music. There is no melody, no rhythm, no real structure. This is an album that is full of cool sounds to just trip out and get lost in while lying in a dark room alone. “Dark Energy” lives up to its name, even starker than its predecessor, more eerie and minimal, though with a restlessness as well. “Soul Virus – Interstellar Semantics” features a very cool metallic electronic sound breathing in and out, forming the foundation for the first half of the piece as various sonic textures surround it. A low growling drone serves as the backdrop for the latter half, equally cool. Part two of the title track, subtitled “Ignoramus”, closes the disc out with 24 more minutes of exploring every dark corner and crevice of sound, a bit more experimental and varied than the other three. This album is highly recommended for those who enjoy the dark side of ambient.

 

 

Pollard/Daniel/Booth “Volume 2”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2010)

5 tracks, 73.24 mins

 

Pollard/Daniel/Booth “Volume 3”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2010)

3 tracks, 77.22 mins

 

Pollard/Daniel/Booth “Volume 4”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2010)

3 tracks, 74.14 mins

 

A lot of musicians over the years have done the retro sound pioneered by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze in the 1970s, though a few rise above the others – bands like Redshift, Radio Massacre International, Free System Projekt, to name a few. Though their name doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like the others, Pollard/Daniel/Booth certainly appear to belong in the same category with these three fine Berlin school outings. Volume 2, from their Hampshire Jam 8 performance, is simply described as “oceans of mellotron” and “walls of modular,” and for retro fans that’s probably all you need to know. Atmospheric passages with dark choirs, pulsating sequencer sections, soaring synth leads, they are all here in abundance, similar to those gone before but no less enjoyable, and a fair bit better than most. Scorching guitars add a nice touch here and there as well. Mellotron flute is understated and nicely done on “Hampshire 2.” Sequencers get put through their paces throughout Volume 2.

 

Volume 3, from E-Live 2009, begins in more restrained fashion, paying homage to Tangerine Dream from 1974 or 1975, much like their more improvisational bootleg recordings of the time. Once a crystalline sequence emerges in “Eindhoven I” it rises up very naturally from the surrounding sounds, as does the guitar jam that asserts itself a few minutes later. Despite the freeform nature of it, the trio sounds assured and confident. “Eindhoven III” is full of dark male choirs and a sense of foreboding as deep space electronic transmissions come and go. Eventually the sequencer fest and guitar blitz returns in all its glory.   

 

Volume 4 is the only studio set, rehearsals for their appearance at the Awakenings concert. “Alpha Primitives” is the longest set on these three volumes, clocking in at nearly 44 minutes, and it explores seemingly every nook and cranny of the Berlin school sound from abstract atmospheric passages to more sequencer madness. In short, these three volumes will be like an old friend for devout fans of this well-worn but still highly enjoyable genre of electronic music.

 

 

Dave Preston “Sountrack for Motion”

(http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/DavePreston1, 2010)

10 songs, 53.01 mins

 

Dave Preston’s Be struck a chord with me for its originality, a unique melding of ambient and new age, and he continues to cross musical boundaries with ease on Soundtrack for Motion. The mood is often on the melancholy side, with a shoegaze vibe on selections like “Flashing Emergency Lights” and “The Blood in Your Veins”, the latter including vocals toward the end that weave seamlessly into the music. Vocals are more predominant on   “A Giant Leap of Faith”, a mournful sort of wail that continues from its atmospheric beginning through to a livelier rhythmic yet still moody latter half. Some tracks have a bit more edge to them, but all retain a dreamy quality, particularly on the ethereal floaters “I Am Sorry” and “Spinning Away From The Earth.” “Your Reflection In The Water” is more like relaxed instrumental rock, with a cool leisurely bass line. Preston’s guitar playing is restrained yet assured throughout, and really shines on “Sweet Sound of Escape,” vaguely reminiscent of a laid back Manuel Göttsching. Soundtrack for Motion is another solid offering by Preston.

 

 

Steve Roach “Sigh of Ages”

(www.projekt.com, 2010)

6 tracks, 73.47 mins

 

Steve Roach has done practically every kind of new age, ambient, and electronic music, and it all comes together on Sigh of Ages. “Quelling Place” and its metallic, swirling sounds form an understated beginning. “The View From Here” is a warm, gentle, piece with a mesmerizing electronic loop as its foundation. I always find a good bit of sequencing a major draw, and this is exceptional. “Sentient Breath” is a more expansive, organic, ambient number with a soothing flow to it, as is Morning of Ages, though the latter is more melancholy, with a slightly majestic touch. Finding a pleasant middle ground is “Return of the Majestic” with its moderate pacing and unique synthetic sonic palette as things pulse and click and breathe. Each track finds its own space and explores it thoroughly before fading into the next, culminating in “Longing To Be…”, a minimal yet restless ambient piece that draws the disc to a peaceful close. What I like best about Sigh of Ages is that it is so understated and seemingly effortless, yet a highly rewarding listen.

 

 

Gregory Taylor “dua_belas”

(www.palaceoflights.com, 2010)

12 tracks, 57.49 mins

 

This album has some fairly cryptic song titles, but the subject matter appears to be Jesus’ twelve disciples (the album title means “the twelve” in Indonesian). This is certainly an interesting musical homage to them, thoroughly modern in every respect. The quirky electronic sounds and stuttering rhythms fit perfectly with other recordings on the Palace of Lights label. As is usual for the label’s offerings, this tends to be on the experimental, cutting-edge side of things. However, the bleeps, blips and other sounds occasionally take on a more accessible form, as on the opener “Andreas” which has a very likeable rhythmic component that drives it along. On the other hand, “yakobus_anak_zebedeus” sounds a bit like playing with warped metal, dissonant and almost but not quite shrill. And parts of “simon_petrus” sound as though they were recorded backward and perhaps slightly damaged during the mixing process. A sparser atmosphere is created on “filipus_yang_melit”, and both it and “natanael_yang_jujur” do seem vaguely suggestive of the disciples’ time period, though clearly made by modern means. Ironically, the most notorious disciple is given the least playtime and the last word as “yudas_iskariot” closes out the album. The results are often too disjointed and/or noisy for my taste, but dua_belas is never boring.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

June 2010

 

8 new reviews this month, more coming soon

 

Atomic Skunk “Portal”

(http://atomicskunk.com/fr_home.cfm , 2010)

9 tracks, 63.50 mins

 

One of my favorite discoveries in the past couple of years has been the ambient music of Rich Brodsky aka Atomic Skunk. I loved his album Binary Scenes, so I was excited to hear of his new release Portal. It starts off in equally fine fashion with three excellent tracks showcasing his range of sounds, from organic ambience with nature sounds to electronic warbling and punchy bass. The disc takes a strange turn at track four, “The Waltz of the Frog Prince.” Of course, it is entirely up to an artist what to include on an album, but the whimsical music and narration sounds like a soundtrack to a children’s story, quite far afield from Brodsky’s typical style and quite out of place. “China Doll” fares better, a unique spin on a Grateful Dead tune. “Osiris” has a strong ethnic/world vibe, complete with tribal drums and chanting. The disc finishes strong with my two favorites. “Once More Around Ganymede” has a sci-fi feel, with space chatter in the background, perhaps NASA samples. “Forest For The Trees” is very quiet at first, almost silent, but very cool, with a bubbly little sequence, light and fun. It returns to the vibe of first three tracks, like a subtle fusion of all three - a little ambient atmosphere, a little sequencing, a little light electronica, a great way to finish.

 

 

Mac “Sleep”

(Free download here, 2010)

4 tracks, 51.27 mins

 

Normally I associate Mac of BIOnighT with upbeat, melodic synthesizer music. Even albums he tells me he wrote during a dark time seem optimistic to me for the most part.  I hadn’t even considered asking myself the question, “What would an ambient album by Mac sound like?” Now I don’t need to ask, because the answer is this excellent album. Sleep includes two lengthy tracks and two slightly shorter ones that explore the dark recesses and crevices, a surprisingly pure ambient album. It is hard to conceive of a Mac album completely devoid of sequencers, rhythm, and melody, and yet here it is. I have always appreciated Mac’s work, and now I appreciate the range of his talent a bit more. This is cool, dramatic, stuff, definitely a walk on the dark side. It doesn’t go to the dark depths of, say, Robert Rich and Lustmord, but it certainly should have some appeal for fans of that ilk. Highly recommended.

 

 

Michael Neil “Cornubia”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 1997)

7 tracks, 66.27 mins

 

Although the general rule of thumb is to start an album with a “grabber”, when you make space music it may be best to follow Michael Neil’s lead on Cornubia. The soft, delicate shimmers of “Helmen Tor” give the listener notice that this will be a calm, reflective journey with a hint of majesty. The word “soaring” is doubtless overused when describing highly emotive music, but that term certainly fits here. Near the end there is barely restrained yet sweeping grandeur. “Voices In Aether” is like the purest, softest planetarium music Jonn Serrie never made. Neil excels with delicate touches and subtle sonic nuance. After a brief, more symphonic turn on “Forth an Syns,” “Moor and Shore” continues journeying into the outer realms, this time with just a touch of melancholy perhaps, although a bubbly little sequence rises up as well, brightening things up a bit. “A Sea of Dreams” is aptly named, a serene floater. Quietest of all, at least at first, is “St. Piran,” barely audible for the first minute and a half, though it builds quite nicely into a more regal state. If all this weren’t enough, over a third of the album is still left with the exceptional 24-minute closing track, a gradually evolving slice of sonic bliss.

 

 

Michael Neil “Towards the Unknown Region”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2000)

8 tracks, 2 hrs, 2.23 mins

 

When thinking of the best space musicians of all time such as Jonn Serrie, Michael Stearns, Meg Bowles, and Constance Demby, the name of Michael Neil needs to also enter the conversation, if based only on this stellar album. From its opening moments, Towards the Unknown Region stands out as an amazing example of pure, deep space music. It all shimmers brightly with an ethereal soft touch from beginning to end. Soaring synths and whooshing winds gently drift by. There are subtle shades of light and dark, such as the slightly more melancholy expanses of “Scipsteorra,” but there is gentle warmth throughout. It is hard to imagine anything but a night sky full of stars when hearing tracks like “In the Silence of Space.” The tone is perfectly calm and serene throughout the album, including the epic 56-minute title track. This one has a few more highs and lows than the rest, reaching a powerful crescendo at one point early on, though it is still quite relaxing on the whole. If you are looking for a pure, fully immersive space music experience, this is it.

 

 

Dan Pound “Interlace”

(www.danpound.com, 2010)

6 tracks, 72.55 mins

 

Dan Pound returns with another in his unique brand of shamanic ambient electronic music. Though it still has his trademark organic washes of sound, Interlace is considerably more synthetic sounding than its predecessor The Fourth Way. Case in point is the mellow, bubbly opener “Fade To Black”. The sequencing is low key and yet mesmerizing. Bright shimmering sounds interlace with low growling electronics on the 16-minute title track. The brisk but quiet electronics here remind me a lot of Steve Roach’s album Proof Positive. The gentle floating nature of “Rare Refraction” is quite enjoyable, with sparse keys for added atmosphere. Percolating electronic grooves rise up again, followed later by a bit of flute, chanting, and soft tribal touches. Crisp, tinny percussion and amusing, bouncy synths adds a lighter touch to “Point of the Laser.” “Shadow Screen” reminds me of the looping, slightly glitchy stuff that Vir Unis has done on recordings like Book Of Mutations and Mercury and Plastic.   “Inside The Crystal” is a nice relaxing way to finish, with quirky electronics dancing about over the top of floating ambience.

 

 

Remy “EoD”

(www.akhrecords.nl, 2009)

5 tracks, 71.52 mins

 

Remy Stroomer’s 1999 debut album Exhibition of Dreams receives special treatment for its 10th anniversary in the form of multiple reissued versions, including: 1) a 24-bit remastered version of the original 2-CD release from 1999; 2) a limited CDR of never before released tracks from 1997-1999; and 3) a CD of newly interpreted versions of a selection of the original tracks. This review is for EoD, the newly interpreted single CD based on the original, with which I’m not familiar. A soft, brisk little sequence starts “Entering the Dream” very nicely, as a slower, meandering synth plays over the top of it. Track two is in a similar style but with a faster pace, appropriately entitled “Velocity”. As was typical of his earlier releases, Remy finds a hypnotic, sequencer-infused groove and rides it out to the end, with occasional key changes to mix it up a little. This one builds slowly, with warm pads and a bit of drums rounding out the sound. “Lunascape” takes things down several notches, a very relaxed, soothing piece. Drums bring the energy up a bit near the end but it remains low key. The subdued atmosphere continues on “Silent Conversations,” another cool, mellow mood piece. The 23-minute closer “Mirage” chooses a comfortable middle ground, an unassuming yet sublime track to bring things to a leisurely, enjoyable close, albeit with a bit of a dramatic kick at the end. I can’t say how it stacks up to the original, but it’s a fine album in its own right. Highly recommended.

 

 

Ben Swire “From Here To There”

(www.preservation.com.au, 2010)

8 tracks, 39 mins

 

I enjoyed the quirky, glitchy goodness of Ben Swire’s 4-track EP Equilibrium on the now-defunct label The Foundry. That was in 2002, and Swire has now resurfaced on the small indie Australian label Preservation with From Here To There, another short but equally satisfying collection of small gems. Swire has a unique, fresh musical voice that crosses boundaries of glitchy electronica, avant garde, ambient, and even a bit of jazz, courtesy of Aaron Keane on double bass on two tracks. Swire employs guitars, percussion, electronics, and field recordings to create his signature sound. “Propel” does just that, with a simple pulsing drum beat laid beneath gritty sonic textures. Throughout, the music has a relaxed vibe but is quite captivating due to the interesting timbres and how they are layered over one another. “Summer” has a glitchy component like a gently crackling campfire, offset by deep, resonant bass. Swire is uncanny in his ability to put a piece together just so, never too busy or too sparse, although the emphasis is on the latter, giving his compositions room to breathe and grow. “Far Removed” is a perfect example, a well thought-out piece that is unassuming yet assured. Restless churning and gurgling on “Halfway” give it a somewhat more experimental bent, but this is juxtaposed nicely alongside acoustic guitar. Each track is a treat. From Here To There is excellent.

 

 

Wim “The White Peak”

(www.admusiconline.com, 2008)

12 tracks, 63.52 mins

 

Wim is Ketil Lien from Norway. He lists his influences as Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kitaro, Vangelis and Mike Oldfield, which are evident on his solid debut The White Peak. ADMusic excels at having a signature sound as a label, and this fits right in with the warm, melodic, emotive music they are known for. “The Last Realm” has that Vangelis sense of majesty about it, like standing on a mountaintop and overlooking a vast valley. Synth strings soar, drums add the right punch, and piano fills out the sound just so. “Sirens From The Past” is a mellower, more reflective piece with soft choirs and a gently shuffling beat. “Econ Theme” is lighter still, with an expansive sound and an ethereal touch. The disc has a good flow to it as it mixes calmer reflective pieces like “Seeking Soft Atmospheres” and “Midnight Soul” with more upbeat selections like “Secret Paradise” and “Magic Hills.” The White Peak is easy-going, accessible, and quite pleasant throughout.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

May 2010
 
12 new albums reviewed this month
 

Alio Die & Parallel Worlds “Circo Divino”

(www.myspace.com/parallelworldsmusic, 2010)

6 tracks, 53.41 mins

 

Circo Divino is a collaboration between Stefano Musso (Alio Die) from Italy and Bakis Sirros (Parallel Worlds) from Greece. Musso’s organic ambience melds perfectly with Sirros’ electronic experimentation, actually sounding more like the former than the latter for the most part. The music is beautifully augmented by haunting vocals on three of the six tracks by India Czajkowska, including the opener “Lost Fractales.” The vocals are particularly edgy and unsettled here, in a good way. The title track is next, with Sirros’ blips and bleeps blending quite well with the moody sonic undercurrent. This is exceptionally good, mesmerizing stuff. The entire disc has a wonderful flow to it, though each piece forms a unique, immersive listening experience. Often the music sounds like it was recorded near a stream or in a damp cave, very atmospheric and spacious, as on “Electrostatic Forest.” Circo Divino is immediately likeable yet it should also hold up well on repeated listening as new nuances are discovered. Highly recommended.

 

 

Computerchemist “Aqual Measure”

(www.computerchemist.com, 2009)

6 tracks, 62.27 mins

 

Dave Pearson is Computerchemist, and Aqual Measure is my first exposure to his music although this is his fourth album. “Tantric Race” gets things going quickly with a rapid bass sequence, followed by mellotron flutes. Drums and lead guitar then open up the throttle as the music becomes a prog rock EM fest, something like Tangerine Dream’s Force Majeure. “Danube Flow” sounds more like modern electronica with its quirky, brisk sequencing, with a cool computerized metallic sheen. A soft, warm synth lead plays over the top, followed by gently rolling drums that remind me of Ron Boots. A beautiful majestic synth takes over at 3:30, a wonderful crescendo that catches me off guard. This track is light, optimistic, and playfully energetic, superb. “Mirage” will grab sequencer fans from the get-go with its mesmerizing loops. The sizzling echoes of electric guitar are excellent as well. Speaking of guitar, the title track features Uwe Cremer on lead guitar and it is a powerful addition, reminding me of German ax man Maxxess. “Standing Waves, Standing Still” is a slow builder that really gets cooking once the sequencing kicks in about a third of the way through, with drums adding to the energy after that. “Atlantic Rift” offers a spacey change of pace, very low key and hypnotic until a surprising release of pent-up dissonant noise around the 8:00 mark that is haunting and intense, unleashing a power rock section that is totally unexpected, before the last 45 seconds of the album drift off into deep space.

 

 

John Dyson “Darklight”

(www.johndysonmusic.com, 2009)

10 tracks, 68.23 mins

 

As John Dyson points out in the liner notes, Darklight comes 25 years after Mind Journey, his debut as Wavestar with the late Dave Ward-Hunt. Since that time, both as part of Wavestar and as a solo act, Dyson has released a number of well-received albums in the tight-knit EM community, all with his signature warmth and optimism. Those who think synthesizer music sounds cold and unfeeling have clearly never heard a Dyson recording. Darklight, despite its name, is as light and uplifting as his prior works. There are melancholy moments here and there, as on the sweet, sad strings of “Perhaps,” but even then the music remains enchanting. Soaring strains of guitar like synth leads add an epic feel to “Another Moon,” while ethereal choirs add just the right airy quality to “Blessing.” Everything seems to work, even synth bagpipes on “Kintyre To Skye,” with pizzicato strings and light sequencing. “Retro 82” is a superb flashback sure to conjure waves of nostalgia for Berlin school fans, as is the excellent title track to close out the disc. Darklight is full of thoughtful, carefully crafted compositions with melodies that will linger long after the album stops playing.

 

 

Gert Emmens “The Nearest Faraway Place Vol. 2”

(www.groove.nl, 2009)

7 tracks, 71.39 mins

 

Volume 2 of The Nearest Faraway Place picks up, quite literally, where Volume 1 left off, with “Part 8.” After a few deep space sounds, the first percolating sequence picks up the pace, with choirs and warm pads to round things out. A bright synth lead and drums complete the easygoing, enjoyable sonic picture. “Part 9” has an unexpected brief Spanish dialogue read by a man and woman before mesmerizing sequences once again ensue. Gert’s signature sound is unmistakable, with the squelchy, wavering synth lead. “Part 10” starts in deep space again until yet another killer sequence opens ‘er up, classic retro stuff that really chugs along nicely. After a mellow, melodic “Part 11,” the Berlin school fest continues on “Part 12.” All this, and still 31 minutes to go on the last two epic pieces. “Part 13” has another spoken word passage, in French this time. The entire disc is unabashedly, unapologetically Teutonic in origin, and once again very well done by Emmens.

 

 

The Glimmer Room “I Remain”

(www.theglimmerroom.co.uk/, 2010)

9 tracks, 41.52 mins

 

One of the most expressive electronic musicians working today, Andy Condon aka The Glimmer Room returns with this warm melodic offering. Divided into nine parts for ease of listening, it is nonetheless his intent that it be played through as a single piece of music. Deep female choirs add a touch of the ethereal in part one. I don’t really notice when the first part moves into the second; both are light, airy, and uplifting, with just a hint of melancholia. Warm pads and softly played synths weave delicately together. “Part 3” shimmers a little more brightly as the choirs return, and it reminds me somewhat of the final track on Global Communication’s classic 76:14 album. A sparse bass line meanders coolly through it toward the end. The first discernible rhythm appears in “Part 4” but the mood remains gentle and the music soothing. Andy really lets the music breathe throughout. Even brief bridging pieces like parts seven and eight with rain, piano, and choirs have beautiful subtleties about them. The final part ends the disc with a majestic flourish. I like that Andy has a strong sense of what he wants to accomplish, and doesn’t feel the need to pad an album unnecessarily. In just under 42 minutes he says what he needs to say, and says it very well, and that’s more than enough.

 

 

Peter James “The More I Look The Less I See”

(Free download from last.fm here, 2009)

7 tracks, 72.25 mins

 

Peter James’ excellent The More I Look The Less I See” is yet another free music download that flies in the face of “you get what you pay for.” Make no doubt about it, this is surreal, immersive, top-notch ambience. Dark, rolling waves of sound permeate the album, starting with the whooshing winds of “Dislocation.” “Free From Thoughts of Now”, a very natural progression from the opener, takes things darker and deeper. This is ambient in the truest sense, no melody, no rhythm, just formless washes of sound. The centerpiece is “Landfall”, nearly 36 minutes of various subtle sonic shadings, some lighter, some darker, all enjoyable. The dark ethereal tones of “Searching for the Sky Within” remind me of the floating space music of Deepspace. “Sunlight on the Veil” is my personal favorite, pure floating space music, a touch lighter than the rest, though every single track is good. Download immediately and enjoy.

 

 

Byron Metcalf – Dashmesh Khalsa – Steve Roach

“Dream Tracker”

(From Steve’s site here or Byron’s site here, 2010)

6 tracks, 73.24 mins

 

Byron and Steve are no strangers to musical collaboration, most notably the excellent release The Serpent’s Lair. Here Byron’s powerful drumming and Steve’s soothing atmospheric touches again produce a positive result. They are joined by Dashmesh Khalsa on didgeridoo primarily, with two other guest musicians. The sonic tapestry is beautifully weaved together into a unified whole. The 20-minute title track has mesmerizing rhythms and delicately textured, swirling electronic soundscapes. Combining these elements pays dividends throughout, with a little more digeridoo here (“Dreamtime Alchemy”), a slower more minimal tempo there (“From the Inside”). “Thunder Walk” begins with a pounding, insistent beat that forms a firm foundation and lends a powerful, visceral feel. The didgeridoo is more pronounced as well, excellent work by Khalsa. The drums change quite a bit on this one in terms of complexity, pace, and timbre. “Roo Runner” starts with warm synths from Steve, soon joined by briskly moving drums and didgeridoo. Each track allows just a enough space at the end to breathe, the drums dropping out of the mix, before picking up again in the next, giving a nice overall flow to the album, which ends on a softer, dreamier note with “Realms of the Sacred Seed.” Dream Tracker is a treat for tribal ambient fans.

 

 

Premonition Factory “59 Airplanes Waiting For New York”

(http://premonitionfactory.com/, 2010)

6 tracks, 51 mins

 

Premonition Factory is Sjaak Overgaauw from Belgium, and his excellent debut CD is mastered by Dirk Serries aka vidnaObmana. This is delicate, sparse ambience is fresh and exciting, even as it soothes and relaxes. Every detail from the sonic clarity to the nuanced sounds to the gorgeous trifold digipak is expertly executed. Whether it is gently strummed notes to open the disc, the resonant drones of “Needless to Say Anything,” or the rumbling undercurrents of “To The Dark Place Where It Leads,” or the soft floating of “The Future Will Be Whatever We Make It,” every note seems carefully considered, purposefully planned, and yet it all flows by effortlessly. The title track features reverberating piano along the lines of Harold Budd, floating over a bed of edgy buzzes and soft static. A touch of the experimental and avant garde runs through the album, but it remains very listenable and thoroughly engaging throughout. Highly recommended.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Time & Motion”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2010)

10 tracks, 2 hrs, 37.04 mins

 

Radio Massacre International continues to extend the reach of their sonic exploration on Time & Motion, over 2 ½ hours of excellent electronic music. Martin Archer plays all things woodwind on various tracks. However, the trademark RMI sound is very much intact, as evidenced on the excellent 17-minute opener “Kairos.” Although Archer’s sax is there, so are a plethora of electronic deep space bleeps and twitters. The freeform musical structure plus the sax lends a jazz vibe, although five minutes in the sequencing sends things chugging along, along with Houghton’s always-welcome guitars. Midway through it seems to take a page from Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” with a very similar shrieking sound. “Kairos” is one of the band’s best. (Note: You can preview this entire track for free on their website here.) The woodwinds on “The Clockwork Time Dragon,” fit in nicely with the sequencing, guitar, and drums. Each track is given plenty of breathing room, the shortest clocking in at over nine minutes. “Aeon” is a beautiful, spacious, atmospheric number, very relaxing. Full Berlin school mode ensures in “Chronos” and “Equatorial Pitch,” both a bit laid back owing to the dreamy quality of Houghton’s guitar. “Fission Ships Pt 1” is trippy abstract stuff with no beats, sequencing or melody to speak of, very cool. “Maybe a Last Look at Joe’s House” begins with soothing organ music, then evolves into first-rate prog rock. “Fission Ships Pt 2” is the band at its improvisational daring best, a quiet, meandering 24-minute piece with subtle movements and sounds that reward repeated listening. “Nine: Four: One” is similar but even more “out there” in terms of its range of styles and sounds, cool and yet intense. This brings us to “30 Years”, dating back to Borrowed Atoms in 1998. Archer’s sax reappears, making this considerably different from the original in that regard, but it works in its own right and is a solid finish to another highly successful RMI outing.

 

 

Robert Rich “Ylang”
(
www.robertrich.com, 2010)

9 tracks, 53.11 mins

 

There are few ambient artists today as adventurous as Robert Rich. He blends East and West, yin and yang, electronic and acoustic, in ways that defy categorization. Ylang is a feast for the ears, with densely layered textures and atmosphere. “Amergris” and “Translucent” sound  not too unlike previous primordial ambience that Rich has created, though it is hardly what I’d call derivative. But “Attar” breaks new ground into what might best be described as earthy lounge or ambient jazz. The drums and piano definitely have that lounge/jazz vibe to them, which continues into “Verbena.” I love the rhythms throughout, particularly here. The rich sound is partially due to a plethora of guest musicians and the wordless vocals of Emily Bezar. Rich’s flute playing is superb as usual, particularly on “Kalyani,” which has some warm pads flowing through it as well, before a lively ending of flute and percussion. A jazzy flavor returns on “Tamarack” with brushed percussion and sparse piano, though ambient touches abound as well. “Charukesi” has a strong world music element to it. Forrest Fang’s violin adds a melancholy touch to “First Rain” as the disc draws to a close. Ylang is Robert Rich at his earthy, organic, ambient best.

 

 

Ian Tescee “A Traveler’s Guide To Mars”

(www.iantescee.com, 2008)

14 tracks, 53.32 mins

 

This album is apparently the soundtrack to a planetarium presentation based on a book by the same name. It launches right into things, a quick fade in to what seems almost like the middle of a song. A female voice introduces things by saying, “this is mission control Mars.” It has a strong Jean-Michel Jarre feel, with bright energetic synths, sequencing, and rhythms. Electric guitar adds a majestic touch toward the end. Tunes are carefully and tightly orchestrated. There is a certain flashiness to it all that will reach some and alienate others; the production is excellent, if a bit slick. I find myself wanting to rebel against how smooth it all is, but it is undeniably catchy with loads of hooks. Even subdued tracks like “Earthrise” are filled with little nuances that grab attention. This one has a brisk bubbly sequence, a bit of guitar that is almost like Pink Floyd, and a beautiful piano passage toward the end. “The Lost City of Mars” sounds a bit thin at first, but I love the rhythm, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream from the mid to late 1980s, and the main theme builds nicely after that. Speaking of themes, they are strong throughout. Tracks like “Dust-Red Sky” and “God of War” paint pictures very well, melding the music to the subject matter. There is a sweeping, cinematic feel to it all. The whole album feels somewhat like a guilty pleasure, but it’s one that I found myself succumbing to fairly quickly.

 

 

Terje Winther “Electronic Regions”

(www.wintherstormer.com, 2009)

5 + 3 tracks, 60.50 + 79.07 mins

 

Terje Winther from Norway has an affinity for the Berlin school sound with his own unique take on it. He makes a personal musical statement on Electronic Regions, a 2-CD set covering a wide swath of sonic terrain. Disc one is the 5-part “Entering Regions Suite”, beginning with “Time”, an 11-minute experimental piece reminiscent of very early Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream, a stark, barren landscape of minimal sounds. At first, long sustained tones are shrill and disturbing, but once it calms down there is a cool, early krautrock feel to it as warbling electronics and vintage organ combine in a simple yet effective manner. “And Again” is just buzzing abstract noise mostly, thankfully short. Winther hits his stride on the last three tracks, “I Feel My Life”, “Repeating (Itself)”, “Over (Again)”. Together they form 45 minutes of solid retro space music, from cool floating sections to energetic sequencer fests, all using fat vintage synth sounds. “Electronic Rendezvous” starts disc two in synth pop mode with a short quirky playful piece before launching into two epic space journeys, clocking in at over 51 and 23 minutes, respectively. Each has sequencers as the backbone driving them along through Teutonic territory. Winther’s music has a certain barely-controlled quality about it giving it more sense of adventure than some of his contemporaries, sometimes over-the-top but at other times finding that the risks pay off.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

March 2010

 

12 albums are reviewed this month

 

 

Scott August “Radiant Sky”

(www.cedarmesa.com, 2010)

10 tracks, 59.33 mins

 

Radiant Sky is the latest of several releases by Scott August, but this is my first introduction to his music. The back cover aptly describes the album as relaxing, meditative music, full of pianos, flutes, and “ambient dreamscapes.” New age and world elements combine to good effect with a soothing quality throughout. Ethereal airy synths start the disc as “Calling the Sun” begins. A bit melancholy with a touch of drama, this would make excellent soundtrack music. The rich atmospheric touches and sparse piano remind me of Patrick O’Hearn. Flutes take center stage throughout tracks four through six, particularly on the minimal “Since the Stars Fell.” August is clearly an accomplished flautist, and whether alone or combined with other timbres it shows. His light touch on guitar on several pieces also adds a nice dimension. Many of the selections sound like they were made for high desert country, while others sound like calm, reflective night music, regardless of locale. Radiant Sky is “prettier” than most electronic music I listen to, but it is exceptionally well done and has plenty to offer new age fans.

 

 

Ian Boddy, Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock,

and David Wright  “Trinity”

(www.admusiconline.com, 2010)

11 tracks, 2 hrs, 48 secs

 

Trinity is a fantastic collaboration combining three dominant forces in electronic music circles over the years, captured live at the AD Music Festival in September 2009. This set of live reinterpretations of some of their best solo recordings is available as either an MP3 download or a 2 CDR set. Boddy’s superb synths and sequencing, Wright’s soaring melodies, and Hoffmann-Hoock’s expressive guitar playing form a perfect EM triangle. “Halcyon” a perfect example of the synergy from these three artists, as Hoffmann-Hoock’s dreamy guitar playing perfectly complements the light and airy atmosphere of the synths. Though starting in relaxed mode, it builds quite nicely into a warm, moderately energetic piece. “Conundrum” is the eastern-tinged title track from Klaus’ collaboration with Bernhard Wöstheinrich, and this live rendition gives it just a little extra oomph. Punchy synths and a soaring lead line drive “Shifting Sands” forward, one of several tracks that allow plenty of room to explore the sonic space before moving on to the next. David Wright’s classic “Walking With Ghosts” is beautifully rendered here as well, moving and majestic. “Foundry” is a signature Boddy piece from his Elemental album, with the edgy aggressive style reminiscent of his work with Mark Shreeve as ARC. The title track is a new 19-minute Berlin school piece that chugs along just as it should. In short, this is an outstanding summary of the body of work of these three, and I can’t imagine a fan of melodic Berlin school EM wanting to be without this.

 

 

Javi Canovas “Behind The Shadows”

(Available through MusicZeit here, 2010)

12 tracks, 65.06

 

From the opening notes of “Long Way to the Dale,” you can tell this is a different Javi Canovas recording. At first, you think maybe it is just a dreamy, atmospheric beginning before the melodic synths and brisk sequencing takes off, but soon you come to realize this is a more free-flowing, ambient Canovas, though every bit as good as the upbeat melodic Canovas. Brimming with light and warmth, the soothing tones wash over you, thoroughly relaxing. Each track floats slowly by, pure space music, pure drifting. Melody and rhythm are not to be found, only slow washes of sound. Although most tracks have both lighter and darker elements, the album seems to get progressively darker toward the end. “Nocturne” has an edge to it, the sonic palette having a bit more bite. “Isolated World” is appropriately stark, even cold, with deeply resonant metallic tones. The contrast in style from Javi’s prior releases is surprising, but the end result on Behind The Shadows is equally favorable. If you seek the ultimate floating music, look no further.

 

 

Interconnected “Current Flow”

(www.myspace.com/interconnectedmusic, 2010)

9 tracks, 49 mins

 

Bakis Sirros (Parallel Worlds) and Ingo Zobel form Interconnected, an electronic music duo forged by a love of all things analog and modular, creating a unique organic/synthetic hybrid sound. “Greenerblue” is a great opener with its irresistibly catchy rhythms and melody. The beats shuffle along just so, synths waft gently over the top, and female synthlike vocals flow into the mix as well.  The darker, more minimalist approach on “Dark Clouds” immediately brings to mind Node’s excellent self-titled album, as percolating percussion propels things along. Spastic rhythms get “Springs” off to a quirky start, a familiar Bakis musical styling from his Parallel Worlds albums, and somewhat reminiscent of Saul Stokes as well. “Deepestsespeed” and its glitchy loops remind me of some of Vir Unis work such as Mercury and Plastic or his Perimeter series with James Johnson. Each track slips into a groove and goes with the rhythmic flow until the next one comes. My favorite may be “Timebender,” with its cool relaxed bass line and layers of crisp percussion and electronics. In short, there’s plenty to like here.

 

 

Steve Roach “Live at Grace Cathedral”

(www.steveroach.com, 2010)

3 + 4 tracks, 43.18 + 73.04 mins

 

Often a live album is just variations on familiar themes from works already owned in their studio versions by fans. Sometimes though, a live performance takes on a life of its own, capturing the energy of the moment and rearranging the artist’s work in a fresh way. Live at Grace Cathedral falls firmly into the latter category, a wonderful continuous ambient flow. Calling up sections of seminal works ranging from The Magnificent Void and Light Fantastic to New Life Dreaming, Proof Positive, and more, Steve was clearly in his element in this performance from a couple of years ago in San Francisco. Flowing with ease from bright floating tones to dark, rumbling undercurrents of sound, the disc is a soothing atmospheric journey. Disc one in particular has a captivating flow to it, distilling the essence of Steve Roach into a seamless 43-minute montage. Disc two continues the flow, adding a touch of texture with soft percussion in part two and a lengthy energetic excerpt of Proof Positive in part three. Live at Grace Cathedral makes an excellent introduction to Steve Roach for the uninitiated and is sure to please the most stalwart fan as well.

 

 

Silvercord “Symphony of Sighs”

(Free download here from Earth Mantra netlabel, 2010)

4 tracks, 61.52 mins

 

Silvercord is Geoff Nostrant and Symphony of Sighs is a wonderfully delicate ambient release. This intricately weaved collection of swirling sounds is one of the most entrancing releases I’ve heard in a while, the sort of thing you can truly immerse and completely lose yourself in. The first movement, “Within My Heart’s Slumbering Soul,” is nearly 12 minutes of the purest dream-inducing stuff I’ve come across in 15 years of reviewing. Each piece is deceptive in that it seems to be fairly static, but as you listen all these nuances come through. The effect reminds me very much of drone specialist Jliat, who makes tone poems that have an amazingly hypnotic, meditative quality. Movement two, “Rapture”, is nearly 20 minutes long, and while the timbres are quite different, but listening experience is quite similar. There seem to be more distinct changes here, but that could just be my perception, and that’s still a relative term only. Those who prefer structure in their music will likely just not get it. Of note, “Shores of Never” has great spatial separation – when the track started I thought another stereo was playing to the left of me, and that’s just on my PC speakers! Male choirs give this brief number a more melancholy feel. The last track is the most sudbued yet, with sparse pianos that seem to echo into infinity. I’m reminded somewhat of Harold Budd’s collaboration with the Cocteau Twins, The Moon and the Melodies. This is the most distinctive piece, with some semblance of melody and a definite though quite gradual progression throughout its nearly 25-minute course. Perfect for late night listening.

 

 

René  van der Wouden “Numerus Fixus”

(www.renevanderwouden.net, 2009)

8 tracks, 63.23 mins

 

Part one of Numerus Fixus starts with a wavering bell tone and then a percolating bass line follows it along. A cool synth lead that sounds like vintage Klaus Schulze or an old sci-fi film comes next. Mellotron-like strings make a welcome appearance later on. Rene has a sense of fun about his music, and this one gets things started off on a happy note, or rather, 14 minutes of notes. Part two begins with computerized-sounding bits and a whooshing wind. Sequencing is a low bass tone that bounces all around, forming the basis for the piece as pads and other elements, including a nice synth flute lead, are gradually added here and there. After these two lengthier pieces, the remaining parts are more byte-sized. Part three has a light, lilting quality, very pleasant. Part four and others that follow are a little high on the cuteness factor, but you’ll likely find it impossible to keep your toes from tapping along. If you like upbeat synthesizers and synth pop, Numerus Fixus has your number.

 

 

René  van der Wouden “Sequential Tourism”

(www.renevanderwouden.net, 2008)

5 tracks, 69.56 mins

 

The best part of Rene van der Wouden’s album Sequential Tourism is that there are no synths trying to sound like guitars or violins or cellos – just synths sounds liking synths, as it should be. Deep space twitters start the 16-minute title track, and the energetic sequencing picks up the pace a few minutes later. Percussion builds the energy further, crashing in on a wall of sound, with warm pads always there in the background for a richer sound. A full-on beat ensues later on, and the synth lead lines fill in the gaps. “Sequential Solitude” has a more majestic feel to start, very free flowing for the first several minutes, quite nice. A twittering synth skitters in for a while, then just before the 8:00 mark the first bubbly sequencing emerges. Drums start a couple of minutes later, but this one remains a bit more restrained than the first, and it works well. “Bataille Dans Les Nuages” has a more playful, bouncy sequencer pattern, albeit at a slower tempo, but the slack is taken up once the steady beat comes in. A synth lead in the higher register carries things in the closing minutes. “Arcadia” starts with a cool sound that reminds me of a firework called a ground bloom flower, as it spins out just before it exhausts. A pinging synth with an Asian flavor comes next, and becomes quite hypnotic as it continues. The latter half of the track is different but still emphasizes brisk sequencing and lots of synthesizers. “The Sequential Tourists” is a perfect 80s Tangerine Dream throwback, reminiscent of their soundtrack work from that period, a fun, lighthearted way to finish.

 

 

Phillip Wilkerson “Early Works”

(Available from CD Baby here, 2009)

7 tracks, 57.48 mins

 

Phillip Wilkerson’s sophomore release is a collection of recordings from 2005-2007 dedicated to his early listeners. “Warm Air” is a smooth, pleasant way to draw the listener in quickly before moving into some longer ambient pieces. “The Adagio for Dreamers” showcases Wilkerson’s ethereal, minimalist approach to ambient, shimmering brightly as usual. I like how his music has a positive, relaxing mood without being the least bit sentimental or sweet, steering clear of the pitfalls of new age. “Nightwatchers One” is more delicate still, nearly 15 minutes of warm ambient bliss. “Four A.M.” is a quiet piece with a sparse lead instrument that sounds like piano enhanced in some way, augmented by a delicate female choir in the background. “The Stillness of Time” fills the air with chirping birds and other outdoor sounds, the synths almost an afterthought to the environmental noises. Budd and Eno come to mind on “Untitled (April 13 2007)”, with simple piano and atmospheric textures, a truly beautiful piece. The bright shimmers of “One Night of Joy” bring the disc to a peaceful close. Highly recommended.

 

 

Phillip Wilkerson “Still Point”

(Free download here from Earth Mantra netlabel, 2008)

8 tracks, 59.21 mins

 

The title track of Phillip Wilkerson’s Still Point features sustained organ-like tones, breathing slowly in and out. This is ambient minimalism at its best, similar and yet distinct from the works of Budd, Eno, and others. The sound is smooth as glass and hypnotic in its effect. This particular track has “classic” written all over it from the first listen. “Primrose” is similar but lighter, with more resonant tones toward the end. “Still and Moving” is more subdued, but again there is familiarity, as each piece plays like part of the whole. Up through “All Is Always Now,” each track is without discernible melody, and completely devoid of rhythm, although a certain shimmering effect gives the illusion of setting a pace at times. The pattern is finally broken on “The Palace of Dreams,” which features tinkling like a triangle or a chime, a light beat, and soft melodic piano. As good as the first four tracks were, the move away from such a homogenous sound is welcome. “First World” shifts back down into pure floating mode, swirling in a slightly darker fashion though still with a very calming quality about it, again showing nice variation from the earlier sections. “Shadow Washes” is similar to Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence in that it breathes so slowly as to fade to silence at several points throughout. The brief but beautiful closing track “Grace” makes a nice, light finish to a promising debut from Wilkerson.

 

ED. NOTE: Earth Mantra is a netlabel of completely free music. The only donations they accept are to a few select recommended charities on their behalf. I think that is completely, totally 100% awesome! Be sure to check it out.

 

 

Phillip Wilkerson “Sun Tracer”

(Free download here from Earth Mantra netlabel, 2010)

10 tracks, 59.58 mins

 

Wilkerson’s ethereal tones seem to mature by degrees on each subsequent release, which is saying something because his first album was strong to begin with. “Sun Tracer Part I” starts in typical Wilkerson ambient mode, but finds him exploring the edges of Berlin school toward the end. A light but assured hand with the drums and sequencing makes for surprisingly natural extension of Wilkerson’s silky sound. “Closest Approach” is a brief shimmering piece, and then sequencing returns on “Radial Velocity.” Bubbly and light, it retains his signature warmth and optimism. “Infinite Possibility” goes back to the light and airy sound, and reminds me of early Jonn Serrie space music, always a good thing in my book. “Orbital Bliss” continues the seesaw journey between pure ambient and livelier sequencer-based pieces. Despite the variance, the disc still flows quite well. This is not a retro sound at all, just another tool that Wilkerson skillfully adds to his sonic cache. These more rhythmic pieces don’t remind me of a particular artist or period in electronic music; they are simply pleasant, well-crafted melodies created with synths and sequencers. “Proper Motion” is the most ambient thus far, subdued and subtle. With a title like “Interstellar Medium” I expect sequencers to return but instead am greeted by the purest, deepest space music yet. Part two of the title track continues where part one left off, and plays like a reprise. This seems a very natural point to finish the album, making “Adrift in Peace” feel like a fitting dreamy epilogue. Another great Wilkerson release.

 

 

David Wright “Sines of Life Vol. 2”

(www.admusiconline.com, 2009)

11 tracks, 2 hrs and 14.54 mins

 

Sines of Life Vol. 2 is over two quality hours of previously unreleased live and studio recordings from UK synthesist David Wright spanning 1998-2008. The disc starts in fine form with “Rhysheara,” an upbeat melodic number with a soft beat. “First Call” is very Enigma-like with male chants surrounded by bright piano and warm strings. “Kaleidoscope” has a more playful tone as bouncy synths dance about. “Crystal Clouds” is classic retro of the spacey floating variety, with a beautiful bright piano solo near the end, quite reminiscent of the way Tangerine Dream blended piano and synths so well on Ricochet. “Nomad (Alternate MIX)” begins and end with thunder, but is dance-floor ready with its irresistibly catchy rhythms in between. Speaking of catchy, the pulsing bass line in “Cosmosis” is equally infectious. With an able assist from Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock, this is 21 minutes of hypnotic Berlin school bliss. Wright always has a good melodic touch, as evidenced on the light and airy piece “A Night In September,” and the lively “Passing Thru.” These are tunes that will play happily in your head long after the music fades. So much good stuff has passed already, and yet the final three tracks offer well over 50 minutes of more first rate synthesizer music, including the majestic floater “Depth From Motion” and the 33-minute epic “China” with its effervescent percolating sequences. This is an amazingly cohesive and strong collection, a virtual must-have for the EM fan.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

 

February 2010

 

7 albums are reviewed this month

 

Beta Cloud “Lunar Monograph”

(www.betacloud.com, 2010)

5 tracks, 67.37 mins

 

Two tracks in to Beta Cloud’s latest release Lunar Monograph I already find myself totally captivated, particularly by the 22-minute masterpiece of piano, rain, and occasional found sounds like sirens that make up “Sea of Rains,” a deceptively simple yet elegant piece. This is one of the best mood pieces ever. The track preceding it, “Marsh of Sleep”, is equally relaxing and soporific, a skillful blend of ambient textures and field recordings of people milling about in the background. After being lulled into a relaxed state, “Marsh of Epidemics” transforms the atmosphere with a wall of sound and slow heavy beats, reminding me of My Bloody Valentine or early Cocteau Twins. It is a bold move, and one could argue that it belongs on a different album, but it is a quality track nonetheless. “Sea of Tranquility” goes back to ambience, a companion piece of sorts to “Sea of Rains.” It sets a darker tone but likewise finds a very comfortable space and explores every nuance of it for 20 wonderful minutes. An organ-like drone floats into infinity as shimmering higher choir-like tones balance it off nicely. More city sounds emerge toward the end. If the disc only contained these two tracks it would still be worth every penny. “Bay of Billows” is a soft sound collage of field recordings and processed guitar sounds that finish off this excellent disc in fine form. Carl Pace, the man behind Beta Cloud, has already set the bar high for 2010 ambient recordings.

 

 

BIOnighT “Resonance of the Spirit”

(www.bionight.net, 2009)

11 tracks, 56.54 mins

 

Two years in the making, Mac and Sbrizzi’s latest release Resonance of the Spirit is a beautiful melding of acoustic and electronic instruments. Although the trademark Berlin school sound still appears, there are surprising passages that sound almost Elizabethan in tone, like on “Pendulums”, “Sentiero”, “Antiforse”, and the beginning of “Sky Road”. This Italian duo has always had diverse musical tastes, so it is not wholly unexpected that those influences would start finding their way onto their albums. “Narem” is an excellent blending of styles, with dissonant flutes, mournful male vocals, and an underlying pulsing sequencer pattern.  At times the mood is whimsical, at others more somber or reflective. For example, “Looking into the Water” features piano, oboe, and soft strings and percussion. When “Crisalide” begins with more piano, it’s starting to appear as if the electronic aspect of the music has been left behind almost entirely, but it reemerges after a couple of minutes with a perky bit of sequencing that bubbles up, followed by warm synth strings. Though it runs 11 minutes and does build somewhat throughout, it is a largely restrained affair, exceptionally pleasant and soothing. “Golden Desert” goes back to the classic Teutonic sound, a nice rhythmic piece with a dramatic flair toward the end. Quite a different sound from prior BIOnighT albums, but one certainly worth experiencing.

 

 

Robert Davies “Gallery of Spirits”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 60.38 mins

 

Robert Davies has quickly become a personal favorite with his smooth blend of dark ambience. Synthetic yet organic, his mellow style rewards listeners looking for subtle background music or an intentional listening experience. The title track seems to shimmer in a circular fashion, swirling about with a metallic sheen. “Bouyant Sentience” goes deeper and darker with haunting choirs, though it still has a calming, soothing effect. “Langorous Musing” is more delicate and considerably lighter, followed by the pure drifting of “Apparition,” 12 dreamy minutes of effortlessly ethereal floating. Most of the album is characterized by formless, flowing sonic creations, completely devoid of rhythm and largely without discernible melodic structure. Occasionally, as on “Sinuous Manifestation”, bell-like tones or something else vaguely recognizable as conventional music emerges, but for the most part it is just soothing sounds from origins unknown – which will suit ambient fans including myself just fine, thank you.

 

 

Deepspace “The Glittering Domain”

(www.hypnos.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 71.25 mins

 

Mirko Ruckels returns with another fine release in The Glittering Domain. “The Chord of the Abyss” starts with slow, majestic sweeping synths, cinematic in scope and feel. I can picture a sunrise, a moonrise, or journeying through space. Sparse piano reverberates into infinity, the echoes trailing off into the deep. “Encountering Giants” starts similarly, soft and free-flowing, but bubbly electronics soon add a lighter dimension, followed by a deep dive into restless, metallic dark drones. “The Colossals” has a lead synth line that is vaguely Vangelis like. The whimsically titled “Crushed by the Weight of Angels” is the lengthiest and most substantive track, with a bit more structure to it, although distinct melody and rhythm remain largely hidden from view. However, the sonic palette is a bit broader, with subtle additional shading and sonic layering. There are at least three or four distinct sections to the piece, although each is seamless. “Lacrimosa’s Visitation” is another highlight, a shimmering beauty with melancholy strings, light synth touches, and a slow bass pulse. But the crown jewel is the subtly undulating title track, equal parts light and dark, pure floating music. Mirko’s moniker is apt throughout, as this is definitely the sound of Deepspace.

 

 

Redshift “Wild 3”

(www.redshift.biz, 2009)

4 tracks, 59.17 mins

 

Wild 3 is an excellent collection of previously unreleased live and studio recordings. The band describes “Redshift 08” as a “loose interpretation” of the title track from their first album; it has that usual driving bass pulse and those soaring synths and sequencers, everything that fans have come to expect. The Boddy/Shreeve/Shreeve lineup keeps the aggressive Berlin school train chugging right along, although my favorite passage is the spacey atmospheric section in the closing minutes. Continuing the homage to their debut, “Shift to Blue” is “tenuously related” to “Blueshift” from that album. Both of these new interpretations are wholly viable pieces in their own right, the latter in particular. Stepping back to 2004 we find “Schlachthof-Fünf,” a light airy piece featuring a soft touch on electric piano by James Goddard at the beginning and end, very nice. Of course, things don’t stay that way for long, as a warbly bit of sequencing and an aggressive bass line kick things up a notch in that moody dramatic Redshift way. Goddard also plays a rocking guitar section here that is superb. “Broken World” dates back to 1996, and starts with deep space transmissions and male choirs. The lead synth line seems just a bit different in tone, a precursor to the sound they would firmly establish in short order. After a few minutes sequencing and fluty synths carry it along. This piece is a particularly fun bit of EM history, and a great way to close out another solid Redshift outing.

 

 

Spyra “January In June”

(www.namlook.de, 2009)

8 tracks, 71.29 mins

 

One of my perennial personal favorites Spyra is back with another stellar release, January In June. Wolfram again finds himself skillfully blending elements of jazz, rock and electronica into a heady irresistible mix. “Transitautobahn” starts with familiar timbres including xylophone, bass, and sparse piano, along with a grooving rhythm. “Budapest” is quite similar to “Kingoldrum” at first, with a softly strummed repeating chord, background vocal samples, and an edgy, fuzzed-out guitar tone laid over the top on occasion. The drums are simple but very forward in the mix for an interesting effect – it sounds like they are right on top of you, as if being played in the same room. It takes a darker, more dramatic turn toward the end, then gently fades away. Buzzes and restless rhythms get “Bytom” started, until it too takes a jazzy turn with light electric keys and shuffling percussion. An aggressive, dark rock guitar sound then asserts itself, a great twist to the usual Spyra canon. “Scheekoppe” is a perfect contrast with its quiet minimal beginning, more acoustic than electronic in tone, followed by an irresistibly melancholy melody. The title track is equally low-key but in its own inimitable way. The best thing about January in June is that it stretches Spyra’s sound in new and interesting ways while still keeping the best parts of what make Spyra sound like, well, Spyra.

 

 

UtopiaXO “The Light”

(www.viewutopia.com, 2009)

18 tracks, 68.41 mins

 

Occasionally if a CD’s packaging is attractive or unique I will make a passing comment in my review. However, in the case of The Light, I must spend some time here. This is without a doubt the most elaborately packaged CD I have ever seen. First, there is a large box, somewhat larger than two DVD boxes stacked side by side. A cardboard sleeve cover has beautiful photography of green grasses in the English countryside. Opening the box within, one is greeted by pressed flowers and wheat. My package contained a personalized letter and track-by-track description on stationary matching the album cover. Finally, carefully ensconced in the center, is a trifold digipak containing the disc and a multipage booklet on high-quality paper. It is clear that for Dave Hesketh, the man behind UtopiaXO, making and releasing The Light was clearly a labor of love. The credits list influences from Eno and Philip Glass to Goldfrapp, Mike Oldfield, and early Pink Floyd. The end result is a soothing, ethereal blend of genres, the eighteen tracks flowing seamlessly as a single unified musical work. Piano, guitars, water, occasional vocals and more combine to form a unique tapestry of sound. Some, like “The Garden”, are minimal and reflective, with gentle electronics, piano, and a church bell. Others, like “Union” and “Blue Skies”, include gently strummed guitar for a light, acoustic rock touch. Sara Hughes voice is quite pleasant and appears on several tracks, some in the background, and others with extensive soliloquies. Overall, The Light has the feel of a dreamy soundtrack to a story that emanates from Hesketh’s creative imagination.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

 

January 2010

 

27 albums are reviewed this month, including some that made the Best of 2009 list - see the Features page for who finished on top.

 

2009 “Wixel – Clouds”

(Free download here, 2009)

5 tracks, 29.44 mins

 

I continue to be amazed by the quality of some of the electronic music on the internet that is absolutely free. I don’t even remember exactly how I came across the artist 2009. He is so named because he started the year with the intent of making a new album every month. Wixel – Clouds is his February 2009 release, and it’s the one that I chose to download. I’ve mentioned before that I often don’t have time to go back and give albums repeated listens, because as a reviewer I’m always trying to move on to the next one. So I always know an album really resonates with me if I keep coming back to it, and I’ve played this one several times over the past few months. It very much has a Brian Eno feel about it, with the slightest dashes of glitch from modern electronica. At just under half an hour it is quite short, but think of it as a small gem that is perfect just the way it is. I also recommend An Empty Canvas, which you can find on the site as well.

 

 

Blutiger Fluss “Extrema”

(Available from iTunes, 2009)

2 tracks, 30.50 mins

 

The follow up to Dawn of Mars is Extrema, a 2-track EP that continues in the direction set by Jeff Hutchison and Jim Duede on their debut. “Minima” sounds very much like the early space music they emulated so well in their first album, with a very spacey and primitive synthesizer sound, music for 1973 in 2009. Fantastic for fans of this early period in EM history. “Maxima” clocks in at twice the length and half the speed, a softer, almost ambient piece of space music, although it shimmers and wavers in that deep space manner characteristic of the genre. I like both tracks a lot, but the second one is particularly soothing, very pleasant to kick back to. While “Minima” again has that early Klaus Schulze feel, “Maxima” shows Blutiger Fluss creating something truly their own. Highly recommended.

 

 

Blutiger Fluss “Moons of Jupiter”

(Available from iTunes, 2009)

4 tracks, 73.16 mins

 

The duo known as Blutiger Fluss is back with their third release in less than two years, Moons of Jupiter. Like the two releases before it, this one explores improvisational, free-flowing space music that harkens back to the earlier days of EM. This is about sounds, textures, and tone rather than melody, rhythm, or other musical conventions. “Europa” breathes slowly in and out, with bubbly little electronics percolating up through the longer sustained sounds. I’ve often said my favorite electronic music is the kind that truly sounds synthetic, rather than trying to emulate conventional instruments that already exist. In that regard, Blutiger Fluss succeeds beautifully. They make no attempt to disguise the thoroughly synthetic electronic origins of the sounds emanating from the speakers. Space music, after all, should sound, well, spacey. “Io” gets even more abstract and “out there.” The music often has a reverberating, circular pattern to it, a pulsating quality. This is perhaps even more pronounced on “Callisto”, which is a bit mellower as well. “Ganymede” is the longest, dreamiest track, an appropriate way to finish the sonic journey, in the outer reaches of deep space.

 

 

Ron Boots, Frank Dorittke, & Harold van der Heijden “Derby!”

(www.groove.nl, 2009)

9 tracks, 78.41 mins

 

Ron Boots’ live albums are some of my favorites, and “Derby!” is no exception. Joined this time by Frank Dorittke and Harold van der Heijden, this disc provides nearly 80 minutes of Ron’s recent output, reinterpreted in the live setting. Titles are indicative of the source material, such as the live version of “Hour of the Wolf” being titled “A Half Hour of the Wolf”, and “Screaming Whispers” becoming “Howling Whispers.” “Giants in the Derby Sky” is a favorite, greatly enhanced with Frank’s sizzling guitar licks, well done. Next is perhaps my favorite Ron Boots song of all, here called “Reattachment Of Worldly Affairs”. The familiar opening sequencing is just slightly different, with all the surrounding electronic details very true to the original, as is the case on many of the tracks featured here. The guitar once again gives added punch. I’m not certain, but “Canyon” may be new to this collection, and a fine addition it is, combining classic Berlin school sequencing with rock influences courtesy of the drums and electric guitars. Speaking of rock, check out “A Storm in the Guildhall,” which really cooks. These are the tracks that make Ron’s live albums with his friends so much fun; and that makes Derby! another winner.

 

 

Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder “Blue”

(www.manikin.de, 2009)

3 tracks, 73.44 mins

 

Mario Schönwälder knows that good company makes good music. A talented musician in his own right, he surrounds himself with other top-notch electronic artists, in various combinations. This particular musical collective has met before with solid results, but perhaps none quite as good as this one. Blue is three lengthy Berlin school tracks that are as cool as the color they represent, each a distinct, beautiful sonic painting. “Blue One” is excellent throughout, but particularly in the latter stages as it sounds like some of the best music Klaus Schulze made circa 1975, but with 21st century technology and ultra clean crystalline sound. Broekhuis’ drumming has never sounded better, perfectly accenting the synthesizers without overpowering them. He gets to really shine in “Blue Two” with softly layered beats that gradually evolve throughout. The synths are velvety smooth, too, adding to the chilled-out vibe. The final track, “Blue & Red”, is the mellowest of the three, with drums not arriving until midway through, but once again when they do they blend just so. Blue is sensational.

 

 

Javi Canovas “In This Moment, In This Place”

(www.synthmusicdirect.com, 2009)

1 track, 70.38 mins

 

This live improvised recording without computers, overdubs, or edits is the pinnacle so far in Javi Canovas’ brief EM career. In This Moment, In This Place truly captures the essence of the magic that can happen in this genre when everything comes together just right. The music is classic Berlin school, constantly on the move, going through definitive changes every few minutes, each section seemingly better than the one preceding it. After some bubbly atmospheric space music for a couple of minutes the first sequencing fades in, along with an understated but very effective synth lead. The music evolves just right, with hypnotic sequences layering over the top of one another. Next they gradually get stripped away one by one, ebbing into a dreamy passage of space music around 12:00 into it. At 16:00 or so, the next sequence gradually fades in, a low percolating bass line. Mellotron flutes add just the right touch, followed by dizzying sequences that take things to Redshift-like levels of intensity. And so it goes, alternating dramatic, climactic highs with cool, chilled-out lows. My favorite section may be the terrific Teutonics starting just past the 35:00 mark, but it’s all good – great, in fact. Retro EM doesn’t get any better than this.

 

 

Robert Carty “Starlight Volume 2"

(www.deepskymusic.net, 2009)

8 tracks, 58.45 mins

 

Robert Carty’s second album of planetarium-inspired music should please fans of pure space music. This is drifting, floating, atmospheric music it the truest sense. Robert’s music has always had that air about it, so these Starlight CDs are natural extensions to his prolific body of work, gentle and free flowing. Some tracks, like “Rising Orion,” seem lighter than air, while others, like “Galactic Wind”, have a brighter, shimmering quality. Tones in the higher register on tracks like “Praesepe” and “The Steady Night” remind me of Kevin Braheny’s signature sound when he collaborated with Steve Roach years ago. Throughout, the music conjure images of a beautiful, clear night sky full of stars, certainly suitable for stargazing.

 

 

John Christian “Susbarbatus”

(Self released, 2009)

6 songs, 49.33 mins

 

John Christian’s solo effort Susbarbatus goes back to AirSculpture’s early, more structured style, as demonstrated on the stellar debut Impossible Geometries. Each track is given just enough room to grow, for example the title track with its dreamy atmospheric beginning, which gradually evolves into a cacophony of white noise whooshing by. After it fades a pulsating sequence begins with warm synths wavering over the top of it. A synth lead soars above that as some really nice layering and blending of sounds occurs. It is a gem of a track and a perfect opener to the album. “LosAshes” is next, in a significantly different version from Christian’s debut Bohunt Sabotage. This has Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer written all over it, with a deep, slow bass pulse and an ominous tone. It changes completely 4:00 into it as a brisk sequence vaguely reminiscent of Steve Roach’s Life Sequence CD emerges, replaced a minute later by bouncy, playful sequence that builds with hints of TD’s Logos about it, fantastic. “Brane Storm” makes a good change of pace with dark, brooding, metallic timbres and nary a sequence to be found. “Forest of Weaver’s Beams” is my personal favorite with its bright pinpoint sequencing, crisp percussion, and once again stellar melodic lead lines on synths. The intricate hypnotic sequences in “Mangrove (live)” and “Antiquark” are first-rate as well. In short, for classic Berlin school fans there’s a lot to love here.

 

 

Max Corbacho “Ars Lucis”

(www.maxcorbacho.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 73.48 mins

 

Max Corbacho’s music is getting increasingly ambient with each new release. If he gets any more relaxed than Ars Lucis, by the time his next album comes out I will only make it through the first two minutes before I drift off into blissful slumber. Corbacho truly is “in the zone” lately, the pure float zone. This is formless, non-melodic music that nonetheless has depth and warmth in abundance. Variances between tracks are subtle yet distinct. For example, “Narthex” has a particularly bright, shimmering tone to it, whereas “Light-Matrix Portal” has a richer, more expansive sound. Still, the basic principle is the same throughout – take a few delicate layers of sound, blend them subtly and smoothly together, and maintain the mood for several minutes with gradual changes. Corbacho does an excellent job of blending lighter and darker elements together, such that the end result should please both dark ambient and new age listeners, although it may not be “pretty” enough for the latter. For true ambient fans, this is as good as it gets.

 

 

Create “In The Blink of an Eye”

(www.groove.nl, 2009)

5 tracks, 69.10 mins

 

Steve Humphries is back with five new electronic music excursions, beginning with the 22-minute retro epic “No Inhibitions.” Filter sweeps, mellotron flutes and rumbling drones combine to make a dreamy atmospheric intro, until a pulsing bass sequence fades in at 4:20, and the layered sequences and cool synth leads just keep coming after that, finding a cool moderate groove that moves along nicely for most of the remainder, with softer ethereal passages in the middle and again at the end. The title track is another long journey, starting in spacier realms and once again returning to solid sequencing. Create has always been inspired by AirSculpture, and “In The Glimmer of Hope” reminds me of their excellent Thunderhead album, rapid sequencing and squelchy synth leads combining well. Each track does a fine job slowly evolving, hitting peaks and valleys at just the right times. If you like the Berlin school style and Create in particular, then this is certainly another one to add to your collection.

 

 

Deepspace “World Ocean Atlas”

(www.deepspacehome.com, 2009)

11 tracks, 57.49 mins

 

Mirko Ruckels has again created beautiful ambient soundscapes that wash over the listener on his latest release, World Ocean Atlas. This one finds Mirko expanding his sonic palette just a bit, branching out from purely floating numbers like “Sky Inside the Mind” to some delicate sequencing on “Underwater Storm” and out-and-out playfulness on the bubbly but brief “Assorted Seashells.” The latter is a distraction that does not fit with the rest, but apart from that this is the usual first-rate music I’ve come to expect from the Deepspace name. “The Dive” and “Fifty Metres” take us back into calmer more reflective waters, although the latter does see some light sequencing reemerge toward the end. As is typical for Ruckels, World Ocean Atlas is all about the spaces between, largely devoid of melodic or rhythmic structure. “Third State” has a stately feel, like an ambient version of church organ music. “How Dare They Come” is another one that pushes the envelope a bit, a grittier sonic texture than most, but still with that drifting hypnotic Deepspace quality to it. But the biggest surprise comes with the adventurous, experimental sound of the closing track. Electronic buzzes waver in the air, sequences bubble, and industrial noises churn about – quite an assortment of sounds, a bold move for a largely quiet ambient album. It is good to see Mirko take some chances, and the end result is a worthy addition to the Deepspace canon.

 

 

Joost Egelie “Music for Mars Missions”

(Free download here, 2009)

6 tracks, 58.06 mins

 

I loved Joost Egelie’s debut Boundaries of Infinity, and I like Music for Mars Missions at least as well if not more. Like its predecessor, Joost’s sophomore release is a free download from net label Jamendo. The musical emphasis continues to be on the Berlin school sound with a strong melodic component, think Tangerine Dream in the early 1980s. This release is a concept album centered around a trip to Mars, and highly succeeds in that regard. Breathy, ethereal synths drift about for several minutes as we “Embark” on the journey, a truly beautiful majestic passage of music to open the disc. The first sequencing appears nearly seven minutes into the sixteen-plus minute epic, blending in perfectly. The pace quickens a couple minutes later and then eases back off again, coming full circle. One of my favorite tracks of 2009. “Behind the Moon” takes a more whimsical approach; the disc has an uncanny ability to evoke strong imagery using the music and the song titles. “Slingshot” is pure deep space music, another slow builder almost as good as “Embark.” At the 8:30 mark it takes the energy up a few notches, bubbly and bright. Contrasting this is the darker ambient tones of “Stasis”, though still quite pleasant and relaxing. “Landing Site” is a bit on the busy side but if you like pure sequencing at a brisk pace this will fit the bill. “Remember the Rovers” ends the album on a soothing, reflective note. Highly recommended.

 

 

Free System Projekt – Brendan Pollard – Hashtronaut

“Time Out Of Mind”

(www.freesystemprojekt.nl, 2009)

4 tracks, 77.13 mins

 

Once upon a time, three Berlin school legends got together and made a fantastic vintage recording. OK, I may be exaggerating a little, as we’re not talking about Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel. But I will certainly take the results of Time Out Of Mind, nearly 80 minutes of mind-trippingly good space music. Deep space transmissions, chirping and twittering, greet the listener at the start of “The Valther Twins,” followed by cold whooshing sounds not unlike Klaus’ classic Timewind. The tone is dark and haunting. Finally, sequencing appears past the 10:00 mark, moderately paced, hypnotic. A simple pulsing bass line holds it all together, along with some fine synth strings. One might think that three established retro acts might tend to get in each other’s way, but there is surprising restraint here. Each piece does exactly what it needs to do, with just the right elements, placed just so – atmospheric space sounds here, synth leads there, and of course liberal doses of sequencers throughout. “Exodus” and “Option C” are fairly straightforward but excellent chuggers-along, whereas the title track is full of open spaces with a dreamier sound. Another Teutonic offering that will not win points for originality but will win plenty of smiles and repeat listens from fans.

 

 

Igneous Flame “Electra”

(www.luminasounds.com, 2009)

10 tracks, 58.03 mins

 

Pete Kelly returns as Igneous Flame on his 7th solo album Electra, which he describes as “amorphous guitarscapes” and “ghost voices.” Despite the ghost reference, the opening track “Trident” is light and bright. There is a signature sound that reminds me a lot of the beginning of Jeffrey Koepper’s album Momentium. “Chromashift” starts fairly light as well, although a low drone grabs hold midway through with just the slightest edge to it, like a low growl, for a cool effect. Several of the tracks follow this pattern of moving from shadow to light and back again. Although there is no distinct melody per se, and it is definitely more ambient than new age, the disc does have a “pretty” feel to it, in a good way, like strands of gossamer hanging in the air. Titles like “Shimmer” and “Shadowplay” aptly convey the feeling of the music. Electra is perfect for quiet meditation and reflection, or simply kicking back and enjoying.

 

 

Igneous Flame & Disturbed Earth “Harmonium”

(www.luminasounds.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 52.16 mins

 

Igneous Flame is Pete Kelly; Disturbed Earth is Dean Richards; together they have released this excellent CD simply called Harmonium, named after the instrument that Richards plays, with Kelly adding “treatments and production.” The end result is a delicate, subtle, ethereal ambient work, breathtaking in its simplicity and beauty. This is perfectly soothing music to play at the end of the day, either to lift your spirits after a bad one or to make a good one even better. Titles are simple, seemingly abstract combinations of roman numerals, allowing the listener to create their own imagery while the music softly plays in the background. When I listen, I imagine colored lights in soft hues slowly swirling about. There is a sense of warmth rarely found in electronic music, yet completely without the cloying quality of new age. Although the instrumentation results in a certain familiarity throughout, each piece is distinctive enough to stand up on its own merits. For example, “II/II” shimmers with a somewhat brighter sheen than some of the others, although it, like the rest of Harmonium, evolves nicely into various subtle shadings, tones, and moods.

 

 

Mark Mahoney “Beyond the Vaulting Sky”

(Available at CD Baby here, 2009)

7 tracks, 53.06 mins

 

As the low drones of the title track rumble, you know instantly that you are listening to an ambient album. A slow synth lead adds a bit of structure a couple of minutes in, wailing mournfully in a Robert Rich primordial glurp sort of way. The mood gradually brightens nicely, however, creating an ambient journey that takes a number of pleasant detours, ending with beautifully sparkling space music. “A Visit To A Most Ancient Outpost” features a gently playful oboe-like synth and a soft bass pulse in the first half and bright bubbly synths and sequencing in the second half. We move back into more ambient territory with the next tracks, one spacious and light, the other dark and deep. The latter, “Voices Within the Solar Stream” is one of the best haunting ambient tracks of 2009, full of dark choirs that reverberate into infinity. “Starfish” is a very natural continuation of that tone, reminiscent of the space music sound of Jonn Serrie, albeit a shade darker than that. “Sailing Into Calm Remembrances” has more of a Brian Eno feel about it, minimal ambient with subtle sonic colorings throughout. “Chopped Logic” sounds like its name, a quirky ambient mish-mash that entertains to the end. Mark Mahoney has nicely carved out a unique niche for himself in the ambient genre.

 

 

Stephen Parsick “Cambrium: Music for Protozoa”

(Purchase as CD here or download album here, 2009)

10 tracks, 67.45 mins

 

Fans of Lustmord’s Where the Black Stars Hang should immediately seek out Stephen Parsick’s Cambrium: Music for Protozoa. Continuing on his quest for the ultimate “doombient” sound, Parsick delves ever deeper into the dark crevasses. “Proterozoikum” jumps right into the blackness, a swirling vortex of emptiness put to sound. This would be the perfect soundtrack to a bleak sci-fi film. This is hardcore dark ambient and white noise, with normal musical conventions conspicuously absent. “DNA Sequence” bubbles and churns with a bit more brightness as punchy percussion lends just a touch of electronica to the mix. Back to the stuff of nightmares we go with “Electric Soup Kitchen,” dark and dank. Song titles like “Primordial Glurp”, “Trilobite”, and “Amoeba” aptly portray the primitive yet futuristic sound. I prefer the ones with just a bit of structure to hang onto, like the momentum-building pulsations of “Trilotbite” and the restless electronic buzzing undercurrent of the title track and “Urge to Live.” The latter reminds me a lot of the dark, industrial take on Berlin school that Redshift created on Down Time. If you like dark, organic ambient from Robert Rich or Steve Roach, you will love Cambrium.

 

 

Stephen Parsick and Cosmic Hoffmann “Blasters of the Universe”

(Self released, 2009)

8 tracks, 74.22 mins

 

Stephen Parsick and Cosmic Hoffmann have collaborated on several releases, such as Parsick’s excellent Traces of the Past and Hoffmann’s Beyond the Galaxy and Shiva Connection, to name a few. Blasters of the Universe is a collection of previously unreleased live and studio tracks mostly from 2001, and it is more retro spacey goodness from this duo. The title track is full of energy, its rapid real-time sequencing getting the disc started in fine form. Spacious Mellotron chords lend an ethereal touch to “Psychedeli.” Moody atmosphere continues in “SpaceDaze”, although the deep space twitters get more intense later on. “Paradise Now” has chirping birds, distant thunder, rainfall, and soft bell tone, sounding more like Hoffmann’s Mind Over Matter project. “The Ace of Space” goes back to bread-and-butter sequencing, as energetic at the opening track. The one track not from 2001, it is one of those happy accidents where neither artist can remember its exact origin, though they surmise it is from early 1999, recorded at Klaus’ studio with Stephen on the ARP 2600. “Astromina Domina” features great mellow interplay between synths and guitar, floating so smoothly that the 11 minutes seems to pass in no time. “Cosmic Caravan” is 15 minutes of undulating sequencer madness, constantly shifting and changing, utterly captivating. The disc ends with “Fear,” the first take of “Hi-Flyin Shiva” from Shiva Connection, whose eerie fade makes a perfect ending to the album.

 

 

Pollard/Daniel/Booth “September 2009 Jams”

(Self-released CDR, available here, 2009)

2 tracks, 71.57 mins

 

A follow up to their self-titled debut, this one is even more austerely packaged, but once again what matters is the excellent Berlin school music within. “Catalyst” is a brilliant extended Teutonic jam session over 50 minutes long, with great sequencing that chugs along just so for most of it. The opening minutes are stellar atmospheric space music, with some really strong electric guitar courtesy of Michael “Mick” Daniel aka Hashtronaut. He really does a phenomenal job adding just the right extra punch to the proceedings without overwhelming things at all. Once we get about 8:00 in to the journey, it sounds a lot like some of the best RMI offerings I’ve heard, and that is saying something. And although the sequencing is the thing, check out the warbly experimental haunting section that ensues just past the 22:00 mark. Beautiful mellotron flutes smooth things out nicely, keeping things from going too far afield. This softer section continues for quite a while, with sequencers not resuming until past the 33:00 point, though of course they are quite welcome when they do. This is a masterpiece, and well worth the price of admission alone. But the trio follows it up with another 20 minutes of first rate music in the form of “The Chaos Balance.” This one stays mellow throughout, with male choirs, abstract deep space sounds, and warmer ethereal touches, making a fine finish to a fine album.

 

 

Dan Pound “The Fourth Way”

(From AtmoWorks.com here, 2009)

5 tracks, 73.19 mins

 

Dan Pound had quite the prolific 2009, The Fourth Way being his third release during the year. Though the newness hasn’t worn off this one yet, I’m inclined to say it is my favorite of the three. Pound’s unique style of ambient shamanic space music really shines through. “Way of the Fakir” is open and spacious, but with a subtle sequencer foundation lying underneath. Going deeper is “Way of the Yogi” with its rumbling reverberating echoes and gentle tribal touch. A cool, light drum loop forms the underpinning of “Way of the Monk,” with shiny metallic synth sounds over the top. Synths have an organic warmth throughout, perhaps best exemplified here. Occasional wordless vocals appear, blended into the rest of the instruments well, including some light, sparse piano playing that adds to the atmosphere. The title track runs nearly half an hour, alternating between space music and more tribal sounds, and even a bit of glitchy electronic rhythm. This one has several different themes weaves skillfully together into a unified whole. “Sly Man’s Way” ends the disc with a little desert night music, including guitars with an Old West flavor that remind me of Steve Roach and Roger King’s collaboration Dust to Dust. It totally works as a unique way to finish of this excellent album.

 

 

Ramp “Debris”

(CD available here, 2009)

12 tracks, 76.06 mins

 

Debris continues where Oughtibridge left off, a great combination of dark ambient and industrialized Berlin school on steroids. Interestingly, most discs like to grab your attention early, but Stephen Parsick (now the only force behind Ramp) starts with the gloomy, dark shifting textures of “Rail.” Really, though, it serves as a lengthy intro to the main course, the nearly 14 fantastic minutes that are “Skeletal.” Fans of  Redshift and Node absolutely must hear this stunning track. It is at turns edgy, moody, dramatic, and aggressive - an instant classic. The disc has great flow, going from active numbers like this one to the dark formless bridging piece “Girders” before rich, thick bass and gritty synths kick back in on “Wreckage.” After virtually abandoning sequencing for his foray into purely doombient releases, Parsick rediscovers the technique with a vengeance here, continuing seamlessly into “Pieces” and the title track. The album is divided into four parts of three tracks each. The third three-part epic reaches its peak on “Hamburgised”, another powerfully restless sequencer fest with rumbling pulsating bass. The fourth and final section is every bit as good as the rest. Debris is hands down the best, most potent electronic music album of 2009.

 

 

Steve Roach “Afterlight”

(www.steveroach.com, 2009)

1 track, 73.53 mins

 

Both the cover art and the title make the inspiration for Afterlight clear, coming in the “afterglow of Dynamic Stillness” in Roach’s own words. Like that album, this delves into every nuance, every crevasse of ambient sonic recesses of time and mind. However, as the name implies, this one shimmers a little more brightly, allowing light in where Dynamic Stillness mostly lay in the dark shadows. Oh, the deep reverberations of sound are still there to be sure, but illumination is allowed into the corners of it. Like virtually all of Steve’s longform works, this has a glow about it, warmth that counteracts the cold darkness. And of course, it should come with an obligatory warning label about driving or operating heavy machinery during use. Keeping these precautions in mind, Afterlight should bring ambient music fans hours of listening enjoyment.

 

 

Steve Roach “Immersion: Four”

(www.steveroach.com, 2009)

1 track, 73.54 mins

 

One second longer than Afterlight, the fourth release in the Immersion series was created during the same creative period (along with Destination Beyond). This has quickly become a personal favorite of mine, a particularly warm, inviting piece of ambience. It is exceedingly serene, calm, and reflective. This is perfect for fully immersive meditation, to allow yourself to be totally drawn into it, either by passively letting it pull you along, or focusing intently to every nuance. Steve “distilled” this piece of music for months, immersing himself into every detail before bottling it and preparing it for our sonic consumption. This is the sort of music that is challenging for a music reviewer on a couple of levels. One, it is a very slowly changing, minimal piece of music that defies easy descriptors; two, I find myself wanting to just enjoy it while I listen. Immersion: Four is the very definition of ambient music.

 

 

Steve Roach & Loren Nerell “Terraform”

(www.steveroach.com, 2009 reissue)

4 tracks, 73.48 mins

 

This is a slightly abridged version of my original review of this CD when it was first released in 2006. Back then, it was in a special DVD-sized box with photography on postcards.  The reissue is in standard CD packaging.

 

When I heard that Steve Roach and Loren Nerell were going to be releasing their first true collaboration, I was excited at the prospect, but I also had a preconception of how it would sound. Given Nerell’s penchant for gamelan music, I was expecting Indonesian influences, something tribal perhaps. Instead, Terraform is a wondrous work of subtlety, as soft and as smooth as the beautiful sandstone pictured on the cover. It is difficult if not impossible to tell who contributed what to the gorgeous textures and atmospheres. Starting with “Cavity of Liquids,” immediately we are treated to a feast for the ears as soothing walls of sound wash over the listener. This abstract sound painting includes hints of crickets, sounds vaguely suggestive of water, and deep otherworldly echoes. There is no melody, no rhythm. The feeling is cool, relaxed. There is darkness, but there is warmth as well. Can it be both cool and warm? Yes, it can. “Ecopoiesis” moves into a deeper fuller drone, but with interesting background noises skittering lightly about. Like Steve’s Possible Planet, this track creates a unique, alien world. “Texture Wall” is brighter, with smooth metallic resonance. The night sounds move forward in the mix, and we spend the next 28 minutes immersed in the artificially formed yet highly organic environment. “Paraterra” wraps things up with more of the same, yet different. One of the best ambient albums of 2006, it is certainly worthy of a 2009 reissue.

 

 

Spiraleye “Still”

(http://www.spiraleye-music.co.uk/home.htm , 2009)

7 tracks, 70.51 mins

 

UK synthesist Peter Challoner is again joined by Neale Haddon on guitars and processing for Spiraleye’s sophomore release Still. Calm and serene, this is one chilled-out relaxing album. The track “Zero Point Energy” is worth the price of admission alone, nearly 21 minutes of soft ambient bliss. But the rest of the disc is just as dreamy, beginning with “One Stars Light.” Indicative of the music to follow, this is light and bright, but still “serious” ambient music, not new age. Slow and subtle, it rewards either attentive or background listening. Haddon’s guitar delicately enhances the atmosphere. “The First Cause” is glassy reverberations of liquid sound. The title track is among the softest, although the entire album is wonderfully understated, devoid of discernible melodies or rhythms. The focus is on the feeling, and it’s a very good feeling listening to Still.

 

 

Synth.nl “OceanoGraphy”

(www.groove.nl, 2009)

12 tracks, 72.28 mins

 

Michel van Osenbruggen aka Synth.nl has made fun, melodic, upbeat electronic music inspired by a variety of topics. This time out he tackles OceanoGraphy. “Antartico” is very dreamlike to start before a softly percolating sequence bubbles up, followed by a lighthearted, pleasant melody. Osenbruggen excels at creating tunes that will play in your head long after the disc has finished. “Balaenoptera” has a more dramatic, exciting flavor, again very nice on the sequencing, melodies, and various synth sounds. Tracks alternate between this more majestic feel and a more playful tone. Many have a cool pulsating undercurrent like the gently undulating synths of “Megaptera” that keep things moving along. The title track is excellent, starting as a midtempo piece with really nice synth pads in the middle, then it gets darker and more dramatic, followed by a lighter section to finish. “Indico” and “Chelonia” bring things down a couple notches, soft and slow with a relaxed mood. And so it goes from one good track to another, not a bad one to be had here. If you need something to brighten your spirits, OceanoGraphy should do nicely.

 

 

Frank Van Bogaert w/Erik Wøllo “Air Machine”

(www.frankvanbogaert.com, 2009)

10 tracks, 50.03 mins

 

Frank Van Bogaert has done it again with a rich tapestry of melodic majestic sounds. Long compared to Vangelis, by now he should really be recognized on his own merits for his skillful dramatic flair. “Dead Planet” sounds anything but, a sweeping, lively introduction with an epic feel. This moves seamlessly into the title track, with powerful piano and airy synths for atmosphere. I continue to marvel that Van Bogaert hasn’t been “discovered” yet beyond the EM community, as his signature sound seems built for mass appeal, and I mean that as a compliment. He is ably aided by Erik Wøllo, no slouch himself in the art of emotive EM compositions. “Insomnia” is breathy and airy, with a light tribal touch on percussion. Both acoustic and electric guitars by Wøllo add just the right touches, blending never overpowering. “Breathe” includes vocals, something I’m never crazy about in my electronic music, but it works well as far as that goes. A synth like a female choir works well in the next track, “Cold Steel” adding atmosphere to an album already loaded with it. Recommended.

 

All reviews © 2010 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

 

October 2009

 

Another 15 new albums reviewed this month, many of the year's best to date.

 

3 Seconds of Air “The Flight of Song”

(www.3secondsofair.com, 2009)

4 tracks, 74.25 mins

 

Whether recording as himself, Fear Falls Burning, or now 3 Seconds of Air, Dirk Serries aka vidnaObmana always brings something interesting to the table. This particular collective is a trio, including his wife Martina Verhoeven and Paul Van Den Berg. Recorded over a single weekend in February 2009, made up primarily of guitar and effects, the end result is exceptional atmospheric music. The band took its inspiration from the psychedelic music of the sixties and early seventies, feeling more like space rock than ambience, though the sparse music is loaded with atmosphere and soft textures. Each of the four tracks is allowed plenty of time to germinate, as warm wavering guitar and bass tones hang in the air. And although each piece is similar, the subtle shadings and timbres are different enough to warrant each one’s inclusion as part of the whole. The music seems to go nowhere and yet everywhere, crossing time and space and coming back full circle. Fittingly, the last track is the most spacious and relaxing, though all are exceedingly so. Released at the same time as The Flight of Song CD was a vinyl album of the same name, but with two different pieces of music, including the title track which is a 22-minute reconstruction of one of their rehearsals by Steve Wilson aka Bass Communion. I have not heard the vinyl version, but the CD of The Flight of Song is easily one of my favorite releases of 2009.

 

 

Collapsar “Beyond the Event Horizon”

(http://www.myspace.com/collapsardrones, 2008)

6 tracks, 47.31 mins

 

Collapsar’s influences include Lustmord, Skinny Puppy, and Dead Can Dance; the black hole theme suggests Lustmord’s Where The Black Stars Hang as a reference point. Deep, swirling drones seem to encircle the listener, pulling you in to the vortex. Very dark and intense throughout, this is for serious deep divers. As with most “hard” ambient, this has no melody, no rhythm, only deep resonating echoes and black sonic textures. This is as intense a dark ambient listening experience as you are likely to hear. “Into the Wormhole,” for example, just gets progressively darker, louder, and more intense. “Passing the Gate” is hisses, white noise, and low rumbles that seem to roll into eternity. The title track has a shimmering metallic cast to it, but it remains black. “Reaching Narai” has a bit more edge to it, with buzzing and static for added grit in the dark mix. “The Way to Infinity” provides an appropriately eerie, dramatic finish. After all, pure dark ambient, like a black hole, allows no light within.

 

 

Steve Dinsdale “New Church”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2009)

9 songs, 46.59 mins

 

New Church is the first solo release by Radio Massacre International’s Steve Dinsdale. It is everything one might hope for in a solo project, retaining the best characteristics of the band while branching out into new and exciting directions. There are times where the RMI sound is hinted at, but Dinsdale does a great job of stepping out into his own here. The focus is on tighter, more structured compositions, none over ten minutes. One of my favorites is “Wright On,” full of warm mellotron strings, strange otherworldly sound effects, chimes, and a propulsive infectious beat. “New Church 2” retains a moody, atmospheric, floating quality vaguely reminiscent of RMI but with its own distinctive sound as male choirs and meandering synths meld smoothly together. “March For Peace” is thoroughly Dinsdale’s own, combining organ music and a marching drum beat. Drums also feature prominently and effectively on “Gone Mission.” Mellotron flutes and strings are used liberally throughout, so retro fans needn’t fear that Dinsdale has gone too far astray. Highly recommended.

 

 

Paul Ellis “The Last Hiding Place of Beauty”

(www.groove.nl, 2009)

4 tracks, 59.58 mins

 

Melancholy flute and gently strummed acoustic guitar play like a sad movie soundtrack for the first 1:08 of this album, which may have people scratching their heads just a bit. But from 1:09 forward, this is some great electronic music, starting with bubbly, percolating synthetic percussion which appears to be inspired by Klaus Schulze’s classic “Totem.” The percussive pattern laid down continues for the next 16 minutes, but varies enough to keep things interesting. Different themes are skillfully interwoven into the greater whole every few minutes. The atmosphere is mellow, cool. Rapid sequencing takes over about 7:00 in, but Paul’s sense of melody and sonic layers keeps this far from being derivative Berlin school. Speaking of brisk sequencing, the 16-minute title track moves rapidly throughout, building layers and intensity as it goes. The bass sequence in the latter part reminds me a lot of O Head’s classic first album Silent Universe. My favorite track is the laid back “The Note, The Walk In The Rain & The Umbrella. Airy flutes and sparse synths have a calming effect, as does the relaxed bass line in the middle. Though a quiet mood piece, there is more going on here than in your typical ambient track. I really like how Paul allows each track a big open space to breathe and grow, and this one may be the best example of that. A very clean guitar sound and piano begin the beautiful closing number, “The Hydroelectric Spinning Heart.” Another mood piece, this is the softest yet, concluding the disc in a wonderfully understated manner. This is easily my favorite Paul Ellis album, and one of the better releases of 2009.

 

 

Forrest Fang “Phantoms”

(www.projekt.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 70.06 mins

 

Forrest Fang is not at all prolific when it comes to his releases, at the rate of one every few years; but one can hardly argue with the quality of the results. Phantoms further solidifies Fang’s status as a master craftsman of ambient music with depth and feeling. He has a particular knack for assembling a collection of pieces, composed over several years, which naturally seem to belong together. Part of what’s so appealing about Phantoms is that while there are common threads and themes running through it, the music is fairly diverse as ambient goes. World, ambient, new age, and avant garde are all weaved seamlessly together, not overly surprising given Fang’s varied musical upbringing, which shows itself throughout. “Distant Fires” is silky smooth and yet with a certain edge to it, complex layers coming together just so. It reminds me of “Why Do You Love Me?”, one of my favorite songs on the Cocteau Twins/Harold Budd compilation The Moon and The Melodies from over two decades ago. “The Great Wheel” combines ambient and world elements with flair, particularly on the gently played strings. At first I found the slightly dissonant tones of “Ittle Angklung” a little off-putting but now I love it. That is perhaps the best recommendation I can give Phantoms; that it holds up so well to repeat listening, with musical appreciation increasing rather than diminishing. 

 

 

Cosmic Hoffmann “Hypernova”

(www.mindala.de, 2009)

9 tracks, 61.29 mins

 

Here it is, volume three in the series of archival “Space Gems” recordings released over the past couple of years by Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock, aka Cosmic Hoffmann. All recorded in the 70s and 80s, it is again impressive to hear the quality of Klaus’ music from his vaults. “Longing for the Space” starts with a krautrock feel, combining tribal drumming with mellotron strings and other retro synth sounds. This track has a great pulsating quality that drives it forward. Other vintage sounds like male choirs make obligatory appearances here and there. The retro feel gets even more pronounced in the dreamy space sounds of “Requiem for a Dying Star” and “Cosmic Garden”, the latter of which features some excellent guitar work that fits well into the overall mood without being overpowering at all. “Alienapolis” is the quietest number yet, and it’s cool to see this softer, subtler ambient side of Klaus’ music. “Hypnotic” is aptly named, a moderately paced number that chugs along just so. Dreamy swirling sounds characterize “Floating in Time,” with slight Eastern tinges like Klaus’ Mind Over Matter recordings. This is another excellent collection from Cosmic Hoffmann that no space music fan should be without.

 

Hyios “Consuetudines”

(http://www.malignantrecords.com/catalog/, 2009)

7 songs, 49:37 mins


If you like your dark ambient on the gritty, industrial side, look no further than this excellent deep cavernous offering by Hyios from Leipzig, Germany. This is a thoroughly immersive listening experience, the like of which I’ve seldom experienced in my 15 years of reviewing. I usually shy away from stuff this dark, but I found it strangely compelling from the very beginning, and my attention didn’t wane as the journey continued. Deep drones, rattling echoes of machinery, alien transmissions perhaps – it’s all there in abundance, richly textured and thoroughly cool in every respect. The sense of pure expansiveness, of mind-bending exploration, of sonic adventurousness, is fully on display. “Teiwaz” is a typical offering, with something like Darth Vader’s breathing without the cliché, and a chilling set of banging sounds that I can’t begin to identify as to its origin. While the two preceding tracks seemed dark and intense, this one takes it down yet another level into the abyss. Rumbling reverberating ambience continues on “Crater”, another one that just oozes dark primordial coolness. Consuetudines is sure to please dark ambient and industrial fans everywhere.

 

 

Jeffrey Koepper “Quadranteon”

(www.jeffreykoepper.com, 2009)

4 tracks, 72.25 mins

 

The man who goes by “Analog Jeff” has outdone himself on Quadranteon, truly going back to the classic Berlin school sound. On prior albums, Koepper has excelled at the Tangerine Dream sound from the Schmoelling era, tightly crafted tunes with lots of sequencing and vintage synth sounds. This is his first foray into lengthier compositions, and it is equally successful if not more so than its predecessors. “Part I” is classic space music, floating and swirling about, clearly on the edge of developing into something more, teasing the listener until the first sequencing appears just ahead of the 5:00 mark. A couple of minutes later another loop is layered over the top, deftly interwoven for hypnotic effect. A single wavering synth bridges over to “Part II”, followed by bubbly space transmissions. As TD did in their heyday, Koepper knowingly transitions from one theme to the next before any particular passage overstays its welcome. This 20-minute section explores the reaches of space without any rhythm or sequencing, content to float among the stars. Tangram and Pergamon are the reference points that come to mind. Sequencing finally appears again about 4 minutes in the 28-minute excursion of “Part III”. It moves briskly along for several minutes before pulling back briefly, then taking off again. “Part IV” hovers seemingly forever on a single, warm synth tone, with subtle shadings of atmospheric touches around it. It is a beautifully understated way to finish the album, with sweeping whooshes of sound that appear to be paying homage to the end of Jean Michel Jarre’s classic Oxygene album. Quadranteon may very well assume the mantle of classic status as well; only time will tell.

 

 

Pollard/Daniel/Booth “Pollard/Daniel/Booth”

(Available from MusicZeit here, 2009)

3 tracks, 66.46 mins

 

This album will not win points for originality in the band name, album name, or cover art (plain black with just the title in shades of grey); nor will it win converts from those weary of the Berlin school style. But for fans of long retro tracks that start with loads of atmosphere and end in hypnotic sequencer loops, with bits of cool guitar thrown in for good measure, it simply does not get any better than this. About two-thirds of the way through “Envelopes,” the 30-minute epic opening number, I could be convinced that I’m listening to a fantastic outtake from Tangerine Dream’s Encore. The guitar sounds in particular remind me of Edgar’s contributions to that album. And the sequencing is first rate, moderately paced and mesmerizing. Fans of early Redshift and Radio Massacre International should also find plenty to like here. What I especially like is the way the music gradually, patiently unfolds. In today’s world of instant gratification and sound bites, this album requires time, and it is time well spent. “Skaters” is both dreamy and edgy, swirling fuzzed out bliss. “Ladders” again plays the Teutonic card with restraint, finding a cool groove and riding it out, rather than going for a big build up or over-the-top solos. Deep space transmissions float off into the ether to finish things off. This is fine, fine stuff.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “E-Live 2008”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2009)

3 tracks, 74.49 mins

 

These three lengthy improvisations show the UK trio RMI doing what they do best, creating long adventurous soundscapes that build and expand upon their signature sound. This time, the envelope is pushed by the addition of a fourth player, Martin Archer, who plays keyboards and…saxophone? Fear not, the addition in no way diminishes the excellent RMI space rock sound. Houghton’s guitars and Dinsdale’s and Goddard’s synths and sequencers sound as strong as ever on “Veritable Petit-Beurre”; Archer’s sax playing is restrained and augments rather than detracts from the proceedings. The band loves to stretch here and there, and “Jct 31 Is Vandaag Gesloten” is a good reminder of that. This is a quite mellow affair, beautiful lazy bass line strolling through, with some warm vintage synths sparsely utilized. It is a unique fusion of atmospheric music from different genres, a little space rock, a little blues even. It gets a bit noisy and disjointed in the middle, but only briefly before some more class Berlin school sounds with superb guitar. It has that aggressive edge that I love so much about RMI’s body of work. “U Bevindt Zich Hier” has unusual little bell tones and sounds like rifling through loose change. Like the others, it starts quite relaxed, all nuance and atmosphere, then really uncorks once it gets going. I would love to have been there to see it unfold live, but I’m more than happy to hear the end result here.

 

 

Resonant Drift “The Call”

(www.resonantdrift.com, 2009)

12 tracks, 59.54 mins

 

Resonant Drift is Bill Olien and Gary Johnson, and The Call is my first introduction to their music, although they do have prior releases. The Call was mastered by Steve Roach, who is also credited with “sonic enhancement.” The title track starts slow and subtle, with gently flowing synthesizers and quietly chirping birds. Melody and rhythm are absent on this particular track, emphasizing the formless sonic textures. The bar is set high for the rest of the album, and thankfully it delivers. “Invocation” brings a slow pounding tribal beat to join the flowing atmospheric elements. Softest yet is the ethereal “Understand Now”, which combines brighter shimmering tones with deeply resonant sounds in the lower register. “Recapitulation” is a beautiful, somewhat haunting piece, followed by “Beneath Strange Fire”, which delves fully into dark ambient territory, a rumbling wall of drones. Many tracks are quite minimal, setting and holding a mood or a sound and just going with it, a technique that works well throughout. Changes are subtle yet distinctive. “Breaking Free” features cool percussion in the background that seems simultaneously organic and synthetic, as incongruous as that sounds. Although the band credits Steve Roach, Robert Rich and others for inspiration, Resonant Drift have their own take on floating dark ambient that you should definitely seek out.

 

 

Markus Reuter & Ian Boddy “Dervish”

(www.DiN.org.uk, 2009)

7 tracks 51.49 mins

 

Early on you can tell that Dervish is a little different, even for Ian Boddy’s adventurous DiN label. Teaming up with Markus Reuter, Boddy has created an edgy but fun album with percolating percussion, crisp electronics, and energy to spare. The title track jumps right in with a brisk if quirky beat. It seems a bit scattered, but in a very intentional way. It is freeform jazz infused electronica with bite. The energy drops off abruptly near the end, meandering softly for the last minute and a half. Boddy often likes changing the energy level from track to track, and “Stealth” definitely brings a softer touch, though there is just enough going on to keep it from true ambient realms. Bass and percussion lend a hand, and although it can be dissonant there is a certain accessibility as well. Though electronics figure prominently throughout, Reuter’s guitars are on full display as well. “Tableaux” keeps things mellow with a touch of melancholia. Edgy electric guitars provide just the right edge midway through. Great mood piece. “Joker” is another dose of eccentric pent up energy that moves in fits and starts. The album flows well while demonstrating a diverse array of sounds and styles, moving toward the avant garde in “The Watcher of Loneliness” and “Angst”, the latter a bolder experiment that will likely divide listeners. Saving the best for last, “Spiral Maneuvre” is a serene floater that closes things out.

 

 

Steve Roach “Destination Beyond”

(www.steveroach.com, 2009)

1 track, 71.39 mins

 

One begins to wonder how many albums Steve Roach can create in his lifetime, not to mention how many that are comprised of a single track running an hour or more. Lest you think that might get old, or formulaic, think again. Destination Beyond is yet another feather in Roach’s proverbial cap. While Steve’s longform works are usually quite minimal, this is an active, ever-changing piece, along the lines of Proof Positive although a touch mellower than that. A pulsing bass line forms the foundation as warm pads float over the top and cool grooves complete the package. At times the bass drops out to allow more space to breathe, most notably from about 32:00 to 45:00, as pure space music floats by for several minutes. For the most part, however, the energy is never very far away. But it is a kind of energy that calms and mesmerizes rather than stimulates. Although suggestive of a world always on the move, Destination Beyond is a reminder that we can take time out to relax and contemplate as well.

 

 

Surface 10 “Surface Tensions”

(www.DiN.org.uk, 2006)

11 tracks 65.53 mins

 

Dean De Benedictus records under his own name and others, including Surface 10. The album starts with the irresistibly catchy “B2 Gigacosm”, a bass ‘n beats heavy bit of ambient electronica. Sad strings make me think of Klaus Schulze’s work with Wolfgang Tiepold, an interesting contrast to the mostly very modern musical proceedings. “Dawn/Bleep Dusk” has a bit of glitch and some spoken word bits in the background, before more bass and beats give it a downtempo chillout vibe. Layered vocals are quite effective in “Phantom Jack to Station MT” with cool atmospheric layers adding a haunting touch. The crisp percussion and gltchy elements of “847 Chain Reactors” make me think a lot of Saul Stokes. “Particle Heartbreak” is a thoroughly cool understated piece. Even when thinks shuffle along quickly the feeling remains laid back. “X Tension” has a jazz feel to it, particularly the percussion and the bass line, though it still has plenty for electronic music fans to appreciate. The oddest hands down is “Days of Lovely Statistics”, which begins with an odd recitation of various mathematical equations, but ends with an excellent ambient passage. The disc closes on a somewhat shrill note with the whirring buzzing electronic noises of “Only A Word.”  Highly recommended for fans looking for something original to expand their EM universe.

 

 

Erik Wøllo & Bernhard Wöstheinrich “Arcadia Borealis”

(www.DiN.uk.org, 2009)

12 songs, 63.15 mins

 

Erik Wøllo is known for his melodic touch and Bernhard Wöstheinrich is known for his technical wizardry and cutting edge sounds. Put them together, and you get the best of both worlds on Arcadia Borealis. “The Wayfarers” has a catchy beat and melody, with a cool Vangelis-like lead line. “Exploration” blends ethereal shimmering sounds with glitchy percussion and grooving bass. The disc is inspired by 18th century Arctic explorers, though Wøllo’s characteristic warmth perfectly balances the precision of Wöstheinrich’s loops and beats. “Solar Wind” is a typical result, relaxed soothing night music, slightly chilled with Arctic air. “Airship” is equally mellow although it adds quirky percussion that shuffles briskly along. By the time “Terrestrial Magnetism” comes along, the disc has fully established an ultra cool vibe that continues right through to the end. Alternating between delicately intricate electronica and floating space music, Arcadia Borealis is a thoroughly entertaining journey.

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

August 2009

 

15 CDs reviewed this month, including several from the Hypnos label here in my hometown of Portland Oregon. Mike and Lena Griffin rock!  Er, I mean they ambient!  Or whatever... (ok, that was really lame, sorry)

 

Matt Borghi “December Impressions”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

11 tracks, 44.12 mins

 

Simply entitled “Sequences” parts I-XI, December Impressions is a 2008 reissue on Hypnos of a 2001 release by Matt Borghi. Though Borghi is little known even in ambient circles, this is a fine minimalist work that really deserves to be heard. Icy cold strains of metallic ambience remind me just a touch of Klaus Schulze’s Irrlicht, one of my favorite recordings. This is more minimal, though, as if, say, Brian Eno did his own version of Schulze’s classic. Each track is brief, allowed to stand on its own, although I think the disc would have worked equally well as a continuous piece of music. A distinctive timbre runs through it, although each has its own unique variant that warrants its presence. Although all have a shimmering quality, there are varying shades of light and dark. “Sequence IV”, for example, has a darker tinge to it, with an eerie sound more mournful than the typical choir effect. As befits the album title, there is a distinct coldness running through it. “Sequence VII” has a certain floating smoothness to take the edge off, but it too remains brisk. December Impressions may cause a shiver to run down your spine, but in a good way.

 

 

Matt Borghi “Huronic Minor”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

9 tracks, 72.11 mins

 

Huronic Minor begins in fine form with the serene floating of “Leaving the Gates of the Open Harbor,” soothing and relaxing. “Novermber’s Peculiar Calm” is equally calm and reflective, with a metallic sheen. “Gray Dawn Illumination” strips things down even further on a disc full of minimalist ambient music. Varying degrees of shimmer and shine present themselves throughout, along with echoes and rumbles for added depth and interest. “Point Aux Barques” and “The Longest Night” also score high on the relaxation scale, even as they delve into abstract atmospheric layers seemingly without form. The music is very Eno-esque, but with Borghi’s unique sonic signature. The delicate, subtle details in each piece can be appreciated either as background music or with focused, intent listening. The disc gets stronger as it goes, and by the time “Red Sky Morning” shimmers its way brightly along, expect to be fully immersed in the experience, and to just keep going deeper. My favorite may be “Distant Harbor,” the most serene floater on a disc full of them. Huronic Minor is excellent.

 

 

Steve Brand “Bridge to Nowhere”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

4 tracks, 75.22 mins

 

Hypnos loves deep ambient, and Steve Brand’s Bridge to Nowhere is a prime example of it. “Bridge to Nowhere 1” envelops the listener almost immediately with surreal sparse choirs, soaked in reverb, and allowed to breathe with ample stretches of silence in between. “Breathing Light” blurs the lines between ambient, environmental, and classical, as crickets and drones with a symphonic flair are joined together. Sparse piano adds a nice touch as well. Just when it seems the music can’t go any deeper, “Bridge to Nowhere 2” is even more minimal, with even longer stretches of silence between the sounds. Silence is an integral part of the album throughout, perhaps even more so that on Steve Roach’s classic Structures from Silence, although shimmering tones do eventually fill in the gaps here. This builds more than part one, though the expansive resonant quality remains. The brightest shimmers are saved for last on “Through the Lens of Love,” as pretty as ambient can get without being the least bit saccharine. The Hypnos release announcement for Bridge to Nowhere reads, in part, that it is “spacious, slow-breathing exploration of a meditative state.” Amen to that.

 

 

Darkened Soul “Bathys”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

6 tracks, 51.03 mins

 

With a name like Darkened Soul (aka Mike Soucy) dark music is anticipated, and that’s exactly what Bathys delivers, a journey into misty subterranean caverns previously explored by Robert Rich, Lustmord, and others. Music in the conventional sense is conspicuously absent, replaced by deep dark layers of dense sound, the kind that give subwoofers a workout and send you diving under the covers at night. There are no musical notes to speak of, no melody, no rhythm, just deep undulating currents of sound. Imagine being in a submersible in the Marianas Trench, and you are right in the middle of this listening experience. People speak of “hard” sci-fi; this is “hard” dark ambient, as pure as it gets. This is all about the blackness, the absolute absence of light. A journey this intense is not for the faint of heart. For those ready for it, this is the real deal.

 

 

Seren Ffordd “Veils, Shadows”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 64.02 mins

 

On Veils, Shadows, Seren Ffordd’s instrument list includes things you might expect like voice and electric guitar, and things you might not, like gourds and antelope horn. The end result has an authentic organic sound, similar and yet distinct from artists like Klaus Wiese and Mathias Grassow. “Slow Passing” has a circular feel to the swirling sounds, drones that breathe in and exhale slowly. Toward the end of the opening track, new sounds form the seeds of what will become “River Of Souls.” Seren Fford makes great picture music, and I can envision myself deep in a rain forest. Trying to describe the exact sounds and instrumentation is difficult for these atmospheric mood pieces, but I can state unequivocally that they succeed on many levels, from the way they sound to the effect they have on the listener. “Distant Paths” adds a tribal touch to the organic ambience. Percussion is crisp yet light, a very effective enhancement. The title track is darker and more dissonant in the early going. It smoothes out after a while with gentle washes of sound and steadily humming drones, coming to a long slow fade at the end. Recommended.

 

 

Ben Fleury-Steiner “Drifts”

(www.hypnos.com, 2005)

11 tracks, 59.50 mins

 

Ben Fleury-Steiner is founder of the niche label Gears of Sand, but this release finds him on Hypnos Secret Sounds CDR series. The disc begins with “Sundial,” featuring bright metallic shimmering loops of sound, intricately structured like Robert Rich’s Geometry with perhaps a touch of Phillip Glass influence as well, moving along at a fast clip. “Flicker” chugs along vaguely train-like at first before it slows down. Synthesizers play a key role throughout, creating a futuristic sound. “Descriptives” shuffles along at a moderate clip with cool electronic sounds serving as percussion. The centerpiece of the disc is a four-part suite called “Dreams,” starting with “Somnium Scipionis.” Again I like the way the percussion pulses and shuffles along just so. The electronics themselves seem to meander quite a bit. It’s all pleasant enough, fairly cheerful, although no particular track stands out.

 

 

Ruben Garcia “Through the Looking Glass”

(From CDBaby here, 2009)

7 tracks, 62.33 mins

 

I tend to think of Ruben Garcia as a piano player first and an electronic musician second, but Through the Looking Glass dispels that notion from the opening notes of “Pantoun” as very synthesized sounds sweep in, followed by gently bubbling percussion and delicate electric keys. These elements weave skillfully together to create a very pleasant space to open the album. Percussion and piano combine effectively on “La Mesa Terminada”. Rhythm plays an important role throughout, courtesy of Richard Bone on the first two tracks and Garcia on the rest. Marimba or the synth equivalent adds a playful tone to the title track. Several tracks have a strong melodic component, but then the disc takes a couple of surprising turns in the middle with two vastly different pieces. “My Minimalist Life” is an epic piano piece, with Garcia pounding the keys in a simple repeating phrase with dramatic import for nearly 20 minutes. In complete contrast, “Pulse” is a rapid-fire electronic juggernaut that never lets up over its 12-minute course. “Italian Café” is a light, bouncy gem to finish off this diverse offering.

 

 

Lena “Extended Gestures for Cello”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

10 tracks, 70.30 mins

 

Lena is co-owner of the Hypnos label with husband Mike Griffin. Extended Gestures for Cello blurs the lines between classical, ambient and new age, much as Tom Heasley has done for the tuba. The disc eases the listener in with the straightforward but beautiful “Sweet Sixteen.” The more experimental side is soon brought to bear as “Alchemy of Fingers and Dark” begins (see my January 2008 review of the album of the same name), an edgy, bold, dissonant piece. Somewhere in between is “Crowdmurmurs, Peopletalk,” featuring restless drones which are probably sourced from Lena’s cello, and some white noise for a slightly industrial edge. More accessible than the preceding track, it is still deep stuff, but should be appealing to fans of darker experimental ambience. “Workings of Silver Fortunetelling Machines” is the longest track, just under 15 minutes, and is very subdued and subtle. Like Heasley’s tuba, you learn to identify when Lena’s cello is the primary sound source, but it is well disguised most of the time. Short bits of experimentation like the aptly named “Analysis of Tapes from a Haunting” are interwoven with longer ambient works that fully explore the unique ambient qualities from the source instrumentation. Recommended for both ambient and modern classical aficionados.

 

 

Nverxion “A Look Within”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 73.56 mins

 

Nverxion (pronounced Inversion) is David Brancato from Florida, and A Look Within is his debut album. He lists many ambient musicians as influences, among them Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Jonn Serrie, and Jeff Pearce. On the opening track “Emergence” I particularly hear the Serrie references, as this sounds like perfect floating space music for your next planetarium show. Brancato goes even deeper into sonic drifting on “In This Place I Wander,” which sounds a lot like Roach’s more expansive pieces; I can almost see the mist hanging in the air. After a luxuriously long slow fade with little extra tinkling bits of sound, it segues into “From Where I Stand,” a straightforward piece of space music that takes us to the two epic closing tracks totaling nearly 43 minutes between them. Low rumbles start “Fortune of the Sky,” which is like a hybrid Roach/Rich floater, with a slightly primordial edge, though it retains a dreamy quality as well. It fades and very naturally flows into “In This Place I Rest.” Again comparisons to Steve Roach are unavoidable, but the music is plenty good to stand on its own merit. A Look Within is a most promising debut for Nverxion, hopefully to be followed by more, and soon.

 

 

Darren Rogers “The Alternate Realms”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

6 tracks, 67.32 mins

 

Hypnos continues to excel at finding talented unknown musicians in the ambient world, the latest case in point being Darren Rogers. The Alternate Realms begins with a gorgeous piece of space music in the form of “Still of the Night,” a brief but very promising opening number. “Slow Realization” starts with a ticking clock, which soon gives way to dark waves of ambience, followed by brighter washes of sound. A smattering of quirky electronics joins in, slightly incongruous but not wholly out of place. “Shimmering” is surprisingly haunting; I mean, it really gets under my skin, although eventually it brightens. Within these first three tracks, Rogers demonstrates remarkable range and originality. The trend continues on “Ancient” as dark ambience, floating space music, and assorted electronic noises are melded in a singular way. Bright electronic pulses start the 18-minute epic title track. It soon settles down, slowly breathing in and out as it progresses, taking a number of gentle twists and turns along the way. The disc closes with the quietest number, “Stranger in a Strange World,” as strange gurgles and night noises wander about. At times the music is almost imperceptible, but in a moment’s notice it becomes intense, and then it all fades away again. The best part about The Alternate Realms is that Darren Rogers has truly created something new to add to the ambient genre, something that will keep you guessing all the way through. How refreshing.

 

 

Sans Serif “Tones for LaMonte”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

6 tracks, 48.18 mins

 

Sans Serif is a pseudonym for ambient musician Forrest Fang, and Tones for LaMonte finds him in a minimal mood. Fans of the drone will surely want to seek this out, based on just the opening moments of “Alpha” as washes of sound slowly pour over the listener. Though it has a very synthetic sound it has organic warmth as well. Like works by Klaus Wiese and Mathias Grassow, this evolves very slowly and subtly, albeit distinctively. One has to listen for the changes; alternatively, one can just chill and immerse oneself in it without trying to discern the gradual shifts in sound. Seemingly to emphasize each piece as a unique element, there are relatively long sections of silence between tracks. “Omega” is subtler still, growing almost imperceptibly and yet undeniably, as by the end it forms a wall of sound with an industrial edge to it. This is the kind of sound that drone purists absolutely love while the rest of the world shrugs and wonders what the big deal is. “Gamma” jumps right in without so much as a fade in, with a rawer edge to it at first, though it softens nicely in short order. Something vaguely like choirs takes over, but it could just be other processed or found sounds. “Delta” is a bit more dissonant and unsettled, but still delivers. I am at a loss to identify any of the sound sources used throughout; this music is about the end result and the way you feel while listening to it. Ethereal and warm, Tones for LaMonte is excellent.

 

 

Robyn Sheldon & Indidgnus “The Mama Bamba Way”

(www.deviantdidg.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 79.12 mins

 

Although there is relaxing ambient and new age music here, the main purpose of this disc is guided visualizations for birth. The first four tracks feature Robyn Sheldon talking the listener through her self-described “avant garde birthing process.” Sheldon has a pleasant, relaxing voice. The music is repeated on the last four tracks without the vocals, and my review will focus on that. The music is more about soothing textures than structured melodic compositions. Each of the four tracks runs about ten minutes, allowing space to breathe. “Dawn” is very soothing, with birds, warm gentle synth sounds, and light, sparse piano. The calm, reflective music creates an extremely comfortable listening environment. “Daylight” features gently lapping waves and a shimmering brighter timbre. “Twilight” is for fans of that time of day, not the vampire movie franchise, with crickets and soft atmospheric sounds. “Night” is the only track with any discernible rhythm, a distant, two-beat phrase that adds just a slight tribal touch. Michael Martin, the man behind Indidgnus, is quite adept at building soothing soundscapes. Apparently this sound is not his norm, as sound samples from his other albums, from funky to psytrance, will attest. I’d like to hear Martin do a full album of relaxing sounds like this.

 

 

Terra Ambient “Wanderlust”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 51.23 mins

 

Jeff Kowal aka Terra Ambient makes ambient new age music with hints of several influences ranging from Robert Rich to Steve Roach, Patrick O’Hearn to Harold Budd, and others. “Myth” starts the album so subtly that the music is nearly inaudible for the first minute, until a slow tribal beat and gently floating washes of sound fade in. The intensity builds nicely after that, leading into powerful soaring guitars that perfectly amplify the mood. Bright, brisk, tinkling percussion at the start of “Mudfoot” reminds me a lot of “Primes” from Robert Rich’s Geometry CD. It also throws in some deep bass reminiscent and tribal touches reminiscent of the Ma Ja Le and Vir Unis collaboration Imaginarium. Guitars feature prominently here with another strong solo. Things cool down for the next three tracks with mellow earthy ambience. “Visionquest,” in particular, develops very nicely. Although it evolves quite slowly, by the end it is a totally different, much more active piece. For the title track, chimes and a haunting wind are joined by slow tribal beats and warm flowing synth sounds. “Mammoth” has an appropriately primeval quality about it, contrasted nicely with modern electronic sounds percolating up once in a while. “Epilogue” is the most subdued track so far and possibly my favorite. Rain and thunder herald the closing track, “The Ghost in Me,” with sparse piano giving it a new age feel, a nice relaxed way to finish.

 

 

Various Artists “The Gatherings Vol. 2”

(http://www.thegatherings.org/cd02.html, 2006)

2 CDs, 10 tracks, 2:13:42

 

The Gatherings Vol. 2 focuses on pre-2000 recordings from The Gatherings concert series, unique lengthy sets from a classic line up of ambient and space musicians. The intense, shrill tones of fujara are followed by cool tribal passages in Vidna Obmana’s 20-minute set from 1998, which includes performances of “Trail Dwelling” and “Encountering Terrain” from his Crossing the Trail album released that year. Alongside familiar numbers like Ma Ja Le’s powerful “Imaginarium” and Spacecraft’s enchanting “De Profundis” are fresh new artists such as Pure Gamma, a precursor to Jeffrey Koepper’s fantastic solo work. Saul Stokes fans should be thrilled with “Darcy’s Charismatic Proton,” 20 minutes of unique floating buzzes and drones with that familiar Stokes edge and originality. The album does a nice job of capturing the avant garde side of ambient in all its forms, retaining a remarkably cohesive identity for such a diverse compilation.

 

 

Various Artists “Star’s End 30th Anniversary Anthology”

(http://www.starsend.org/SECD.html, 2006)

2 CDs, 12 tracks, 2:15:57

 

This 2-CD set is only available by donating to radio station WXPN, but consider it a wise investment if you like space music, as this exclusive set of recordings culled from live Star’s End sets between 1996 and 2006 is a veritable who’s who in the genre. Chuck van Zyl, host of the Star’s End program, starts the set off with his Ministry of Inside Things project. Effortless dreamy guitar by Art Cohen melds perfectly with a relaxed bass line, light percussion, and warm vintage synth sounds and sequencing. Next is another Star’s End staple, the little-known but excellent Orbital Decay, who I only discovered myself about a year ago through a friend’s recommendation. This 2005 recording of “Terminal Velocity” infuses spacey synths with a lead line that lends a mournful quality at first. The mood brightens as a bubbly bass sequence percolates up through the mix, although dark tinges remain throughout. Speaking of dark, Ian Boddy’s murky “Before the End of the Beginning” has a primordial sound befitting its name, though some barnstorming sequencing really takes off in its latter half. “Ardent Engine” is a typical 12-minute atmospheric slab of AirSculpture goodness, a slow grower that really cooks by the end. Performances throughout are uniformly strong, featuring Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Jonn Serrie, Rudy Adrian, Radio Massacre International and more to round out this fantastic set. The music is weaved seamlessly as a single long set of music, like the best space music concert you’ve ever been to.

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

 

June 2009

 

14 CDs reviewed this month

 

Ashley|Roedelius|Story (ARS) “Errata”

(www.nepenthemusic.com, 2008)

10 tracks, 49.27 mins

 

Dwight Ashley, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Tim Story have been around the block a time or two in ambient and electronic circles, so I suppose it is not a big surprise that the three of them would come together for a meeting of musical minds. The end result is much like you might expect, subtly crafted tunes with an unusual bent. These 10 tracks blend the melodic and the discordant in ways that, in particular, Ashley and Roedelius are known for. I suspect Story plays the piano that appears on tracks like “Gefällig”, a cool blend of jazz, ambient, and new age. “Simmering” does just that, with more smoky piano tones and a unique sound like treated violin or something. Melodies are relaxing and unsettling all at the same time. Occasionally some Berlin school references crop up, as on the gentle bubbly sequencing of the opening track, “Incubator,” and the longest track, “Squiggle,” fun in both sound and in name. But for the most part, each track is an intricate subtle sound experiment, such as the quirky but engaging title track which lasts but 95 seconds. The beautiful piano piece “Ruminator” wraps things up, with just the right surrounding touches of atmosphere. Errata is adventurous yet accessible.

 

 

The Circular Ruins “Falling into the Sky”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2007)

10 tracks, 64.11 mins

 

Falling into the Sky is more glitchy ambient goodness from APK, aka Anthony Paul Kerby aka The Circular Ruins (TCR). We start with the 13-plus minute title track, with warm pads flowing over the top of electronic twitters and small grains of static. It is trademark TCR, dissolving into a low drone at the end. “Immer Du” eases things down further into relaxed ambience with the same slight edge, and some muffled background vocal samples. “Minus 40” keeps the music appropriately chilled, with a softly whooshing wind and a continued emphasis on subtlety. “A Day Without Secrets” sounds like a lost gem to an indie soundtrack, melancholy but beautiful and engaging. Next is a three-part 17-minute suite called “Paracelsus.” Each part makes good use of abstract layers of sound to set the mood. “A Dreamer of Pictures” reminds me of James Johnson with its use of sparse piano to add to the ambience. “It Is Always Too Late” is 13 minutes that seems to go nowhere yet creates a nice space in which to unwind for the duration. The last track brings the disc to short subdued conclusion.

 

 

The Circular Ruins “A Treatise on Navigation”

(Free download here, 2008)

5 tracks, 42.30 mins

 

Yet another freebie from DataObscura, this EP from The Circular Ruins brings dreamy, pulsating sounds as the title track begins. The combination of bright melodic synths and the strolling bass line remind me of Edgar Froese’s Ages album, not a connection I’d normally expect while listening to Anthony’s music. One of my favorite TCR tracks to date. “Cerulean Blue” continues the retro associations in my mind as I swear I’m hearing Klaus Schulze play his pads with a simple, effective vintage synth lead. A tribute to Klaus’ In Blue perhaps? Intentional homage or not, I love the result. “Looking Glass” goes back to the more traditional TCR sound, relaxing electronic meanderings nicely layered with little chirps here and there. It takes some cool twists and turns along the way, particularly in the closing minutes. “Waterfront” moves slowly with piano, lapping waves, and…a synth horn of some type? It’s very different, and just as I’m trying to decide if I like it or not, it completely changes halfway through, a chugging little bit of synths and sequencing followed by the sounds of children. The water is the only element connecting the first half with the second, which I suppose makes sense given the title, but otherwise it sounds like two completely different songs.  The final track features a looped percussion bit in the middle that works well, sandwiched between two atmospheric passages. This EP does play like the set of outtakes that it is, but what it lacks in flow it makes up for in some very good individual tracks for your listening enjoyment at an unbeatable price.

 

Cluster “Qua”

(www.nepenthemusic.com, 2009)

17 tracks, 54.47 mins

 

Nobody does quirky electronic music quite like Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Mobius. They continue to push the sound envelope, literally, with this all-new set of captivating studio pieces. “Lerandis” starts the disc in soft, gentle, surprisingly accessible fashion, but two short tracks later “Flutful” is a strange wondrous cacophony of sound that is trademark Cluster. I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at the sound sources used, although the promotional material mentions something about using a squeaky bathroom door. Oh wait, that almost has to be the sound I hear in “Putoil,” which at first I mistook for a baby crying. Normally I balk at music this adventurous, but there is something compelling about their style. You can hear the enjoyment in the creative process from the results. Although the music is fairly low key, rhythm is an important element throughout, in particular on wonderfully propulsive pieces like “Na Ernel” and “Malturi Sa.” This isn’t intellectual music for the sake of being weird – well, maybe “Putoil is. But for the most part, it is two guys in the moment, doing what they love to do. And we are better off for it.

 

 

Free System Projekt “Procyon”

(www.musiczeit.com, or direct from FSP site, 2009)

3 tracks, 62.33 mins

 

A download-only release, Procyon is another notch in the Berlin school belt of Free System Projekt, aka Marcel Engels and Ruud Heij. The first two tracks are from their live set at Hampshire Jam 2008. “Procyon A” is an atmospheric beauty, nearly 28 minutes of the pure retro FSP sound. But this time the sequencers are given a much longer rest than usual, allowing the expansive music to float into the outer reaches of space for quite a while. It takes three minutes just for mellotron flute to arrive; before that, it is all abstract, like transmissions from a distant probe. Gradually things coalesce into a more recognizable form as a smooth vintage synth sweeps in just before the 5:00 mark. It takes over 11 minutes for the first sequencing to arrive, but of course once it does it’s off to the races, stellar stuff. A long slow fade dissolves into warbling space transmissions as “Procyon B” begins. I hope FSP doesn’t tire of the Tangerine Dream comparisons, because once again they’ve nailed their mid-70s sound down cold. Original it is not but deftly executed nonetheless, as all manner of vintage synths and sequencing are smoothly layered, building upon one another in a restrained frenzy. The last track, “And Then There Were Two,” is a decade-old unreleased track from when Ruud Heij first joined Marcel Engels, live in Huizen, The Netherlands. This one has a strong Phaedra vibe to it, fitting right in with the rest. After all, whether recorded in 1999 or 2009, FSP always makes EM fans feel right at home in 1975.

 

 

Kwook “Skywave”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2008)

12 tracks, 57.47 mins

 

Australian artist Kwook offers Skywave as his tribute to shortwave radio. Softly pulsing synths on “Calling All Stations 1” sound very much like radio transmissions set to music. “Stationary Waves” slows down the pulse and loops it in a series of chimes going up and back down again. I’m reminded of Robert Rich’s “Primes” from his Geometry CD. “Way Out” sounds more like deep space transmissions that the radio variety, which is to say it is cool space music. On prior efforts Kwook sometimes would get a little too cute for my taste; here he takes a more restrained approach throughout that really pays off with his strongest, most even effort. “Calling All Stations 2” is an pleasing variant on version one, maybe even better, with crystal-clear sequencing. “Sunspots” has crisp, punchy percussion and a cheery melody. The disc closes with the title track, running over 23 ½ minutes and divided into three parts. It is softer and mellower than the rest and every bit as good, esp. part three which is almost too cool for its own good. I highly recommend Skywave.

 

 

Neu Gestalt “Altered Carbon”

(www.alextronicrecords.co.uk, 2008)

14 tracks, 67.29 mins

 

Warbling electronics fade in and out, with clicks of static. Warm pads add a smoother touch as they swell and slack. Punchy bits of percussion emerge. Added together they form “Between Her Dreams,” the opening track to Altered Carbon by Neu Gestalt, aka Les Scott from Edinburgh, Scotland. He calls his music “reductionist electronica,” a name I rather like. As more warm synths emanate from track two, “Glyph”, I have to say I like the sound as well. There is a glitchy vibe, with a dash of drum ‘n bass, but it is more leisurely, with engaging melodies. I hear some Saul Stokes-like sounds, classic influences like Tangerine Dream, and unique touches throughout from Scott himself. “Convergence” takes the relaxed tone down a notch, a more expansive, airy piece, though still with lots of little extras in the sounds that I really like. “Fissure” starts quite abstractly, more gritty textures than music before “normal” synths return. But my favorite has to be “Frozen Ground,” with relatively simple drums, bass, and melody. I really like the way it flows effortlessly by. The title track adds cool grainy elements to warm synths and sparse beats. “Trace Elements” switches halfway through from a bright piano lead to a very pleasing vintage synth sound. “Levitation” is more upbeat than most, a perfect one to crank up on the car stereo for a sunny afternoon drive. My only slight critique of Altered Carbon is that I sometimes wish the intentional sounds of static were laid to rest, to let the warm pleasant melodies shine through unfiltered. Still, this is a solid debut and quite enjoyable from start to finish.

 

 

Nunc Stans “Land”

(Free download here, 2008)

6 tracks, approx 39 mins

 

Nunc Stans “Ellesmere Island”

(Free download here, 2008)

1 tracks, 25.34 mins

 

First it was The Circular Ruins, then Lammergeyer, and now Nunc Stans. While Anthony Paul Kerby may suffer the musical equivalent of multiple personality disorder, in this case it is no cause for alarm; in fact, just the opposite. We the listeners benefit from his prolific output with slightly different styles. For these Nunc Stans releases, pure slow drifts of sound are the thing, perfect for deep chilling. Right now the title track of Land is floating across the room, and it’s wonderful, so soothing. Before that, the bright swirls of “Before the Colors Deepened” opened the disc in a shimmering ethereal way. “Journey of a Thousand Days” is an amazing way to make almost nothing really something, barely changing yet creating such a pleasant sonic environment that you want to stay there. A little more goes on in “Submerged Island” as low rumblings give way to brighter bleeps and blips over the top of it.

 

The Ellesmere Island EP goes a bit deeper and darker, though it still is all about the floating, with lots of ambience and very little in the way of conventional musical structure such as rhythm or melody. It has a more organic quality and should appeal greatly to Robert Rich fans I would think. For free, you have no excuse not to check out both of these excellent releases.

 

 

Dan Pound “Living Planet”

(www.danpound.com, 2009)

6 tracks, 72.01 mins

 

Quick on the heels of Dan Pound’s last release Esoterica comes Living Planet, presumably the sequel to Liquid Planet. “Birth of a Planet” begins with primeval deep rumblings, though this soon gives way to flutes, synths, random electronic sounds and gentle percussion. The many layers seem like they shouldn’t fit but they do. Now that we have a living planet we need to populate it, so “Dawn of Man” is next, bubbling up from the primordial ooze. Wordless vocals wail plaintively in the background midway through as tribal and futuristic sounds collide. Vocals become more pronounced at the end as a phrase is repeated, though I can’t make out what is being sung or what language it is, or if it is even words. The vocal phrase continues to repeat as a thumping beat and a bit of synths join in on “Monolith.” A very Schulze-like lead line plays softly toward the end, very nice. Long sustained swells slowly breathe in and out on “Time Forgotten,” sounding both organic and synthetic. Tribal drums and flutes return, as do wordless vocals. It ends in a smattering of sparkling synth tones and the same sweeping sound that started things off. The majestic tone continues into the title track, and gradually tapers off into deep meditative reflections, even more so as it flows into the closing number, “Ray of Creation,” a beautifully spacious way to finish off the album.

 

 

Steve Rose “Twin Earth: Collected Ambient Works”

(www.cdbaby.com/cd/steverose, 2008)

7 tracks, 62.12 mins

 

Steve Rose’s Twin Earth: Collected Ambient Works feels more like a fully developed thematic work than a collection of recordings over a 15 year period. I knew I would like this CD from the opening notes of “Guitar Abstraction #3: Cumulus”, dreamy floating music. If you like ambient guitar treatments by the likes Steve Roach, Robert Rich and Jeff Pearce, this disc is definitely for you. “Emergent Properties” is equally ethereal and a touch brighter if that’s possible. Fans of sparser works by Brian Eno will find a lot to like on this 15-minute floater. Rose’s music is, for the most part, the antithesis of dark ambient; although it has haunting qualities here and there, this is ambience that will lift your spirits. For example, “The Haunted” is darker, but has a cinematic almost majestic tone to it. The way this one combines drumming with atmospheric sounds reminds me somewhat of Thom Brennan’s excellent “The Path Not Taken,” one of my favorite ambient tracks. While I’ve listed several common points of reference, Rose’s music is certainly solid enough to stand on its own merits. The bubbly restless churning of “TMR-1C” and the sparse piano and synth textures of the title track take us into darker territory before returning to the light with the shimmering closing track, another ambient guitar piece that makes a perfect bookend to the opener. 

 

 

Bruno Sanfilippo “Auralspace”

(www.ad21music.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 71.35 mins

 

Spain’s Bruno Sanfilippo makes some of the most creative cinematic ambient music around, and he has done it again with Auralspace. Seven tracks in a continuous flow tell compelling stories through sound. It’s as though Sanfilippo has written the perfect soundtrack, and now someone needs to make the movie that goes with it. “Mimosa Hostilis” starts as a brooding, pulsating piece, but after its somewhat dark beginning it glows warmly midway through, with bright metallic timbres as birds twitter in the background. The music seems to swirl around, wrapping the listener up in it. “Imagined Reality” slows things down and seems like pure floating music, ebbing and flowing not unlike Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence, until a percolating little percussion line appears. It keeps pace for the balance of the track, fading into delicate softness at the end. The title track is next, another delicate floater at first, with cool electronic twitters and pulses eventually joining in. And for ethereal floating music it doesn’t get much better than “Divine Moments.” The album has a very cohesive feel, each piece having a distinct character that warrants its inclusion, adding to the overall flow of the disc which is quite seamless and seemingly effortless. Bruno Sanfilippo is always good, and Auralspace is my favorite CD of his so far.

 

 

Saul Stokes “Metacollage”

(www.saulstokes.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 49.40 mins

 

Saul Stokes remains a singular voice in electronic music, and Metacollage adds to his mystique. A slow, steady, thumping beat and edgy, warbling white noise open the album as “Slowing into Shimmering Steel” starts. The title paints a great word picture for the sounds emanating from the speakers. Synths gently bubble up to start “Out of True” in a cool way, followed by a quirky electronic warble that typifies the Stokes sound. At times the music fades briefly to silence before returning, a technique also employed effectively on “Drop By Drop.” Midway through the album I’m struck by how purely electronic it is. Although I liked Vast and Villa Galaxia, at times they seemed awfully, well, normal for Stokes. In that sense, Metacollage is a return to form, true experimentation by pushing the sonic boundaries of electronic music. The sounds are not readily definable, the melodies are indistinct, and each piece is more than the sum of its parts in the creative way it is fused together. Even the subtlest pieces, like “Inescapable”, are gems of intricacy. Each element of each track seems perfectly placed, with nothing missing and no excess; not a sound is wasted. This is minimalism at its best, and quite possibly Saul’s best work to date.

 

 

Various Artists “Perceived Distances”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2008)

15 tracks, 78.08 mins

 

This sampler presents an excellent overview of the DataObscura label, featuring a diverse yet cohesive set of tracks. It starts with the glitchy goodness of The Circular Ruins and Off The Sky and ends with a new age/classical feel with Marco Lucchi’s piano piece “Mellow”. In between the music covers the bases for modern ambient electronica, with a veritable who’s who from the label’s offerings. Saul Stokes gets into a cool groove with “Camera Clicks,” a suitable choice for this disc as it probably wouldn’t quite fit on a Stokes album, yet his cool sense of sonic style remains intact. Next is one of only two names I don’t know on the disc, the enigmatic P is for Prue (the other is the aforementioned Lucchi). I can find no information about the band/person on the internet, but I can say that “princeFive” is a cool laid back track well worth including here. Part of the fun of compilations is hearing a different sound from established artists, case in point being Off The Sky’s “Early Morning Sunset,” a surprisingly light, beautiful piece from a master of all thing coarse and granular in music synthesis. If you prefer the granular sound, cue up Enti Non’s “Seeing Light”, a fine example of ambient minimalism. The Circular Ruins appears again on “Nobody Knows”, a mellow airy number that soothes. If you are familiar with the label’s sound, you will easily find a new favorite or two, or several. If you have not yet had the pleasure, this is a perfect introduction.

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

May 2009

 

9 new CD reviews this month

 

Atomic Skunk “Binary Scenes”

(atomicskunk.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 58.45 mins

 

Atomic Skunk is Rich Brodsky from San Francisco, and Binary Scenes is his debut release. Bright shimmering metallic tones get things started on “Chronoswamp,” joined by a deep drone and sparse synths playing a soft melody in the background. It has a relaxed, cool feeling. “Liquid Dharma” starts similarly, loaded with atmosphere including rain and thunder, but toward the end cool tribal beats ensue along with a unique lead sound, sort of like a processed violin sound or maybe something more primitive. Female wordless chanting lends a world music vibe to it.  The disc is replete with unique sounds and styles, combining synthesizers and traditional instruments (or their synth equivalents, at least) in ways I’ve not heard before. For example, “Winter’s Gift (The Chamber) sounds like mellow electronica mixed with chamber music. The end result is fresh, vibrant, and thoroughly entertaining and listenable. If you’d rather have some straightforward space music, then cue up “Frozen Neptune,” gaze up at the night sky, and trip out a little. After 13 minutes of reverie, get ready to be shaken out of it from the unsettled wildness that marks the beginning of “Flying Spiders of Babylon.” Once it calms down it’s another cool one with a deep chill vibe to it. Each track brings something fresh to the table, like the ongoing monologue of “Mind the Gap” and the assorted smatterings of sound running through it. Expect to be entertained.

 

 

Between Interval “The Edge of a Fairytale”

(www.spottedpeccary.com, 2009)

11 tracks, 62.41 mins

 

Be sure to check out the interview with Stefan in this month's issue!

 

Stefan Strand (formerly Jönsson) returns with another excellent album in The Edge of a Fairytale. “Delta Capricorni” starts the disc in sweeping majestic fashion with hints of electronica thrown in to the theatrical mix. “The Great Void” takes a dark, minimal turn, rumbling like thunder and harkening back to the sound worlds Stefan created on Secret Observatory. “Minotaur’s Lair” fades in on a cool chugging bass line and is probably my favorite track, though there is not a bad one to be found anywhere on the album. “Pillars of Creation” has a wall-of-sound effect that crashes in and fades, repeating every couple of seconds, with atmospheric touches thrown in. The crashes gradually soften toward the end, leaving only a low rumble that ebbs away. “Three Years Ago” begins in a similar fashion but male choirs give it a Gregorian chant feel. It deftly evolves into something quite different by the end, with a dash of sequencing and soft synth textures. Each track is well-defined, telling a unique story from beginning to end before moving on to the next chapter. “Eden In Shadows” has a very organic quality, with odd rustling noises in the middle as gentle drifting ambience floats by. Robert Rich fans should really like this one, as well as the appropriately murky piece “Purgatory.” I cannot precisely define what it is that makes Between Interval’s brand of ambient music so special, but I can emphatically state that he is one of my favorite artists in the genre today.

 

 

Human Being “Live at the Zodiak – Berlin 1968”

(www.nepenthemusic.com, 2009)

1 track, 56.34 mins

 

From an underground place – literally – called The Zodiak, this rare 1968 recording has been lovingly restored by Nepenthe Music as a tribute to the origins of some of the most adventurous music and non-musical sounds to emerge from that time. Although experimentation in music has certainly been going on since the very first primitive sounds were created millennia ago, what happened in the 1960s certainly was a unique point in musical history. A rag-tag group of mostly non-musical individuals came together and were given free rein to make whatever noises they wished. Early on, someone slowly bangs on something, probably not a drum although it does create a slow-paced rhythm. A saxophone wails alongside the beat like a lovesick moose. Other noises slowly emerge, drones upon drones. As the sax subsides it gets calmer, but still pulsates with a certain restlessness; I particularly like this section. It turns nearly silent approaching the 16:00 mark, though the few sounds that remain have a distant, haunting quality. A quote on the booklet describes it as “sounding like industrial machines gone beserk.” Something sort of resembling vocals occurs at random intervals. Considering The Zodiak was co-founded by Conrad Schnitzler, an early member of a very avant garde incarnation of Tangerine Dream, so that should give you the general idea of what it sounds like. Recommended for fans of experimental EM and musical historians alike.

 

 

Lemonchill “Sentant”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 51 mins

 

When I saw the cover art for Lemonchill’s Sentant I said, “Uh oh.” Naked pretty girl, lying in water. The word “chill” in the name. This is going to be some sort of club music, probably with vocals, not going to be my thing, I can’t review this. Reluctantly, I put it on. Yes, there is a downtempo chill vibe going on, nothing remotely retro or Berlin school going on here. But it isn’t your garden variety house music, either. Case in point is “Open Rene.” It starts with an echoing vocal sample “open-open-open-open” that literally seems to be inside my brain, even without headphones, a sort of startling effect. Just when I’ve decided I don’t like the intensity of it, it fades away and a slick bass line and thumping beat ensues. Speaking of infectious beats, I dare you to keep still while listening to the grooves of “Emotions” or “Mantra.” Anyone who’s a fan of the excellent Ultimae Records label, in particular the band Solar Fields, should seek this out immediately. Kudos to the normally retro Ricochet Dream label for signing a very forward-sounding act. Highly recommended.

 

 

The Ministry of Inside Things “Contact Point”

(www.synkronosmusic.com, 2006)

7 tracks, 54.31 mins

 

One of the things I like best about MoIT is that they have a retro feel, but with a wider range than most instrumental electronic music. From the softly lapping waves of “Serenity Cove Prelude” to the wailing guitar strains of “Serenity Cove” to the deep space exploration of “The Uncharted Isle” to the classic synths and sequencing of “Fortescue,” the disc seemingly has it all, yet retains a singular theme that holds it together extremely well. “River Dream” is a trippy number with eerie electronics, distant unintelligible singing and other unusual sounds. “Night Scene” returns to a soft vintage set, with particularly nice echoing guitars here, reminiscent of Ashra from about 1977 or so. Delicate spacey synths fade into crickets and other nights sounds as “The Red Sun Rises” brings this excellent disc to a close.

 

 

The Ministry of Inside Things “Everlasting Moment”

(www.synkronosmusic.com, 2003)

2 CDs, 7 tracks + 7 tracks, 57.15 mins + 62.59 mins

 

The Ministry of Inside Things is Chuck van Zyl on synthesizers and Art Cohen on guitars. Everlasting Moment captures a series of live venues from 2002, including Chuck’s own Star’s End concert series associated with his radio program of the same name. As I’m sitting here listening to “Neutron Flux” on disc two, I’m thinking how well this disc blends synthesizer music and rock music, in Ashra fashion. The guitar solos on this track are fantastic, sizzling and dreamy at the same time. A moderate synth sequence keeps pace. The two elements are contradictory and yet complementary, a strategy that works throughout this 2-CD set. Sometimes, as on “Contour Adjustment” and “Chromatix,” the result is subtle, almost ambient. “Contour Adjustment” in particular conjures up images of deep space, nearly silent at times. But other times, like on “Voyage for Guitar and Synth” and “Function Four,” it practically rocks. Several of the quieter passages, especially on disc two, remind me in spirit of the live improvisational shows by Tangerine Dream in the seventies, though of course the sound quality here is markedly better. “Grateful” is a beautiful closing number, combining a gentle guitar melody with warm Mellotron strings. Everlasting Moment is a first-rate 2-hour collection of electronic improvisation and experimentation.

 

This review © 2004 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

 

The Ministry of Inside Things “Ambient Elsewhere”

(www.synkronosmusic.com , 2008)

2 CDs, 7 tracks + 6 tracks, 63.27 mins + 62.59 mins

 

Though MoIT likes to changes things up a little, I was still a bit unprepared for the marked departure from their usual sound on Ambient Elsewhere. “Invocation” reminds me of the deep drones and vocal overtone singing of Klaus Wiese and Mathias Grassow. “Science Fiction” is mainly mellotron flute and reverberating echoes of spoken words, though eventually mellotron strings and a bit of percussion join in. “Dubzilla” is aptly named as deep bass is prominent, joined by soft electric piano which offsets it nicely. “Markzilla” starts as if someone is playing with a vocal processor, and remains dark and experimental throughout. “Ricodub” adds another heavy dose of bass to the retro sound, with great sequencing near the end. “Poor Alice” is hypnotic synths, sequencing, and guitar, the standout track on disc one. “Aphelion Season” is a soothing, meandering atmospheric opener to disc two, followed by the gently playful “Six-Sided Crystal,” featuring Cohen’s fluid guitar tones mostly. “Naylor’s Run” starts with softly tinkling bells and then moves into a stellar sequencing section, a fantastic vintage piece here, easily my favorite on the album. “Frostbound” has grinding, fuzzed out guitars for a cool contrast in tone. “Icicle Falls” combines dreamy guitars and synths in inimitable MoIT fashion. “The New Past” is very similar to “Frostbound,” in the middle, but is mostly notable for a lengthy narrative from the Apollo 8 mission including a scripture reading. What I like most about Ambient Elsewhere is that it takes chances throughout, and I think this could really become a favorite as I spend more time with it.

 

 

Parallel Worlds “Shade”

(www.DiN.org.uk, 2009)

10 tracks, 62.47 mins

 

It’s not hard to see why Ian Boddy likes Parallel Worlds aka Bakis Sirros. Quirky, darkly aggressive tracks abound, sounding very much like the sort of compositions Boddy himself creates. Shade occupies the same sonic territory as Bakis’ previous DiN release Obsessive Surrealism. This is shadowy, moody music that you can tap your toes to, as on “Frightening Frontiers.” If Otso Parikinen were to restrain his experimental leanings a bit more, the result would be quite similar to this I would think. Even more moving is “Mutating Realities,” although the dance-friendly beat disappears abruptly a couple minutes before it ends. At that point it turns into very minimal ambient, nearly silent in fact. It’s a surprising turn but the effect is cool nonetheless. “Compulsive Mechanics” sounds like machines gone haywire, but with a nifty groove running through it. The emphasis is on unique melodies and unusual sounds and beats. Dynamic rhythmically throughout, there are a couple of beatless sections here and there, but never for very long. The title track is exceptional, as is the dramatic piano-tinged “Towards”, both playing like newly discovered pieces from industrial Berlin school masters Node. Sirros has finely honed his craft, fully coming into his own with this album.

 

 

SourceCodeX “Prophetic Ambient Awakenings”

(Download from CD Baby, 2009)

10 tracks, 56.10 mins

 

More dark minimal ambient from John W. Patterson, whose Primordial Lands Arise I compared to Stalker by Robert Rich and Lustmord. This time around, it is marginally lighter on occasion, such as on the opening track “Path of the Overcomer,” as shimmering tones softly weave their way into the darker drones. Still, with track titles like “Dark Night of the Soul,” this is hardly lighthearted new age. Patterson offers extended track-by-track notes on CD Baby’s site regarding his spiritual journey that culminated in this release. Melody and rhythm are virtually absent throughout. Occasionally a sound will coalesce into something almost solid, but for the most part sounds lay deep in the background, as if hiding in the shadows. Sometimes the edges are softer, sometimes rawer; often it is organic, but at times it slips into a more industrial-type sound. For those willing to take the journey it doesn’t get much better than losing yourself in the depths of something like “Works of the Flesh,” a brooding almost sinister piece. “Kadesh-Barnea Wanderings” has a more restless quality to it, like distant thunder. “Ramath Gilead” goes back to brighter shimmering timbres, although it takes some haunting twists and turns along the way. If you like pure drone music like Stephen Phillips’ starker recordings or Stephen Parsick’s “doombient” releases, Prophetic Ambient Awakenings should be right up your dark alley.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

April 2009

 

14 new CD reviews this month

 

AirSculpture “Doom Bar”

(Available at MusicZeit here, 2009)

2 tracks, 63.04 mins

 

And now for something completely different…

 

Doom Bar takes AirSculpture fans on a decidedly darker journey than usual, exploring every nook and crevice of all tonal shades of grey, brown, and black. The 48-minute title track, recorded in one take, wanders through currents of dark water, with eerie strains of piano in the background early on. At times it rumbles deep like thunder, but occasionally shafts of light pierce through the darkness. Unlike the trio’s usual sonic sculptures, these come without sequencing, almost without form entirely. The gelatinous pool of sound slowly morphs its way along, sometimes accompanied by sparse beats, but usually without. Restless gurgling noises here, dark mechanistic sounds there, all quite different from the usual AirSculpture sound. Then, in the closing minutes, things brighten and warm considerably, rising out of the doom and gloom, as if coming up for air from the depths. “Voter Run” condenses the ambience into a 15-minute stretch, even darker and sparser than its antecedent, although it too enters a dreamier, lighter phase at the end. I miss the sequencing, but Doom Bar offers a unique glimpse into another side of AirSculpture.

 

 

Blutiger Fluss “Dawn of Mars”

(Available at CD Baby here, 2008)

4 tracks, 69.58 mins

 

Most fans of vintage electronic music strive to make music like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream made anywhere from 1975 to 1984 or so. The duo known as Blutiger Fluss aims more around 1972 to 1974, when freeform flowing electronics were the order of the day, before something called a sequencer became all the rage and seemed to define the genre ever after. Although Jeff Hutchison and Jim Duede formed the band in 2008, they have quite successfully created a sound rooted in origins some 35 years prior. Four lengthy drifting pieces of space music, all with German titles, harken back to a simpler yet more adventurous time in musical exploration. Though there are no beats or distinct melodies, the soundscapes are continuously shifting and changing. Perhaps best of all, the only thing Hutchison and Duede have truly copied is the spirit of that period of time in electronic music; the music itself is to my ears quite fresh and original. The sound is purely synthetic, thoroughly electronic. Though futuristic it also has a primal quality. It does not sound like Zeit or Phaedra, or Picture Music or Blackdance; it sounds like some new, undiscovered gem of a band from that time period has recently been unearthed. And in a way, I suppose it has.

 

 

Robert Carty “Starlight Volume 1”

(www.geocities.com/deepskymusic, 2009)

8 tracks, 61.13 mins

 

Robert Carty has always had a penchant for space music, perhaps never more so than on his latest release Starlight Volume 1. This is a perfect collection for your next planetarium show or space journey, real or imaginary. “Polaris” is full of bright shimmers and electronic twitters, an ethereal way to start. “Enveloping Space” drifts softly in, remaining feathery light throughout. “Moonrise” reminds me of Telomere’s space music, although I don’t think Carty uses a Serge synthesizer. Still, it has that pure deep space quality to it; the whole album does, but this one even more so. Shimmering swirls of sound seem appropriate for “Saturn’s Song,” as if the rings themselves had been put to music. “Attracting Light” is another airy gem that floats dreamily by. “Starburst” digs a little deeper with a pulsating undercurrent that gives it more bite, though it is still unmistakably music for the stars. My personal favorite is difficult to choose, but the wonderful floating of “Deep Into Night” is surely near the top of the list. “Splendrous Starlight” is as pleasant and dreamy as the rest, a very nice closing piece. If you like Carty’s prior works or the early space music works of Jonn Serrie, this is absolutely essential listening.

 

Driftin’ Thoughts “Nightshifts”

(www.syngate.net, 2007)

12 tracks, 72 mins

 

Driftin’ Thoughts is Marcus Hildebrandt, and Nightshifts is a 2007 remaster of a 1998 recording of pieces composed and performed from 1992-1996. “In Motion” kick starts the album in fine upbeat form, very much in keeping with the Driftin’ Thoughts sound based on my limited experience. “Flying Free” slows things down considerably but maintains a warm, cheery disposition. This is the antithesis of dark ambient. “The Intruder” energizes as it entertains. The synth drums sound a bit thin but it’s hard to find much fault in the fun. “Gravitation Waves” drifts into outer space with its soothing sounds at first, but soon joins in the rhythmic melodic fun. Track titles like “Sun In My Hand” convey the optimistic tone at hand. Even on gentle floaters like “Midnight Sky” the mood remains bright. Thunder, rain and distant bells create a darker tone on “Games 98,” but it doesn’t last for long, and soon light and bouncy is the order of the day again. It would be nearly impossible to be unhappy while listening to Nightshifts.

 

 

E=Motion “Drifting Loops”

(www.syngate.net, 2008)

10 tracks, 62.09 mins

 

Jacek Spruch is back as E=Motion on Drifting Loops, another set of decidedly happy upbeat music with the usual sense of playfulness and good fun. Bell tones make a nice sequencer loop to start the opening track, “Recurring Waves.” “Old Schooner” has a cool buzzy retro synth to start and a deep rich bass tone that also harkens back to yesteryear. While still upbeat it has a relaxed feel as well, very nice. “Phantom” continues the trend of cool-sounding loops that move along just right, neither too fast nor too slow. “Riddle,” on the other hand, opens up the throttle with a brisk bit of sequencing. But even on the faster tracks, Jacek shows good restraint, not letting things get too frenetic as the intensity gradually builds. “Harbor” is a soothing midtempo piece, as is “Comet.” Spruch varies the pacing and sound palette just enough from track to track on Drifting Loops to keep things interesting while retaining his familiar enjoyable brand of electronic music throughout.

 

 

False Mirror “Live At Kulturnacht Ulm”

(Free download here, 2007)

1 track, 59.44 mins

 

This free download is an excellent hour of live improvisation, some of the most relaxing and yet interesting floating music I’ve heard. Although it has both lighter and darker elements to the ambience, it is the warm, organic quality that draws me in. Quite minimal, it is nonetheless fully engaging as well, suitable for background music or focused listening. And although it plays as a single track, there are several discrete movements, with perceptible changes occurring every few minutes. For example, it gradually turns from warm synth sounds to white noise approaching the 15:00 mark. Sounds range from warm and accessible to cold and abstract. Sometimes it has a very cinematic feel as well. While I find I rarely have the attention span or the time these days to return to single longform works such as this, Live At Kulturnacht Ulm is one album that I make time for.

 

 

Ideation “Adrift”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2009)

7 tracks, 58.16 mins

 

Ideation is Pete Ruczynski of AirSculpture and Paul Nagle. Adrift is a fresh brew of EM that should satisfy those looking for something a little different from the usual Berlin school retro fare, while still maintaining firm roots in that fertile soil. “Function & Disorder” starts in more experimental realms, with random electronic bits and spoken word samples. When sequencing does arrive after a couple of minutes, it is of an odd sort, a cool percussive loop of some type. Drums and bass feature prominently the rest of the way, reminding me a lot of Nemesis. “Cherry Pie” is a beautiful bridging piece, with crystal-clear bell tones and a faraway feel. “Zeitgeist” is a quintessential vintage journey, sure to satisfy the retro purists with its mesmerizing sequencing. “Unreality” takes a 90-degree turn into all drums and beats, with virtually no retro element at all. It shuffles along nicely, but doesn’t go with the flow of the rest of the disc. The general tone set by the first three tracks is followed in fine form by the last three. “Gruber’s Great Aunt” has cool deep space wanderings. “Bom Badda Boom” is backed by a firm bass sequence and warm synth pads. Someone plays a little too much with the pitch bend wheel for a minute near the end, but otherwise this is first rate, classic stuff. The title track, nearly 15 minutes, closes out the album strong with bright piano and mellow synths and sequencing, featuring the obligatory build-up before pulling back for a laid-back conclusion. Highly recommended.

 

 

Jeffrey Koepper “Radiate”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2009)

10 tracks, 70.58 mins

 

Radiate is Jeffrey Koepper’s performance at The Gatherings concert series in April 2008, which celebrated the release of his excellent disc Sequentaria. It is an excellent performance, with seemingly every nuance perfectly recreated on the night, right down to the track order with only two exceptions: “Byzantine Machine” from the Momentium album replaces Sequentaria’s “Near Machinery” at track four, and an abbreviated version of “Rising Sun” from Koepper’s latest Luminosity is added at the end. Otherwise, it is virtually identical to Sequentaria. So if you are a serious Jeffrey Koepper fan, which I consider myself to me, it is nice to have another disc of his. However, any variations in the live performance are miniscule at best, often undetectable in comparison to the studio counterpart. Both Sequentaria and Radiate were mastered by Steve Roach, so they each sound excellent. The live atmosphere on Radiate perhaps adds just a dash of softness and warmth around the edges, whereas Sequentaria is perhaps a bit crisper. But these are minor differences only. Both discs have excellent music, so take your pick.

 

 

Mac “Another Season”

(www.macvibes.com, 2008)

6 tracks, 53.41 mins

 

Mac is back with Another Season, another in his “Classic EM” series. I especially like the opener, “End of Summer,” which starts soft and gentle, then sweeps in on majestic tones that would make Vangelis proud. “Rainy” starts in muted fashion, staying low-key as moderate sequencing and synth sweeps come in. “A Shelter from the Cold” has a more experimental bent to it, with odd swooshes and other electronics moving slowly about, quite abstract for the first four minutes, which could have been shortened. Finally the sequencing arrives and we move back into familiar retro territory as a nice lead line takes the melody and a few other synth layers are deftly folded in. “Dragged Into It (Like Falling 2)” moves briskly as if being pulled into a vortex. In the closing moments we apparently get drawn fully in, cast adrift into the void, a cool effect. “I’m Raining Part 1” paints pictures like soundtrack music, with shifting themes every few minutes. The first, third, and fifth movements are emotive; the second and fourth sections are more experimental. It would be interesting to know the storyline that Mac wrote this music around. “Part 2” is a full-on rock piece with drums and rocking guitar. Fans of early Mark Shreeve will really dig this, as do I. It softens considerably in the closing couple of minutes to bring the suite, and the album, to a close.

 

 

Dan Pound “Liquid Planet”

(www.danpound.com, 2006)

17 tracks, 69.46 mins

 

Liquid Planet is an excellent assortment of relaxing soundscapes that blend the best of ambient and new age styles. The title track features gentle electronics, definitely with a bubbly quality that makes one think of the liquid subject matter. Flutes add a soothing touch and an organic flavor that is a welcome presence in much of the music on the album. “Suspended Particles” is more synth-based but with equally tranquil tones. “Through the Layers” has a more playful tenor about it as bouncy sequencing forms its foundation. Pound lists Tangerine Dream as an influence, and this piece compares favorably with their mid-1980s sound. Each track is a gem, from abstract mood pieces like “Ocean of Stars” to shamanic new age like “Unknown Channel” with wordless vocals nicely blended in, to softer synthesizer passages like “Celestial Mermaid.” Pound’s playing and arranging are strong throughout the 17 tracks. In fact, the quality of the music on Liquid Planet is so impeccable that I find every single track enjoyable; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

 

Dan Pound “Esoterica”

(www.danpound.com, 2009)

8 tracks, 71.59 mins

 

Esoterica is another set of first-rate serene shifting soundscapes from Dan Pound. As on prior albums, Pound uses analog and digital synths and samplers, voice, flute, and didgeridoo. He melds them into a thoroughly pleasant array of moods and sounds. Divided into eight parts, each one floats calmly by with influences ranging from Tangerine Dream to Brian Eno, often all within the same track. For example, “Esoterica Part One” starts with smooth floating music for a few minutes, but segues into a bright sequencer-based passage for the remainder. I particularly like part two, with a fascinating echoing bass line with quirky percussion running parallel to it. It defies easy categorization or description, but suffice to say it is a refreshingly unique take on electronic ambient music. The beat gets heavier and more tribal, ably aided by Pound’s Lakota flute playing. By now over 20 minutes of excellent ambience has passed, with still more to come. Part three has a brisk, bright sequence and a sweeping synth that rises and falls. Then this fantastic chugging bass line takes over, although the energy remains restrained just so. Instead of continuing to build on this, Pound teases and then brings it back down, creating this wonderful dynamic. Part four has a stuttering little rhythmic bit, a hint of glitchy electronica but smoother than that. We’re now well over 40 minutes in and it just keeps getting better. The energy goes up a notch on parts five and six, the latter featuring this cool clipped processed didgeridoo sound. The latter sections of the album with their clean, crisp, computerized percussion remind me of Vir Unis and James Johnson on their excellent Perimeter series, or Vir’s solo album Mercury and Plastic. After all this fun with rhythm, the floating tones of part eight bring the disc to a relaxed finish. Esoterica is easily one of the best ambient releases of 2009 so far.

 

 

Steve Roach “Dynamic Stillness”

(www.projekt.com, 2009)

2 CDs, 4 + 4 tracks, 72.43 + 73.02 mins

 

Dynamic Stillness is a 2-CD set of amorphous shifting sonics, fully worthy of inclusion in the Steve Roach canon. The album starts in excellent form with “Birth of Still Places.” This 40-minute epic undulates softly and slowly, radiating light even as darkness hovers along the edges. This has a phenomenal flow to it, highly cohesive and yet ever-changing, dynamic stillness indeed. It flows completely effortlessly into “Long Tide,” another 20 minutes of pure floating. It is a subtler piece with emphasis on the stillness as opposed to the dynamics. We dive into darker stiller waters on track three, very dark in fact, although soothing in its own way. “Opening Sky” finds a perfect middle ground, neither too light nor too dark, to close the first disc with a long slow fade. Disc two brings another 73 minutes of deep floating. “Nature of Things” reminds me somewhat of the second movement of “Two Rivers Dreaming” from Atmospheric Conditions, perhaps emanating from similar primordial mists. The drones resonate particularly richly here. “Further Inside” has a gentle sonic pulsation running through the first few minutes, though like nearly everything else on the album it gets drawn into pure float mode. “Slowly Revealed” is perhaps the calmest yet, gently breathing in and out, well worth every moment of its 24-minute journey. “Canyon Stillness” plays like a dark inversion of “Structures From Silence,” using pauses in the music to eerie rather than calming effect. A cold breeze blows through it all, like a black mist. After so much softness it makes for a surprisingly chilling, engaging finish.

 

 

Syndromeda “The Twilight Conjunction”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2009)

5 tracks, 68.26 mins

 

Danny Budts is back with another synth epic, jumping in with a bang on “Inside the Lophophora” as full-on synths and sequencing open up the throttle immediately. This is an energetic piece that really gets things going. “No, Not Scared of You” reminds me a little of the duo Synaesthesia at first, with an almost sinister touch, but in the latter half it is trademark Syndromeda with a pulsing bass line and a strong synth lead. “The Vulture” has melodramatic flair as well, with the synths going all warbly at the end. “Looking at You” continues the trend toward the ominous before the album finishes on a somewhat lighter note with “First Dream.” The Twilight Conjunction should sit comfortably with fans alongside the rest of the Syndromeda catalog.

 

 

Robert Scott Thompson “Sidereal”

(www.aucourantrecords.com, 2007 reissue)

12 tracks, 63.38 mins

 

I first reviewed Sidereal when it was released as a single long-form piece of music on a different label. Robert sent me a new pressing of it on his own label, conveniently indexed into the natural points where the music changes. Although I highly recommend playing it through in a single sitting from start to finish, I do think this is a more convenient way of packaging the disc. Here is the original review I wrote a few years ago. Some references are now outdated because of the new track indices, but my high appreciation for this disc remains thoroughly unchanged.

 

I must confess, when Robert first sent me some of his CDs a few months ago, I had received several others around the same time. I quickly sampled a couple of them, but I set this one aside, only recently finally dropping it into the player. From the opening seconds, I knew this was another personal favorite, second only to The Silent Shore. In structure only, it reminds me of Ron Boots long-form work Too Many Secrets. Like Boots’ piece, this is technically one track, but has several distinctive passages and moods. The similarity ends there, however, as Boots’ disc has both upbeat and reflective moments. Here, though there are several different streams of musical thought, the mood generally remains calm and serene. The changes in tone are shades of lightness and dark, of electronic and acoustic elements. At times it is very haunting, at others soothing. Often, the music takes the form of rich drones with subtle layering. Other times, beautifully stark piano either takes to the forefront or adds character to the background. Ambient music with this kind of elegant, delicate touch is extremely difficult to describe on paper. It is breathtaking, but not at all in a new age “pretty” way. It has depth and feeling, but in a way that will definitely appeal more to fans of ambient and deep space music. For example, as it passes the 48:00 mark, eerie choir-like sounds and drones are captivating. Trying to pick out all the subtle details and peak moments would be impossible in a concise review. Suffice to say, I like this disc – a lot.

 

(This review © 2003 and 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space)

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space unless otherwise specified. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited. 

 

 

March 2009

 

13 new CD reviews this month

 

Ashen Simian “Omicron in Ostrobothnian Finsternis”

(www.myspace.com/asimian, 2009)

8 tracks, 54 mins

 

Ashen Simian is an anagram for Ami Hassinen, a founding member of the Finnish band Nemesis, and this is his first solo album. “Vaporizer” gets things started off with a bang, completely dance-floor ready with pump-up-the-jam rhythms. As usual, synths and sequencing get a workout too, and the end result is a fantastic kick start for the disc. Solo albums are an opportunity for an artist to diversify, so Ami slows things waaay down for the laid back jazzy tune “Footprints in the Sky,” with the coolest little bass line and an effective piano lead. Imagine Spyra in chill-out mode and this is right there. I completely love this, and I love the strong contrast between it and the opener. “Meteorstorme” has a heavy dub influence with deep bass busily moving in the background while nifty synths meander in the foreground. It ends with a regal flourish as synth strings take over and the bass disappears, another unexpected but effective change of pace. “Start before you stop” gets up and moves again, very much like the trademark Nemesis sound blending retro and modern electronica. “Omicron” is playfully hypnotic with a great chugging sequence and rhythm, not to mention some great e-guitar. “Finsternis” mellows things out but not too much, still keeping its cool groove on, as a sparkly metallic synth in the higher register is offset by lower electronic tones for good balance. All this good stuff and there’s still 21 minutes to go with two excellent tracks to wrap things up. Electronic music in 2009 is off to a great start.

 

 

Ian Boddy & Bernhard Wöstheinrich “Hemispheres”

(www.musiczeit.com, 2009)

10 tracks, 93.19 mins

 

In this planetarium performance from September 2008, Boddy and Wöstheinrich cover the gamut of EM styles from Berlin school to ambient and all sorts of nooks and crannies in between. “Shorelines” is a lengthy, spacey, subdued introduction of nearly 15 minutes, meandering in a cool way. Bubbly percolating percussion pops up as soon as “Ascension” begins, and then male choirs and panning sequences strut their stuff. “Traverse” brings loads of atmosphere for a few minutes, until a big whooshing wind brings with it a low punchy bass line and a thoroughly infectious groove. The album’s strength is that it never pushes too hard; the music feels relaxed, unhurried, like they just let the music flow out of them and went wherever it took them. “Integral” is a perfect midtempo piece that is very comfortable in its own musical skin, followed by “Setting”, an unassuming little number to close out the first five-track set. “Statik” sounds like turning the knob on an old radio dial as we hear softly crackling static and various vocal snippets coming in and out of focus. It is abstract and experimental, yet calm and soothing in its own way. Shuffling beats pick up the pace again on “Funktion,” the most accessible track though with the same quirky style that Boddy and Wöstheinrich bring throughout. “Prozedur” is an aggressive, edgy piece that blurs the lines between rock and dance, and modern and retro electronica. “Suspended” ends the satisfying journey on a moody atmospheric note.

 

 

Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder

feat. Raughi Ebert & Thomas Kagerman

“Live @ Dorfkirche Repelen 2”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

2 CDs, 7 + 6 tracks, 73.52 + 72.19 mins

 

As with the first volume in the series, this 2-CD set showcases the mellower side of the synths, sequencing and percussion of Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder, ably aided by Raughi Ebert on  guitars and Thomas Kagermann on violin. “Lanes of the Lord” is a leisurely, relaxed, very pleasant beginning, creating a different sort of hypnotic effect from the usual Berlin school fare, with Kagermann’s violin adding extra dimension here. “Moers Part I” is softer still, with lush synth strings and other gentle touches; a steady thumping beat is added midway through to keep things moving along. As one might surmise, “Rock that!” picks things up a notch, the focus being on Ebert’s electric guitar, although it eases gradually into it, and plenty of cool synthesizer atmospherics remain. “Source of Life” is a melancholy number filled with the sounds of strings, oboe, and acoustic guitar; my 12 year-old daughter says “it’s awesome!” “Moers Part II” continues the somber mood, with reverent, passionate wordless female vocals and a symphonic style of EM with spot-on sequencing. As it builds it takes on a more traditional Teutonic sound with a very Schulze-like synth lead. “Shiauliai” includes shades of world music with electronica, and “esrever oloS” even gets trumpet into the act, something like I’ve heard Bernd Kistenmacher do on occasion. The album brilliantly combines emotion with electronics throughout, perhaps best exemplified by the opening minutes of “Return to the beginning” to open disc two. And if the music isn’t enough to make you wish you were there, the beautiful 16-page booklet of striking images of lights, colors and people from the show certainly will.

 

 

Caaldruun “Cloudface Mountainhead”

(www.tothefoxden.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 58.48 mins

 

I just finished reviewing a disc of very easygoing, accessible new age music. Then I put in this disc, which I would have to say it is the exact opposite of that. Caaldruun uses such unusual instrumentation as “burnt-wire synthesizer”, “circuit-bent voice,” and “minidisc sound recovery.” The result is much as you might expect from such a gear list, that is, highly experimental, cutting edge sounds that are fairly non-musical. “Hawan” gives an early indication with its glitchy static and edgy buzzing and such. Though it clicks at a regular tempo, the sounds are quite abstract. “Urubamba-Rhine Pt. 1” sounds melodic by comparison. At first it sounds like a wet finger rubbing the top of a water glass. A thicker electronic sound then comes in over the top of that, bringing back a dissonant character. “Ratukama” has a start-stop quirky quality to it, with even more unusual sounds. Everything on Cloudface Mountainhead is edgy and adventurous, even though the pieces tend to be on the minimal side.  It is the sort of sounds avant garde friends might want to explore and dissect, or that one might play to encourage unwanted guests who have overstayed their welcome to leave. If Saul Stokes were ever to entirely abandon any semblance of conventional musical structure it might sound something like this.

 

 

John DuVal “Cassiopeia’s Playground”

(Free download here at Earth Mantra Netlabel, 2008)

8 tracks, 70 mins

 

Although it has been a while since John DuVal of Dweller at the Threshold released Hell’s Canyon, his follow up Cassiopeia’s Playground retains his unique musical tendencies. DuVal tells me it is more Berlin school than his last release, but don’t expect a Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze clone. The 10-minute title track does have brisk sequencing, but it includes a challenging mélange of seemingly disparate elements as well, including bright piano sprinkled over the top, lots of synth strings, and deep pulsing bass and beats. It has a very arty feel. The opening track “Midnight from Riegel” similarly employs familiar retro synths and sequencing but in DuVal’s distinctive manner. “Amber Waves of Atoms” has a very pure electronic sound to it, full of chirps and twitters than only a synthesizer could make. This one is considerably more abstract, an interesting composition in both the sounds utilized and how they are blended together. “Amoeba Fritters” is similar but with a humorous bent to it. The quirky, playful “Mimsy were the Borogoves” has a neat bubbly bit of sequencing running through it. “Sanctuary” is boldly adventurous journey that shows off what synthesizers can really do, and “2705” could be a cool alternative soundtrack for Blade Runner. “Saturn Serenade” finishes off the disc on a high note, with great sequencing and DuVal’s unique spin on the Teutonic style.

 

 

Joost Egelie “Boundaries of Infinity”

(Free download here, 2008)

6 tracks, 43.20 mins

 

If you need proof that some of the best things in life are free, click on the link above and then download this very good Berlin school album by Joost Egelie from Belgium. A big synth sound swells and slacks on “Transcend,” then is joined by a bouncy little bass sequence followed by a feather-light synth providing the melody. As the melody drops to lower tones in the middle section, I’m reminded a lot of Chuck van Zyl’s excellent solo album The Relic. “Decoding a Masterplan” follows a similar pattern, starting low with cool space sounds. They drop out and then the sequencing jump starts things quite nicely, moving along at a regal march. “Beyond Singularity” has a catchy little sequence that slowly moves up the scale and back down again. It drops out entirely for just a half a second as if done, and then picks right back up where it left off but with more energy. Things mellow out on the leisurely “There are 10, not 4.” The atmospheric sounds are particularly good, and then superb sequencing totally takes over by the end. “Electronvolt” is an exceptional impersonation of Schmoelling-era Tangerine Dream – the pacing, the melody, the rhythm, and the sound palette. This is the pop single of the album, and a great one at that. “Void” is a 12-minute epic conclusion riding a retro groove and then pulling back for a majestic finish.

 

 

Peter Farn “Alkor: SciFi Lounge Vol. 1”

(www.syngate.net, 2007)

5 tracks, 61.35 mins

 

I love the opening track of this disc, called “Weltenreise.” It has a funky little bass line whose quirky rhythm reminds me of Laurie Anderson’s “Blue Lagoon” from her Mister Heartbreak CD; not a typical reference point for electronic music, but it totally works. Retro elements like mellotron choirs and other electronic sounds add to the ambiance. “Novemberwelt” is a 22-minute number a bit more meandering and experimental in nature. Melancholy synth strings in a minor key wax and wane slowly for a few minutes, then tribal drumming is added to the dark mood. Quirky mechanical pulsations emerge after that, bringing a livelier beat to bear along with a rawer, edgier sound that sounds like a modern take on old krautrock, maybe a bit like Klaus Schulze’s energetic solo on “Mental Door” from Totem, though not that frenetic by any means. This track has several distinct movements, some more abstract and minimal, some more active. This could prove a challenging listen for some, but I like it. If you prefer a stronger retro element, the bass line, male choirs, soft sequencing, and infectious beat of “Zeit:Los” should be right up your alley. “Stimme im Kollektiv” is perhaps the most daring yet, a minimal, mostly quiet abstract piece that explores a surprising range of sounds within a certain mood and feel. The wide-ranging tracks showcase Fern’s skill quite well in a fascinating album that works quite well despite the differing styles throughout. One of my favorite new discoveries, and I hope Vol. 2 is coming soon.

 

 

Cosmic Hoffmann “Outerspace Gems”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

9 tracks, 60.47 mins

 

When I reviewed the first Space Gems set of archival recordings from Cosmic Hoffmann, I thoroughly enjoyed it and said bring on volume two, and here it is, Outerspace Gems. All source material dates from 1978-1985, so once again the retro electronic sound is quite authentic. “Up to the Stars” is swirling space rock, more space than rock, pulsing along in psychedelic fashion. “Megasun” is one of my favorites, a melodramatic low-key affair that growls just a tad menacingly. “Cosmic ChaCha” is as fun as it sounds without being overly cheesy as a playful set of interweaving rhythms dance around cool synths. By now the disc really hits its stride with three fantastic outer space journeys. “Galaxy Rising” is a somber piece loaded with Mellotron strings and male choirs, followed by the epic “Spacewards,” nearly 13 minutes of vintage EM goodness. The first half is very spacey and atmospheric, and then mesmerizing sequencing comes in midway through along with more Mellotron strings, wonderful stuff. By the time “Magellanic Cloud” concludes, which plays like a cross between early Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, you should be totally in analog heaven. And yet there are still three more to go, all as good as the rest. The closing track, “Black Hole Magic,” is particularly nice, with a unique lead line that is vaguely like hammered dulcimer but is likely guitar or synth based.  Outerspace Gems is full of drifting, trippy pieces that will send you into the outer realms with a great big smile on your face. 

 

 

Mystical Sun “Energy Mind Consciousness”

(www.mysticalsun.com, 2008)

11 tracks, 63.13 mins

 

Somewhere between ambient, dub, downtempo and chillout music lies a place occupied by the likes of Global Communication, O head, and now Mystical Sun. It is a thoroughly immersive listening experience, designed to be played from start to finish. “Dune Oscillator” starts with low rumbles of sound and then a sweet electronic pulse that fades away and returns. A classic filter sweep moves in and out of the mix. Bass and beats are deftly folded in, enough to give your subwoofer a workout without overpowering the synths surrounding them. “Blue Lotus” drops into low gear, a moody atmospheric number with a slow, thumping beat. “Passage” features soothing choirs reminiscent of the classic closing track of Global Communication’s 76:14 album. Softly chirping birds in the background complete the relaxed dreamy feel. Deep rich bass tones add depth, carrying the music slowly along. “Departure” continues the atmospheric proceedings as lush electronic textures join gentle sparse beats. “Incense” has a strong eastern sitar twang to it. The disc progresses into surprisingly darker ambient realms, as on “Dark Energy” which percolates with haunting pulsing energy. “Expansions” conjures similar images of coldness and darkness, pulling us further into the depths. Next, gurgling floes of sound emanate from “Lava Tubes,” which also has some of the coolest tribal drumming. “Holographic Rain” keeps the chill and hypnotic feel but starts lightening things up considerably, then “Sanctuarium” brings us fully back into the light as a serene closer. Highly recommended.

 

 

Craig Padilla “Below the Mountain”

(www.spottedpeccary.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 73.58 mins

 

Electronic musician Craig Padilla lives in Redding, California, in the shadow of one of the country’s most recognizable and beautiful mountains, Mt. Shasta. So really, the only surprise is that it took Padilla this long to create an album based primarily around the mountain as his source of musical inspiration. “Currents” is a cool, mellow opening number, mostly expansive atmospheric ambience, but with a light touch on the lead synth that runs through it. It exits on the whooshing wind, moving right into excellent sequencing on “Woven Planet,” a bubbly retro pleaser. “Wandering Thought” goes back into dreamy ethereal mode with a majestic touch, as warm pads and a softly percolating percussive sequence are melded perfectly together. “Windspell” swirls about, hovering in deep space, ranging from psychedelic to dark ambient. Listening to the gently pulsating “First Light” I can almost picture the sun as it first peers over the morning mountain air. “Alturus” is an epic conclusion nearly 23 minutes long, alternating light and airy passages with a more classic retro sound, the latter third featuring a thumping beat and energetic sequencing before finishing with a softer touch.

 

 

Steve Roach and vidnaObmana “Spirit Dome – Live Archive”

(www.projekt.com, 2009 reissue)

8 + 8 tracks, 73.31 + 67.14 mins

 

This 2009 double CD reissue of Spirit Dome from 2002 and Live Archive from 2000 is a natural pairing of albums and a natural pairing of talents.  Since their fantastic Well of Souls, Steve Roach and vidnaObmana have collaborated successfully on several occasions, sometimes as a full-fledged duo, sometimes as guests on each others’ solo albums. If you somehow missed these on their first release, no true fan should be without them. Spirit Dome is the dreamier of the two, a haunting floater composed in a Philadelphia hotel room in the spirit of the moment. Divided into eight parts but playing as an epic continuous whole, this delicate work ebbs and flows serenely. Deep tribal beats appear in the second movement, yet they are somehow muted to meld seamlessly into the liquid ambience. The ethereal dark tones gain intensity, then flow into the third part which takes us deeper into the crevasse as the drums fade away. Though it shimmers at times, it spends most of its time enjoying wandering in the darkness of night. Live Archive covers a wider array of sound, culled from various concerts during 1997 both in America and Europe. Despite the varied sounds and locations, it flows quite nicely from the chanting and didgeridoos of “Verruchio Invocation” to the powerful tribal drumming of “Common Ground” to the abstract rustling noises of “Two Reptiles,” a slowly evolving, cavernous expansive tribal piece that is one of my favorites. “Soundworld Collage” starts and ends with soft organic tones but is brisk and intense in the middle. Both discs capture a range of cool sounds from two masters of the ambient genre.

 

 

Janet Robbins “Carrying the Bag of Hearts: Interpreting the Birth of Stars Vol. III”

(www.janetrobbins.net, 2008)

4 tracks, 32.01 mins

 

Although listed as volume three in a series, this is my first exposure to Jan Robbins’ music. “Nibiru’s Crossing” has a relaxed feel with a steady upbeat tempo and various soothing electronic sounds. This opening track fades completely away and then reemerges with a different theme, like a brief unexpected epilogue of sorts, a technique that Robbins employs throughout. “Ascension” starts like a sonar pulse with subtle surrounding electronics, abstract at first. After a couple of minutes a nice solo piano lead takes over, and then it takes a really surprising turn into a touch of dub, shuffling right along in a cool groove. A discordant lead line incongruously hangs over the top, as if out of tune, but only briefly; the rest of it is quite catchy. Like the first track, it has a bit of a false ending before it changes and finally finishes for good. “Walking the Milky Way” features relaxed guitar playing with soft synth touches gently wrapped around it. Robbins seems to like to play with the audience a bit, because once again this one changes fairly dramatically near the end, stripping away the guitar and synths and switching to all percussion, vaguely tribal and yet modern at the same time. If not for the abrupt crossfade right into it one would swear it is a completely different piece of music. Dark haunting ambience begins “The Train to Rhinecliff,” followed by a soft sequence and some oboe. An unusually assertive, cool bass line that sounds like something Yes might do comes in next, and a shifty little rhythm to go with. By now it is 180 degrees from where it started only a couple of minutes before, and it changes a few more times before it’s done. Robbins has quite a creative streak put to good use for the brief time it is on display here.

 

 

Conrad Schnitzler / Bernhard Wöstheinrich “20070709”

(www.musiczeit.com, 2009)

1 track, 62 mins

 

Conrad Schnitzler is well known in EM circles as an early member of Tangerine Dream and as an adventurous solo musician who makes music for himself, not for an audience. As such, his music tends to be quite experimental, atonal, even noisy. Bernhard Wöstheinrich, on the other hand, has made a name for himself in recent years by being a sonic sculptor and technophile who makes creative music primarily on Ian Boddy’s DiN label, with a variety of collaborators. For this album, cryptically named 20070709, Wöstheinrich has “interactively remixed” source recordings from Schnitzler. Describing the music itself proves to be a bit of a challenge. Though not divided into sections, I’d say the first distinct movement occurs over the first 6:15 or so, an assortment of abstract sounds, white noise, electronic noodles and gurgles, and the like. Though not particularly musical, I find it much less abrasive and inaccessible than some of Schnitzler’s work. Still, this isn’t the sort of thing one would put on at a party to keep the groove going, far from it. A moodier section follows for a few minutes. Throughout, the disc is very electronic sounding and quite idiosyncratic. As I listen, I suppose the marker for me as to whether a passage is listenable or not comes down to volume and complexity; that is, the noisier, more heavily layered sections are the hardest to swallow. The quieter, more stripped down sections are more palatable, but still far from conventional musical structure. Conrad Schnitzler’s music, with or without remixing, remains an acquired taste.

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited. 

 

January 2009

 

27 new CD reviews this month!

 

Kees Aerts “If One Door Closes”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

12 tracks, 75.42 mins

 

It has been a long time coming for Kees Aerts’ sophomore release, although apparently the seeds for it were germinating for some time, as the tracks were recorded over a period of several years. Those familiar with E-dition magazine should recognize “Undelivered Delivery” from the CD that accompanied E-dition #1. It is a playful, upbeat song, a very straightforward synths-and-sequencing number, and a perfect way to start things off. I can’t help but grin from ear to ear when listening to “Put Me Down, Scotty,” complete with Star Trek samples. It’s fun to hear Kees let his hair down and have fun with this one, which by the way is a pretty catchy tune even without the sci-fi reference. “Decision Time” is one of two brand new songs, with synthesized lyrics that I can’t quite make out. A deep bass sequence forms the foundation beneath. I really like the moment at 6:30 where the vocals drop out and the rhythm and warm synth pads take over. It also builds really nicely at the end, very Jarre-like. “Entering the Unknown” is a cool 1990 track that reminds me of something similar from Synthetic Block’s first album. After this come a few tracks from the same period which are overly cute for my taste. However, sandwiched between them is an excellent collaboration with Ron Boots called “The Sun Shines, The World Smiles.” This is warm and relaxed, and reminds me a lot of Ron’s Close, But Not Touching album, right down to the waves lapping the shore. Another Aerts/Boots piece, “Sunray,” is as bright and sunny as the name implies. The other brand new solo composition is “Move Forward and Discover,” my personal favorite with a totally catchy groove. Kees excels at painting bright sonic pictures that will keep a smile on your face.

 

 

Ian Boddy “Slide”

(www.din.org.uk, 2008)

9 tracks, 56.21 mins

 

Ian Boddy recently acquired a new synthesizer patterned after a unique keyboard invented in the 1920s in which the notes slide up and down glissando style, hence the name of his new album Slide. At times, as on the opening track “The Probability of Doubt,” his playing sounds very much like Robert Rich’s lap guitar, which is no big surprise considering how often they have collaborated. There is a wailing, mournful quality to it, a murky moody beginning to the album. “Lost and Found” starts down a dark path, like an eerie sci-fi film, though it soon picks up a typical Boddy pace with crisp percussion and sequencing. The title track has crisp punchy rhythms as well, chugging right along as the synth lead continues to slide up and down the scale. Boddy does movers and shakers well, and this is no exception. “Tourmaline” takes a more experimental turn at first, somehow managing to meander briskly, as contradictory as that sounds, before settling down into another trademark Boddy toe tapper. “A Moment of Gliss” is a bright, beautiful bridging piece that takes us to another rhythm fest with the infectious grooves of “Yesterdays Memories.” “Mechamystical” sounds like musical machinery, and flows into the catchiest tune yet, “Troubadour,” before finishing the disc in the same dark, dreamy reverie it began with “The Possibility of Existence.” Vintage Boddy with a twist.

 

 

Javi Canovas “Eigenspaces”

(www.musiczeit.com and www.javicanovas.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 56.19 mins

 

Known for his energetic Berlin school music, Javi Canovas starts Eigenspaces in a more subdued manner. “Living in the Emptiness” is bright shimmering electronics, largely formless in the early going, until a cool burst of sound like Klaus Schulze’s Timewind signals the arrival of sequencing at the 5:00 mark. Similarly, “Where was the Time” starts in moody atmospheric mode, but brisk sequencing ensues after the first couple of minutes. It builds and gets increasingly bright, to the point of being overly shrill nearing the end – one sound in particular needed to have the edges softened considerably, though otherwise it’s a good one. “Lost Sign” brings needed calm afterward; though it gets progressively more energized as it goes, it remains fairly relaxed. Also finding a cool laid back groove is “Blue T”, but perhaps the best moment on this album is one of its most subdued, the gentle “Vector.” I love the soft electric piano lead on this, with just a bit of strings for good measure; a gem of a track. “Forgotten Future” heads back to the dance floor with its infectious rhythm, followed by “Parallel World” with industrial-type sounds at first, followed by – what else? – more sequencing! Another fun CD from Javi Canovas.

 

 

Javi Canovas “Nights of Brightness”

(www.musiczeit.com and www.javicanovas.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 62.02 mins

 

If you like upbeat melodic sequencer-based EM, and if you haven’t yet discovered Spanish musician Javi Canovas, you should head right on over to Musiczeit and check out his latest albums, including this one, Nights of Brightness. “Nimbus” starts things off crisply and brightly, really getting the feet and/or the body moving depending on your inclination. “Elipse” is just as lively with a rollicking beat and fun synthesizer sounds. “Metallic Core” has a moderate tempo with hypnotic loops. “Mr. Ivan” is the liveliest yet, even playful. “Fugitive Star” mixes things up nicely again, with mellotron flute and low-key chugging sequencing. And so it goes, alternating dance-friendly numbers like “Beta” with dreamy drifters like my personal favorite, “Protoplanet.” It is the longest track and closes out the disc on a high note. Highly recommended.

 

 

Max Corbacho “BreathStream”

(www.maxcorbacho.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 73.15 mins

 

I really like the direction Max Corbacho has taken with his most recent releases, The Talisman and now BreathStream. He seems to be delving deeper and deeper into pure floating music – no rhythm or melody at all, just serene calm tones that thoroughly soothe and placate. BreathStream is a particularly focused work on the art of diffuse sound, as contrary as that may seem. Track titles are very appropriate; “Act of Light” has a shimmer and sheen to it; “The Great Breath” seems to echo into infinity. Perhaps the most delicate and subtle of the lot is “No Day nor Night.” The beauty is in the way Corbacho makes something special out of next-to-nothingness. The challenge is for me as a reviewer describing this minimal musical excellence. Suffice to say if you enjoy ambient music as a means of escape or relaxation, look no further than BreathStream.

 

 

Glen Darcey “Ambiata”

(www.creative-license.com, 2008)

10 tracks, 61.14 mins

 

Velvety smooth floating ambience doesn’t get much better than Glen Darcey’s Ambiata, one of my favorite recent discoveries. It is light and calming, but not mere new age. Fans of Brian Eno, early Steve Roach like Structures From Silence, and similar albums and artists will want to be sure to check this out. The title track is as smooth as glass and just as delicate, and “Yeshua” is even softer. “Harmonics” is a little shrill at the start, but the harmonics level off somewhat and take the edge off just enough. This one in particular could pass for an Eno sonic experiment, exploring tonal qualities as much for the journey as for the resulting music. “Greenland” was inspired by Darcey’s flight over it, and the stark, simple, cold beauty perfectly captures the essence of that. “The Garden” finds a perfect middle ground, not too light or dark, with soaring synths and a very gentle touch on the sequencing in the background. This sounds somewhat like the space music of Jonn Serrie. “Peace” is like lying on a soft pillow. “Lake of Fire,” on the other hand, is a shade ominous as one might expect from the subject matter. Low metallic drones and crystalline electronics mesh well together to form this darker piece. “No Boundaries” includes a soft beat, one of the few tracks with any discernible rhythm. However, it remains thoroughly relaxing, which can be said for all of Ambiata. Highly recommended.

 

 

Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij “Silent Witnesses of Industrial Landscapes”

(http://home.versatel.nl/emmens_heij/, 2008)

7 tracks, 78.58 mins

 

Emmens & Heij team up for a fourth time on Silent Witnesses of Industrial Landscapes, and they just keep the Berlin train rolling right along. Let’s just cut to the chase and say that if you have and like their prior albums, don’t hesitate to add this one to your collection. Fans of retro EM should once again be in analog heaven. As usual, this is improv-based synthesizer music with an equipment list a mile long, sure to make the gearheads green with envy. But enough on that, what about the music? “Overture”, the first of the two-part title track, starts with bright shimmering synths that breathe in and out, and a bubbly sequence low in the mix at first, gradually coming to the foreground. A classic Emmens’ melody takes over as this one moves along neither too fast nor too slow, in a very comfortable groove. Ruud’s excellent sequencing starts from the get-go in “Elements in Decay”, joined by warm synth pads. This too moves at a moderate pace and is equally enjoyable. “Liquid Ore Finding Its Way” moves at a slightly faster clip, chugging along quite nicely. Although the straight ahead sequencer fests are plentiful and very good, my personal favorite may be the moody atmospheric number “When Night Falls”, full of soft sparkles of electronic sound, rich textures, and a light touch on the melody. This is a wonderful piece, delicate and put together just so, surprisingly with nary a sequence to be found. Not to worry, Teutonic lovers, the pulse comes back in “Point of No Return”, perhaps the best of the Berlin school bunch, with solid rhythm to back up the hypnotic loops. The best Emmens & Heij collaboration to date.

 

 

Free System Projekt “Narrow Lane”

(www.freesystemprojekt.nl, 2008)

2 tracks, 78.02 mins

 

Culled from concerts in 2006 and 2007, Narrow Lane is another gorgeous slab of retro EM in the grand style of Tangerine Dream in their heyday in 1975. “Part 1” is the “short” track at a mere 29:10, starting with dark haunting tones complete with mellotron flutes and strings. One almost can’t help but think of Ricochet, Rubycon, and Edgar Froese’s classic Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. As usual, rather than merely imitating or blatantly copying, FSP manages to blaze new ground along this well-worn terrain, coaxing just enough freshness out of the familiarity, which breeds comfort rather than contempt. After the first sequencing appears just past 5:30, classic lead lines play delicately over the top of that, and the sequence evolves and gyrates just so. Mellotron flutes return, although the sequencing remains a central focus throughout, with only occasional respites that allow more atmospheric elements to briefly rise to the top. By the time male choirs appear past the 22:00 mark, virtually all the Berlin school stops have been pulled. A low buzzing drone-like noise hangs in the air for the first couple of minutes of “Part 2,” very much like the beginning of TD’s Ricochet album. An oboe-like synth lead plays quietly in the background, though in a higher register than a real one. At 4:20 there’s a key change, and it literally seems to become Ricochet for a few moments, before dark melancholy synth strings take things down a notch as the buzzing drone fades away. The long brooding intro to this piece is magnificent, and a reminder of how emotive synthesizers can be in the right hands. Lots of twists and turns happen along the way for the remainder, with nary a misstep. This sort of music still stimulates the senses as much in 2008 as it did in 1975. It’s comforting to know that bands like FSP, perhaps none better than FSP, get that.

 

 

The Glimmer Room “Home Without the Journey”

(www.theglimmerroom.co.uk, 2008)

3 tracks, 51.34 mins

 

Andy Condon returns as The Glimmer Room on Home Without the Journey, which features three lengthy electronic excursions, starting with the nearly half-hour title track. Andy’s compositions are always creative and intricate, and this one is no exception, with solid melodies and sequencing. It seems to evolve quite naturally, almost effortlessly, although it is obviously carefully constructed and executed. Gently lapping waves give way to eerie synths that seem to moan, but in short order bright piano and warm synth strings take over, followed by light sequencing. Barely five minutes in Condon has already deftly steered us through a variety of sounds and moods. Themes emerge, are built upon, fade, and begin again. My favorite passage begins just before the 14:00 mark, an excellent bit of retro sequencing and synth work. The track seems to have two parts, with a distinct ending at about 18:00, falling nearly silent and reemerging at 18:20 with a completely different sound, soft and ethereal. It is a 180-degree turn from the music preceding it, but every bit as good. One more brief rhythmic passage and this masterful epic comes to a close. “Carbon Statues” is quite different, a mellow haunter with an infamous quote at the beginning and end by Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. Darker at first, it becomes delicate and dreamlike, a beautiful counterpoint to the comparatively active title track. “Cool Blue and the Plough” is my personal favorite, indeed a cool blue piece that strikes a perfect mellow balance to bring the disc to a close. It is easily my favorite Glimmer Room disc so far, and one of the best albums of 2008.

 

 

Vic Hennegan “Aqua Vista”

(www.vichennegan.com, 2008)

9 tracks, 52.11 mins

 

I quite enjoyed Vic Hennegan’s Desert God, a solid collection of new age electronic music. Aqua Vista likewise contains a variety of soothing sounds for the soul. “Of The First Water” features gentle rhythms and melodies. It reminds me somewhat of early Mark Dwane, as does “Aqua Donna” with its crystal clear bell tones and ethereal wordless female vocals. A sparse tribal beat and almost flamenco style guitar add nice dimension to the piece. Any stress you had before putting on the disc would likely have dissipated by the time you get to this point, but if not “Ice House” will take you the rest of the way with its icy ambient tones. This one is less new age and more in the realm of deep space music. “Seascape” adds a pulsing sequence and crisp percussion, along with a strong retro synth lead. “Libation” takes the aqua theme to the extreme, with churning splashing water running throughout. Both “Crossing Over” and “Down The River” have male chanting that I found distracting, although I very much like the rest of it, with some great energetic sequencing on the former and nice drumming on the latter. Add in a couple more strong tracks in “Winter’s Tears” and “Moon Waves” to finish things off, and it remains a largely successful outing. Recommended.

 

 

Jeffrey Koepper “Luminosity”

(www.jeffreykoepper.com, 2009)

9 tracks, 73.32 mins

 

I continue to be impressed by the high quality of Jeffrey Koepper’s releases, fantastic music in the style of late 70s and early 80s Tangerine Dream. As usual, Luminosity is filled with great sequencing, tight melodies, and beautifully atmospheric space music. The breadth and depth of Koepper’s talent is on full display within the first three tracks, starting with catchy moderately paced sequencing and synths on “Reflection.” In perfect contrast, “Light and Truth” is very airy, light but not insubstantial, full of bright shimmering tones in relaxed sonic hues. “Artifacts” goes pure retro, but in a stripped down way, using three synths to capture the essence of the old classic Mellotron flutes, strings, and a simple cadence in the background to keep time. It is wonderful in its sparseness, as is the next track, “Winter Space.” In fact, this is a considerably mellower affair throughout than its predecessor, Sequentaria. “Life Clock” continues the easygoing pace, ticking slowly with cool space twitters along the way. The lead synth line here is very reminiscent of vintage Klaus Schulze. Gently pulsating sequences pick up the tempo a little on the next couple of tracks, but throughout the disc shows considerable restraint, focusing on setting a hypnotic mood and maintaining it, particularly in the case of the 11-minute “Transmission,” the longest track and yet the one you may miss most after it fades. “Dusk Till Dawn” is the most minimal track, mostly water and low drones, with a sparse melody toward the end, very cool. “Rising Sun” is a warm, relaxing number to finish off a great album in style.

 

 

Numina “Sound Symbols”

(www.numinamusic.com, 2008)

5 tracks, 65.01 mins

 

Jesse Sola returns as Numina on Sound Symbols, five lengthy pieces of floating ambient music. Numina excels at formless waves of sound that are neither light nor dark, finding a comfortable niche that allows the listener to decide the mood. “Buried Icon,” for example, has both shimmering highs and resonant lows. Melody is hinted at but discrete notes rarely fully form. Rhythm is noticeably absent as the quiet music drifts easily by. Although each track is distinct, they merge seamlessly together. Even when there are multiple themes or sound employed, as on “Symbolic Script”, each part blends together into the unified whole. Sparse bells nicely fill in the open expanses in “Heiroglyph.” Shifts are subtle and slow, making this perfect music in which to fully immerse yourself. Sometimes there are bubbly, gurgling undercurrents that are very organic in nature, whereas other times the electronic chirps and twitters have a clearly synthesized sound. Regardless, the mood is calm, reflective and relaxed throughout. Song titles imply an ambient music version of a Dan Brown novel, containing icons, symbols, relics, secrets, and angels. Or simply imagine your own story as you enjoy listening to Sound Symbols.

 

 

Ozone Player “Orange Apples”

(www.ozoneplayer.com, 2008)

12 tracks, 58.34 mins

 

I don’t think there is any doubt who is the most adventurous, creative force in instrumental electronic music today – it has to be Otso Pakarinen. I hesitate even to define what genre he is in, although surely it is somewhere in the electronic/progressive realms. For a quintessential Ozone Player track, head right to “Animal Pharm.” Keys, guitars, percussion and sax meld in a sound that strikes a perfect dichotomy between music and cacophony. Even quirkier is the bouncy number “Lemons and Lizards,” although it grows more powerful and aggressive as it goes, dropping much of the cuteness that it began with. I have to be in just the right frame of mind to listen to Otso’s music. His music certainly inspires passion one way or the other, and if you are one of his intensely loyal fans you probably already own the CD. If you ran screaming from the room the first time you heard an Ozone Player CD, this one will probably leave a similar impression. I wholeheartedly applaud Otso for his continued bravery and boldness. And there are some rather catchy tunes in all the weirdness, such as the title track as well as the opener, “Extrasensory Deprivation” – which may be the first electronic music track to credit someone’s dog, at least that I’m aware of. Vocals are also credited, though heavily processed into something quite foreign. The drums and guitars kick ass in this song once it gets going, love it. Notable guest musicians include Ami Hassinen of Nemesis and Paul Ellis. Recommended for the truly daring listener.

 

 

Dave Preston “Be”

(www.myspace.com/daveprestonambient, 2008)

8 tracks, 46.28 mins

 

Ambient with an edge; that’s what I’d call this CD by Dave Preston, simply called Be. Although Preston himself calls the music ambient, it defies easy categorization. Strange haunting tones emanate from his guitar and other sources. “Be Creative” starts the disc with an atmospheric touch, but then drums come pounding in. The contrast between the ethereal textures and the heavy beats reminds me of early Cocteau Twins, though definitely with its own twist on things. It is much more powerful and visceral than most ambient. “Be Ing” is quieter but still with a hint of restlessness as things are intentionally left just a bit rough around the edges, the guitars allowing slight distortion or static to enter into the mix. I particularly like how this one continues floating about for a minute after it seems to have faded away. “Be Joy” is somewhere between the assertiveness of the first and the moody anxious calm of the second. The musical phrasing here is deceptively simple but appealing. “Be True” strips down to the bare essentials, a sparse piece that radiates warmth, as does “Be Alive,” aided by beautiful wordless female vocals. After a very soft beginning this ends up being one of the most accessible tunes with an almost pop sensibility as a steady, easygoing beat carries it along. “Be Different,” despite the name, is probably the most conventional new age guitar piece on the album, though I suppose on an album of edgy ambience that IS different. Both male and female vocals on “Be Hope” form a dream-like mood to bring things to a close.

 

 

Procer Veneficus “Saltwater & Glassmoon”

(www.newagedawn.co.uk, 2008)

5 tracks, 42.53 mins

 

Stellar Auditorium is a label featuring dark, richly complex ambient works, including this subtle one by Procer Veneficus. “Oceanic Spheres” sounds like white noise and wind when it starts, but soon settles into a calm reflective ambient piece with shades of melancholia. Similarly, low drones and smooth synth tones adorn “Descent Through Glassmoon.” Fans of darker works by Robert Rich should really like this. Darker still is “Amaranth and Liqueur,” which again blurs the lines between music and noise. At times is it soft and smooth, other times it swells and slacks, sometimes going nearly silent. This is a real haunter. “Atmospheric Lull” is even sparser than the previous tracks. It is more neutral emotionally, not overly light or dark, although it likely will conform to your mood at the time as to whether you find it relaxing or somewhat chilling. The disc ends appropriately with “Departure,” another fine example of dark floating music. Saltwater & Glassmoon is a must-have for dark ambient fans.

 

 

Redshift “Turning Towards Us”

(http://www.redshift.biz/index2.htm , 2008)

5 tracks, 54.51 mins

 

Low rumbling machinery and haunting echoes start “The Love of Nature”, the first track on Turning Towards Us. The song title seems very tongue in cheek, as this is a thoroughly synthetic futuristic sounding piece of music. Redshift has always flirted with the aggressive side of Berlin school, and this is their most assertive album since Down Time. As the volume and the intensity increases, the sound seems to distort as if exceeding the maximum recommended threshold for the equipment. The lines between Redshift and ARC have blurred considerably, as Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve are now part of both bands, with Julian Shreeve the lone difference between the two. “The Love of Nature” features a mainstay of the Redshift sound, alternating between dark moody quieter passages and much more intense, considerably louder sections. Almost playful as it nears the end, the bouncy bass line and surrounding atmospherics retain a haunting quality. The album has a certain symmetry about it, with two short bridging tracks sandwiched between three lengthy ones. Both shorter tracks are cool but soon forgotten, having seemingly accomplished their task serving as segues. “Clan” starts with a shuffling, clicking sequence, heavy drums, and eerie synths like otherworldly wood flutes. Just before 3:00 a particularly chilling crescendo is reached, brimming with power. It levels off, softens, then returns to full intensity. Midway through we get the classic retro treatment, very crisp and clean. Also excellent is the nearly 23-minute title track, which after the obligatory murky intro goes into some of the best sequencing since Klaus Schulze’s Mirage album. Past the 12:00 mark it goes for the throat again, dark intense stuff. Majestic sweeping synths bring the disc to a regal finish.

 

 

Rey “Innovative Desert”

(www.rey.dk, 2008)

10 tracks, 45.58 mins

 

It’s been seven years between albums for Rey, and if you liked Hidden Vibrations you will feel right at home with Innovative Desert. Light synthesizer music with a pop sensibility makes these 10 tracks fly by. “Mexican Treasure” has bright, flute-like sequencing, warm strings and a steady rhythm, setting an upbeat optimistic tone that continues throughout the album. “Invisible Islands” is almost a dead ringer for Tangerine Dream circa 1985-1987, nicely layered synths arranged in pleasant melodic fashion with an irresistibly catchy beat. The title track is next, slowly fading in before a stutter-step beat jumps in, followed by light percussion and a lilting synth melody. Rey is good with contagious toe-tappers, and this is another one, as are “Strangers are Coming” and “Floating Statement,” both midtempo pieces that keep the juices flowing just right. “Transatlantic” has perhaps the sunniest disposition yet. In fact, the only remotely melancholy piece is the brief “An End is Also a Beginning,” which closes out the disc. One is unlikely to be depressed after listening to Innovative Desert.

 

 

Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf “Nada Terma”

(www.projekt.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 73.22 mins

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Roach & Metcalf on their collaborations Serpent’s Lair and Mantram, so I was really looking forward to their latest, Nada Terma, and it does not disappoint. Low drones and something like eerie sitar music lend an otherworldly feel to the first of seven parts that play as one continuous piece of music. World and ambient music are fused together harmoniously as wood flutes, clay pots, overtone vocals, and of course Steve’s various treatments combine into a unified whole. The album is similar to Mantram in that it goes very deep, practically demanding the listener reach a different plane of consciousness. Each track is called an excerpt rather than a part, further emphasizing the intended continuous listening experience. Until tribal drums arrive in the fourth passage, the music evolves incredibly slowly, but once change comes it comes boldly, the drums bleating insistently and continuing into part five, which becomes more intense and dramatic. Things calm a bit in the sixth excerpt as flutes return, and further still on the 17-minute closing section which makes for a soothing relaxing finish.

 

 

Steve Roach & Erik Wøllo “Stream of Thought”

(www.projekt.com, 2008)

19 tracks, 69.58 mins

 

A friend of mine and I, both Steve Roach fans, weren’t sure what to think when we heard that Steve Roach and Erik Wøllo had collaborated on a new CD. We were having trouble imagining how their two differing styles would complement each other. I can happily and eagerly report that the resulting album, Stream of Thought, is fresh invigorating music that I doubt either man would have come up with on his own. The 19 parts to this constantly changing and ever-evolving work are captivating from the first hypnotic loops of “Part 1” to the 14-minute effervescent conclusion of “Part 19.” Though repetitious, the first track is so entrancing that it barely seems to have started before it fades into near silence just ahead of “Part 2.” This second part starts with soft ethereal floating, but a restless churning percussive sequence soon emerges over the top of it. Most tracks are very short, many only a minute or two, but these first two longer tracks do a great job of setting the mood early, pulling in the listener quickly along for the ride so that you are ready for anything that might come next. “Part 3” is smooth as glass and just as pretty. “Part 4” has a similar aggressive chugging quality to “Part 2” at first, but it soon subsides and turns into a dark haunter. “Part 5” sounds like alien machinery, very cool. At very few times does Wøllo’s guitar make itself clearly known as such, although “Part 9” is a notable exception as his gentle strumming echoes among the atmospheric synth textures. Tracks alternate between moving, active numbers and subtler slower ones. Trying to describe the lovely nuances of each of the 19 tracks would be lengthy, difficult, and not nearly as compelling as listening for yourself, which I thoroughly recommend. Stream of Thought is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2008.

 

 

Sempervirens “Dirge of the Dying Year”

(www.newagedawn.co.uk, 2008)

8 tracks, 55.17 mins

 

This elaborately packaged CD comes in a limited edition of 300, with beautifully rendered postcards that act as cover art not for the album, but for individual tracks, creating a strong, literal image for these pieces. “Grey Skies Above Us” starts with a pulsing beep that thankfully fades away in the first 30 seconds, giving way to low rumbling, a rain shower, and other ambient noises subtly pieced together into a highly organic sonic mix. It becomes surprisingly bright and shimmering midway through, then changes to a distant ringing bell and something like wind blowing across a microphone, along with the odd noise here and there for extra texture and sonic interest. It is often non-musical, but has a certain soothing quality somehow. A dark wind signals the beginning of “The Moon of Misfortune.” Again unique sounds are employed, some sort of material rubbing or scraping against something at random intervals. At times it appears to be going nowhere, but then something interesting and unexpected happens – which sort of sums of the whole disc. The album plays like a soundtrack to a dark quirky indie film. Perhaps the oddest is “Boundless Geological Stratum,” which seems to start and stop at times, and features something like alien bird calls at night. Like others, it brightens somewhat as it goes, and takes surprising and often rewarding detours. Speaking of which, electric guitar makes an appearance out of nowhere on “Sails Engulfed In Fog & Fire,” but it totally works. About the only things that don’t are the first 30 seconds of the disc, and a shrill noisy beginning to the last track. Despite the varied sonic treatments there is a unique, singular focus to the entire album, one of the more cohesive takes on experimental ambient music I’ve experienced. If Ozone Player were to turn exclusively to the dark side, it would sound like this.

 

 

The Solaris Project “The Solaris Project”

(CD info and samples here, 2007)

6 tracks, 73.36 mins

 

A truly different kind of ambient music, The Solaris Project is Igor Abuladze on koto and Travis Metcalf on electric guitar. This is a live recording from September 2006, and it is excellent, the results sonically soothing and refreshing. “Return” immediately calms the mind and soul, and transcends normal definitions of new age, instrumental rock, and electronic music. The koto is front and center, and Metcalf’s layered textures on guitar perfectly augment it. Though this is too active to truly be called ambient music, the effect on the listener is similar, as it is peaceful and tranquil nearly throughout. “Cloudwalk” starts with ambient guitar sounds and then the koto returns. I could envision either the koto or guitar section of this piece making a fine solo recording, but together they become truly synergistic. “The Deep Beasts” is a peaceful 16-minute sojourn that continues the peaceful sounds. “Following The Voices” experiments with some odd tuning or an unusual playing style on the koto that detracts from the overall mood set by the rest of the album. Thankfully the last two tracks resume the relaxing journey and bring it to a gentle close.

 

 

Wellenfeld “Fusion” (2005)

8 tracks, 53.53 mins

 

Wellenfeld excels at fun melodic synthesizer music, and Fusion continues that trend. “Genesis” floats right in on a soft wave of electronics, then gets carried off with toe-tapping rhythms followed by a catchy lead synth line. “Matrix” is imbued with subtle shades of melancholy, with piano and warm synth strings, but it too has a bright optimism about it. The title track is even more upbeat, pure fun. “Atmosphere” is just that, a bit more on the dreamy side, with a cool little bass pulse meandering through it, extremely pleasant. Surprisingly ominous synths open “Hal,” but it too finds a cool groove once it gets up and running, including a bouncy melody.  In fact, the only fault one could possibly find with Wellenfeld’s music is if you have an affinity for dark music, because you certainly won’t find anything but cheeriness here.

 

 

Wellenfeld “Trip To Illusion” (2006)

8 tracks, 53.53 mins

 

“Ring of Saturn” is just the coolest track, the sort of tune that gets stuck in your head all day and puts a smile on your face. A simple but totally engaging main theme runs through it, and the rhythm makes a perfect companion to the melody. It starts Wellenfeld’s Trip To Illusion off just right. “Moon 19” starts low, with a cool groove and it reminds me, strangely enough, of Synaesthesia, a much darker EM band. Sparse piano adds just the right touch, helping to set the mood. “Black Hole” continues the apparent space theme, going down a similar but still enjoyable sonic path. I really like the gentle sequencing in this one. “Ocean Air” is softer and lighter, a nice change of pace, although the steady beat that runs through much of the album is still here and there. The entire disc does an excellent job of setting up and maintaining a cohesive sound, while still varying things just enough to keep the interest level high throughout. Although I really liked Cosmic Waves, Trip To Illusion may be my favorite Wellenfeld so far.

 

 

The Winterhouse “Slow Promises”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 62.57 mins

 

The Winterhouse is DataObscura/Blue Oasis artists Robert Davies and label founder Anthony Paul Kerby, who also records as The Circular Ruins and Lammergeyer. The emphasis is on slow, luxurious ambient pieces. The result is an excellent album of pure floating music, and surely one of the best ambient albums of 2008. “Winterhouse” is full of soothing sounds that gently drift by, subtly flowing over one another. Although clearly electronic in origin, earthier elements like wind and water are weaved into the mix as well. The title track shimmers brightly, contrasting nicely with the darker tinges of “Too Tired for Words.” Each track is more like an assortment of soft sounds with varying textures rather than music in the conventional sense. Melody is hinted at but never quite fully develops. Titles make vague references to images and feelings, allowing the listener to create their own storylines. “If You Dream Like This” has big swelling echoes of sound, contrasted by little gurgling electronics. “Beneath the Grey Walls” is filled with deep, swirling drones; it is darker and sparser than most, although softer brighter elements appear briefly in the middle. “Inside and Out” starts with creaking doors, then meanders with melancholy over the remainder. Truly a mood piece, it seems perhaps the most unstructured of the set. Floating and gentle pulses take over on “Letting Go,” a winning combination of gentle rhythm and open spaces. The latter part is particularly deep, smooth space music. “Relax, It’s All Over” ends the album appropriately with gentle sounds of the night.

 

 

Wintherstormer “Electric Fairytales”

(www.wintherstormer.no, 2008)

4 tracks, 77.16 mins

 

Wintherstormer is a foursome from Norway with a wide variety of instrumentation, from synths and sequencers to drums, guitars, vocoder, and theremin. The end result is a complex blend of Berlin school electronics with elements of progressive rock and early krautrock. For example, the beginning of the opening track “Cucumber Salad” is electronic noises and knob twiddling like early Klaus Schulze experiments that appeared on his Ultimate Edition box set. It eventually settles down into a chugging bass sequence with a lighter sequence layered over the top of it. A nice soaring guitar lead is added in the middle. “For the Love of All Things Electronic” starts with floating dreamy synths, setting a calm relaxed tone, then another simple bass line is added, and more nice guitar flourishes, with just the right amount of drumming. This is a perfect little track, the shortest at 10:29. “Rising Ashes” starts with “hard” electronic noises again for several minutes until cool sequencing arrives, with solid, non-intrusive drumming to keep the tempo. This one is easy to lose yourself in for its 28-minute course, although various banging sounds and other noises may snap you out of your reverie on occasion during the closing minutes. Last up is the 16-minute title track, which starts with a low sustained drone and a smattering of sounds like a shakuhachi played through a vocoder. This is the most adventurous track, with abstract sounds such that the song seems to start and stop several times. Unlike the others, this one remains experimental, never coalescing into a conventional piece of music, and then it ends quite abruptly.

 

 

WintherStormer “LIVE 2007”

(www.wintherstormer.no, 2007)

3 tracks, 79.36 mins

 

This limited edition disc without packaging was for WintherStormer’s E-Live performance, and includes an extended version of “Pure Analog Forever” that also appeared on their Woodwork CD. Though this version is over 10 minutes longer, it retains the cool, slowly pulsating vibe, with a very nice interplay between the synths, sequencing, and percussion. The synths get squelchy and very retro in the middle, yet it still retains the fresh take on Berlin school that WintherStormer brings to the table. “Wooden Chair” comes whooshing in next, with more unique sounds. This is raw stuff, very electronic and very non-musical, but the sounds are sure cool, whatever you want to call it. It does soften considerably, getting much more spacey in the middle, sounding remarkably similar to some early TD bootlegs, circa 1974 or so. The knob-twiddling does get a little shrill at times, which I’d like to see them keep in check just a bit, as my aging ears have a bit of trouble with those frequencies. But the parts that work are really cool, not the least of which is the excellent closing track, “Random is our Friend,” although it seems like the recording on this one is a bit more muffled and bootleggish that the first two for some reason. Still, adventurous EM fans should seek this out if you can get your hands on one.

 

 

Wintherstormer “Woodwork”

(www.wintherstormer.no, 2007)

4 tracks, 76.20 mins

 

To get an idea of the unique mix of instrumentation on Woodwork, one needs only look at the cover art – a log with patch cables, synth knobs, drumsticks, and guitar tuning pegs. “Pure Analogue Forever,” reminds me of some of the more freeform experimental stuff by Radio Massacre International. A low slow sequence fades in around 5:00, with some warm synths surrounding it, along with just a dash of percussion, gentle cymbals mostly. Dueling synth leads dance back and forth later on, or perhaps it’s a guitar and a synth; an effective and promising opener. Soft chimes are joined by assorted electronic sound effects in the second track. Modulated male choirs are prominent later on, and a quirky 4-note pulse adds a bit of structure but not much. “Engraved” starts softly but then pounding drum beats turn it into hard-hitting space rock. The drums disappear, come back, disappear, and come back again. Both sections are cool in their own way, but the manner in which they are spliced together sounds like taking turns in a musical argument. By now I’m not quite sure what to expect of the 35-minute closer, “Monochrome.” Soft synth flutes and a light sequence start things off, and it develops in largely traditional Teutonic fashion, with a dash of prog rock toward the end. This is excellent retro music that is different enough to offer a fresh perspective without going too far afield. I would really like to hear a whole album of this type of music, but clearly Wintherstormer doesn’t want to just be another entry in the already crowded Berlin school field, so kudos to them for daring to be different.

 

All reviews © 2009 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

 

 

November 2008

 

8 new CD reviews this month

 

Rudy Adrian “Desert Realms”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2008)

11 tracks, 69.26 mins

 

Inspired by a weekend tour of North American deserts in 2002, Desert Realms finally comes to fruition in this 11-track, 70-minute set. Two tracks feature Nick Prosser on Baroque flute, adding to the desert theme and sound. This is a mellow Adrian set, devoid of the upbeat sequencer passages that he often creates. Instead, a very specific mood is conveyed throughout, and as such this is probably Rudy’s most cohesive thematic work, although he certainly has done similarly focused efforts, most notably The Healing Lake. Slightly dissonant bells carve out a unique beginning on “Saguaro Silhouette,” accompanied by gentle synth textures and wordless vocals. I’ve lost count how many of Rudy’s CDs start with soft vocals like this, but it does fit with the overall theme. “Pathway” is one of the two tracks featuring Prosser, and his flute is joined by light tribal touches, very nicely done. The title track is an excellent example of Rudy’s dreamy style of ambience; the eight minutes seems to pass by quickly and easily. “Circling Hawk” brings vocals stronger into the foreground, likely creating the desired effect but it is easily my least favorite on the album. “Fading Light” fares much better, a subtle delicate Eno-like floater. The slightly discordant bells return on “Subterranean River”, surrounded by dark echoes of sound. “Cloudburst” consists of rolling thunder, rain, and flutes, again capturing the desert imagery quite well. The next three tracks make up over a third of the disc, and they are the most ethereal yet, and the strongest portion of Desert Realms. Chirping birds “At the Edge of the Desert” bring the journey to a pleasant end.

 

 

Ron Boots “Mea Culpa”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

6 tracks, 75.22 mins

 

Dutch musician Ron Boots is back only a few months after his last release with Mea Culpa. The two-part title track is fantastic. The 19-minute first part opens the disc with electronic twitters and deep space sounds, followed by a slowly meandering bass line. Bright sequencing appears a couple minutes into it, joined shortly by a synth lead line and gently shuffling percussion. Drums eventually join in, and then a new synth solo takes over as the drums grow stronger. A key change a minute later cranks it up another notch. A couple minutes more, and the mood calms just a bit before building back up again to the end. I like pretty much everything about this track. The 14-minute “Mea Culpa II” appears later on, and it is every bit as good. The percussion is crisp, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s classic “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” from Force Majeure. A steady bass pulse lends a dramatic feel, and the synths are understated but highly effective. It continues to slowly build, all the while staying in a cool groove. This great one-two punch makes up nearly 34 of the album’s 75 minutes. Other strong tracks include the mellow dreamy “08:00 Sunday Morning,” which serves as an excellent contrast to “Mea Culpa I”. The excellent synth solo here reminds me of vintage Klaus Schulze. Drums and female choirs fill out the sound nicely. Speaking of female choirs, they abound in “Quick Silver,” the most energetic track on the disc. Credit is given here to Voices of Passion, a virtual instrument of female vocal samples from five different countries. My only complaint about Boots, one of my favorite EM artists, is his insistence on singing on a track on some of his albums in recent years. To his credit though, this time he offers an instrumental version of “The Roses in My Life” as a bonus track at the end. This is Ron’s best album since Close, but not touching.

 

 

Igneous Flame / Achromus “Flicker”

(www.luminasounds.com, 2008)

14 tracks, 69.05 mins

 

After several solo albums, Pete Kelly is expanding his Igneous Flame musical horizons by joining forces with Michael Stringer aka Achromus. Pete continues to explore all guitar-based forms of ambient, while Michael supplies keys and other sonic elements and textures. The emphasis throughout is on keeping things bright and ethereal, surprisingly accessible given the lack of distinct melodies. “Evergreen” floats slowly by to start things off, and it is typical of the light and airy approach. In a slight divergence, “Sinuhe” has a brief Finnish narrative, but musically it remains similar to the rest. Sometimes the guitars soar over the other sounds and are distinctly guitar-like, but more often than not they meld into the rest of the amorphous ambience. “Off The Horizon” is a slowly undulating piece with wonderfully delicate textures, including female vocal samples that Kelly manipulates into a velvety smooth instrument. Speaking of sonic manipulation, several tracks feature samples from airports and train stations, although you’d never know it. Mostly a collaborative effort, there are a handful of tracks that are Kelly’s alone, including the last four, which take the disc into a bit darker territory, but nothing to be too afraid of. Besides, there’s a good chance you will have drifted off into dreamy reverie by then.

 

 

Igneous Flame / Achromus “Halo”

(Download: AtmoWorks, CDR: Hypnos, 2008)

2 tracks, 53.33 mins

 

Flicker and Halo, the two recent releases by Igneous Flame and Achromus, are opposite sides of the same ambient coin. Flicker is the lighter, ethereal choice. If you prefer your ambient on the dark side then Halo is the one for you. Comprised of two long journeys into cavernous depths, it offers a tasty treat for explorers of the darker realms. And while it is dark, it is eminently listenable for fans of the genre, not too strange or experimental. “Arc Light” starts right in with a metallic, reverberating echo, jumping right into the shadows. Haunting sounds, vaguely like eerie choirs, hang in the mist. It takes several twists and turns along the way, sometimes sounding more like white noise or churning machinery, at other times drifting more softly by. Don’t go looking for distinct melody or rhythm, though, as you are unlikely to find it. This is all about abstract sonic textures in varying shades from grey to black. At times I imagine a deep dive into the Marianas Trench; and just when it seems we might be getting closer to the light for a time, we dip back down again. “Halo” is similar and yet unique, at turns both lighter and darker than its predecessor. The artists recommend headphone listening, but if you do you may want to leave the lights on. Recommended.

 

 

Logic Gate “Voyages”

(www.magnatune.com, 2008)

5 tracks, 48.41 mins

 

It’s been five years since Steve Grace’s debut as Logic Gate with From the Silence, which I thoroughly enjoyed. His sophomore release Voyages takes his classic Berlin school leanings even further, seamlessly blending a variety of moods and sounds into a complete concise package. Synths and piano meld perfectly on the title track, a subdued number that has just the right melodramatic edge to it. The main theme has a majestic feel to it, coming at the beginning and the end of the piece. It’s the soft piano section that really sets it apart for me, a beautiful counterpoint to the rest. Bubbly gurgling synths drift in on “Starlight,” a short mellow space music number. “Permafrost” starts with a cold wind, then a two-note bass line and a simple synth phrase. This one shows Grace’s finer touch with composition, patiently moving the music forward in a natural progression. Throughout, the music is devoid of excesses that can render some retro music as kitsch. “The Voyage Home” is a fitting finale, nearly 15 minutes of analog heaven. At times Voyages reminds me of Rogue Element’s excellent debut Premonition, another disc that clearly pays homage to classic Tangerine Dream, fully capturing that essence but distilling it in a fresh way. This is an essential recording for retro fans.

 

 

Synth.nl “AtmoSphere”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

12 tracks, 70.54 mins

 

AtmoSphere is more playful upbeat melodious synth music from Michael van Osenbruggen. Whereas AeroDynamics was based on the theme of motion, this time van Osenbruggen has his head in the clouds, quite literally, going through the many levels of earth’s atmosphere. Starting in the “Troposphere” the music is appropriately, uh, atmospheric of course. Though it is floaty it is also thoroughly electronic, with just the right tribal touches as well. It progresses smoothly from a mellow to a more upbeat sound, with solid sequencing and melodic synth leads. “Cumulonimbus” starts appropriately with distant thunder and an ominous mood, though it turns light and bouncy as well. There is a Jarre-like playfulness here and on the next track “Stratosphere,” but Osenbruggen carves out his own sound and style within the genre.  Sometimes there is a more majestic tone, often right in the middle of otherwise toe-tapping tracks, but transitions are deftly handled. I sometimes found his debut a little too playful and light, but AtmoSphere shows more restraint and maturity in the compositions which works to its advantage. Even when tracks do get a little sweeter, as on “Stratocumulus” and “Altocumulus,” it seldom if ever carries things too far on the cute or cheesy scale. When I’m in the mood for the lighter melodic side of EM, AtmoSphere will be a disc I will reach for often.

 

 

Peter Tedstone “Time & Motion”

(www.ambientlive.com, 2008)

4 tracks, 55.40 mins

 

The third in Tedstone’s time trilogy, Time & Motion takes a more active dive into the Teutonic sound. That isn’t the case at first, as “Astral Projector” is really a five-minute mellow intro, all mellotron flutes, wind chimes, and lush sonic textures. “Alternative Marriji” starts even more quietly, but cool moderate sequencing eventually forms a solid foundation. A growling synth solo sounds almost like an electric guitar, giving it a nice edge that stretches Tedstone’s sound just enough from his two prior outings. “Time” has a perfect tinge of melodrama to it, adding new sonic layers just when it seems they should appear. Retro fans will be in heaven by the end of this one. But wait, there’s more, a lot more, as “Motion” takes center stage, all 23-plus minutes of it. This one has a majestic feel, marching confidently forward. Atmospheric electronics and male choirs ease us into it, then a steady bass sequence picks up after a few minutes. Hypnotic synths swirl around one another. Drums finally appear past 11:00, followed a minute later by a powerful electric guitar synth sound. Warm pads fill out the sound, completing the package. A soft subdued finish brings the disc to a fantastic finish.

 

 

Peter Tedstone “Timeslip”

(www.ambientlive.com, 2007)

3 tracks, 55.24 mins

 

The first of a time trilogy (the second, Timestorm, was reviewed in EAS in September), Timeslip is an excellent foray into Berlin school, capturing well that vintage sound. Three lengthy excursions explore synths, sequencing, and rhythms. Each track is allowed plenty of time to build and then lock into a groove. “Part One” starts very quietly with a few deep space sounds, whooshing cosmic winds, and various electronic noises swirling about. Choirs join in, followed by a very good mellotron flute solo, soft and slow. An oboe synth lead takes over as just a bit of percussion and a slow, simple bass line round things out. A great bit of retro sequencing ensures approaching the 8:00 mark, and reminds me of Berlin musical staples such as Schmoelling-era Tangerine Dream, Keller & Schönwälder, and Minds In Motion. Drums are well done, probably computerized but sounding a little like Harald Grosskopf, with some really good fills. Eventually everything drops out except the echoing strains of the mellotron flute, which brings “Part One” to a close. “Part Two” is the shortest piece but still is almost 14 minutes long. Similar elements here – male choirs, mellotron strings instead of flute – yielding similarly positive results. Each track really draws the listener in, particularly with the hypnotic sequencing. “Part Three” is particularly mesmerizing, take a relatively simple but classic bit of sequencing and stretching it ably over nearly 20 minutes, with enough twists and turns through electronic realms to keep it moving. Timeslip is retro done right.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

October 2008

 

14 new CD reviews this month

 

Johan Agebjörn feat. Lisa Barra “Mossebo”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2008)

11 tracks, 59.20 mins

 

Mossebo is an ambient new age album full of lush textures and colors. “Dulciter Somni” is a mellow opener, effective at building anticipation of what may follow. Johan Agebjörn’s electronics are soft and light, and Lisa Barra’s voice on 5 of the 11 tracks adds a dreamlike ethereal quality that permeates the disc. Bright shimmering sequencing forms the backing to “The Sound of Snowflakes Touching The Ground.” In addition to Barra’s vocal, there is a male voice providing a brief narrative at a couple of points, presumably Agebjörn. The title track is a dreamy bridge to “The Sea”, which is the strongest vehicle yet for showcasing Barra. In a change of pace, “Ambient Computer Dance” is exactly what you’d expect from the name; it is melodic, bouncy and fun. “Shoreline” is a subdued piano piece with bells and other delicate synths. Agebjörn asks the listener to imagine this as the last track on Side A. “Unitas Vitae” is an appropriately livelier number to start Side B, although it still has the same softness that runs throughout. Next is the original mix of the “Snowflakes” track, with Barra’s vocals clipped into brief snippets. Agebjörn made the right choice in keeping her vocals intact for the lengthier version. “Siberian Train” is divided into two parts, and chugs right along like a locomotive; a woman even gives directions to disembarking passengers. The first part is more minimal and haunting, and the second has crisp, bright percussion to lighten things up just a bit. These are my two personal favorites on the album, although there is plenty to recommend on Mossebo.

 

 

Darshan Ambient “From Pale Hands to Weary Skies”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2008)

11 tracks, 56.50 mins

 

Michael Allison aka Darshan Ambient has always had a knack for effortless-sounding ambient new age music, skillfully blending piano and synths into soft sonic tapestries. The liner notes explain that his latest release came after a period of intense inspiration following a very serious illness. “The Furniture of Time” makes an enjoyable beginning, thoroughly engaging and pleasant. A simple repeating piano phrase is draped in atmospheric synths and a catchy rhythm. The punchy little percussion, which appears again in “Slowly Toward The North,” reminds me of modern electronica like Saul Stokes, not a name I normally associate with Darshan Ambient, but it sounds good – really good. In fact, if you played “Multiplication of the Arcs” or “The Geometer of Dreams” for me sight unseen, I’d swear they were Stokes – the sense of melody, quirkiness, and rhythm, and the skillful way they play off of each other. “The Look Of Amber” and “Suffering Softens Stones” are more familiar territory, soft ethereal ambience and beautiful sparse piano. Allison has never shied away from his softer side, as on the piano pieces “Tomorrow (For Nicky)” and “I Await You,” both too good to dismiss as merely new age pap. Two of my favorites are the title track and “The Rapidity of Sleep”, both combining ambient, new age, and a touch of tribal for a very accessible yet fresh sound, not unlike Patrick O’Hearn does so well. Darshan Ambient’s best so far.

 

 

Gert Emmens “A Boy’s World”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

6 tracks, 79.01 mins

 

Gert Emmens has a distinctive take on the retro EM sound, and he continues that trend on A Boy’s World. Melodic synths, bright sequencing, and a regal flourish typify his sound, as on “School’s Out.” Lead synth lines have Emmens’ characteristic use of portamento, and there’s a cool sort of churning crashing percussion sound. Gert has always been a proponent of the long, slow-building Berlin school number, and he expands on that here, with two tracks in excess of 20 minutes, “Gaming Part 1” and “Gaming Part 2.” “Part 1” chugs right along, the pulsating sequences starting early and continuing unabated until just past 13:00, when a very spacey passage forms a bridge to another bit of sequencing to finish things off. “Part 2” is mellower but follows a similar pattern. The disc finishes with a majestic tribute to Gert’s mother, “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Emmens fans will find plenty to like here.

 

 

Indra “Bhuvaneshvari”

(www.indramusic.ro, 2008)

4 tracks, 74.54 mins

 

Indra is back with four more classic journeys into deep space electronics. “One Billion Light Years” jumps in with fast-paced sequencing almost from the get-go. It seems equal parts retro and modern electronica. Changes are gradual, creating a mesmerizing effect. Think of a unique hybrid of Klaus Schulze from the 1970s and the 2000s, with a dash of espresso. Each track goes long enough to fully immerse yourself in it. After the 22-minute juggernaut opener comes 32 minutes in the form of “Tiamat.” It begins with whooshing swirling cosmic winds, then a pinging little twitter very much like Schulze’s classic “Totem.” Spacey effects flit about, echoing in the background. This one really takes its time, and is more subdued than its predecessor, remaining so throughout. This is a great mood piece, one to just let yourself go with the leisurely flow. Tinkling bell-like synths start “Alchemy of Life,” followed by gentle sequencing that sounds light and fizzy like bubbles. Though “only” ten minutes long, this one covers more ground, getting into a meatier synth solo and a chugging rhythm. I hate to overuse the Schulze analogy but it fits. What I like best about Indra is his ability to sound like KS while exploring that sound in his own way, forming music that is comfortably familiar without being derivative. Highly recommended.

 

 

Evan Marc + Steve Hillage “Dreamtime Submersible”

(www.somniasound.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 66.59 mins

 

This hypnotic groovy trance-induced bit of EM comes courtesy of relative newcomer Evan Marc aka Evan Bartholomew (see this month's interview), and established British guitarist Steve Hillage. The resulting mesmerizing loops flow seamlessly as a single work, vaguely reminiscent of classic trance recording E2-E4 by Manuel Göttsching. The focus throughout is on bass, beats, and repeating sequences. “Intention Craft” is a fine example of the album’s sound, and makes a good leisurely beginning. The electronic synthetic nature of the recording is evident throughout, but in a good way, as the music is remarkably expressive given its repetitive nature. There is a very natural evolution to the music, such that track indexes, while somewhat helpful as points of reference, are more like convenient markers to return to if you are unable to take it all in at one sitting, which I would recommend if possible. “Hypnagogue” settles into a more laid back sound. The guitar seems a bit more pronounced here, although the synths and effects continue to find plenty to do. The rhythm asserts itself more as “Alpha Phase” arrives on the scene. Throughout, the music is deceptively simple yet thoroughly immersive. The synths – or a processed guitar by Hillage - growl on “Theta Phase”, giving it added bite. Themes are explored and revisited throughout, and though it all sounds rather mellow, a singular pulse runs throughout. Dreamtime Submersible is one enjoyable sonic trip.

 

 

Stephen Parsick “Cryotainer: Music for Gasometers”

(www.parsick.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 64.27 mins

 

Recorded live in the Oberhausen Gasometer at a temperature of 6 ͦ Celsius, this is pure distilled coldness. The eight tracks flow into one, the deep industrial sounds playing as a singularly dark work. Stephen has been particularly drawn to the darkness since leaving his Berlin school roots behind, and this could be his deepest, bleakest sonic journey yet. At times I suppose there are shimmers of light here and there, for example some fleeting moments on “Density and Pressure.” But these are few and far between, and the emphasis is upon fully embracing the dark and the cold. If “Lightwave” were not dedicated to someone’s memory I would call the title the height of irony, as it is as dark as the rest. Some are softer, some are louder, some are drones, some gradually evolve, but all have a restless undulating pulsating quality to them. Uplifting it is not; it is undeniably intense. If you like dark ambient, Cryotainer is essential.

 

 

Stephen Parsick “Fuzzstars: Music for Planetariums Vol. 2”

(www.parsick.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 72 mins

 

Stephen Parsick continues to push the boundaries of ambient music to the extreme. Strange alien sounds chirp about for the first couple minutes of “Moon Musick Phase One” before a metallic ringing drone swells up out of it. The drone rises and falls, and brighter shimmering sounds are layered over the top. As the title of the disc implies, this would indeed make excellent planetarium music. The sound gets fuller and deeper as it goes, sure to rumble the floor if you have halfway decent bass in your sound system. At times it sounds like Michael Stearns’ classic Planetary Unfolding. “Dark Matter” strips away the shimmering part, leaving the low rumblings only, very much another Parsick doombient affair, as is the title track. It is almost pure blackness set to music using synthesizers, singing bowls, field recordings, and other processed and looped sounds. The bleakness brightens a touch on “Sometimes They Call It “God””, but only by degrees as ethereal tones are set against dark cavernous echoes. There is a certain stark beauty to it. “Emptiness Is All There Is” which sounds much like Robert Rich’s organic darker works. It is all well done, though I suspect if the majority of this music were to be used in a planetarium, most of the audience would leave in fear. I also suspect this would make Stephen a bit proud.

 

 

[‘ramp] “Doombient.three – Kalte Sterne”

(www.doombient.com, 2008)

5 tracks, 72.14 mins

 

Kalte Sterne is available in a limited, numbered edition of 100 copies, each in a tin can with an embossed serial number. This is the third and final installment in the doombient series of Stephen Parsick’s [‘ramp] project with Frank Makowski. Recorded live at Bochum Planetarium in 2007, it is built around the theme of the nothingness before and after the Big Bang. Though Parsick calls it the most peaceful and tranquil of the doombient albums, and I would agree with that statement, it is a restless peace, filled with the deep resonant drones and echoing reverberations that he has been known for in recent years. Still, there is a bit more structure at times to wrap your ears around, such as the Vangelis-like “Pillars of Creation”, which has a regal flourish to it. Still, tracks like “Quantum Surge” are deep and dank, like going alone in a small submersible into the Marianas Trench. We remain in the depths for “Triumph of Entropy,” interestingly the second EM track by that name that I know of (the first by Bone Idol, not the same piece of music). The disc finishes on a lighter note, comparatively speaking, with “Questions Unanswered,” moving more into traditional space music at least somewhat, though still quite on the dark side. As good as Parsick was with Berlin school, he and Makowski have fully embraced and immersed themselves in the netherworld of dark ambient.

 

 

Samarkande “3 Synapses”

(www.samarkande.ca, 2008)

3 tracks, 52 mins

 

Samarkande is Eric Fillion and Sylvain Lamirande from Canada. They specialize in daring experimental music using both electronic and acoustic sources, everything from the usual synth and sampler arsenal to African thumb piano, Indian pump organ, “a very peculiar violin,” and much more. Simply titled “Synapse” nos. 1 through 3, we launch right in to the unique soundscapes. Reviewing instrumental music in general can sometimes be daunting, but here the sounds are so alien it’s hard to know where to begin. It starts with a gently layered, slightly dissonant collage of quiet if unusual sounds. Guest Cathy Thibault provides the vocal phrase “the past is left unspoken” which loops throughout, soft at first but then forcing its way to the forefront, along with a sound not unlike an alarm clock if you were to play it as a single note on an electric guitar. Pulsing sounds pan back and forth. Just when it seems the collage will remain completely in the abstract, it settles just a bit into some sort of looping sequence that provides a bit of structure, and it’s a pretty cool sound. It grows louder and louder until it abruptly drops to silence at 11:17, except for sound waves like someone trying to tune in an old AM radio. More speaking, a man this time, possibly Adolf Hitler? At one point near the end of “Synapse No. 2” it sounds like some poor saxophone is being destroyed, followed by banging on piano keys. It is deeply challenging throughout, for fans of experimental noises.

 

 

Spiraleye “The Space Between”

(www.peterchalloner.co.uk, 2008)

9 tracks, 59.52 mins

 

Spiraleye is a collaboration featuring Peter Challoner on synths and Neale Haddon on guitar. Challoner, who has graced the EAS reviews page on several occasions, hopes this will serve as a springboard to his first live performances, as well as future albums. The music takes a somewhat different direction than Challoner’s solo work, which is apparent from the beginning of “Aether.” This is quite stripped down, with more or less a single synth playing alongside Haddon’s gently strummed notes. “Highland Shadow” is next, in two parts, another soft interweaving of synths and guitar in very pleasant fashion. What I like best about The Space Between is that it sounds fresh and simple. Though quiet, I hesitate to call it ambient or new age, though I suppose that is the closest categorization. But it seems more deliberate, more intentional than most ambient. Haddon takes center stage at the start of “Optimal Distance.” I really like his approach and what he adds to Challoner’s synths. This one takes an experimental turn, at one point sounding like someone is slowing down the recording while it is playing. Then little clicking percussion dances about, guitars come back in after a brief absence, and the synths start becoming more active. It evolves quite nicely over the duration. Bright sparkling synths dot the seascape in “The Endless Ocean.” The mood remains light and bright throughout, almost playful at times, though it is clear Challoner and Haddon are serious about their craft. Each track is filled with nuance, and although it might be fine as background music I’m more inclined to listen closely to hear every detail.

 

 

Stockman & Mac of BIOnighT “Solar Mission”

(www.syngate.net, 2008)

11 tracks, 66.56 mins

 

Both Stockman and Mac are known for bright, optimistic melodic EM, often with themes of ancient or future worlds, so it is not overly surprising that the two would decide to join forces, and Solar Mission is the result. It doesn’t take long for the title track to start moving right along with a steady beat and light electronics. Tangerine Dream’s pop sound of the mid-eighties, particularly their soundtrack work, is a handy reference point. Occasionally a passage may turn darker as the atmospheric sound effects take over, but it usually isn’t too long before the synth melodies and sequencing return. Whooshing winds fade right into “Space Travel”, which reminds me of Software with its easygoing accessible nature. “Closing In” features the catchiest melody yet and is likely to get your toes tapping along with its infectious rhythms. On the softer side is “Solar Orbit,” a brief ethereal number, which then launches into “Heat,” a bouncy happy tune with an insistent beat. Synths and sequencing build up nicely at the end. Fuzzed out sounds start “Sun Flares” before moving back into light, bright melodic electronics. Given Stockman and Mac’s musical leanings it’s no surprise that there is little to be melancholy about here. “Probe One” is a chilled exception, all atmosphere and space twitters. But the stuttering pulses of “Data Stream” bring the energy right back. Solar Mission is the ticket for easygoing accessible EM fun.

 

 

Saul Stokes “Villa Galaxia”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 55.45 mins

 

Saul Stokes makes a welcome return to Hypnos on their Binary sublabel with Villa Galaxia. First, mention must be made of the exceptional cover art, simple but effective in its use of colors, shapes, lines, and texture. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Stokes is able to do with sound. He shapes and colors it to his liking, creating tracks like concise complex sonic puzzles. “Hello Radar” is irresistibly catchy, from the electronic sounds to the complex rhythms to the hints of static and distortion that give it just the right edge to avoid being just a bit too cute. If there were musical justice in the world, either this or “Vapor Trails” would be a hit single, it they have all the makings of one except that the public at large seems unable to handle instrumentals. The shuffling bass and beat of the latter number are very cool. “Blaze” takes me back to older Stokes classics like “First Jump” on Zo Pilots with its quirky beat and hip synthesizer sensibility. Trademark punchy percussion gets “Night Painting” started, and it builds from there. The most fun, both in name and in sound, is the playful “Eta Car is a Massive Star,” although it makes an abrupt surprising turn midway through. The emphasis throughout Villa Galaxia is on bright tones and colors, carefully put together into neat little packages. No need to put a calling card on each one indicating who they are from; they are thoroughly, unabashedly Stokes.

 

 

Various Artists “Message from a Subatomic World”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

10 tracks, 72.30 mins

 

Message from a Subatomic World excels at doing what Hypnos does best with their compilations – introducing listeners to a variety of new and established artists in a cohesive album. Austere’s “Crystil” is first, and it is a cool ten minute journey into a variety of ambient sounds. At first the music is almost imperceptibly quiet, but soon the soft drones are joined by beautiful wordless vocals that border on operatic in feel. Piano adds to the regal nature that briefly takes over before becoming soft drifting ambience again. Barely intelligible male vocals come later in forceful whispers. Evan Bartholomew’s “Sacrosanct” is next, and it does have a touch of the sacred about it – ambient church music perhaps. Bleeps and blips in “Distant Radiance” by Relapxych.0 are juxtaposed against glassy smoothness. Hypnos artist Numina follows with “Nadir Ever Spirals,” which swirls about in equal parts lightness and darkness. The entire disc, and this track in particular, has a very relaxed meditative quality. Jason Sloan paints a sonic picture of dark restlessness in “faded.forgotten[trace].” It is eerie and beautiful at the same time, whereas Phaenon’s “Quantum Silence” dives down into the depths. Ironically, Stephen Philips “Down Deep” brings us out of the darkness with a comparatively light airy floater. Pure drones fans have to check out Eric Kesner, aka True Colour of Blood. His “Choosing To Remain Blind” is composed entirely on guitar, though its warm ambient tones scarcely resemble one. Svartsinn creates a review for me with the perfectly titled “Cold But Strong.” The disc closes with one of the best known names in ambient music, Italy’s Oöphoi. Also aptly named, “Icelight” could have formed a bookend with Svartsinn called “Cold But Bright” instead. With not a bad track to be found, this is an essential addition to any true ambient fan’s music collection.

 

 

Various Artists “Perceived Distances”

(www.dataobscura.com, 2008)

15 tracks, 78.08 mins

 

The singular sound of DataObscura, now called Blue Oasis, is on display in this varied yet cohesive collection by 15 artists, mostly familiar names to fans of this ambient electronica label, plus a few new surprises. First is a collaboration by The Circular Ruins and Off The Sky, and the glitchy quirky sound is what you’d expect from these two. Jazzy keyboards and bits of static mesh with other sonic textures, elusive and yet accessible. The ever-inventive Saul Stokes presents “Camera Clicks,” a surprising piece with a fast-moving undercurrent and the usual assortment of uniquely Stokes sounds. “princeFive” is a cool composition by newcomer P Is For Prue that fits right in with the album’s vibe. A pulsating sequence forms the basis for the track, along with what could be guitar or synths carrying the main theme. Beta Two Agonist nicely pairs piano chords with little electronic tidbits on “Seele.” This quiet unassuming piece is one of my favorites. I could go on at length about the remaining high points, such as the crisp sonic art of Off The Sky’s “Early Morning Sunset,” the experimental white noise and abstract sounds of Entia Non’s “Seeing Light,” the mellow moody “Nobody Knows” by The Circular Ruins, the deep dark drones of False Mirror’s “Nebelhorn Mountain,” and much more. Suffice to say, Perceived Distances is another fine collection of modern ambient electronica from DataObscura.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

September 2008

 

17 new CD reviews this month, a mix of new and old.

 

At-Mooss “Cyclotron”

(www.at-mooss.com, 2002)

6 tracks, 64.05 mins

 

Cyclotron looks and sounds like a sleek, futuristic machine. It begins with “Lagrange 5,” featuring deep pulses and punchy electronic percussion. Metallic synths float in, shimmering brightly. I really like the shuffling, synthetic groove of this one. The title track is a 31-minute monster, again with a pulsating undercurrent like machinery, with a slightly ominous tone. Melancholy synth strings are juxtaposed incongruously with a dance beat, which eventually takes over. Really cool synth sounds move in as we pass the 12:00 mark, and the rhythm steadies out. A couple minutes later, it moves into a purer Teutonic sound, great transitions here. As if we haven’t covered enough ground, it switches to near silence only a minute or two after that. Keep up with the changes if you can. “Venus” is a comfortable groover with a gentle rhythm. “Red” is the most mechanical yet, like someone banging on something. It is almost all synth drums and percussion, very few overtly electronic sounds. “3 K” takes a darker turn in cool fashion, minimal except for the ongoing churning pulsations that rarely go away for long. “Robot XXI” finishes the disc on a light melodic note.

 

 

At-Mooss “The Arrow of Time”

(www.at-mooss.com, 2004)

5 tracks, 68.37 mins

 

The Arrow of Time is a unique blend of EM styles, a bit hard to describe. A prime example is the 33-minute epic “Cyclotron II,” which weaves its way along techno/dance realms, deep atmospheric space journeys, and classic Berlin school motifs. Sometimes I like it a lot, other times not as much, but I do like that the music is not merely a knockoff of those gone before, and that it keeps me on my toes, uh, I mean ears. It is precisely this mishmash of ideas that had me sitting this one on the backburner for so long before reviewing it. “Neocortex” is like 1990s Klaus Schulze on steroids, that orchestral style but with rapid-fire electronic percussion. “Indigo” has a similar breakneck pace, threatening to spiral out of control at times, although the reins do seem to get pulled in before flying too far afield. This flows right into “Axon”, very much a continuation or second part to “indigo,” with a somewhat lighter touch on the intensity if not the pacing, except for a nice spacey ending, with some cool pseudo-tribal drumming for a final flourish. “Go2” is a relaxed number to finish. Recommended.

 

 

Patrick Balthrop “Autopoetic”

(Microbeat Music, 2007)

11 tracks, 36.57 mins

 

Autopoetic has some really cool sounds, along the lines of glitchy modern electronic that I like so well on the Databloem and DataObscura labels. When it works, like on the cool shuffling beats and warbling synth lines of “Shout along the Highways,” it’s great. “Inside of Me” starts just as well, but then Balthrop sings. His mellow vocal style does meld somewhat into the background, but the music would work better as a standalone. “Throwaways” is more effective in this regard, the vocals truly disappearing into the synth textures as part of the music. Glitchy elements add extra crispness and punch throughout, particularly on the electronic percussion in “Tearing the Seams” and on the static edges of “The Silo.” For every couple of hits there’s a miss, like the annoying stop-start tendencies on “The Night Rose,” which literally sounds like someone hitting the pause button every few seconds and messing with the tape. On a longer album a few missteps like this would be forgivable, but on an album that runs barely over half an hour, it leaves the listener wanting. Autopoetic shows great potential, almost but not quite fulfilled.

 

 

Beta Two Agonist “Autumn Perdue”

(www.databloem.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 52.53 mins

 

Ian Lizandra is back with his sophomore solo release Autumn Perdue. I was excited by his fresh sound on Zero Point Field, and the new album continues along the same path of adventurous exploration into minimal glitchy electronica. “Kamunyak” sounds like Patrick O’Hearn with its sparse piano and organic sound, albeit with a touch of grit in the form of buzzes and static. Unusual bell-like tones also emanate from the synthetic mist. “Klausner” is a bit sparser but with similar elements – a little white noise here, a little pulsing drum ‘n bass there, just enough to hold it together and yet keep the interest level high. On the one hand, these seem like the barest of compositions, but on another level they seem intricately planned and detailed. “Mono-No-Aware” has a little clicking almost like a skip on a CD, but it pans back and forth just so. Each track is its own little vignette, a part of the whole and yet wholly distinct. For example, I love the repeating glissando piano phrasing in “Blackbird Playground.” Every track seems to have a signature sound such as this one, justifying its inclusion in the overall scheme. Deftly planned and executed, Autumn Perdue is excellent.

 

 

Gert Blokzijl “From Marum to Clackmas”

(Self released, 2008)

7 tracks, 60.58 mins

 

In reviewing the excellent Groove Unlimited compilation Analogy Volume 3, I mentioned that I’d like to hear a whole album by Dutch musician Gert Blokzijl because I enjoyed his “Monopology” track so much. In response, Gert sent me his album From Marum to Clackmas, and I am pleased to report it is as good as I would have expected. Starting with random cool electronic gurgles and twitters and such, “Monopology 1” eventually settles down as it speeds up, firing on all cylinders with rapid-fire percussion and sequencing. This will really get you moving. “Monopology 2” is more spacey like vintage Klaus Schulze, very nicely done. Here the sequencing forms a firm foundation, but the synth leads really add to it. “Monopology 3” is the track featured on the Groove compilation, and it fits right in with the rest, reminding me of some of the best Free System Projekt offerings – must be something in the Dutch water! Sequencer fanatics barely get room to breathe as “Monopology 5” (there is no “4”) keeps up the brisk tempo. This is not only Berlin school, it’s my favorite sound within that subgenre of EM, pumping up the pace and just letting it roll. Next is “Bouwte”, a 20-minute epic that starts with dark ominous synths, but the sequencing arrives soon enough, more moderate this time, and continues onward for most of the duration, except for some cool space drifting for the last few minutes. Even when the mood is a little darker, as on “Sometimes,” the music is exciting and invigorating. This is one of my favorite new EM artists to come around in some time.

 

 

J.M. Ciria “Ylem”

(www.at-mooss.com, 2003)

10 tracks, 58.44 mins

 

The At-Mooss label from Barcelona covers a range of electronic music styles with a flair for emotionally charged compositions that seem suitable for soundtrack music. Case in point is J.M. Ciria’s Ylem which features 10 pop-length tunes that blur the lines between electronic, new age, dance, and jazz. Tunes such as “Wolf 359” with its happy beat will get your toes to tapping for sure. The quirky sounds and pacing at the start of “Fractal” seem like the music will take a more experimental bent, but it too settles down into a regular rhythm and a pleasant melody. “Solaris” seems like something Klaus Schulze might come up with on a dare, or just in a slightly different mood. Think Inter*Face but with updated technology and sounds. Ylem is different than what I’m accustomed to, but there is an appealing sense of fun and playfulness about it.

 

 

Jason Corder & Beta Two Agonist “Further to Find Closer”

(www.databloem.com, 2008)

9 tracks, 49.57 mins

 

Two masters of glitchy ambient electronica join forces on this release. A single bell tone starts things off, then various electronic touches float and twitter by. “Further, Undo” is the trademark Databloem sound, bottled and distilled into less than 3:00. The label always seems to hit the mark in a unique sonic space too busy for ambient but way too mellow for techno or typical electronica. The sound gets slightly fuzzy and distorted as it moves into “Amber Somber Scene,” but despite the dissonant tones there is warmth and a relaxed feel. This one reminds me somewhat of Saul Stokes’ Abstraction CD, a personal favorite. “Neige” softens the rough edges a bit, meandering nicely through sparse piano and other found sounds - the instrumentation is varied so it’s hard to pin down what creates the lush yet edgy sonic textures throughout. The duo describes the end product as “musical fragments…fused and blended into a morphing cloud of texture.” Man, I wish I had written that. Cool stuff.

 

 

E=motion “E-ternity”

(www.underwatermusic.of.pl, 2008)

7 tracks, 54.10 mins

 

E=motion is Jacek Spruch from Poland, and he specializes in upbeat melodic sequencer-based music of the kind that Tangerine Dream used to make in the mid 1980s. “Reunion” starts in typically bright fashion, with moderate pacing, carried along on gentle steady rhythms and synth soloing. It flows effortlessly into the chugging beat of “Blue Road”, which finds a pleasant middle ground and stays with it for the duration. E-ternity is dedicated to the memory of Jacek’s mother, and “Mother” is the next track. A beautiful crystalline sequence, like some of the best vintage Klaus Schulze, appears in short order, followed by a light acoustic guitar synth patch. Other electronics are smoothly laid over the top for another pleasing arrangement. “Anxiety” is brisk and bouncy, though fortunately not at all panic inducing. Words like “enjoyable” and “agreeable” are apt descriptions for the music throughout. Though the album does not have distinct highs and lows it is quite easy on the ears and would be particularly suitable for a sunny weekend afternoon drive. Recommended.

 

 

Gert Emmens “The Nearest Faraway Place Volume 1”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

7 tracks, 70.52 mins

 

A cool picture of the Gasometer in Oberheim, Germany graces the cover of this Gert Emmens’ album, which was composed for a concert there. “Part 1” begins as moody space music. After a couple of minutes bright tinkling sequencing arrives, followed shortly by Emmens’ trademark warm pads and a nice shuffling beat. It moves at a relaxed pace throughout, fading back into atmospheric shadows for the last couple of minutes. If you prefer more traditional Berlin school sequencing, Emmens style, head straight to “Part 2.” This concert included guest musician Jan Dieterich on electric guitar, and he adds just the right extra touch here. Sequencing is strong throughout, as evidenced on “Part 4”, which slips into a very cool leisurely groove. The disc gets stronger as it goes, my favorite being “Part 6,” with a really cool bubbly pulsating undercurrent that propels this one along. “Part 7” is just a touch bittersweet, making for a fitting epilogue.

 

 

Joseph Loibant “C1E2C5”

(www.at-mooss.com, 2003)

11 tracks, 64.05 mins

 

Hmm, a sweeping majestic electronic music soundtrack with lots of big drums and an orchestral feel? Would you guess Vangelis? You might be tempted to after listening to C1E2C5, Joseph Loibant’s soundtrack to a Spanish film. This 11-part suite fits together quite well, and definitely has a cinematic feel throughout. Soft, crystalline sequencing is featured on the bright, shimmering “Part 04.” The synth gets a bit silly here, perhaps following another Vangelis trademark of going just a little over the top at times. But for the most part the music is entertaining and fun. In fact, “Part 05” may make you think more of Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack work than Vangelis with its bouncy melody and pacing.  I wonder if Mark Dwane may be an influence as well. Some tracks are lighter, some darker, some happy, some sad, all competently put together.

 

 

Lothus “Desert of Frequencies”

(www.at-mooss.com, 2003)

11 tracks, 64.05 mins

 

The most experimental of the At-Mooss label CDs I’ve heard, there are lots of abstract bleeps and bloops to this one. It’s a rather tuneless, very synthetic affair, focused on higher end, thinner sounds. Melody and rhythm are largely absent, and sounds seemed layered in an intentionally dissonant, even abrasive fashion. If you like Japanese noise or similar subgenres you might like this, but be warned it is for the adventurous only.

 

 

Nattefrost “Transformation”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

10 tracks, 55.58 mins

 

Bjorn Jeppesen is back with Transformation, a new set of upbeat melodic EM tunes. “Decadence” starts right off with an immediately infectious groove, full of fun synth sounds and a steady beat that pushes it along. What a great way to start. “A Path Less Followed” is equally enjoyable, starting nice and easy. This and many other tracks on Transformation have a very Jarre-like flavor, in this case due to warm synth pads that rise and fall just so in the background. Various synths chirp and twitter along its path. “Perfectly Connected” launches out of the gate with contagious energy, again filled out nicely with pads. Guitars courtesy of guest musician Phil Molto add just the right extra touch. “Fields of Infinity” brings Jean-Michel to mind once more, with its bouncy rhythm and the light melodic touch on the synth solos. The title track is another upbeat affair, with a slightly more relaxed feel. It ends with what must be a tribute to JMJ, sounding just like the train rushing down the tracks at the end of “Part 4” of Magnetic Fields. And though “The Contact” doesn’t have such an obvious Jarre reference, it certainly sounds like one he could have made. However, Transformation is not merely a knock-off or repeat of what has gone before; rather, it is an excellent homage to this sound and style, in fresh new arrangements done exceptionally well.

 

 

Craig Padilla & Skip Murphy “Analog Destination”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

4 tracks, 76.33 mins

 

Long-time American synthesists Craig Padilla and Skip Murphy feature a gear list on Analog Destination to make most any EM fan drool. The end result is four deep space explorations of pulsating swirling sequences, loaded with mood-altering and mind-altering music. The 18-minute title track moves along at a leisurely pace, building ever so gradually into a wall of sound. “Stellar Nursery” is the 28-minute centerpiece, starting with tinkling echoes that evoke images of far-flung galaxies. While it sort of reminds me of Klaus Schulze from 1976 or so, it doesn’t sound like any of his albums from that time. Just as it seems this one will stay purely atmospheric, sequencing does come in just past the 7:00 mark, and a steady drum beat a couple minutes after that. It then locks into a moderate groove for most of the remainder before ending back in the deep realms of outer space. “Live Illusions” is a live version of a track from Phantasm, a mostly mellow shimmering piece that ends with a fast synth solo. “Quantum Swirl” is light and airy, with a softly meandering bass line that gradually builds into a low sequence not unlike something Redshift would do as a warbling synth solo takes over briefly before finishing with cool floating space music. Recommended.

 

Note: If you want to check out some previews of the music before you buy, or just watch these guys playing live in their home studio, check out Craig and Skip’s videos on YouTube. There are several videos, including this one.

 

 

Steve Roach “Empetus”

(www.projekt.com, 2008)

2 CDs, 44.51 + 71.44 mins

 

As Steve Roach has continued to look to the future he has also been re-exploring his musical past. Case in point is his exciting new 2-CD special edition reissue of Empetus. Though Steve’s sound has evolved considerably over time, the mesmerizing fast-paced sequencing on “Arrival”, “Empowerment” and others sounds as fresh and invigorating today as it did then. Softer pieces like “Twilight Heat” and “The Memory” also retain their original warmth and charm. But of course the real treat here for long time fans is disc two, starting with the 45-minute epic “Harmonia Mundi” recorded in 1982-83 with Thomas Ronkin. The sequencing moves along briskly if not at a full-out breakneck pace like Stormwarning. The edges are just a bit softer than that, creating an enhanced hypnotic effect. The piece evolves quite gradually, gently and judiciously folding in additional layers as it goes, sometimes fading out old sonic elements as new ones form. This is music to completely immerse and lose yourself in. “Release” skips any atmospheric intro and goes right for the cool Berlin school sequencing. Klaus Schulze’s influence back then is readily apparent, yet it still has Steve’s musical signature on it. Though both bonus tracks have a hypnotic pulse that run throughout, the changes on “Release” are more pronounced from one minute to the next. In particular, an impressive synth solo in the middle really brings the energy to an already lively number. I cannot emphasize enough how good these are, not merely some dusted-off castoff relics. It would have been a shame if these had never seen the light of day.

 

 

Peter Tedstone “Timestorm”

(www.ambientlive.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 69.31 mins

 

Whooshing space wind and mellotron flute at the start of “Twilight” give a strong indication of what is to follow for the duration of Timestorm from UK synthesist Peter Tedstone. After this brief intro come four lengthy excursions into the classic Berlin school sound. “Monoceros” develops nicely, with male choirs, a bit of atmosphere, then a great vintage sequence followed by a perfectly understated retro synth lead. The Tangerine Dream influence circa 1980 is unmistakable. There is a certain similarity to another TD-related classic as well, Michael Hoenig’s Departure from the Northern Wasteland. “Oscillator” begins in similar fashion with male choirs and a smattering of space sounds. This one is content to explore the darker minimal side for a while, before slowly chugging sequencing arrives. Mellotron strings get into the act this time, a simple yet effective three-note phrase that steps up and down a key. As it evolves, the sequencing gets more hypnotic, reminding me a lot of early Radio Massacre International. Drums are then added to round things out. This is a 14-minute gem of all that is good about retro EM. As if this weren’t enough, we’re just getting to the really good stuff, two more tracks in excess of 20 minutes each. Piano is used effectively in “Emulating” to go along with the synths and sequences, before ending abruptly in time for the equally strong title track. Teutonic fans should buy without hesitation.

 

 

vidnaObmana “The River of Appearance”

(www.projekt.com, 2006)

2 CDs, 8 + 8 tracks, 58.58 + 55.14 mins

 

For the 10th anniversary of vidnaObmana’s ambient new age classic The River of Appearance, Projekt put together a special package which includes the 1996 original and a 2001 re-creation by Dreams in Exile.  These two recordings are analogous to the two versions of Music for Airports, by Brian Eno and then by Bang on a Can. In each case the original was created with significantly different instrumentation, such that the new versions can be appreciated on their own merits. For example, the opening track, “The Angelic Appearance,” is virtually silent on vidnaObmana’s version for the opening 30 seconds or so as it slowly approaches. The Dreams in Exile version, on the other hand, starts with chirping night sounds, dripping water, and a gently plucked mandolin taking the melody that is handled by piano on the original. They are definitely the same song but definitely different. The first has a shimmering, surreal feel, while the second is more acoustic and down to earth. In fact, that is pretty much the case throughout. For example, “Night-blooming” is a serene, fairly minimal ambient piece on disc one, but disc two features fuzzed out electric guitar sounds and strummed acoustic guitar as well, not to mention trumpet and children’s vocals. Purist fans of the original may find such divergences a bit jarring; still, you get two viable musical interpretations for the price of one, and it's hard to argue with that.

 

 

Zilverhill “+ Eotvos +”

(www.adeptsound.net, 2008)

9 tracks, 69.42 mins

 

This beautifully packaged limited edition CD is the debut release on the fledgling Adeptsound label. It is a fascinating if somewhat uneven sonic exploration into all things noisy and ambient. Its dichotomous nature is immediately felt upon transition from the minimal piece “Veris” to the dissonance of “Aiken.” “Veris” is as beautiful as it is stark and cold, sure to please discriminating fans of minimalist works by artists such as Mathias Grassow and Klaus Wiese, with perhaps just a slightly more industrial edge to it, with indiscernible vocal samples or the like. “Aiken”, on the other hand, is a two-word conversation ad nauseum, static, and other scratchy and obnoxious sounds. “Proven” has a cool sound like a door slamming underwater, repeating in a pulsing pattern, but it is a bit unrelenting even as deep metallic drones surround it nicely. “Self Murderers” continues this deep trek into sounds at the microscopic level, twisting and bending the waves in unique ways, though it truly stretches the definition of what is music. Fans of more haunting works by Robert Rich or Lustmord may find “Ominous” to their liking with dark atmospherics, sparse piano, and an odd female monologue. “Motus” continues the emphasis on sounds with a raw, aggressive edge, though still ambient. The mechanical sounds are interesting, and vocals again hang in the background mysteriously. “Memory of Water” is aptly named, seeming to swirl about darkly. “Hiding” is another intense cacophony like “Aiken.” “Saarinen” provides a lengthy, comparatively soothing tonic to come down from this intense exploratory surgery of sound. Recommended for the truly adventurous.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited. 

 

August 2008 reviews

 

13 new CD reviews this month, from minimal ambient to Berlin school sequencer frenzies...

 

Austere “Pulse”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

1 track, 52.59 mins

 

From the Hypnos Secret Sounds CDR sublabel comes an austere work by Austere, the wondrous 53-minute tone poem aptly titled Pulse. A low drone rumbles in and fades out. It sounds a little like Tom Heasley’s ambient tuba on a previous Hypnos release, Where The Earth Meets The Sky. This is the sort of pure drone music that you either get or you don’t; if you do, you will think it is fantastic; if you don’t, you’ll be bored to tears or simply scratch your head bemusedly. On the face of it, this is one of the most static pieces of music you are likely to hear. On closer inspection, certain repeating patterns and minimal changes occur throughout. Sometimes the drone is a bit thicker, with more rumbling; sometimes it is a bit softer and smoother. Sometimes it swells and slacks; sometimes it seems to hold steady, or perhaps it is never exactly the same; one can never be sure. Some changes may be merely imagined as the listener anticipates the music evolving in a way that it never quite does. For those who love the drone, this is it; get lost in it and enjoy it. I know I will.

 

 

Robert Rich & Ian Boddy “React”

(www.DiN.org.uk, 2008)

11 tracks, 63.55 mins

 

Recorded live at Star’s End 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert, React captures two of electronic music’s most enduring and creative artists, Ian Boddy and Robert Rich. This eclectic blending of talents continues to push the sonic envelope, blurring the lines between dark ambient and Berlin school, or perhaps melting those boundaries away entirely. “Depth Charge” is a dark brooding piece, which then segues smoothly into a live version of “Ice Fields” from their Outpost album. The percussion is crisp, the bass is punchy, the lap guitar mournful. As usual when these two combine forces, it is aggressive, bold stuff. “Sojourn” forms a calm, reflective bridge to “AxD”, which builds off of a bubbly little sequence with cool sounds panning back and forth. It gets very sci-fi sounding in the middle, then goes unexpectedly dark and downright haunting. It’s a perfect microcosm of this unlikely EM duo and how their strengths both diverge and intersect. After “Veiled”, a quirky experimental slice of ambience, “Slow Hand” is edgy, forceful electronica with haunting wails of sound. The disc continues to alternate between darker formless textures and more rhythmic structured passages. One thing is for sure; Rich and Boddy have carved out a readily identifiable, unique niche in the EM world.

 

 

Peter Challoner “Lunar Tide”

(www.peterchalloner.co.uk, 2008)

1 track, 60.48 mins

 

Peter Challoner explains that Lunar Tide resulted from taking source material that in no way resembled ambient music; he radically altered it into its current soothing relaxing state. I would be very interested to hear the original recording, as he gives no other hint as to its origin. Was it loud rock-n-roll, a waterfall, his vacuum cleaner…who knows? Regardless of the method, I cannot argue with the thoroughly pleasant outcome. There is a bright, shimmering quality throughout, as it floats by like velvet. Though there are subtle shifts throughout, it is a minimal work without definite highs and lows. Listening to Lunar Tide while driving or operating heavy machinery would definitely be contraindicated. On the other hand, it is absolutely perfect for quiet reflection or meditation. Highly recommended.

 

 

Disturbed Earth “Dreamswept”

(www.store.atmoworks.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 60.57 mins

 

AtmoWorks has discovered a whole slew of new talent recently, seemingly all of them good. Case in point is the man who calls himself Disturbed Earth. Fans of calm reflective ambient music from artists like James Johnson, Harold Budd and Brian Eno should find this very much to their liking, especially if you don’t mind venturing toward the dark side. The 30-minute title track is a beautiful piece of melancholia, though not without moments of shimmering light as well. “Interruptions” is a resonant drone piece, like floating into deep space on a distant solitary mission. Two brief pieces close out the disc, “Rockbird” with its low rumbling drones and “Trace” with an undulating, pulsating quality. Recommended.

 

 

Fanger & Kersten “Elektrik Massage”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2008)

4 tracks, 78.14 mins

 

This previously unreleased material from Fanger & Kersten, aka Mind~Flux, is a collection of studio and live recordings from 2000-2002. Normally the duo tends to likes their beats dance-floor ready, but this disc finds them mostly in a dream-like state of mind, in particular on the soft swirling synths of “Salt Tank.” This exceptionally pleasant music was recorded at the famous Toskana Therme, no doubt perfect accompaniment for those relaxing in its underwater spa. Piano and warm synths and little electronic blips make this a welcome introduction to the disc. “Gentle Waves” is eerily similar to the Manuel Gottsching classic “E2-E4,” exceptionally well done. If you prefer the hypnotic beats F & K are known for, check out “Night Cruisers.” The lead synth line again has an Ashra-like feel, a good place for inspiration in my book, although this definitely has the signature Fanger & Kersten sound as well. The pièce de résistance is the epic “Moon Roads”, clocking in at nearly 39 minutes. Starting as pure space music, it wafts gently over the listener for the first quarter, before a chugging bass pulse comes in. It locks into this moderately paced tempo for several more minutes, ever-so-gradually building the energy while keeping a hypnotic groove going. As it approaches the 30-minute mark the music is in full stride, completely entrancing. And yet they keep finding ways to keep the momentum going without going over the top. I’m not sure why this music was kept under wraps for so long, but I’m very thankful that Ricochet Dream saw fit to release this tasty Teutonic treat.

 

 

Peter James “Holding On – Letting Go”

(www.store.atmoworks.com, 2007)

13 tracks, 67.27 mins

 

Peter James is part of a plethora of relatively new AtmoWorks artists on the soft ambient side. Holding On – Letting Go starts with the light and airy “Aurora.” It is gentle but not too delicate or sweet. If you prefer colder sounds then go to the next track,“In the Face of Loss.” James’ compositions seem more intentional than most ambient despite the lack of discernible melody or beats. He strikes a really nice balance between light and dark, between experimental and accessible. “Still”, for example, centers around a soft wall of white noise, but it ebbs and flows in relaxed fashion, softening the edges just so. Other tracks, like “Crossing Through,” are more adventurous even as they remain firmly in the ambient realm. “The Gate” makes me wish for liner notes from this download-only release, though I doubt it would explain exactly the source of the cool metallic bowl-like sound. “Into the Invisible” has a similar quality, moving deeper into minimal ambient territory. Adrift” is the lightest number, with a bit of acoustic guitar – or synth equivalent – draped gently over the top of the sonic textures. But most of the remainder goes back to dark metallic sounds, including the two title tracks. “Flight of Tears” brings the disc in for soft, slightly sad ending. Holding On – Letting Go makes a strong first impression for Peter James.

 

 

Peter James vs Disturbed Earth “Remains”

(www.store.atmoworks.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 43.17 mins

 

“Autumnal Nights” starts out Remains with deeply resonating tones with distinctly metallic timbres. Melody and rhythm are conspicuously absent on this minimal ambient album. “Where Roses Bloom” features darker swirling sounds with a more haunting quality. Earlier tracks explore darker ambient niches, but the mood brightens and warms considerably on later tracks such as “Clouds Collide” and “In The Light,” which sound like two parts of a whole. Each track takes a key sound or mood and holds it there, as if to examine and appreciate it before moving on to the next. The emphasis is on floating, expansiveness, and breathing deeply in and exhaling fully out. No one track stands out, but rather each plays its part as one piece of a calming, relaxing whole.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Fast Forward”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2008)

5 tracks, 78.27 mins

 

RMI has never been a band to do things conventionally, and that includes their approach to a compilation album. This set is a unique perspective on RMI’s extensive back catalog, featuring excerpts from 30 albums recorded over the past 15 years. Each of the five tracks is a collage, a patchwork quilt of various recordings in a new mix, in no particular order, the selection process being “quick and intuition driven” according to the band. Those familiar with the earlier releases will easily recognize the transition points, such as when Been There Done That crossfades into Borrowed Atoms at the 2:50 mark of “Tranche 1”, and again at 5:30 when it segues into Planets In The Wires. Oftentimes a moody atmospheric piece will launch right into a sequencer frenzy, and back again, so even casual listeners can spot the changeovers. As such, there is a restlessness to the disc at times, particularly for a band who relies on slowly developing improvisational pieces for the most part. On the other hand, sometimes the formula creates a unique new take on things, as on “Tranche 4,” which builds very nicely as it progresses from Organ Harvest through Lost In Space and then really cooks on Septentrional. Rock bits from Rain Falls In Grey and Greenhousing do rather stand out, particularly the latter as it sits alongside Startide, arguably their most ambient album. But in the end, Fast Forward succeeds in its goal of giving the uninitiated an excellent introduction to the world of RMI. And for the faithful, it’s a good reminder of why we like them so much.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Rain Falls in a Different Way”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 77.29 mins

 

A self-described companion set to Rain Falls In Grey, these are the pieces that didn’t make the final cut for that album. It is a very similar animal, right down to the guest musicians. The title track forcefully announces as much, with cool guitar licks and very solid drumming, totally in rock mode without a trace of the usual synthesizer experimentation. For that, look no further than “Pluto,” a shrill cold piece that is purely synthetic in origin. If it were anything but a short bridging piece it would be downright annoying, but it works for its 1:30 running time, serving as an odd sort of respite before launching headlong into “Silicon Psychosis,” another rocker. Guitars form a wall of sound, again with a strong rhythmic accompaniment on the kit. Synths do get into the action this time, though they must compete for sonic supremacy in the ensuing cacophony, and in the end they are relegated to the background, an extra bit here and there to augment the volume. Various takes on space rock and space music round out the disc, from the deep space sounds of “The Emissary” to the slow, majestic tones of “Chainless & Beauty Black” to the mellow space rock of “Yeager.” Make no mistake, this is a disc to be played loud, not space music for late-night listening, unless it’s for a party with your ultra-cool friends. In essence, the twin Rain Falls CDs are two sides of the same coin. If you like one you should like the other.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Philadelphia Air-Shot”

(www.radiomassacreinternational.com, 2008)

1 track, 58.39 mins

 

Easily my favorite of the three latest RMI releases, Philadelphia Air-Shot provides a glimpse into what this trio can do when given an hour and no particular musical agenda. After a shot rings out to start, a skittering little sequence forms the backbone of the piece. In the original version of “Bettr’r Day-s,” which was the initial inspiration for Philadelphia Air-Shot, this sequence appears near the end, in the background. Here it is an omnipresent force lending just a bit more energy, taking an already excellent RMI track into the realm of the brilliant. When this sequence is allowed to play nearly solo with other electronics heading into the seventh minute, it is mesmerizing. From there it gradually builds layers of sound just so, pulsing bass tones here, dashes of percussion there, and Houghton’s excellent guitar work sprinkled in at seemingly the exact right moments throughout. The set moves deftly from space rock to Berlin school to spacey experimental electronics with ease. It’s all good, but a particularly strong passage occurs just past the half-hour point, as Gary’s guitar wails like whale song in a dreamy, delicate section that goes on for several wonderful minutes. For the remainder the guys seemingly explore every nuance and niche of atmospheric electronic music until birdlike twitters fade out at the end. Fantastic.

 

 

Rigel Orionis “Night Heat”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 79.25 mins

 

Rigel Orionis is longtime music reviewer Jim Brenholts, one of those genuinely nice guys who find something to appreciate in most others’ music. I am pleased to say that Jim’s music has much to recommend it as well. “The Damp Desert” is a cool collage of sounds, combining organic and synthetic sounding textures into a unique mélange. “Arctic Sunstroke” swirls psychedelically at the start, and then gets even trippier as strange occasional snippets of vocals bounce about in the ambient darkness. It is a churning, restless piece, alternating dark sparse passages with more abstract experimental ones. At times the twisted vocal snippets seem a bit too intrusive, but they do come and go, allowing a respite. Though the 26-minute running time could’ve probably been cut in half, it makes for an interesting listen. Next is the tribal sounding “Drastic Eventuality,” bringing to mind Steve Roach and Robert Rich.  However, Brenholts does a nice job of keeping a certain signature quirkiness running throughout the album. Another long track at 22 minutes, again there may be a question whether it could have been halved, but it works well enough as music to get lost in for a time. “Centrifugal” is the closing number, featuring a sinister deep echo that swirls about, accompanied by shakers or something along those lines. After several minutes a sound like a solar wind rides over the top, replacing the swirling echoes. Eventually it devolves into a low rumble for a long time, ever-so-gradually increasing in pitch as it goes. It builds to a climax of sorts, though each track tends to find a comfortable space and stay there. Night Heat is fascinating in its ability to be experimental yet eminently listenable.

 

 

René van der Wouden “Universal Quiet”

(www.renevanderwouden.net, 2008)

5 tracks, 58.46 mins

 

Universal Quiet features five lengthy tracks firmly rooted in the Berlin school style. Though the titles and cover art suggest soft, possibly even acoustic music, the album explore purely synthetic realms. “In Silence” starts as a nice floater before a bass sequence gets going, joined by male choirs, then a few more synths, and eventually a simple steady beat. Sounds are layered in just right as it goes, quite nice, a strong way to start. “Pin Drop” has a darker moodier sound to start, including what sounds like banging on sheet metal, which is actually cooler than you might think. The longest piece at nearly 18 minutes, it takes quite some time before the first sequencing arrives, a low brisk bass tone that almost growls before settling into more typical Teutonics. A light playful synth solo makes a good counterpoint to the low bass. Warm pads round things out, and van der Wouden rides this cool groove through to the end. Wind-like synths and mellotron flutes introduce “Be Quiet” which is indeed quiet and serene throughout, although soft beats and yet more sequencing keep it moving. This could pass for a Mind Over Matter track. “Go Quiet” seems to be a command rather than a description, as the music is fast paced from the get-go. “Get Quieter” is the final piece, bringing more good synths and sequencing to bear. Berlin school enthusiasts should enjoy this from beginning to end – I know I did. 

 

 

VoLt “HjVi”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

4 tracks, 76.29 mins

 

HjVi stands for Hampshire Jam 6, the origin of the latest CD from Michael Shipway and Steve Smith. These guys have been doing this a long time and know their stuff. “Primaeval” wastes no time, jumping right in with fast, stutter-step sequencing. A nice synth lead starts a couple minutes later, and off we go. Things get a little wilder, pinging back and forth with quirky little sounds as we pass the 10:00 mark. But always, the mesmerizing sequences are there, forming a steady foundation that holds everything together. It really hits its stride as it chugs past 15:00, and it seems like this 21-minute track is done in no time. It flows seamlessly into “Atavistic” which cools things down considerably, which is good because you may need a breather after such a great opening number. There’s even some pretty piano mixed in with the synth textures, reminiscent of how Tangerine Dream did that so well on albums like Ricochet and Pergamon. Of course, it doesn’t sit still for too long, and within a few minutes we’re on the move again, first one sequence, and then another over the top of that. Once again the synth lead is very nice, and everything builds and fits together just as it seems it was designed to. A sizzling guitar lead adds punch to the latter moments, finishing this one with a real flourish. So what else can I say? There are still two lengthy tracks to come, filled with more stellar electronic music. I can hardly imagine any serious Berlin school fan not being totally tickled by this.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

July 2008
 
11 new CD reviews this month, including some amazing ones both in the Berlin school and ambient genres. Read at your pocketbook's peril!
 

AmbientPortal “Interraflow”

(www.atmoworks.com, 2008)

1 track, 63.59 mins

 

Starting with crisp, pinging, percolating bubbles and a variety of cool space noises, Interraflow eventually settles down into deep pulsing with just a bit of scratchiness and grit, which then fades into dreamy soundscapes. The pulse returns with distant echoing unintelligible voices, like space chatter, with lots of reverb. The effect is somewhat psychedelic - trippy stuff. It all fades back into cool drones once more, floating on the night air. The mist hangs thicker, getting darker as it goes, though warmth permeates the sounds as well. For quite a while the music turns formless, all texture and atmosphere. As nearly 20 minutes go by it seems the music has settled in for the duration, but just past the 34:00 mark it shifts again as the music swells and slacks. Bright shimmering sounds are folded gently into the mix, and a soft drum beat appears in the background. A few more touches of percussion, and then beautiful female vocals, mostly wordless although I can almost make out something here and there, indistinct. The music seems to roll in waves, somewhat like Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void. Next come tribal beats and water dripping. The shift from one theme to the next is seamless, deftly executed. At the end of the hour-plus journey, I find myself like a kid who just experienced a great carnival ride, ready to get back in line and do it all over again.

 

 

Ron Boots "See Beyond Times, Look Beyond Words"
(
www.groove.nl, 2008)
7 tracks, 70.29 mins


Ron Boots' latest solo offering is really a group effort, with several musician friends lending a hand, from Gert Emmens synth solos to the drumming of Harold van der Heijden and more. The extra elements from this ensemble cast add an extra dash of variety, with Ron providing the strong underlying atmosphere and sequencing throughout.  "Hour of the Wolf" starts in dreamy mode, and for a time it seems like this will be a softer side of Boots, but Emmens' solo comes in strong at the 6:15 mark, giving an extra punch to the proceedings. "A Walk in the Rain" has softly strummed guitars and playful synths dancing around a soft summer rain. It builds just so, again with Emmens doing the solos if I'm not mistaken. Synths play like electric guitars halfway through and continue to the end. As usual, Boots takes a more structured approach to his EM than some, with melody and rhythm as important elements. "Boellistian" has a cool bubbly little bit to start out and settles into a cool sequencer groove for the duration. The disc really hits its stride at this point with "Storms Over IO," again very good in the way it develops over its 12-minute course. A brief ambient bridge in the form of "Harbours" is contrasted with "Radar," a bouncy piano-based piece with a laid back feel. "We Are Off" is a surprisingly upbeat number that seems more like an opening track, but it serves just as well as a cool finish to the album.

 

 

Create “Lost on an Island Adventure”

(www.groove.nl, 2008)

7 tracks, 70.42 mins

 

Watching the TV show “Lost” while at home recuperating from an injury, Steven Humphries aka Create was inspired and Lost on an Island Adventure is the happy result. The disc begins the 17-minute epic “Just Above the Surface.” Humphries has made no secret of his admiration for the AirSculpture style and sound, and he once again bottles it perfectly here, from the moody, meandering atmospheric opening to the brisk but quiet sequencing and back again. Lots of pure electronic fun here, loaded with cosmic twitters and other cool sound effects. Mellotron strings are put to good use in “Out of Bounds,” again following the familiar Berlin school formula but doing so effectively. Mellotron-like flutes introduce “Follow the Shoreline” as vintage synths round out the sound. And so it goes from one Teutonic track to another, all deftly executed. In a sweetly sentimental nod to his recently deceased grandfather, “Heaven Waits” is a beautiful light touch to end the album quite nicely.

 

 

M. Griffin “Fabrications”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

6 tracks, 60.02 mins

 

Over a decade in the making, M. Griffin’s Fabrications CD is inventive ambience that challenges preconceptions of what constitutes “music.” Only processed field recordings are used, culled from a variety of unique settings, ranging from a Hawaiian beach to a steel sheet cutter.  The end result reminds me of other experimental ambient recordings, such as harmonic vocals in a cistern or underwater ambience. Tones are deeply resonant, more like white noise than music, but strangely soothing. Although vocals are not mentioned as source material, I think I can hear some briefly, albeit unintelligibly, in “Water is Silver.” Mechanical churning and pulsing characterizes “Gravity,” and it sounds like being pulled into a vortex. If I had to guess, “Behind” would be the track that uses the steel sheet cutter, although most tracks have a sort of industrial feel at times, none more so than the hard, cold, darkness of the 23-minute closer, “Sky is Glass Lit.” This is a particularly deep dive into all things dark ambient, culminating in a narrative of some sort, though processing renders it alien in nature, which is perhaps the best way to describe this inventive adventurous album.

 

 

Hashtronaut “Through A Year, Darkly”

(www.hashtronaut.net, 2007)

1 track, 70.52 mins

 

Hashtronaut continues to be one of my favorite new artists to join the Berlin school, and with his latest two releases he remains at the top of the class. Through A Year, Darkly is fairly self-explanatory if you read his blog or the EAS interview from August 2007. Having nearly lost his wife to a severe illness, this music is presumably his cathartic expression of the experience, though ironically the liner notes say it is simply an attempt to capture an hour, not a year, of his life. I love the opening section, dark and moody but with some really cool synth solos that beg comparisons to Klaus Schulze classics such as Timewind, Moondawn, and Mirage, but without copying them outright. The mood is quite similar but it is Hashtronaut’s own. Although a single track, there are several distinguishable movements, the second of which is heralded by a low chugging sequence just past the 11:00 mark. This is every bit as good as Redshift, quite similar in fact, particularly the combination of sequencing, dark atmospheres, and soft synth solos as we approach 20:00 in. Though the pace remains steady for the duration, Hashtronaut keeps things varied just enough to both mesmerize and entertain. It isn’t until there are about four or five minutes left that he gradually starts pulling back for the obligatory soft change-up at the end. Knowing this was created in the moment, with minimal overdubs, only heightens my amazement and appreciation of this fantastic album.

 

 

Hashtronaut “Magnetic Shadows”

(www.hashtronaut.net, 2007)

1 track, 70.17 mins

 

Like Through A Year, Darkly, Magnetic Shadows presents just over 70 minutes in the musical life of Hashtronaut. It takes a fascinating turn a couple minutes in, like the electronic equivalent of a music box running down. The effect is somewhat eerie and cool, gradually evolving into a unique sequencer loop joined in short order by sad synth strings. At this point the music sounds like a quirky melancholy soundtrack to a small indie film. The usual Teutonic tendencies are there, though muted and somewhat twisted. But fear not Berlin school purists, by 9:00 a more traditional sequencer pattern has arrived, followed by a chugging rhythm and full-on squelchy synth solo. Then forceful electric guitars take over, probably synth-based though my ear can’t tell the difference. Approaching 23:00 it all fades away until a single synth hangs in the night air, ebbing and flowing, falling completely silent for a second or two here and there. A steady pulsing bass sequence takes us off and running after a few minutes, building the wall of sound just right before it dissipates again. A darker section of space music follows, banging and clanging about rather abstractly. Just when it seems content to stay in deep space mode, the sequencing takes another turn for a bit before dropping back for a restrained finale. It all adds up to another winner for Hashtronaut.

 

 

Stephen Philips “Into the Dark”

(www.hypnos.com, 2008)

1 track, 74.29 mins

 

Sometimes even reviewers judge a book by its cover. Hypnos release, check. Stephen Philips, check. Abstract cover art, check. A single track over an hour long, check. It’s obviously going to be deep dark ambient drones for the duration, right? Well, that impression goes out the window on the first note. The pinging noises sound more like the Barron brothers’ “Forbidden Planet” soundtrack or modern classical, than say, the latest Steve Roach hour-plus ambient epic. Bells, gongs and chimes are the predominant sounds, used rather sparsely, with synths and other sounds and effects for good measure. Wood blocks appear now and then, just briefly. Bass notes ring out from time to time and give just a hint of jazz flavor. This is thinking man’s ambient, like Brian Eno’s recordings from 30 years ago. While quiet, it isn’t exactly background music, as it doesn’t exactly flow. Notes are discrete and intermittent. It is subtle yet assertive in a way. The basic overriding theme and sound palette changes little over its course, just the placement of the notes and sounds. It’s like taking a thin slice of something and studying it intently, deliberately, ignoring everything above and below. Engage, listen intently, and see what you find.

 

 

Rainbow Serpent “Live@Liphook 2007”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

7 tracks, 71.06 mins

 

Gerd Wienekamp and Frank Specht team up once again in this strong live performance at Liphook from last year. “Le vent dans la plaine” gets the disc going in fits and starts, with assorted odd random noises, rather cool nonetheless. And it gets even better once the beat and sequencing arrives, the typical blend of modern and retro electronic music that this duo is known for. “Twelve Celli” drops it down a notch with strings and wordless female vocals lending a cinematic feel, courtesy of Thomas and Eva-Maria Kagermann respectively. The title “Tangram” immediately brings Tangerine Dream to mind, but the soft bell tones are more reminiscent of Klaus Schulze’s classic “Crystal Lake” from Mirage. Cool synths and sequencing follow. The disc is full of subtle electronic textures and atmospheres, particularly for a live set. The brief interlude “Calais” is an excellent example, with its gentle rhythms, electronics, and just the right touch of vocals from Ms. Kagermann. Of course, it is always a treat on Berlin school albums to hear epic tracks done right, and “En Passant is a 19-minute gem. Its gently percolating sequencing is vaguely analogous to another Schulze classic, “Totem,” but that is only a reference point. This is one cool, original take on retro. The last two tracks are just as good, one melodic and mellow, the other another retro affair with a thumping beat that will get your toes tapping. This is first rate, one of Rainbow Serpent’s best.

 

 

Steve Roach “A Deeper Silence”

(www.steveroach.com, 2008)

1 track, 73.41 mins

 

By now Steve Roach fans should know what to expect when an album is comprised of a single long-form work. A Deeper Silence could just as easily have been named Immersion Four, but whatever you want to call it, it adds up to another sublime piece of minimal atmospheric ambience. If you enjoy The Dream Circle, Piece of Infinity, and Darkest Before Dawn, you are virtually assured of liking this as well. A Deeper Silence, like its predecessors, does nothing special to command attention. There are no dizzying heights, no stark depths, no one thing to attract one to it. And yet, it is these same characteristics that pull one into its sonic world, drawn in by virtue of its subtlety and softness. It is a static and yet ever-shifting piece, evoking images of clouds, mist, darkness, and the like. It plays like an infinite loop, one that I have gladly listened to from start to finish on several occasions. Equally enjoyable for deep listening with headphones or passive listening in the background, A Deeper Silence is classic Steve Roach.

 

 

Steve Roach “Landmass”

(www.steveroach.com, 2008)

6 tracks, 67.53 mins

 

Steve Roach excels at continually evolving and reinventing himself. Steve has seemingly explored every nook and cranny of space music, and yet new releases like Landmass continue to show how much undiscovered country remains. Of course there are reference points, familiar sounds, and the usual Steve Roach je ne sais quoi, but the boundaries continue to be stretched and redefined. There is a gently chugging rhythm to “Transmigration” with deep pulsing bass and expansive synth textures washing over the top of it all. Though the pace is active the mood is calm, gentle. After cool drifting for 15 minutes, it flows into “Cerulean Blue Sky…” for another 15 minutes, with spacey electronics and a restrained tribal beat. Each of these tracks locks into a thoroughly cool groove and rides it for all its worth, making the first half hour of the disc pass dreamily by in nothing flat. Going deeper is “Monuments of Memory”, which seems to breathe slowly in and out. Continuing into the depths is “Alluvial Plain” as we descend into echoing dark ambient caverns. “Trancemigration” is my personal favorite, as gentle sequencing is expertly weaved into atmospheric synths in a condensed sequel of sorts to Arc of Passion. The dreamy and cleverly titled “Stars Begin” - Landmass was recorded live at Star’s End - brings the disc to a soft close.

 

 

W.A.dePHUL “When Aliens Meet a Drop of Water”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

13 tracks, 70 mins

 

Ralf Wadephul was a member of Tangerine Dream in 1988 on the album Optical Race and on their tour of that same year. Comparisons from that album to this one, despite the 20-year time lag, are unavoidable. Your appreciation for When Aliens Meet a Drop of Water will depend almost entirely on your opinion of Optical Race. If you like it, you should buy without hesitation. Being a fan of old school TD, I have always been rather ambivalent about this EM style. I found some songs on Optical Race excellent, such as “Mothers of Rain” and “Turning Off the Wheel,” but I found others completely disposable and forgettable. The bright harpsichord-like patch, so prevalent from this TD era, appears early and often on Wadephul’s album. Guitars add just the right sizzle on “Cosmic Cruiser,” jump starting the album rather well. Make no mistake, this is a synthesizer album, but the focus is on melodic tunes rather than improvisation or experimentation. The resemblance to TD on tracks like “1st Sunlight” is truly uncanny, and shows how much influence Wadephul must have had during his brief stint with the band. The interplay between the guitar and synths really shines here. Saxophone adds a mellow feel to “Endless Blue,” and again the TD reference is unmistakable. Tracks alternate between rocking and mellow throughout. When I’m in the mood for something upbeat and light that goes down easy, this album will fill the bill quite nicely.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space.  Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

June 2008

 

10 new CD reviews this month, enjoy.

 

Deepspace “The Barometric Sun”

(www.deepspacehome.com, 2007)

11 tracks, 70.58 mins

 

Here again is an excellent collection of ambient music by Deepspace. “Hymn 1” starts with beautiful atmospheric textures and sparse piano, comparing favorably with Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins’ collaboration The Moon and the Melodies. Bright shimmers and ethereal female choirs make “The First Glimpse of The…” a religious-sounding experience. Bright timbres continue to permeate the sound on “Silent Revolving World,” alternating highs and lows in an almost circular musical pattern, not unlike Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence in terms of its structure. Space music doesn’t get much purer than “In the Outer Reaches,” suitable for your next living room planetarium show. “Sungliders” is equally smooth albeit with just a bit of a growl in it. “Endless Glass Metropolis” shimmers and floats, adding soft pulses briefly in the middle. On The Barometric Sun, Deepspace explores a comfortable middle ground between light and dark, with an ethereal dreamy quality throughout.

 

 

Steve Jolliffe “Poland”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2006)

3 tracks, 64.40 mins

 

Most Tangerine Dream fans know that Steve Jolliffe was a member of Tangerine Dream briefly in 1978 when Cyclone was released. What they may not know is that he was also a member during the earliest days of TD, touring with them in 1967. In what is sure to be a real treat and surprise for diehard fans, Jolliffe’s disc Poland includes a nearly 29-minute piece of music from this time period. The recording quality is relatively good, and the music is as bold and daring as one might expect from such an early manifestation of the band. Jolliffe plays flute, piano and electronics, with Edgar Froese on guitar. The resulting cacophony of krautrock that ensues is at turns breathtaking, rough, and edgy. Once the sequencing starts in the latter third it is especially powerful, a glimpse into the lofty heights the band would later attain. Fast forward 37 years to the Ricochet Gathering in Poland, as “Meadow Run” starts with a middle eastern flavor. Guitars, synths, piano and a string section play with vigor. The guitar sound is predominant, almost flamenco style, though in the middle some aggressive flute playing takes over. Jolliffe blends rock, orchestra, new age and electronic music in a singular fashion. At times it sounds like Klaus Schulze in modern classical mode. “Komarno” sounds like Zanzi at times, or Phillip Glass perhaps. But for the most part Poland just sounds like, well, like Steve Jolliffe. And that’s a good thing.

 

 

Jeffrey Koepper “Sequentaria”
(
www.jeffreykoepper.com, 2008)

9 tracks, 70.56 mins

 

Jeffrey Koepper’s third release Sequentaria finds him fully in retro mode, with catchy melodic EM in the style of Tangerine Dream from the early 1980s, perhaps my favorite era of theirs, with the trio of Froese, Franke and Schmoelling. For example, “Blue Sector” sounds like it could have fit comfortably on Exit. The simple pulsing rhythm, the cool vintage sounds from the PPG Wave, the stutter-step sequencing, it all plays out perfectly for a warm and inviting beginning. “Astral Projection” starts out all bubbly and spacey, taking its sweet time before hypnotic sequencing again envelops you. The pacing on “Timeline” is particularly effective, chugging along just so. Classic synth lead lines will have Teutonic enthusiasts in heaven. “Near Machinery” is one of my favorites, a perfect blend of soft, rapid sequencing, adept synth solos, and warm pads. “Interphase” gives a nod to Jean-Michel Jarre with its tinkling crisp percussion that harkens back to the days of Oxygene. Each selection is allowed just the right amount of time to develop and set the mood before moving on to the next juncture. And to the delight of gearheads, Koepper gives the complete run-down of the synths and sequencers used on each and every track. Required listening for Berlin school fans.

 

 

K-Shan “Memory and Dust”

(www.k-shan.com, 2007)

8 tracks, 40.20 mins

 

Stark, simple black-and-white artwork of a man walking down a road toward some mountains adorns the cover of Memory and Dust by the artist known as K-Shan. Gently plucked guitar strings, a low drone, and majestic drums create a simple but dramatic effect. The music occupies a unique niche somewhere between tribal ambient and new age. Occasionally other sounds are added, such as the breathy synth that runs through “In the Shadow of Mountains.” The guitar is almost flamenco style, though at a leisurely pace, which slows down further still on “Trailing on the Wind.” Sometimes the drums are more insistent, as on “Seventh Gate,” sometimes the mood is calmer and more reflective as on “Tears of the Moon,” but always the guitars are there, keeping things light and relaxed throughout. The album is very cohesive, perhaps a bit too similar throughout, but K-Shan has a unique take on ambient and acoustic that is refreshing to hear.

 

 

Byron Metcalf “A Warning from the Elders”

(www.byronmetcalf.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 63.55 mins

 

Byron Metcalf is known for his penchant for percussion, both in his solo recordings and on collaborations with contemporaries such as Steve Roach. He also keeps an ear toward music’s healing properties. A Warning from the Elders takes these two musical passions and fuses them into a highly organic work.  During quieter passages the drones and vocals remind me of drone master Mathias Grassow; during the more active passages the feeling is much more visceral. “Facing the Truth” is an excellent way to start. It builds perfectly, from near nothingness to a single relentless pounding drumbeat to a full array of drums, drones, and various tribal tones. No synthesizers or samplers are mentioned in the liner notes, only drums and percussion, wordless vocals, and didgeridoo.  The title track forms a big mesmerizing wall of pounding sound. Ditto “Heart Warriors,” which lays on the drums even a little harder. Though very similar, it still captivates, perhaps even more so than its predecessor. “Fire Passage” starts with a cool panning effect that makes the tribal percussion sound almost like modern electronica, as if running through a sequencer. It’s a perfectly placed unexpected change-up that totally works. Once the didgeridoo and vocals are layered in, another cool vibe has been laid. The drums evolve quite nicely as well, active without being overly busy or frenetic. The only misfire is “Earth Om – Sacred Resonance,” which is a large chorus of “om”s over and over; it simply did not do it for me. Ignore it and you still have 50 minutes of first-rate tribal ambience.

 

 

The Nature of Light “Shores of Jupiter”

(Webbed Hand Records, 2008)

8 tracks, 42.32 mins

 

The internet is a wonderful place, increasingly so for fans of ambient and electronic space music. Case in point is this FREE download from The Nature of Light. The webpage describes Shores of Jupiter as “orchestral ambient soundscapes,” which is fairly accurate if not fully indicative of just how good it is. Often with free albums you get what you pay for, but in this case it is well worth seeking out. Sparse piano, brushed percussion and a few synth textures give an organic feel much like Patrick O’Hearn on “Reacquainted with an Old Soul.” This strong atmospheric number draws me in quickly, and I want to hear more. “Time Stands Still” drops the piano and percussion at first, leaving just velvety smooth synths. Rhythm returns, along with a few whooshing wind-like synth sounds. The smooth atmospheric tones of “Ocean Deep Eyes” satisfy as well. A Vangelis-like synth lead appears toward the end, adding just the right extra touch. Piano moves to the forefront in “Swimming with the Stars Part III,” which oddly enough is followed by “Part VIII”, the only two such parts on the album, the latter of which is distinguished by soft electronics sans piano. Certain sounds and themes emerge, making brief reappearances here and there. All in all, the journey to the Shores of Jupiter is quite pleasant, and well worth the minor effort to download.

 

 

Picture Palace Music “Symphony for Vampires”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

15 tracks, 66.51 mins

 

Known for his recent participation with Tangerine Dream, Thorsten Quaeschning is carving out his own unique niche in EM with his music inspired by silent films, this being his second such outing, this time based on “Nosferatu”. Quaeschning presents a fully developed thematic work with an ensemble cast, including players on guitars, synths, drums, bass, clarinet, voice, and something called an Irish Bouzouki. The end result provides a compelling story in music and words, though I can’t make heads or tails out of most of the vocals. It plays very much like a soundtrack, part symphony, part synthesizers and rock music. Some tracks are upbeat, some are uplifting, and some are low-key, even sad, such as “Waving Goodbye, Waving Waving.” Titles seems to describe scenes and dialogue, adding to the story line. Often the music has powerful emotional impact, as on the majestic, sweeping “Knock Knock” and “Demeter-morph,” both aided by a strong rhythmic component that really drives the music home. More relaxed moods are explored equally effectively on gentler numbers such as “Sleep well, Elisabeth.” Both the quieter and louder tracks have strong guitar solos, and the one here is particularly nice, adding depth without overpowering the softer elements. On the other hand, “Scholmance Trance” totally rocks! This is as varied a release as I’ve heard on the Manikin Records label, and while it may surprise EM purists I hope they will give it a chance, as it is excellent.

 

 

Conrad Schnitzler “Conviction”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2006)

18 tracks, 60.18 mins

 

Conrad Schnitzler was a member of Tangerine Dream during arguably one of its most adventurous periods, and he continues to make electronic music of an experimental nature to this day. Conviction begins with “Stealth Passage,” a quirky dichotomy with both light chirps and dark choirs, with both hints of melody and sections that seem atonal. Playful crisp sequencing reminds me of old Kraftwerk. It’s a rather clever, engaging piece to start things off. Though most tracks are short, the album plays like a single overall piece of music. For example, “Moving By Standing” seems a very natural continuation of the opener. Though somewhat more atmospheric and stripped down, it is no less idiosyncratic. Likewise, “City Blur” adds back in another layer or two, but seems to occupy similar sonic ground. The first comparison that comes to mind is Otso Pakarinen, who records as Ozone Player, although Schnitzler’s music is somewhat more accessible and considerably more cohesive despite its adventurous nature. In fact, I rather like this CD, which I didn’t quite expect given my limited past exposure to his work. There is a pulsating quality that runs through the whole album that I find enjoyable. Besides, it is refreshingly different, and although I do tend to keep coming back to my favorites, it is nice to try something new now and again.

 

 

Spyra “Gasoline 91 Octane”

(www.manikin.de, 2008)

6 tracks, 66.41 mins

 

If pressed to choose my favorite EM artist, I tend to favor the more overtly Berlin school acts like Radio Massacre International or Free System Projekt, but I might actually have to give the nod to Wolfram der Spyra. When I’m driving down the road in the sunshine, playing the track “Shirogane” that opens this CD, life seems just about perfect. His music just feels so right, so true, so on the mark, hitting the sweet spot for this listener’s ear every time. Spyra’s playing always seems confident and cool, and this disc catches him in stride, doing what he does best. These six tracks form a perfect blend of Berlin school, modern electronica, and a dash of smooth jazz for good measure. Melodies are spot on, percussion is crisp and clean. Each track evolves just as it should, or in the case of some, like “Treskow Bridge”, they find a laid back groove and just keep it going, unhurried. Unlike others who emulate Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream, Spyra uses them as a starting point, not the be all and end all. The hypnotic sequencing that begins “Rantum Random”, along with the warm pads, are fully retro, but the shuffling percussion and walking bass line that join in give it that unique Spyra take on the Teutonic style. And while “Operation PPG” sounds like a title worthy of vintage gear, it has a decidedly contemporary thumping rhythm at times. “Below 20” is a 19-minute stunner, one of Spyra’s strongest tracks to date, on one of his best albums, and that’s saying something. And check out the fun, funky short take on a Spyra classic, “Future of the Past EleKtrik,” to close things out. Fantastic.

 

 

Robert Scott Thompson “Poesis Athesis”

(www.lensrecords.com, 2008)

13 tracks, 78 mins

 

Robert Scott Thompson’s music transcends genres, which is not so subtly pointed out in “Paradigm as Supergenre,” the opening track on Poesis Athesis, Robert’s debut on the Lens Records label. The music is a soundtrack for a chi kung (qigong) instructional video, which Robert has apparently done before for Chi Kung Master Terrence Dunn. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, slightly different take on ambient, both for Thompson and in general. New age, ambient, electronic, and ethnic elements weave seamlessly together. The music soft, organic, and melodic, fully formed concise compositions that reward the listener whether using this for meditation, background music, or attentive listening. “Noema” has sweetly sad strings, soothing percussion and sparse but rich-sounding piano. More firmly rooted in the new age sound is “Nine Flowers,” predominantly a piano piece but with just the right ambient touches. On the other hand, pieces like “Evening Star (“Daybreak” Mix) have layered tribal ambient sounds like much of Patrick O’Hearn’s work. “Shen” is a delicate atmospheric number which almost ends too soon. Shorter pieces are the order of the day, although a couple are allowed a little more time to breathe and expand. “Mystic Pearl” is one such gem, as reverberant bell tones play over the top of percussion, piano, and various subtle synth sounds. The music is inventive and refreshing yet accessible and eminently listenable throughout.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

April 2008

 

10 new CD reviews this month, with a focus on the works of Italian artist Mac and his group BIOnighT. Also reviewed is the latest release from Vir Unis, this month’s interview. 

 

Evan Bartholomew “Secret Entries into Darkness”

(Somnia Sound, 2008)

7 tracks, 55.39 mins

 

Evan Bartholomew’s current release is as good as his last one, Caverns of Time. Like Caverns, this is a fresh take on dark ambient and experimental electronic music. The title track leads off, a smooth yet bold excursion into ringing metallic drones, white noise, and minimal electronics that approach silence at times. Evan really does a great job with serene, meditative opening tracks. It isn’t uncommon for me to fall asleep before the conclusion of the wonderful 17-minute opener to his first album, and this 10-minute introduction presents a similar dreamy challenge. “Cracks in the Fabric of the Known” sounds like a unique hybrid of modern classical and ambient electronica as lightly percolating rhythm and bleeps meld with somber strings. Dub and electronica influences continue as we flow into the next track with somewhat warmer tones. Bartholomew continues to impress with his ability to make wholly unique compositions. A darker more expansive sound returns on “Where Forgotten Days Slumber,” though gently thumping beats remain. “And Ancient Hurts Dwell” has a faster, off-kilter foundation that seems a little spastic, though it is offset somewhat by lighter, smoother synth elements. The last two tracks go back into more ambient realms for a soft finish. Secret Entries into Darkness is first rate.

 

 

BIOnighT “Back to Orion”

(www.bionight.net, 2007)

7 tracks, 51.56 mins

 

After a hiatus of a couple of years, Mac has teamed up again with BIOnighT bandmate Sbrizzi Fabio, with the usual positive outcome. “Return to Earth” is a light bubbly melodic piece that serves to ease the listener gently into the album. “Sinus Iridum” starts with dreamy soft sequencing. A melancholy oboe-like synth plays the melody. A punchy playful bass line brightens things up nicely. Halfway through the mood changes considerably as a more ambient experimental section ensues, quite surprising but no less enjoyable than the rest. “Floating Thoughts” is a cool drifter, darker than the BIOnighT norm but again very good, a nice change of pace. “Moon Rocks” shows the duo’s playful side, with unusual fun sound effects at the beginning followed by a soothing pleasant melody and bouncy moderate sequencing; a wonderfully light touch on this one. Equally pleasurable is “Little Gravity,” with the flavor of mid-1980s Tangerine Dream but with a style all their own. “Falling” is like good 80s synth pop without the words. “Ride on the Moon” is a great 15-minute sci-fi trip across the lunar surface to bring the disc to a close.

 

 

John Christian “Bohunt Sabotage”

(Self-released, 2006)

2 tracks, 58.25 mins

 

This CDR is John Christian’s solo set from Hampshire Jam in 2006. Barebones with no packaging, it was initially a very limited release of 50 copies, then another 50 copies. I meant to review it contemporaneously to its release, as a copy now will no doubt be very hard to come by. However, if you see a used copy on Synth Music Direct or eBay or wherever, I would definitely recommend it, esp. if you are an AirSculpture fan. The disc is comprised mostly of the title track, which runs nearly 55 minutes and is a lively excursion into the improvisational Berlin school style that Christian and his two band mates are known for. As a solo act, Christian seems to jump into the sequencing earlier and more often, keeping things moving along nicely. Though I enjoy AirSculpture very much, on occasion their tracks do require patience during the sometimes long atmospheric intros. Bohunt Sabotage reminds me of the band’s debut Impossible Geometries, which had a bit more structure to it and remains my sentimental favorite. As such, I would consider this to be among the stronger releases in the AirSculpture-related catalog.

 

 

Deepspace “Subantarctic Sessions”

(www.deepspacehome.com, 2008)

7 tracks, 53.48 mins

 

I continue to marvel at the high quality of Mirko Ruckel’s floating ambience as Deepspace. Subantarctic Sessions is in a very similar vein to The Barometric Sea and The Barometric Sun, dark and formless much of the time, but with a deeply calming influence. Beautiful simple piano, heavy on the reverb, adds loads of atmosphere to “Arctic Sun and Weather Experiment,” a fantastic lead-off track that sets the mood. “Subantarctic Phenomena” is even quieter, bringing even fuller relaxation. Minimal drones, whooshing wind, and soft synth pads create a soothing ambiance. It doesn’t develop much, but it doesn’t need to. “Voyaging Iceberg” sounds as cold and towering as you might imagine, though it is unexpectedly soothing as well. Even more calming is “Chrysanthenum Planet”, which skirts the fringes of new age without fully going there. From here the disc just seems to get even smoother and dreamier, if that’s possible. “Mirror Sea” and “Deserted” are wonderfully evocative of deep space and pure floating. Perhaps coalescing into a bit more substance sonically speaking, though still quite gelatinous, is the equally relaxing “Crustacea Parklands,” which makes a fine finish if you haven’t already drifted off into dreamland by then.

 

 

Mac “A Deceitful Hand”

(www.macvibes.com , 2005)

13 tracks, 54.45 mins

 

From Mac’s “Just Music” series, this album is mostly short bouncy tunes. Though melancholy themes are implied in track titles like “Tears behind the sun” and “Not as it should be,” Mac seems unable to make music that is anything but pure fun and enjoyment, and this may be his most optimistic sounding album yet. There is very much a pop sensibility to it, and it is best enjoyed in that light. Rhythm is key throughout, steady and upbeat. Bright piano and warm synths plink along to the beats in “The right place.” The music has a very similar style and pace throughout, and indeed some later tracks seem like minor variations on earlier offerings. While not particularly diverse, it is quite pleasant from start to finish. Fans of Tangerine Dream’s prolific soundtrack work from the 1980s should particularly like this.

 

Mac “Grey Light”

(www.macvibes.com , 2007)

6 tracks, 60.06 mins

 

Retro fans should love Mac’s “Classic EM” series, including this one. “Left Unheard” is a great beginning, with a little bit of everything, from synth organ to sequencing to solid drumming and rocking guitar sounds. “Doubts About It All” starts with cool deep space transmissions. Squelchy synths and a slowly repeating bass line come next, followed by warm pads and bright synths and sequencing to round things out. “The Knot” is a brisk number that reminds me a lot of Dom F. Scab. Here again the guitar gives added kick. The track seems to stop midway through, but merely takes the time to breathe a bit before taking off once more. “Another Door” is very spacey, like entering another dimension. The hypnotic “Like Falling” is followed by the 25-minute title track. It alternates between dark atmospheric space passages and vintage synths and sequencing, though once it gets going the emphasis is on the latter. Another great Mac album.

 

 

Mac “The Last City”

(www.macvibes.com , 2007)

9 tracks, 43.04 mins

 

This sci-fi apocalyptic tale begins, appropriately enough, at “The Beginning,” a swirling moody piece that sets the tone for the story. The title track is bright and majestic befitting the theme. Despite the dark subject matter, this mellow track has Mac’s characteristic bouncy upbeat rhythm and melody. “Endless Rain” features a funky little bass line and a nice vintage synth lead. Bright piano complements the mood as well. “Transition” has a similar vibe for a while, but then gets really rocking at the end. Nicely contrasting this is “Null,” with ominous male choirs, dark airy synths, and drums playing in the background like a processional. A nice little sequence picks up the pace midway through although the tone remains subdued. “Street of Survivors” begins as a quirky experimental piece with samples that form the most unusual percussion, though it eventually moves back into familiar melodious Mac territory. “Crumbling Buildings” is the longest and best track, a fantastic retro outing with a steady backbeat, warm synth pads, and perfectly restrained sequencing. “Zareth” sounds like Vangelis, ending the disc with a regal flourish.

 

 

Brian Parnham “Mantle”

(www.steveroach.com, 2007)

12 tracks, 73.54 mins

 

Brian Parnham’s Mantle is the debut release on Steve Roach’s label, simply called steveroach.com. If Mantle is a harbinger of things to come from Steve’s label, that is good news indeed for ambient music fans. Swirling brooding atmospherics permeate the album, from the bright shimmers of “Skim the Surface” to the darker timbres of “Altar of the Underground.” The cover art is more reminiscent of magma than mantle, and the music is likewise steamy and viscous. Names like “Meandering” aptly describe the general feel. The barest hints of percussion, distant rumbles and softly brushing sounds, add vague semblances of texture here and there. “Rising Temperatures” and “Strata Peel” have the same primitive vibe one gets while listening to Steve Roach’s Early Man. There is a slight gritty edge, yet it has a calming effect as well. “Liquid Aggregate” has a little more going on, as the sound seems to circle around you. The glurpy sound effects remind me of another Roach album, Possible Planet. “Scorpion Den” fills a similar sonic void, with textures deftly placed over one another, gently scraping not unlike tectonic plates or other geologic phenomena. “Minotaur’s Lair” is a bit more sinister perhaps, with an expansive cavernous quality. As one might surmise from the name, “Molten” flows more smoothly, as does “Altar of the Underworld,” though both have subtle undercurrents running through them. And so it goes, varying shades of light and dark, smooth and rough, future and past, coalescing into a gorgeous slab of ambience.

 

 

Vir Unis “Return of the Locust Queen”

(www.atmoworks.com, 2008)

1 track, 31.52 mins

 

John Strate-Hootman, aka Vir Unis, has demonstrated a breadth and a compositional assuredness over the past few releases that really impress me. From Not Even The Rain to Henry Hud to this half-hour selection, each has a singular focus. That said, there are discrete movements in Return of the Locust Queen, with audible cross fades at approximately 9:35 and 24:12, and perhaps others that I missed on first listen. Despite title and cover art, the music itself is not as dark as one might expect, though the latter third is several shades darker than the first two. The music flows effortlessly, smooth as velvet and utterly relaxing. The AtmoWorks.com website notes that this music parallels earlier flowing works of Vir Unis such as The Drift Inside, Aeonian Glow and Lumen. If you like the pure floating ambient style of these titles, then you must add this to your Vir Unis collection.

 

 

Nathan Youngblood “Asunder”

(www.steveroach.com, 2007)

6 tracks, 64.03 mins

 

Ambient music rarely goes deeper and darker than Nathan Youngblood’s Asunder. This is murky stuff, wading through dark waters of sound in subterranean caverns. The entire disc sounds as though one is exploring the depths, churning up the sludge at the bottom and watching it slowly morph into unique shapes and patterns in the water. That is exactly what “Kanashibari” sounds like, the epitome of darkness. It is bold, heady stuff, not for the faint of heart. The opening track “Vesper Nest” is easy listening by comparison, but it too is mostly cavernous echoes, with little if any light to be had. “Umbrasphere” lets up a little, mainly because it is quieter, softer. “Shearwave” is an epic mood piece comprised of wind, rumbling thunder and drones. It really isn’t music in the conventional sense, but it is way cool nonetheless. Juxtaposed against the others, “Flume” is light and airy, a nice serene floater. We dive down deep again with “Underland” to bring the disk to a close. Asunder is minimal dark ambient at its best.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

March 2008
 
14 new CD reviews this month, plus 2 more...
 

ARC “Fracture”

(www.DIN.org.uk, 2007)

5 tracks, 53.33 mins

 

Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy return with Fracture, five new tracks that continue to push the boundaries of instrumental rock and ambient electronica. The title track is a perfect example of accessible melodic EM that defies easy categorization. Scorching guitar-like synths, punchy clipped snarls of bass, soaring pads, and assorted samples and odd noises are fused together into something greater than the sum of the seemingly disparate parts. A slowly grooving bass line and moody atmospherics on “Departed” bring the classic ARC sound to bear, shuffling along just so, courtesy of Nigel Mullaney’s percussion loops. It takes a melodramatic turn in the middle that is classic Shreeve with that big sound of his. Crystalline tones add warmth and depth near the end, with beautiful shadings of color and light. “Slipstream,” on the other hand, finds a comfortable zone from the get-go and just runs with it, or rather jogs, not too fast or too slow. “Friction” is a cool little funky number, lollygagging at first, but then an offbeat sequence jumps into the mix. This brings us to the 22-minute epic “Rapture.” Otherworldly haunting synths start things off for several minutes, before classic retro sequencing arrives. Eventually it all fades into ethereal dark tones at the end. Good stuff.

 

 

Darshan Ambient “Re:Karma”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2005)

13 tracks, 72.38 mins

 

For those unfamiliar with Michael Allison aka Darshan Ambient, Re:Karma would be an excellent place to start. A collection of rare and unreleased tracks from the past decade-plus provide good insight into his musical style, which skillfully blends ambient and new age sounds into his own sound, full of the textures and sounds of ambient, but with the structure, rhythm and melody of new age. He does so in a thoroughly unpretentious manner, making music that simply sounds good. “The Cool River” sounds like the prettier side of Brian Eno. “Boundless” is almost too smooth and listenable for its own good. “Tiger in the Grass” melds world and new age elements together like a Windham Hill veteran. Tunes range from melancholy (“The Ocean Whispers”) to dub-influenced upbeat numbers (“Soul Chameleon”) to easygoing midtempo pieces (“Box of Sky”) to dreamy reverie (“A Walk Along The Ganges”). Regardless of the style and pace, Allison maintains a sure hand throughout. If you like pretty melodies and soft sounds with your electronic music you should thoroughly enjoy Re:Karma. 

 

 

Cosmic Hoffmann “Space Gems”

(www.mindala.de, 2007)

11 tracks, 62 mins

 

Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock often mixes new material with archival recordings, but on Space Gems he has gone truly retro, with all the recordings originating from 1975-1979. As such, there is an authenticity to the vintage sounds that is apparent. The slight rough edges, both in composition and sound quality, add to the listening experience in a way. “Rooftop High” makes the most of a propulsive, panning synth, adorning it simply but effectively with mellotron flutes and strings. “Mystic Winds” whooshes in low, wind being the predominant sound, joined by just a light smattering of atmospheric synths, a wonderful example of the less-is-more approach. Titles don’t get much more self-explanatory than “Sequencer,” and what you see/hear is what you get. The loops are simple but hypnotic. Again we hear just a bit of other electronics to give it more substance, but not too much. I really like the ending, with a long slow fade on the sequencer as a more atmospheric passage wraps things up. Bubbly electronic percussion gives a lighter feel to “Far Away,” a very pleasant arrangement with just a bit more complexity. “Wüstenschiff” has a steady beat and builds into a wall of sound. The name “Opera Mellontronique” aptly describes this beautiful piece. “Spaceneighbours” chugs in quite coolly with some great space rock. “Passing Jupiter By” is a great floater, surprisingly soft and minimal. The disc continues alternating space music with psychedelic rock, all of it worth listening to. Can Space Gems 2 be far behind?

 

 

Chad Kettering “Into the Infinite”

(www.chadkettering.com, 2008)

8 tracks, 49.35 mins

 

Any new talent with Steve Roach doing the mastering gets my attention, and it is easy to see why Steve agreed to be involved in Chad Kettering’s Into the Infinite. Kettering has a solid grasp on what it takes to make good music in the genre, ranging from dark ambient to floating space music. He is also not afraid to take chances, as evidenced on the opening track, “Breaking the Surface.” While most of the disc is fairly accessible and readily likable, he gambles by placing the most adventurous sounds at the beginning. After some cool bells and female whispers, something like an out-of-tune trombone is followed by wailing male chanting. Frankly, my initial impression was not a good one, but he quickly overcomes this apparent misstep with some spacious warm synths, and from that point on there is scarcely a note out of place for the duration. “Mystic Mountains” is soaring and majestic without being overly sweet or melodramatic. There is an almost total fade out in the middle, after which it changes to minimal ambience. It really sounds like two tracks, but no matter; both halves are quite good. “Humidity” is perfectly named, as it sounds like a warm, damp atmosphere put to music. Bird-like sounds chirp in the background. A metallic clang rings out to start “Into the Gate,” a moodier darker piece that moves across a varied sonic landscape. The music seems familiar, with hints of everything from Giles Reaves to Vangelis to Steve Roach; but these influences and more are spun into Kettering’s own musical vision. Chad Kettering is a welcome new sound in electronic ambient music.

 

 

Nemesis “Live Archive Vol. 3: Trajectory of Sound”

(http://www.nettilinja.fi/~ahassine/, 2007)

8 tracks, 68.24 mins

 

Finland’s best EM band is here again with another set of archival live recordings. Like the first two, this is a blend of material from the last decade. “Pauanne D minor” features punchy sequencing and cool retro lead lines. It has a very dream-like quality and yet has that unmistakable Nemesis groove going on. “Kaiku Pt 3” is a serene floater, at turns both light and dark. “Io-Io” cranks it up several notches with toe-tapping dance beats. As usual, the sound is completely electronic, with cool synths through and through. After a filler “Announcement” and the didgeridoo misstep “Hiivala”, the characteristic Nemesis sound and energy returns on “Raggaeniac”, a cool restrained piece with a steady infectious beat. “Shaman Drum” is similar to “Hiivala” but much more successful in its tribal ambient approach. The 17-minute “Pauanne F minor” paints sonic pictures in muted, moody tones, and makes a fitting finish.

 

 

Patrick O’Hearn “Glaciation”

(www.patrickohearn.com, 2007)

13 tracks, 43.15 mins

 

With Glaciation, O’Hearn continues to create seemingly effortless compositions that transcend convenient ambient and new age labels. Tracks are brief and numerous, each a delicate slice of beautiful music with a concise thematic unity. Specific instrumentation is not listed, but I believe I detect fretless bass on “Under Weigh,” one of several elements that cause the music to rise above the norm in the genre, adding that little extra something here and there despite the relatively benign nature of the soft music. A lot of the music sounds to my ears like delicate guitar playing, though I suppose it could be synth-based. But then O’Hearn has always struck me as someone who regards the instruments merely as a tool, the means to the end. His focus is where it should be, on the overall sound and artistry. He pays attention to the details, from the sound palette to the sonic clarity. The beautiful digipak with photos of glaciers shows the same care and skill he O’Hearn puts into his craft. Tracks run the gamut from ambient to new age to touches of jazz here and there, for example the brushed percussion and sparse piano of “Our Temperable Host.” Glaciation is another gem in Patrick O’Hearn’s exceptional body of work.

 

 

Remanence “A Strange Constellation of Events”

(www.MpathRecords.com, 2005)

10 tracks, 63.16 mins

 

The first time I listened to “Signal Hill” I thought I was hearing things – which is probably because I was. In addition to the soft ambient tones, the beeping of a signal beacon is heard. I’m still not 100% certain whether I like the beeping or not, but the meaning behind it is explained in the beautiful packaging. Regardless,l the track is excellent, the sort of music that definitely conjures up images of standing on a grassy hillside at night and looking up at a sky full of stars. The music is minimal and subtle yet richly detailed, as field recordings meld with such varied instrumentation as rattles, rainstick, metal plates, and my personal favorite, “objects.” “Lamkhyer (remix)” has a low rumble and tribal beats that remind me of Steve Roach’s classic title track from On This Planet. There is a light touch but a dark tone that permeates the disc. “Nocturne” swirls about in a way that is hard to describe, simple but striking. More complex and experimental is “Stress,” clearly a product of the unusual sound sources used throughout. Often the disc is more about sound than music, but it manages to relax and sooth in its own unique way. Sometimes disturbing, sometimes uplifting, always interesting, I highly recommend A Strange Constellation of Events.

 

 

Klaus Schulze “Ballett 4”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

4 tracks, 78.02 mins

 

One of Klaus’ strongest discs from the 10-CD Contemporary Works I collection, Ballett 4 showcases some fine melancholy mellotron solos, beginning appropriately enough with “Mellowtrone.” Lush synth pads and mellotron strings intertwine in perfect harmony. The music is intentionally kept simple; no other layers are added, the intensity stays low, and the subdued mood is maintained throughout. Drums ‘n’ bass fade in as “Soft ‘n’ Groovy” begins. One would not normally associate cello with “groovy,” but then Schulze was never one for convention. Crisp percussion is added as this one moves leisurely evolves over the course of a half hour. Cool synths and occasional male vocals add a vaguely eastern feel to the music midway through. “To B Flat” seems like a natural continuation, stripping down to the cello and sad atmospheric synths. Just when it seems to be getting a bit too depressing, the drums and bass return and get the groove going again, although at the halfway point it drops back again into more somber realms. Whereas the original recording ended here, the reissue adds a slightly fuller version of “Eleven 2 Eleven” with a proper distinct beginning and ending unlike its original version on the Adds & Edits disc of Contemporary Works I. It was perhaps the strongest track of that disc and is a welcome addition here. SPV has the KS reissue gig down pat, and this is another good one.

 

 

Klaus Schulze “Body Love Vol. 2”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

4 tracks, 79.42 mins

 

The first electronic music album I ever heard was Jean Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe; the second was Oxygene; the third was Klaus Schulze’s Body Love Vol. 2. It would be several years before I even realized there were two volumes, as my vinyl copy simply said Body Love. It was playing in the record store, and I asked what it was. When I was shown the cover, being the red-blooded 16 year-old boy I was, I liked it even better – although I wasn’t sure what my parents would think. This album, more than any other, sparked my passion for this music that continues to this day. I still have not heard a single piece of electronic music that I love more than “Nowhere – Now Here”, the perfect 29-minute track that was, back then, side one of the album. I would lie back on my bed, close my eyes, and just listen intently. When I went to college a couple years later and lived in a noisy dorm, that song helped drown out the late-night carousing outside my door and helped me sleep. Since then I have enjoyed many EM songs slowly evolve over 20 or 30 minutes, or even longer – but to me, none has captured the formula so magically done here. Each measure, each new sound added, seems absolutely pristine to me, exactly as it should be. Not one note wasted, not one out of place. Even the sudden, intense ending, which I have to admit did startle me the first few times, is just right. And yet, as perfect as this track was and still is today, “Stardancer II” and “Moogetique” are just as good, and quite distinct. “Stardancer II” is far superior to the original on the first Body Love; whereas that one faded abruptly as if Klaus’ time in the studio had just run out, this one continued on for several seconds more, and gradually faded away before moving into another pinnacle of Klaus’ storied career, one of the best EM mood pieces ever composed. By the time the last strains of pure space music spiral upward and outward, “Moogetique” takes the listener to the far reaches of unknown galaxies and back again. The beautiful cover art, still bold by today’s standards, is as it was, both front and back. The bonus is a 23-minute alternate version of “Nowhere – Now Here,” heavier on the drums and with a significantly different mix and ending. My only regret is upon reading in the liner notes that this is one of four recently discovered outtakes from those recording sessions. I hope that we will get to hear them on a future release. For now, I will treasure this new version as I have the original for so many years. Body Love Vol. 2 is a true classic.

 

 

Sensitive Chaos “Leak”

(www.sensitivechaos.com, 2006)

6 tracks, 52.55 mins

 

The title track of Leak begins simply, cleanly. Very slowly the sound evolves, first one layer for a couple of minutes, and then another; those two tones explore and dance around each other before soft drums arrive. Then a saxophone plays over the top as the rhythm becomes more prominent. Somewhere along the line, it becomes a unique blend of jazz and electronics. It is relaxed and comfortable. “Android Cat Dreams of Mice” starts with wood xylophone and bright bell-like sounds. Percussion is again restrained and highly effective in helping to set the mood. I play most of my electronic music at night, but Leak seems better suited for a lazy Saturday morning as you ease into the day. The playful bass line is overly cute, but is reflective of the cat-and-mouse theme. “Starry Night” goes back to the EM-meets-jazz mode of the title track, though it seems to delve further into smooth jazz realms. “Painting Earthtones In Orbit” is more electronic but continues along a bouncy path, as do the last two tracks. If you like both EM and jazz and like your music on the bright side, Leak may just fill the bill.

 

 

Various Artists “Analogy Volume 3”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

17 tracks, 79.31 mins

 

First up on Analogy Volume 3 is “Vintage Contempories”, a cute oxymoronic title from Gert Emmens and James Clent. Emmens’ synth solos are readily identifiable from the outset, and strong sequencing and choirs complete the package. Create’s “Red Alert” is next, a short piece with a metallic tincture. Stephen Parsick brings “A Molecular Surge”, low rumbling darkness in keeping with his doombient themes of late. Newcomer Gert Blokzijl presents “Monopology”, with familiar but nonetheless cool retro styling with sequences galore. I’d love to hear a whole album of this! Of course, each Analogy album has to have Russell Storey’s continuing “Cosmic Kiwi” series, and both parts here are good, although the first is over almost before it begins. Synth.NL’s playful but low-key “Syntholology” is next, which I like a lot, really nice synth sounds throughout. “Sea Click” is a bubbly little number by Francois-Pol Cornec that has me wanting to hear more of him also. Sweeping majestic synths take over midway through, a cross between Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre, a good combination indeed. Speaking of Jarre, I’d swear I’m listening to a rare outtake from Oxygene or Equinoxe on Erwin Hofstede’s “Solina,” a beautifully understated piece. James Clent goes solo on “Ambiology”, which has a fantastic rhythmic foundation on which to build. The disc seems to just keep getting better as it goes. Terje Winther’s “Familiar Surprises” has a bouncy, punchy little sequence, nicely mixed with a gentle synth solo and warm string sounds. Studio35D’s “Probe One” has a raw edge to the main synth sound that propels it along, good bite there. Mario Schönwälder has done a variety of solo and collaborative works, and this time under the name Schönwälder’s Filterkaffee he records “Analogum” with Frank Rothe. It’s classic Berlin school all the way, very TD-like, fantastic sequencing especially. Eric G dedicates “In the Moog” to Jean-Michel Jarre, and it’s easy to see why, originally recorded in 1978 and inspired by Oxygene. I didn’t really intend to describe all 17 songs in the review, but they are all so good and I’ve only got three to go. Rene van der Wouden’s tune features a playful bright sequence and mellotron-like strings, though it is interesting to hear the mellotron played legato. Mono-Poly’s “SemDrone” sounds like a cool old sci-fi movie snippet, and perhaps it is, though the background dialogue is difficult to make out. Finally, we come to “Analowho” by Ron Boots, a man who knows a thing or two about synthesizers, analog and otherwise. It is the longest and perhaps best piece, great melody, rhythm and of course sequencing. Volume 4, anyone?

 

 

Various Artists “Sounds of a Universe Overheard”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

10 tracks, 70.10 mins

 

Hypnos had two excellent compilations in its early days, so a new one is welcome and long overdue. Sounds of a Universe Overheard is a worthy addition to The Other World and Weightless, Effortless. Ten tracks weave together into a varied yet cohesive look at all things ambient. Jonathan Block’s “The Language of Rocks” starts us off, a cool synthetic electronic piece that seems just to get going and then fades teasingly into M. Peck’s “Somna” with bubbly water sounds and minimal ambience. This one is allowed more time to breathe and grow before it fades. Next up is Freq. Magnet’s “Nitrous,” very similar in its stark ambient approach but with a different set of sounds. Kirk Watson’s “Scarecrow” begins with a unique collage of various noises that, while not exactly musical, is pretty cool nonetheless. It soon develops into more traditional sounding floating ambient music; Watson is definitely someone to add to my list of names to watch. Always good is dreamSTATE, and their contribution “Ghost Nebula” is soothing dark shifting and drifting, which gets more intense as it goes. One of the more interesting new talents I’ve enjoyed is Seren Ffordd, and his “Strange Attractor” is another good one, a low rumbling number with an eerie cast to it. Dwight Ashley’s “Behold the Trampled Wheat” is typical of his dark experimental musical wanderings, taking things further down into the crevices. Justin Vanderberg follows with “Infection”, lighter by comparison to the prior two tracks but only by degrees. There is a softness and smoothness on this one that turns the blackness into charcoal perhaps. Igneous Flame aka Pete Kelly is a personal favorite of mine, and I’m glad to see him included here with “Pandora,” with his trademark dreamy electric guitar and treatments. The disc closes with Tau Ceti’s “Float,” which does as it says, in a lighter way that brings us back full circle. Light or dark, Hypnos does ambient right, and this collection is proof of that.

 

 

For the complete 4-CD release of vidnaObmana’s An Opera for Four Fusion Works, I am reviewing discs 3 and 4 for the first time, and revisiting my earlier reviews of discs 1 and 2. For the adventurous EM listener, this is first-rate serious listening.

 

vidnaObmana “An Opera for Four Fusion Works”

Act One: Echoes of Steel (featuring Dreams in Exile)

(www.hypnos.com, 2002)

5 tracks, 52.36 mins

 

This is the first of an anticipated 4-CD series. In an unusual twist, it is being released by itself, but with a 4-CD case in the expectation that fans will clamor for the remaining 3 CDs to fill it. And indeed they may, as there is much to appreciate and recommend on this first disc. Often dark and complex, Obmana’s music this time is cheery by comparison, full of light acoustic guitar courtesy of the artist known as Dreams In Exile, whose work Obmana has recycled for this release, blended with his own synthetic touches. As if the 4-CD staggered release concept weren’t unusual enough, the track titles are called, in order, IV, V, III, II and I. “IV” is a very nice beginning, with a soft pleasant guitar phrase that repeats itself through most of the piece, surrounded by various electronic treatments and textures. Twice the length of the other selections, it is a very soothing sonic space. “V” is even lighter, with a somewhat brisker pace on the acoustic guitar, though the mood is still very relaxed. The bright character of this CD may put off some fans who’ve grown accustomed to both vidnaObmana and the Hypnos label having a darker side, but I’d recommend venturing into this new territory as they’ve chosen to. “III” features wordless vocals, something I’m always a bit leery of in my ambient music. Even though it is fairly unobtrusive my bias remains. On the other hand, “II” is a great moody piece, probably more along the lines of what fans would typically expect. Relatively simple musical phrasing is employed and repeated, but the layering is very nicely done, creating a hypnotic effect. Finally, “I” brings light guitar acoustics juxtaposed against a darker wall of sound, the contrast working quite well indeed. It all adds up to my favorite vidnaObmana release in recent memory, and one of the better ambient releases of 2002.

 

© 2003 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

vidnaObmana “An Opera for Four Fusion Works”

Act Two: Phrasing the Air (featuring Bill Fox)

(www.hypnos.com, 2004)

5 tracks, 61.39 mins

 

Part two of the staggered release of An Opera for Four Fusion Works is another recycling project from vidnaObmana, the source material this time coming from Bill Fox on soprano saxophone. Various drones, noise, static are added, as well as more conventional elements such as electric guitar, ebow, and bowed strings. vidnaObmana’s 1999 release Landscape in Obscurity also featured sax samples, but the similarity ends there. Instead of a single long-form work, Phrasing the Air has five distinct tracks. “I” is soft low drones interspersed with wavering saxophone, perhaps recycled with some pitch bend applied. “II” is haunting and spacey, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s classic “Echoes” from over 30 years ago. At other times its expansiveness reminds me of ambient compatriot Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void. “VI” is next, and it takes yet another distinctive turn, the circular pattern of the music suggestive of Phillip Glass or Terry Riley. Very light at first, drones add thickness and depth as it progresses. “V” is the 20-minute epic centerpiece, starting low and ominously. In fact, it pretty much stays there, but it is such a cool piece, drenched with atmosphere, that it’s fun to stay a while. The disc closes with “IV,” a disturbing discordant number that wails mournfully to the end.

 

© 2004 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space

 

vidnaObmana “An Opera for Four Fusion Works”

Act Three: Reflections on Scale (featuring Kenneth Kirschner)

(www.hypnos.com, 2006)

4 tracks, 61.27 mins

 

The third part of vidnaObmana’s collection features minimal piano surrounded by assorted glitches, feedback and other noise. The effect is akin to listening to some historical classical recording on a scratchy vinyl record. On the one hand, it seems to lend an air of authenticity; on the other, knowing it is intentional it seems a bit pretentious. Why distort the lovely piano playing of Kenneth Kirschner’s original recording by adding the pops and clicks? The treatments by vidnaObmana do add a bit more texture and atmosphere as it progresses. Personally I’d be inclined to include the ambient parts and leave out the glitch. But if I stretch a bit I can imagine it as a fire crackling in the background, and that works on a certain level.  “II” is much cleaner, but also a quite basic repetitious piece. It will either lull you into a peaceful altered state or drive you to distraction depending on your inclination. “III” takes a different piano phrase and adds more ambient music around it. On the one hand, this album has a very serious sound to it, as if intended for careful listening. But I think it works best as background for reading or quiet relaxation, when music with more structure and melody would be too intrusive.

 

vidnaObmana “An Opera for Four Fusion Works”

Act Four: The Bowing Harmony (featuring Steven Wilson)

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 43.14 mins

 

The fourth and final installation in vidnaObmana’s large-scale recycling work features Steven Wilson on vocals. Used solely as an instrument, his high-pitched voice is prominent throughout. Having already alluded to my bias in this regard in my review of Act One of this set, this one is going to have to work hard to gain my favor. “II” adds shrill feedback near the end of it, which doesn’t help. “IV” is an eerie layering of haunting vocals with appropriately dark textures on synth, electric guitar, and “infinite recycling.” It is perfectly creepy, and intensely so, which is undoubtedly the desired effect. “VI” is a brief shimmery piece that is quite nice. “III” is the centerpiece, a 24-minute epic conclusion. This time the vocals are blended more seamlessly into the music for an overall ambient effect, such that you almost forget vocals are the emphasis of the recording. I would have preferred similar treatment on the earlier tracks, as this one thoroughly succeeds in inducing a pleasant listening experience. Though my least favorite of the series, this track saves it and vidnaObmana’s 4-CD work as a whole is an important addition to the world of experimental ambience.  

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space except as noted. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

February 2008

 

10 new reviews this month; note the CD may be going the way of vinyl, as 4 of the 10 are only available as downloads, and some of the other are available that way. The future is now at EAS...

 

Alpha Wave Movement “The Mystic & The Machine”

(www.home.earthlink.net/~alphawave, 2007)

9 tracks, 47.49 mins

 

The latest Greg Kyryluk project is electronic space rock circa 1976 or so, when Tangerine Dream added rock structure with albums like Stratosfear and, a couple years later, Cyclone. There are no vocals here, but that same rock/EM hybrid is on full display. Lush electric piano starts “L’Ocean est une Tempete,” followed by melodic flutes. Once the lead synth gets going, it feels more like ELP or even Kansas than TD. If you have a love affair with prog rock and all its 70s excesses, you may like this, although it didn’t catch on with me. Kyryluk should have taken the approach he did with his Open Canvas project and recorded this under another name, as it bears little resemblance to other Alpha Wave Movement records.

 

 

Ian Boddy “Three Dreams”

(www.musiczeit.com, 2008)

3 tracks, 53.13 mins

 

This MusicZeit exclusive download is from Ian Boddy’s March 21, 2004 broadcast on Chuck van Zyl’s Star’s End program. It is the first of the three that I listened to, and though I think all are excellent, this is my personal favorite. “Trapped In Black” starts like an old sci-fi film, although it also sounds a lot like when the Six Million Dollar Man used his bionics. This soon dissipates into the darkness, leaving soft atmospheric sounds in its wake, which turn into dark choirs. This one has a haunting quality throughout. But the one that really does it for me is “Summer Lawn Daze.” Imagine a long lost 1970s track that combines elements of Tangerine Dream’s Ricochet infused with Edgar Froese’s Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. Dark sonic textures and twitters give way to gentle sparse piano, which weaves its way through the rest of the sublime moodiness. “The Final Breath” continues the dark tone, getting a bit eerier still. Strings and pads lend a dramatic touch in the latter half of the piece. If you are looking for typical energetic Ian Boddy sequencing you might be disappointed, but you really should give it a try anyway. Three Dreams is fantastic.

 

 

Ian Boddy “The Final Question”

(www.musiczeit.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 62.46 mins

 

This MusicZeit exclusive download is from the Star’s End Radio Show on May 7, 2000, which found Ian in a dark cinematic mood. “Welcome to the Soundhouse” features a mechanized narrative that sounds somewhat like Stephen Hawking, then lots of electronic twitters and flutters and generally dark rumblings that meander about, such that one barely notices when it moves into “Zero-G” except that it gets a shade darker still. This one is would be perfect for a cold winter evening, or perhaps as a sci-fi film score. It gets downright creepy, especially at the end with chilling choirs, but it sounds so cool. The transition to “Earthbound” is more noticeable as the choirs fade and a warmer sound emerges, courtesy of a Markus Reuter guitar loop. However, the mood remains downbeat, more melancholy than sinister, floating through space alone. “Next to Nothing” gets a bit more abstract, with an uneven pulsating quality and some assorted garbled sounds and effects. The album finishes with “The Penultimate Question”, based on a 1906 classical composition called “The Unanswered Question” by American Charles Ives. I’m not familiar with the original, but this makes a fine ending, serious and yet serene. The Final Question is an excellent look at the softer, darker side of Ian Boddy.

 

 

Ian Boddy “The Mechanics of a Thought”

(www.musiczeit.com, 2007)

3 tracks, 55.04 mins

 

Another MusicZeit exclusive download, this set is from the October 1, 2006 Star’s End broadcast. Though sometimes more ambient like The Final Question, the more typical Boddy sound of sequencing and crisp electronic percussion kicks in midway through the great opening number, “Out There.” After several minutes of haunting swirling sounds the energetic passage appears, then continues for several minutes before laying back for a soft finish. “In Here” has a bright metallic sheen to it, with some bubbly bass tones pulsing just so. Once the moderately paced irresistibly catchy groove is established Boddy is content to let it run its course, and a most pleasant one it is. The 23-minute title track has an even brighter, ringing shimmer to it, an infinite loop of sorts that seems like it should wear out its welcome, but it is strangely compelling. It literally sounds like what it purports to be, the mechanics of a thought put to music. Halfway through it changes up a little, going for some quirkier abstract tones in the mix. This reminds me a lot of some of the early experimental DiN label offerings, in a good way. I hear a lot of the Continuum sound here as well. Like a good wine with a clean finish, The Mechanics of a Thought ends well.

 

 

Maxxess “Offroad”

(www.maxxess.de, 2006)

9 tracks, 62.13 mins

 

Usually, I make it a point to keep the reviews in EAS narrowly focused on electronic, ambient, and space music. However, editor’s prerogative allows me to decide when I want to make an exception, and Offroad is just too good a CD not to include, simply because it ROCKS! No doubt there are plenty of electronic sounds here, lots of cool sequencing, all that stuff. But first and foremost, Maxxess is all about the bone-crunching guitars, with fantastic melodies, driving rhythms, and kick-ass solos that will leave you spent as you crank the stereo at home or, preferably, driving down the highway in your car. When I’m listening to “Pulse” I can barely sit still; the higher the volume the better on this one. Gently strummed guitars lighten things up at the start of “Miracle” but the power riffs take off again in short order. Still, this one has really nice balance to it, as hypnotic sequencing takes center stage midway through before it launches into blistering guitar histrionics once again. The title track starts soft and low, but you can feel the barely harnessed power, which unleashes itself soon enough. This one moves at a fast clip, except for a nice change-up near the end where it slows down and the guitars power up with a bone-crunching sound before the pace picks up once again. Even in more laid back mode, as on “Crazy Blue Thing,” the intensity remains. The title “Adrenaline,” besides being another cool number, is an apt descriptor of the entire album. Ironically, one track is called “Sleepwalk,” something that would be virtually impossible to do while rocking out to Offroad.

 

 

mwvm “Rotations”

http://www.silbermedia.com/mwvm/ or http://www.mwvm.co.uk/

10 songs, 61 mins

 

The mysterious mwvm is actually Michael Walton, an electronic musician from the UK who specializes in ambient guitar via various effects and manipulation. The end result is a relaxing sound whose guitar origins can still be heard, albeit somewhat surreptitiously. The warm, gently wavering tones could just as easily be mistaken for E-bow or synths. Like the music and the man, song titles such as “Context.Where?” keep a sense of mystery about. It’s a particularly dreamy number and a nice way to start out. Timbres tend toward the bright, metallic, shimmering side, although lower tones resonate nicely as well. In fact, “Fireside” starts with a low hum like static that vibrates at just the right frequency to have set something off in some way. While that description may sound more annoying than musical, it’s actually quite soothing. I’m reminded a little bit of David Tollefson’s excellent New Eyes on the Universe from a decade ago on the Hypnos label, another bit of blissed out fuzzed out ambient guitar. This is a little softer and less structured, however. Despite the name, the quiet pulsation of “It’s Easy to be Miserable” is not at all unpleasant. Toward the end it does develop a rawer, grainier sound that gets rather intense, but in a good way. Tracks flow seamlessly from one to the next, and there is good balance between keeping cohesiveness and yet lending enough variance to the pieces to maintain high interest throughout.

 

 

Rekalix “Frozen Planet”

(www.rekalix.com, 2007)

7 tracks, 44.56 mins

 

Rekalix, aka Andrew Linton from the UK, sent me this album via download, and that is the only way you can buy it. On White Label Music, actually you just go to iTunes to get it. It’s really cool, a subdued relaxed affair that finds a contented middle ground between formless ambient and soft space music. Melodies and semblances of rhythm are found here and there, but mainly it just floats calmly by. Male choirs add a haunting touch to the title track, a touch colder and spartan compared to the light opener “Deep Aurora.” Brighter shimmers of sound appear, but lower fuller tones remain. A sci-fi theme is prominent throughout, and the sounds are thoroughly synthetic in origin, definitely futuristic music. The compositions are deceptively simple, but fresh and inventive at the same time. Though there is a certain comfortable familiarity to it, I can’t really think of a good comparison for a frame of reference. “Mystic Winds” has a lighter, new age touch to it, quite pleasant, even dream-like at times. “Scapes from the Surface” is the first track with a stronger rhythmic component, with just a touch of dub influence perhaps. This is a particularly effective number, a natural extension of the themes and sounds from earlier tracks. “ThirtySeven” goes back into dream state, and nicely so. “Windmills in the Sea” is the longest track and one of the coolest as well. Frozen Planet strikes a perfect balance at the center of the electronic, ambient, and space music worlds.

 

 

Steve Roach “Arc of Passion”

(www.projekt.com, 2008)

2 CDs, 2 + 2 tracks, 50.44 + 50.15 mins

 

Steve continues to amaze with the quantity and quality of his musical output. Arc of Passion is over 100 minutes of all-new music, and it is excellent in every way, from the pristine sound quality to the beautiful ice-blue layout put together by Projekt label head Sam Rosenthal, to the dreamy music contained within. Created live in the moment in Pomona, California on 07-07-07, it exemplifies the heights Steve has reached with his craft. The music, particularly on the soothing opener “Moment of Grace,” flows effortlessly along. It sounds familiar and yet fresh, radiating extremely pleasant warmth even as it resonates deeply. The music segues right into the title track, which interestingly enough is split in two, about a half hour each at the end of disc one and the start of disc two. It has been compared to Stormwarning, and while the relatively brisk sequencing bears some resemblance, this seems calmer to me. Ethereal pads float in the same sonic space as the energetic sounds, neither one relegated to the background. In lesser hands the melding of such disparate styles might not have worked, but with Steve the result is highly effective. A long slow downward spiral of energy leads into the final track, “Views Beyond,” which seems to echo into forever, much like The Magnificent Void although the timbre is different. The didgeridoo seems processed somehow for a cool other worldly effect that combines future and past, modern and primitive, in the inimitable Steve Roach style. Arc of Passion sets the bar very high for future 2008 ambient releases.

 

 

SourceCodeX “Primordial Lands Arise”

(www.sourcecodex.com, 2007)

9 tracks, 76.51 mins

 

John W. Patterson aka SourceCodeX takes the listener on a deep, dark journey into the outer reaches of experimental ambience. Low drones rumble like thunder on “WarInHeaven” to start us off. The music is cold and yet strangely compelling. “DroneMass” begins with otherworldly echoes, followed by a pulsing sound with just a bit of rough textures to it. Sounds growl and roll over the top of one another as it builds. I saw the term “cinematic dark ambient” applied to this music, and I think that’s a great descriptor. It is more intense than your garden variety dark ambient, and seems to be reaching out from the depths to say something. “HellDreamVimana” adds some warbled mangled voice effects that add to the dark, disturbing visions created. By the time you delve deeper still into “Hidden Things Between Things,” you will either be in dark ambient heaven or in need of serious therapy – and I do mean that as a compliment, since clearly the music has the intended effect, in spades. My yardstick for the genre, as I’ve mentioned many times, is Robert Rich and Lustmord’s Stalker. This rivals it as a benchmark. Heady stuff, dive down in if you dare.

 

 

Spyra “High Phidelity”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2007)

2 CDs, 5 + 5 tracks, 75.47 + 79.48 mins

 

I was really bummed that I was unable to attend when Wolfram Spyra played last March at the Star’s End concert series in Philadelphia. However, I consoled myself with the hope that the set would find its way onto a future Spyra release. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long, and High Phidelity is the result. Culled from three live shows over the past three years, it is an excellent overview of some of Spyra’s best work, mostly familiar to me but in significantly reworked versions for the live setting, making this a must-have for fans. Even relatively short Spyra tracks get a real work out here, as only one track runs under ten minutes, and a live version of “Aerial” clocks in at over 24:00. “Zzyxxsties” makes a perfect intro, a mid-tempo piece with classic Spyra elements including crisp bubbly percussion, deep bass, and wonderful synth tones with catchy melodies. “Duplex” is a powerful punchy number that really gets the toes tapping; 20 minutes never went by so quickly. “Xylophane” features one of Spyra’s favorite instruments to good effect, a moodier mellower piece with cool abstract passages. “Drum ‘n’ Melody” starts with dark textures but then adds brushed cymbals and a single synth string over the top. Next comes a cool synth lead with a laid back bittersweet melody. Each track develops perfectly, knowing when to build, when to hold, and when to drop back. Perhaps the most faithful live rendering here is “Last Train to Philadelphia,” quite similar to its two previous incarnations, and its familiarity lends a comfortable ending to disc one. Disc two starts in spacey mellow fashion with “Starsent Introduction,” then moves into three familiar pieces, including a lighter new version of “Phuture of the Past” that I prefer to the melancholy original. “Gilgamesh” is a quirky one, with coughing, laughter, bursts of white noise, grinding machinery, and wailing horns. After six minutes it finally coalesces into actual music, but I wish it had done so at least five minutes sooner. Still, after nearly 150 minutes of excellent EM it’s hard to quibble with a bit of noisy self-indulgence.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

January 2008

 

20 new CD reviews this month!

 

Evan Bartholomew “Caverns of Time”

(Somnia Sound, 2007)

6 tracks, 72.03 mins

 

Fans of dark ethereal ambience along the lines of Robert Rich or minimal drones like Mathias Grassow should find plenty to their liking here. Far and away my favorite is the opening track, nearly 18 minutes of pure floating bliss. It has dark tinges but also warms me to the core as it drifts across my ears and tickles my brain. Delicate undercurrents of sound ebb and flow, swirling slowly over each other as if set adrift into a calm mist. Parts shimmer brightly while other elements resonate deeply, juxtaposed perfectly into a unified sound. “Leaving Behind Ourselves” feels as though the mist has grown a bit thicker, letting less light in, but it still has a strong sense of floating, using brief moments of silence in the early going to enhance the feeling of breathing. We step deeper into the darkness on “Leaving Behind Our Memories”, which sings mournfully not unlike Robert Rich’s lap guitar is known to do. “Elusive and Effervescent…” is an unusual composition with quirky pulsing sounds throughout. “Descending Deeper…” continues the trend away from pure floating into something with a bit more substance, cinematic in scope and feel, though still very much in the abstract. We move back into the ethereal light for the final track, returning from the cavern intact. Incidentally, this is a beautifully packaged limited edition of 777 copies, on homemade paper sealed with wax. Highly recommended.

 

 

Deepspace “The Barometric Sea”

(www.deepspacehome.com, 2007)

11 tracks, 69.23 mins

 

Mirko Ruckels is Deepspace, a German-born ambient musician who now lives in Australia. A quick read of his blog on his site notes influences and favorite listens include Stars of the Lid, Steve Roach, Telomere, Pete Namlook, Between Interval, and others. If I had to pick one of these that he sounds the most like, it would probably be Stars of the Lid, but he has created a cool niche of his own, a very calming one that is thoroughly enjoyable. It is really fun to listen to tracks like “The Astrology,” because just when you decide that it is pure floating to just chill out to, something percolates in the background and you go, “What was that? Is that on the CD, or something in the next room or outside?” So he forces you to wake just a bit from your dreamy reverie, pay closer attention and confirm what you heard, then go back into “the zone” and just enjoy it. Most of the time, it is expansive synthesizer sounds, but once in a while there is a little bass here, a little piano there, something. “Sol” has a regal feel, almost reverent, as does the title track which follows it, full of resonant metallic tones. “Leaving the Hub” is the longest and one of the mellowest numbers, quietly elegant. But don’t get too comfortable, as distant pounding rhythms appear at the end, somehow fitting perfectly. Musical misdirection continues in “Deserted Factory,” which starts as ambience and drones, then ends as a classical sounding piano piece. But once you expect changes, a track will stay the course, as on the purely ambient and perfectly dreamy “The Drop of Nowhere.” Despite the unexpected turns on occasion, the album has a distinctive sound with a nice even flow. The Barometric Sea is one of the best ambient offerings of 2007.

 

 

Jeff Greinke “Winter Light”

(www.lotuspike.com, 2007)

10 tracks, 54.41 mins

 

Like his Soundtracks CD, Jeff Greinke again shows his softer side on Winter Light, a collection of quiet pieces with a new age bent. Piano and gentle synthesizers emphasize bells, strings, and other delicate sounds. The mood is sometimes brighter, as on “Moving to Malaysia,” with its bells, piano and pizzicato strings, or the faraway pensive tones of “Under the Pagoda.” At other times the tendency is toward melancholy tunes such as “Lament.” In either case, the pieces retain a shade of grey throughout, befitting the winter theme and matching the monochromatic cover art. Strains of something like oboe dominate “Deep Inside,” along with plucked notes like an upright bass. “The Long Road Home” is sparse, reverberant bass tones alongside strings, piano, and a few synth textures for atmosphere. “The Conversation” is similar, with the piano just off in the distance, the strings a bit darker. You can hear the care put into each selection, like a collection of related short stories. Oboes add a sense of majesty to “Across the Great Basin,” though without great fanfare, as rhythm is pretty much absent throughout. One of my favorites is “Orographic,” with surprisingly playful piano and a silky smooth synth that plays like an angelic choir. This CD is great for curling up on cold winter nights.

 

 

Indra “Tripura Sundari”

(www.indramusic.ro, 2007)

2 tracks, 71.59 mins

 

Indra does it again with two wonderful lengthy journeys into Berlin school and trance. “Elixir” is nearly 52 minutes of fantastic electronic soundscapes and sequencing. A relatively simple swirling loop gets things going, with a bit of spacey sound effects wrapped around it. A faster sequence then rolls up and down the scale for several minutes, finding a very pleasant musical space to gradually build sonic layers. A slightly more aggressive chugging sequence emerges near the 22:00 mark, but the atmosphere remains quite relaxed. This is great music to fully immerse yourself in, brilliantly done. “Casyopeea” gives us another 20 minutes of the same, hypnotic sequencing and cool otherworldly sounds sure to carry you into the far reaches of outer or inner space, depending on your inclination. A light, steady rhythm and some eastern tinges keep this one a little more upbeat, though it still retains a highly mesmerizing quality. It adds up to another first-rate Indra release.

 

 

Lena “Alchemy of Fingers and Dark”

(www.hypnos.com, 2007)

6 tracks, 70.14 mins

 

The Hypnos Secret Sounds series of CDRs is for smaller pressings of lesser-known artists so that Hypnos can expose listeners to music they might not otherwise hear. In some cases it is ambient music typical of the Hypnos label. In other cases, it allows the label to explore more experimental sounds, case in point being the cello music of Lena, which has been sonically treated and manipulated by label founder and husband M. Griffin. The resulting music sometimes sounds like cello, but more often than not it is disguised in murky ambient surroundings, often intentionally dissonant. This is intense experimental stuff not for the faint of heart. Unlike dark ambient by Robert Rich or Steve Roach, this seems somehow even darker, more penetrating. The third track in particular, a nearly 25-minute remix of the title track, explores a variety of dark crevasses, sounding more like dark ambient and drone music than cello. There will be few in-between opinions on this – people will either love it or run screaming from the room. The album includes remixes and “demixes” by M. Griffin, Austere, and The Mystifying Oracle, all with unique perspectives and interpretations of Lena’s source material, the last one including a thumping beat that is quite different from the rest. Recommended for those bold enough and brave enough to go there.

 

 

Tor Lundvall “Yule”

(www.strangefortune.com, 2006)

10 tracks, 47.04 mins

 

Ambient Christmas music? Why not? As compelling as his Empty City CD, Yule again shows Lundvall’s penchant for creating unique little slices of sound that seem to tell singular stories and stretch the boundaries of ambient and other genres. “Busy Station” has a simple yet hypnotic repeating musical phrase with interesting sonic textures just below the surface. “The Train Home” has a lovely gentle bass line and spacious chords on electric keys. The meter on “Christmas Eve” sounds like a ticking clock. Nice work on the keys is again a plus. This one has lyrics, and Lundvall’s gentle vocals don’t detract from the overall mood, though my preference is always toward instrumental works. He reminds me quite a bit of Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys, though his singing is softer, befitting the music here. “12:00 AM” sounds like jingling Christmas bells with dark ambient textures, rather cool really. “Snowy Morning” is another brief, effective mood piece, sans bells. “Yule Song” is lighter, though a thumping beat plods along in the background. An unusual sound that could be a processed vocal wail or a synthesized sound calls out from time to time. Vocals are again soft and unobtrusive. “Fading Light” is a high point, another short bridging piece that is barely there and yet full of warmth and depth. Softly tinkling synths herald the arrival of “January,” cold but beautiful. More vocals this time, but the music could stand by itself if allowed to. After several short tracks, the disc closes with “The Falling Snow,” over 20 minutes of exquisite minimal ambience. It makes for a pretty cool Yule.

 

 

Tor Lundvall “The Seasons Unfold Sampler”

(www.strangefortune.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 15.25 mins

 

This very short EP serves as a primer for the upcoming 4-CD box set of previously unreleased material from Tor. “Whir (Mix #2)” is a fantastic ethereal piece that sounds not unlike Cocteau Twins from their Victorialands period or thereabouts. “29 (re-recorded single version)” is quiet ambient music with Lundvall’s vocals featuring prominently. The way he alternates instrumental and vocal numbers reminds me of Brian Eno, though I prefer Lundvall’s singing voice to Eno’s, and his lyrics are mysterious without being overly intellectual or silly. After another vocal track, “The Backyard,” we finish with a quirky fascinating mood piece, “November’s Fields.” Lundvall seems to have a knack for finishing a disc strong, even a short sampler like this one. The goal is obviously to whet the appetite for the box set – mission accomplished.

 

 

Memory Geist “Funereal Cavern”

(www.musicamaximamagnetica.com, 2007)

3 tracks, 59.54 mins

 

As the name implies, Funereal Cavern is indeed mournful dark ambient music. Lest anyone doubt that ambient has worldwide appeal, this disc comes from the duo of Bakis Sirros from Greece and Steve Law from Australia, released by an Italian independent label. At just under eight minutes, “Shadowy Periphery” is the pop single of the set (he said facetiously), a brooding mass of ominous swirling sounds that take us right into the depths from the get-go. There is no melody, no rhythm, and no light for that matter. Something like bells and distant clanging add a little bit of form to it in the middle, but it is largely a floating affair. It’s not quite like the benchmark of dark ambient, Robert Rich and Lustmord’s Stalker, but it certainly lies in close sonic proximity to it, if a bit more free-flowing in nature. Also, there are times in “Deepest Reaches” where something approaching more traditional space music happens now and again, if only briefly. Mostly, though, it is metallic drones ringing seemingly into infinity. This brings us to the 32-minute title track, an expansive piece reminiscent of parts of Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void with its sense of vastness. There are warmer softer edges here and there to keep things from becoming too overly bleak. If you like exploring the deep crevasses, dive into Funereal Cavern.

 

 

Numina “Symbiotic Spaces”

(www.gestaltrecords.com, 2007)

2 CDs, 72.22 mins + 71.57 mins

 

A collection of rare and unreleased tracks, Symbiotic Spaces is a first-rate collection of floating ambience by Jesse Sola aka Numina. Though compilations can sometimes be uneven, this 2-CD set has remarkable flow, moving deftly from pure drifting like “Waves of Reflection” to the tribal timbres of “Broken Silence” to the swirling synths of “Death of a Sun.” There is enough variety to keep things interesting, but Numina plays to his strengths by sticking to the smooth ambient style that fans have come to expect. Titles aptly describe the music; for example, you might correctly guess that “Space Lilt” is light and bright, while “December Sky” imparts a somewhat darker, colder tone, although it is still quite silken. Three of my favorites are back-to-back-to-back at the end of disc one. “Dronecoil” is a sparse piece with a shimmering metallic character that builds just so.  This is followed by “Cells”, a deep space journey filled with cool electronics, which surprises by segueing into primitive tribal ambience. Disc one closes with “Anemone [Version Three],” whose dark silky sounds remind me of early Cocteau Twins, softened around the edges a bit. Disc two opens equally strong with “Moonrise,” a dark haunter with a touch of Goth. “In the Shadow of Machines” is moody ambient electronics much like Pete Namlook sounded in the early FAX days. And so it goes from strength to strength, some lighter some darker, some abstract some more melodic, all good.

 

 

M. Peck “Glacial”

(www.gearsofsand.net. 2007)

8 tracks, 48.14 mins

 

As one might expect Glacial is a selection of cold, stark ambient tracks, courtesy of one Michael Peck, who appeared on the collaboration Imprint with Mark Mahoney (see Nov 2007 review). These are of a quite spartan and experimental nature, some tracks such as “A Past Reflected” little more than a few abstract sounds pieced together in quiet unassuming fashion. As avant garde ambient goes, it does hold attention and avoids getting too serious or discordant. That is to say, it is listenable, eminently so actually. It covers the gamut from the light blips and bleeps of “Cold Flow” to the dark ambient of “Crawl”; from more structured pieces like “A Cognitive Chaos” to the white noise and drones of “Starving the Silence.” “The Impending Solitude” is smooth like glass but still with a certain quirkiness that carries through most selections. Cool sequencing opens “Debris from a Thousand Landscapes,” easily the most accessible track and my personal favorite. Infectious light rhythms join in midway through. In stark contrast the disc closes with a darker piece, “Ghost Psalm.” Light or dark, it all is well done, a strong effort well worth a listen.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Rain Falls in Grey”

(www.cuneiformrecords.com , 2007)

7 tracks, 59.57 mins

 

I was a little leery of this CD when I heard that RMI had eschewed their trademark Berlin school and space rock sound for this tribute to the recently deceased Syd Barrett. However, I needn’t have feared, because Rain Falls in Grey is truly sensational. Psychedelic, experimental, even frenetic at times, the quality is there from the opening minutes of the title track. After assorted strange noises, an insistent thumping drum beat is joined by wild wails of a saxophone, followed by powerful organ playing, all tumbled together into one big passionate cacophony. The drumming in particular is excellent, as are the scorching guitar leads that appear throughout. I’m actually reminded of some of the long instrumental jam sessions on Santana’s Moonflower CD, a far cry from the usual RMI reference points of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and the like. But the music is so solid that I don’t care how far afield it is from my usual musical frame of reference. Dark brooding atmospherics restlessly churn about in “Shut Up,” as if we are hearing voices inside of Syd’s head. Speaking of which, the next track is “Syd”, a brief piece with the most urgent passionate drumming yet. “Emissary” journeys through two distinct phases, a shadowy electronic ambient section, and a psychedelic rock section that starts with drums and organ and then adds guitars and sax. This really does pay great tribute to early Floyd, based on my limited experience with that time period. The only RMI album with any remote similarity to this is Greenhousing, which seemed an experiment for experimentation’s sake. Rain Falls in Grey is experimentation with deliberation, and it comes off brilliantly.  

 

 

Redshift “Last”

(Distant Sun, 2007)

6 tracks, 65.43 mins

 

If this is indeed the Last of Redshift, it is a fitting send off to a great 11-year ride. Though decidedly retro, Mark Shreeve always gave the band an aggressive edge that is unlike other Berlin school acts. Sometimes dark and brooding, sometimes rocking out, always intense, Redshift has put together an impressive catalog that EM fans will appreciate for years to come. The source of this album is Hampshire Jam 5 from October 2006. Though warm applause is heard at the beginning, it is studio quality sound throughout. “Tormentor” is a 16-minute sound fest that alternates between the band’s two major styles, all-out sequencer blitzes and moody atmospherics. Speaking of moody, it segues into “Nightshift” which spirals downward into a cool series of electronic gurgling noises. Sequencing returns in short order on the title track, mesmerizing as usual. Subtle sonic textures and effects are gently folded into the background, and the intensity builds just so. It’s a fitting last stand, condensing Redshift’s best tools and tricks of the trade into one 11-minute blast. After the soft interlude “Long Way Out” we move into the 20-minute epic “Damage.” An ominous, edgy beginning is joined quickly by more sequencing that carries us a few minutes in before it all is stripped away, going into one of the dreamiest passages Redshift has ever done. It feels a lot like the really minimal moments from Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon or Ricochet, space music down to its barest essence. Fantastic. Finally comes “Torn,” and if this really is the last of Redshift, it’s as good a way as any to close the book, dark atmospheric book ends with all sorts of nifty retro bits in between. Well done guys.

 

P.S. Just to be perfectly clear, Mark tells me this is NOT the last Redshift CD, and in fact they are in recording new music right now – whew!

 

 

Justin Robert “Manasota”
(
www.justinrobert.com, 2007)

8 tracks, 57.51 mins

 

This album falls squarely in the intersection of ambient, new age, and meditation music, as exemplified on the opening track. It sounds like ambient and electronic music, but it has a little more structure like one might expect with new age music. But the overall tone and effect is relaxing like music specifically designed for meditation. “Atum” is a resonating drone piece, though it slowly builds additional soft sonic layers as it goes. “Not So Random a Life” starts with assorted experimental sounds, gurgling and pinging about. Pleasant shimmering sounds then pulse their way into the mix. Within these first three tracks, Justin captures a signature sound, with high marks for originality and cohesiveness. “Sun” is, surprisingly given the name, on the darker side, but is equally compelling to listen to. Though I suspect the niche he’s going for is more contemplative and meditative, dark ambient fans should also enjoy this one. “Wind” makes for quite a contrast, the most structured piece on the disc as gently strummed guitar reverberates into the air, though in a somewhat dissonant manner. Even more surprising, fuzzed out guitars fade in on “Bleeding,” a tribute to My Bloody Valentine perhaps. By this time I’m ready to expect just about anything, and “Acceptance” delivers in the form of a more cinematic, symphonic sound, full of melancholy strings. Saving the best for last, “Calm Water” is a lovely 16-minute piece that finds a perfectly relaxing middle ground. This music pushes the boundaries of my usual musical affinities, but in a good way, and with a sure hand. Note that Justin has joined with Mirko Ruckels aka Deepspace to form the Lunar Flower Netlabel at www.lunarflower.us for future releases.

 

 

Bruno Sanfilippo “InTRO”

(www.brunosanfilippo.com, 2006)

7 tracks, 53.55 mins

 

Bruno Sanfilippo’s music often is more cinematic than electronic, using synthesizers as a means of painting sound pictures for imaginary movie soundtracks. His InTRO album is an excellent example of his signature sound, showing the depth and range of his talent. “InTROworld” starts the album off with a primitive, visceral feel that sounds half tribal and half Middle Eastern. “InTROmental” is relaxed and introspective, very nice. Each composition seems simple yet assured, and the titles hint at the intended picture, “InTROsacro” having a touch of the sacred, for example, with soft bells and trickling water. “InTROpiano” is self explanatory, a beautiful piece that may have inspired his follow up album Piano Textures (see review this issue). The inspiration for “InTROvoices” is less obvious, as the predominant instrumentation is soft melancholy strings, and a similar, somewhat sadder theme follows in “InTROvisions.” Pretty piano returns for “InTROpassion,” closing the disc with a classical or new age feel. Sanfilippo’s music is emotional and powerful.

 

 

Bruno Sanfilippo “Piano Textures”

(www.brunosanfilippo.com, 2007)

8 tracks, 55.49 mins

 

This album is what it says, eight pieces of piano music recorded in night sessions on a 1923 Steinway, along with strings, synthesizers, and something called an Armenian duduk. Needless to say, this is not driving music. This is music for having friends over for wine and quiet conversation – or perhaps for just having an evening alone with one special friend. The piano playing is delicate and beautiful. The strings complement the music nicely, although I find they add considerable sadness to the beauty. Most pieces are sparse and slow, although track four is a notable exception, a more serious piece with occasional interludes of faster playing with more discordant notes, interspersed with brief periods of silence. My favorite track by far is number five, a more ambient work that keeps the piano in the background and relies more on atmospheric electronics. Track six is also interesting, a more experimental piece where perhaps the piano samples have been processed in some way. The first half of the album makes me too sad, but it is very well done. However, I much prefer the later tracks as it gets more ambient, leading up to the excellent closing track which blends piano and electronics perfectly.

 

 

Sleep Research Facility “Deep Frieze”

(www.coldspring.co.uk, 2007)

5 tracks, 58.32 mins

 

Every once in a while, an album comes along that just grabs me from the first listen; Deep Frieze is such an album. Cold and foreboding ambient music in the tradition of Biosphere, it has its roots not in the Norwegian ice floes, but rather in the Antarctic. Track titles are simply latitude and longitude markers on the frozen continent. The music is what I would call pure ambient, the ultimate chill out, nearly an hour of ebbs and flows that are little more than white noise and low rumbles of sound. But there is something unmistakably cool about it, something thoroughly engaging. It is about mood and feeling, about setting a tone. Rarely have I heard a disc that so clearly succeeds in doing exactly what it sets out to do. I sit back in wonder as I listen, knowing that others will no doubt wonder what all the fuss is about, that they won’t “get it”. But for those of us who do, oh man, this is the real deal. Perfection.

 

 

Synth.nl “AeroDynamics”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

12 tracks, 68.27 mins

 

I just finished reviewing a very dark ambient album, and was in need of a fast antidote. I quickly reached for the new disc by new talent Synth.nl, a Dutch musician by the name of Michel van Osenbruggen. I had already listened to it a couple of times, and knew that it would be the perfect way to get my energy back. This is totally fun, upbeat, optimistic music. The album’s title derives from van Osenbruggen’s love of planes, cars, and other aerodynamic phenomena. We get to hear race cars whizzing by in the opening seconds of the opening track, “Scuderia.” Bass synth pulses and skittering percussion set a light tone as bright glassy electronics ensue. Synth.nl lists Jean Michel Jarre as an influence, and that is felt and heard here, a really fun way to start the album. “DownForce” cools things down with a relaxed, easy listening number. The emphasis throughout is on catchy melodies and rhythms, presented in a way that goes down easy. Many are playful, such as the bouncy “Maranello.” Some slow things down a bit, like the relaxed tunes “Drag” and “Stall,” whereas others keep things moving briskly such as fast-paced sequencing of “SuperSonic”, “Turbulence”, and the particularly ebullient title track. It would be virtually impossible to be down while listening to AeroDynamics.

 

 

Telomere “The Stellar Sea”

(www.evenfall.com, 2007)

8 tracks, 55.41 mins

 

Note: Telomere is this month's (January 2008) interview. Go to the Interviews page and check it out!

 

The readily identifiable sound of the Serge modular synthesizer is again on full display in Telomere’s third CD, The Stellar Sea. Pure space music envelops the listener in swirling pillows of sound as “Radiance” gets things started. After a few minutes the music grows quieter, almost still, taking already relaxing music and turning it into a thoroughly soothing tonic. The transition to “The Shimmering Sea” is seamless. This one has brighter metallic timbres. It follows a very similar pattern, dropping to near silence in the middle, once again giving the music a chance to breathe fully. “Bathyal Depths” is soft and delicate throughout, even more relaxing than its predecessors. “Orion’s Field” is quintessential music for deep space exploring, the longest and perhaps best track. “Ascension” is bright and lighter than air. “Through the Gate” adds a gently rolling bass line early on, for just a touch more structure than most. This one deftly goes through a number of changes without losing the overall feeling of floating across the galaxy that permeates the disc. “The Far Shore” is a bit darker than the rest, with a long slow fade as if to signify our arrival at a faraway destination. If you like Telomere’s earlier discs or Michael Stearns’ classic Planetary Unfolding, then The Stellar Sea is a must.

 

 

Vir Unis “Henry Hud”

(www.atmoworks.com, 2007)

9 tracks, 32.32 mins (download only, $4.98)

 

This brief but extremely pleasant album floats along as smoothly as a lullaby – which is fitting because it is John Strate-Hootman’s loving tribute to his 2 year-old son. While Not Even The Rain was more of a new age offering, this is a delicate ambient work, soft but not overly sweet, despite the first track being called “The Sweetness of Dreams.” It is a beautiful floater, an extremely pleasant way to start. The amusingly titled “Boo Googen” is smooth as glass, perhaps even a touch more delicate than the opener. “The Sun The Moon The Stars” seems appropriate to the night, though again avoiding any real sense of dark ambient that one might sometimes associate with Vir Unis’ music. This would make great planetarium music, though lighter than Jonn Serrie’s space music. Another aptly titled tune is “Expansive Heart,” glowing with warmth but again deftly avoiding new age cliché. Melody is suggested though discrete notes are hard to come by, and rhythm is absent. “Winter Moon” shimmers brightly, while “Cycles and Turns” is just the tiniest bit melancholy, though nothing here is less than uplifting. “Constant and Steady” is the one most like “typical” Vir Unis, a short drone piece though with nice subtle layered sounds to it. The final two tracks are perhaps the gentlest and prettiest of all. Sweet dreams.

 

 

VoLt “Nucleosynthesis”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

3 tracks, 62.48 mins

 

The latest VoLt CD is heaven on earth for Berlin school fans, loaded with lengthy Teutonic sonic excursions. Fast sequencing immediately comes to bear in “Explosion” and continues throughout. A few synths are gradually layered over the top, but it really is first and foremost about the firm sequencing foundation. It is easy to immerse yourself in it, letting it completely envelop you. A bouncy little bass line comes along 8:00 in as warm vintage synths continue to float over the top of things. The energy just keeps coming right up until the end, settling down only in the last of its 18 minutes as we head into “Evolution,” which starts as an atmospheric piece but like its predecessor doesn’t wait long to start a loop going, albeit at a slower pace. A bass line arrives sooner this time, and a faster sequence is laid over the top. This piece is more intricately weaved together, even more hypnotic than the first. For non-fans it might seem a bit redundant after a while, but if you just go with it it works quite well. Like the first, this one gradually fades at the very end, signaling the arrival of the last part, “Implosion.” This 25-minute epic is a fitting finale, a veritable feast for the ears of all things retro EM, from great synth solos and sequencing to a generally cool array of electronic sounds, which all builds into a great frenzied conclusion.

 

All reviews © 2008 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

November 2007

 

Between Interval “Radio Silence”

(www.spottedpeccary.com, 2007)

12 tracks, 73.55 mins

 

This Spotted Peccary release is a reissue of a small indie CD from a couple years back by Stefan Jönsson. “From a Silent Surface” starts with slow, pounding beats, contrasted with soft background static. Sounds are added one at a time, a synth here, a bubbly loop there, and then a steady backbeat takes over. It is very catchy, and quite different from the dark ambient sound of Secret Observatory, although Jönsson’s ability to make more concise tunes was evident on Autumn Continent. This is more like thinking man’s ambient dub or trance. We segue smoothly into “Wishful Thinking”, the static and spoken word bits reminding me a lot of Spyra. An almost operatic female vocal sample appears intermittently. A vaguely koto-like stringed instrument pulses its way slowly along, lending a faraway pensive feeling. Like its predecessor, it turns toward modern electronica and beats near the end. The atmospheric talky bits return and then stay for the duration in “Overheard,” a stripped down piece devoid of rhythm or melody that plays more like esoteric soundtrack music, as does the title track that follows. These sound more like the current Between Interval sound, perhaps a bit more abstract and dark. “Aerolith” and “The Dark Light” continue in minimal mellow mode, with a smoother softer edge to them, although a slow steady rhythm appears in the latter, along with some cool synths that do add a dash of melody. “Katakomb” features a hypnotic bass pulse, repeating simple synth phrasing, and a panning beat that is somehow equal parts modern and primitive. The rest of the disc continues to explore various phases of ambient, some with beats some without, some with melody some without, all in interesting and listenable ways. Thumbs up.

 

 

Javi Canovas “Red Metal”

(www.synthmusicdirect.com, 2007)

12 tracks, 64 mins

 

Javi Canovas “Strange Vision”           

(www.synthmusicdirect.com, 2007)

7 tracks, 54.20 mins

 

Neu Harmony, aka Synth Music Direct, has gone the way of downloads for all their new releases, and here are two of them – Red Metal and Strange Vision from Javi Canovas, whose CD releases Impasse and Light Echoes I enjoyed very much. Those featured lengthy Berlin school excursions, whereas these two releases have a little more variety, going for shorter tracks with stronger themes and melodic structure. The difference in style is evident immediately on Red Metal’s opener, “Circadian Rhythms,” a piece of modern electronica with a shuffling dance beat. Not my thing, but well done. “Radiometry” is more my speed as crystalline sequencing starts us off. A fat synth lead eases its way in, and the track is really allowed to breathe before the beats come in, softer and slower this time. More synths and sequencers are layered in and this one gets a thumbs-up. “Commutation Q” shimmers with ethereal tones, warm and bright. Bouncy sequencing and thumping beats return for “Cibercafe” in a winning combination as well. Also very good is “Dark Memory System,” another bit of fun synthesizer synthetic sounds. The emphasis is on a futuristic electronic sound, no synth guitars or oboes or even flutes. Mostly upbeat, there are occasional darker moments such as “Liquid Crystal”, a subtler, more dramatic piece. The title track is completely devoid of rhythm, with warm synth timbres, very nice. “Radar” is my favorite, a complex number that weaves at least three distinctive, varied movements into its 10-minute time span.

 

Strange Vision starts with “Forty Years Ago,” majestic at first before launching headlong into brisk pacing with a bright, pleasant synth melody. The sequencing really cooks, never coming up for air, carrying the load until drums are added near the end. “Tzu-Jan” is equally if not more energetic, and by the time “Prelude” comes around I’m wondering if Javi is ever going to let the listener catch his breath. Things slow up a bit on the excellent “Skyjacker,” but after a mellow intro it too picks up the tempo, if showing perhaps a little moderation. Surprisingly melancholy piano and pads take us into “Missing Autumn.” Still, the emphasis is clearly on keeping things always in motion, and this one eventually moves to the beat as well. “Skywatcher” is the fastest yet, before ending as majestically as the album began with “Last Journey.” Similar to each other but quite different from his earlier releases, these latest Canovas creations should please his old fans and earn some new ones along the way.

 

 

Robert Carty/Sylken “The Endless Vista”

(www.sylken.ca, 2007)

6 tracks, 61.45 mins

 

Robert Carty and Sylken may not be household names, but in select circles they are both known for quality space music, so it seems a natural pairing as they come together for this release. The result is velvety smooth on the expansive atmospheric sounds of the title track. There is a breathy quality to it, and the effect is most soothing. Low rumbles like thunder roll in for the latter half. “Deep Distance” is not the classic Ashra song of the same name, but rather a churning, swirling electronic brew of sound. Richly textured, it feels like it has a melody but it isn’t readily apparent. The mood is at turns dreamy and somewhat majestic. “Desire of the Ages” goes back to pure quiet floating, great for contemplation or just chilling. “Of Space and Time” brings more of the same, dreamy space music filled with warmth. Each piece keeps to a central theme or set of sounds and explores the nuances therein over its allotted time, never overstaying its welcome before moving on to the next. The music shimmers even more radiantly on the last two tracks, keeping the proceedings light and cheerful throughout. The Endless Vista is pure space music of the highest caliber. 

 

 

Create “Space Time Continuum”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

5 tracks, 61.27 mins

 

Steve Humphries is back with Space Time Continuum, and it’s a return to form in the style of his first two albums, Reflections From The Inner Light and From Earth To Mars, blending spacey atmospheric passages with retro electronic music in the Berlin school style. He remarks that the disc goes back to making shorter songs, but in EM that’s a relative term, with 4 of the 5 tracks clocking in at 12 minutes or more, though none over 15. While this may seem a rather dry, technical observation it is an important distinction, as Humphries’ musical ideas seem ideally suited to this length, allowing enough time to develop but ending soon enough to avoid aimless meandering which can sometimes plague longer pieces. The title track starts with loads of atmosphere, from male choirs to synth pads to various and sundry other electronic sounds and effects. A slow simple sequence picks things up about a third of the way through, along with a slowly shuffling beat and bright synths. It stays low key, building only a bit but just right, a very comfortable beginning. “Ghost in the Machine” starts softly as well, a lilting little synth line introducing the piece alongside some unique sound effects, sort of half static half music that lends a fascinating character to it. This one evolves in beautifully, subtle and remarkably expressive for EM. “Cryogenics” takes things down a notch with a moody piece, still with sequencing but lower in the mix. Synth oboes alternate with mellotron flutes on “Footprints in the Sand,” a traditional Berlin school number with hypnotic sequencing. The last track completes a mostly mellow but highly successful outing.

 

 

Fanger & Schönwälder “Analog Overdose 4”

(www.manikin.de, 2007)

CD: 3 tracks, 64 mins

DVD: 75 min concert/documentary video

 

If you haven’t overdosed yet, this fourth edition in the analog series should get you closer. Not only does it have three more excellent studio tracks to add to their burgeoning catalog, it includes a DVD with video footage of last year’s performance at Hampshire Jam 5 in Liphook, interspersed with some fun documentary bits. It’s always nice to get to know these guys on a more personal level, especially for those of us stateside who don’t get the chance to meet them at live gigs. So while you Euro cats may find it silly to watch Mario eating eggs over easy on toast, I think it’s kind of fun. And then of course there’s the music. What can you say, these guys have the formula down pat. So far, it’s still not getting old. Quaintly titled “Berlin Breakfast,” “Frankfurt Lunch,” and “Berlin Dessert,” these three 20-minute pieces go down easy and leave me feeling full and satisfied. “Breakfast” has a light touch, bubbly little sequencing sort of skipping by, with easygoing solos over the top – maybe to go with those over easy eggs? I particularly like the soft edge on the choirs, not overdone, just right. “Lunch” starts with a flair for the dramatic, unusual synth sounds interspersed with silence, rumbling like thunder, and otherworldly cries. It’s almost like churning up the dead from underground, unusually creepy stuff for these guys but very cool. Suddenly, we step into a funky jungle instead, and a bouncy little bass sequence starts up. Ah, this is more like it, a slice of retro heaven, back on the bright side of life. The sounds used are top notch, from the new Manikin instruments Memotron and Schrittmacher among others. “Dessert” comes last, of course, and it starts slow and easy, full of warm strings and pads, quite dreamy sounding. The hypnotic loops come, of course, but more laid back and leisurely. Piano and mellotron flutes make for a nice finish, with a little weirdness at the end for good measure. 

 

 

Fanger & Schönwälder “Analog Overdose 4+”

(www.manikin.de, 2007)

2 tracks, 45.17 mins

 

I can only surmise that Fanger & Schönwälder were having so much fun making their CD and DVD for Analog Overdose 4 that they just kept on going, and that this CD must be the result. Remarkably short for the duo at 45 minutes, it is nevertheless an essential addition to the collection. Incidentally, it comes beautifully packaged in a round tin, the same as the original release of the first Analog Overdose. “Frankfurt Breakfast” is a tasty beginning, just under 20 minutes that wastes no time in establishing a mid-tempo punchy sequence adorned with the usual retro accoutrements such as mellotron flutes and strings. It builds effortlessly as usual, with nice synth solos in the middle. It is variations on a well-worn Berlin school theme, but it still sounds great, and changes just enough to keep things fresh throughout. Male choirs and pads draw the track to a moody close. “Berlin Lunch” is 25 minutes of the same, though with an unexpectedly eerie beginning as dark synths swirl around churning water sounds. Just when it seems this one will stick to more ambient realms, the classic retro elements come in again, predominantly a low bass pulse for the sequence and mellotron flute for the mellow melody. Another perfectly evolving piece, one wonders how many more delightful overdoses Teutonic fans can take before it proves terminal. If I do OD, it will be with a smile on my face.

 

 

Nelson Foltz and Tom Lynn “Still Life – Volume Two”

(www.stillsounds.com, 2005)

1 track, 51.56 mins

 

In reviewing Volume Three of the Still Life series I mentioned the clean, elegant packaging. Well, this thin green-on-black envelope that is Still Life – Volume Two managed to slip between other CDs to review and remain unnoticed for a year before I just rediscovered it this evening in November 2007. Foltz and Lynn have a unique style that is difficult to review, as long drones and abstract sounds slowly evolve over the course of any particular album. Though the approach is sonically quite similar on each Still Life release, each individual album nonetheless has characteristics rendering it a unique, worthwhile addition to the series. This volume starts with drones so resonant and deep that even on my PC speakers it threatens to overtake me from the rich bass vibration. It softens considerably later on, even adding some light touches of percussion. The duo proudly claims that no electronic instruments were used in the recording, and this one does sound less ambient than Volume Three, with more of a feel for the avant garde or perhaps even modern chamber music, with just a splash of jazz. Though technically not an electronic music release, EM fans with diverse tastes should find this quite enjoyable.

 

 

Erdem Helvacioğlu “Altered Realities”

(www.newalbion.com, 2006)

7 tracks, 53.14 mins

 

Erdem Helvacioğlu is the second musician from Turkey I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, the first being Can Atilla. Though the primary instrument is acoustic guitar, plenty of electronics add to the varied sonic textures. “Bridge to Horizon” gives a glimpse into the album’s overall approach, starting as an accessible guitar piece but becoming increasingly experimental as it goes. Layers of sound accumulate in a seemingly haphazard manner, building to a crescendo and then leveling off as the music fades. “Sliding on a Glacier” is similarly sparse to begin with, lots of space between notes to allow room to breathe. But it soon turns into a computerized cacophony, quite noisy and disjointed. It settles down later but remains unusual and adventurous, something that will appeal to a select few. “Frozen Resophonic” has a similar quirkiness, but is a bit more listenable. The guitar processing at the beginning sounds almost like hammered dulcimer, an interesting effect. “Dreaming on a Blind Saddle” plays closer to traditional ambient and new age, the most relaxing number so far, quite nice, and rivaled by “Pearl Border on a Dune” as my favorite. “Shadow My Dovetail” has the same shimmering reverberations that exemplify a lot of the material. The music is often active, restless, searching, sometimes taking abrupt and surprising turns as this one does in the last couple of minutes. “Ebony Remains” is the closer, and is a microcosm of the entire disc, alternating between the experimental and the accessible.

 

 

Lammergeyer “Backwater”

(www.databloem.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 35.25 mins

 

Free download EP, go to http://www.databloem.com/z_lammergeyer.htm

 

Databloem co-founder Anthony Paul Kerby is apparently so musically prolific as The Circular Ruins and Lammergeyer that he’s literally starting to give the stuff away. Backwater is a 5-track EP of all-new material, no throwaways here, and he’s giving it to you for FREE if you go to Databloem’s website and download it. Track one is “Against the Shore,” with a lightly tumbling bass line, soft buzzing, and a feeling of calmness and coolness. “Think of Other Things” has a similar bubbly background, a bit fuller sounding though still quite relaxed, with that Lammergeyer soundtrack quality. “Resting Place” trickles in with a fun, crisp sound, followed by a playful synth line and some softly gonging bells. Metallic drones are then joined by a spacey sound that seems to be looping backward. “Every Last Word” starts with a breathy synth tone that hangs in the air, as bubbling sounds emerge like lava in an underground cavern. Another playful synth lead appears, perhaps a tad too playful, as it stands out not in a particularly good way, but it is a brief misstep. The final track, “Listening in Vain to Shells,” comprises nearly half the EP, a good mood piece that meanders abstractly through various dark crevices of sound and space. For free, this is too good to pass up.

 

 

Liquid Mind “Relax: A Liquid Mind Experience”

(www.realmusic.com, 2007)

8 tracks, 65.23 mins

 

Chuck Wild’s Liquid Mind series of CDs is renowned in new age circles. There is quite possibly no one better in the genre of meditation music, as exemplified by this compilation which includes at least one track each from Liquid Mind III through Liquid Mind VIII, plus a new recording. “Teach Me to Whisper” starts the feeling of floating right away. The Liquid Mind sound is a perfect hybrid of new age, soundtrack, and ambient music. Though minimal it is also melodic, though sweet it also has depth. “Serenity”, the title track from Liquid Mind V, starts with metallic echoes before ebbing and flowing with the familiar breathing pattern that epitomizes Wild’s music. Undercurrents of gentle sound offer a lightly pulsing counterpoint, never enough to distract from the relaxing warm timbres. “Touching Calm” takes things down a notch further still if that’s possible; after all, it is from the Liquid Mind Sleep CD. “Awakening” offers a bubbly little sequence to add just the smallest dash of liveliness, and to give electronic purists such as myself something additional to sink our ears into. The Liquid Mind sound is so well defined that differences are slight and yet distinct. Titles are uncanny in their ability to evoke the feeling the music represents. Case in point is “Reflection,” which is thoughtful and just a touch melancholy. “I Am Willing” is the new piece, and as one might expect it offers familiar comforting sounds that sit comfortably alongside Wild’s other Liquid Mind recordings. “Take Me Tenderly” and “Lullaby for Grownups” complete the set. For calm yet uplifting meditation music, it doesn’t get any better.

 

 

Mark Mahoney / M. Peck “Imprint”

(www.limitedwave.com/subterraneous, 2006)

6 tracks, 50.32 mins

 

A unique blend, Imprint straddles the boundaries between ambient and modern electronica. “A Fabled Utopia” is one of two 15-minute bookends, and it starts the disc strong. Light and airy, yet experimental and without a distinct melody, it is a cool mélange of electronics. A certain enjoyable quirkiness permeates this track and the disc as a whole for that matter. There is a sense of aimless wandering, and yet perhaps with undiscovered intent. “Initiation” is one of four shorter tracks that follow, with assorted odd sounds and a narration of some sort in the background. Light keys play over the top nicely. This track sounds a lot like the signature sound of several Databloem artists, blending noise with music in artistic fashion. “Lower Density of Souls” has a smoother floating quality, as does “Breached Tidal Motion,” though the latter is several shades darker and has a few twists and turns later on, whereas the former is pure space music. Warbling synths sweep in and out as “Pathogen” begins before morphing into a pulsing drone with an old sci-fi feel. The track grows more abstract as it develops, a strange but interesting sound collage. The final piece is the longest, and starts somewhat ominously and restlessly as percolating sounds bubble forth. The full title is “Static Migration/ A Riddle. A Lament. A Prayer,” and the music seems to have as many ideas as the title, weaving its way across varied sonic terrain. The most challenging piece, it is not without its rewards, particularly as it settles in for the latter half. Imprint is a solid effort worthy of attention.

 

 

Na-Koja-Abad “Dreamfall: Veils and Visions”

(www.na-koja-abad.com, 2007)

3 tracks, 58.50 mins

 

We’ll get to the music on the latest release from Na-Koja-Abad in a moment, but first the intricate packaging must be appreciated. His music has always been organic, conjuring images of brown and green, perhaps dark forests or even jungles. This disc takes that imagery and turns it into reality, as pressed leaves are carefully laid in the bed of the clear jewel case. A twig runs the length of the spine, visible even when the case is closed. I can only imagine the care and effort that went into putting each single package together. Also included is a booklet with a mysterious dark tale. The ambient music within is as delicate as the packaging, subtly meandering slowly through the darkness. My favorite is the middle track, “Devouring the Sky,” a dark haunter with softly trickling water, deep drones, and primitive drums. Expansive at first, like Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void, the drums assert themselves in the latter third of the lengthy piece, dominating without overwhelming. Max Corbacho guests on this one. The previous track, “Traversing the Dusk,” opens with low rumbles, chirping birds, and a mournful male vocal, which I could have done without but it does sort of fit with the tribal, organic sounds. The latter half, in particular, reminds me of Steve Roach from around the time of World’s Edge and Artifacts. “Garden of the Ineffable” is the closer, 10 minutes of similarly dark textural primordial goodness.

 

Note: the limited edition disc with special packaging is sold out, but you can still get the music at his site.

 

 

Brendan Pollard “Flux Echoes”

(www.rogue-element.uk.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 73.26 mins

 

Brendan Pollard’s genuine vintage arsenal creates, as one might expect, a warm palette of genuine Berlin school sounds. Though technically a solo release and not a Rogue Element one, he had help from three other musicians contributing guitar, piano, organ, and synths. The end result is another pleasing Teutonic outing sure to satisfy EM purists. The 21-minute title track has the usual assortment of choirs, crisp sequencing, rich bass tones, and more. It really gets to chugging along past the 8:00 mark, and keeps building from there. Original it’s not, but fun it most definitely is. Mellotron strings at the end sound very much like Free System Projekt from Okefenokee Dreams and other strong retro acts. If that’s not enough, then check out the epic “Radiant Transmissions,” which clocks in at 30:00 even. After some random atmospheric twitters it quickly finds a hypnotic groove as well, with male choirs over the top. Changes are gradual for quite some time, until the sequencing drops out just prior to 18:00 in. Things then get abstract and spacey for a few minutes before it picks up again. Shelley Walker’s guitar soars over the top once in a while, particularly at the end, adding a nice touch. All four musicians are used on “Phosphor Skyline.” A moody, brooding piece to start, Mellotron flutes then add a melodramatic touch just before the sequencers fire up again. Like a bell curve rising and falling, it goes formless again in the latter stages, save for some classical touches on the piano courtesy of Mat Roberts. The disc closes on a brief ominous note with “Torque.” Flux Echoes is good stuff.

 

 

Radio Massacre International “Blacker”

(Northern Echo Recordings, 2007)

4 tracks, 58.02 mins

 

This British trio never tires of trying new things, and “Dubly” does a fine job of once again smashing any stereotype you may try to pin on them. Twangy little guitar bits, a few electronic noises, and…is that bongo drums playing softly in the background? Berlin school it ain’t, nor prog, nor any other convenient label. The first time I played it, frankly, I turned up my nose in disgust, but already on my second playing I’m finding it strangely compelling. On the face of it, it seems to go nowhere, but upon closer inspection it does develop in its own way. For those seeking the familiar, skip to track two, the 28-minute “This Is Scenery?” After some shrill noises and a bit of experimentation for a while, the sound collage settles down and familiar choirs emerge about a quarter of the way in, followed a couple minutes later by the sequencer ear candy. Light, crisp percussion brushes by, joined by Gary’s guitar to complete the package. This one covers a lot of ground, taking some adventurous but enjoyable turns along the way. “No Bones” is bare bones, less than four minutes of atmospheric guitar noodles, but they are good noodles. “Enormodome” starts with the expected electronic space twitters and choirs, but quickly devolves into a cacophony of sound, which then suddenly drops off into deep booming drum sounds. Just as you may be about to shake your head and give up, wonderfully dramatic synths, sequencing and guitar come straight at you, and it’s off to the races on a classic RMI effort for the remainder. Time will tell if Blacker is an uneven entry or a bold one in the ever-burgeoning Radio Massacre International catalog.

 

 

Markus Reuter and Robert Rich “Eleven Questions”

(Unsung Records - www.burningshed.com/store/unsungrecords/ - 2007)

13 tracks, 53.12 mins

 

Robert Rich is never one to rest on his laurels, and Markus Reuter is no slouch in the experimental music department either, so it’s no surprise that Eleven Questions is full of surprises. Recorded in one week at Robert’s studio, it is an exploration deep into the possibilities of sound, both acoustic and electronic. Full of Rich’s characteristic glurpy quirkiness, these are short concise sound bites with a distinct bent toward the eclectic. The thirteen tracks are laden with memorable hooks, yet are hardly pop music. “Reminder” is equal parts organic and synthetic, the rhythm a perfect hybrid of primitive and modern. Notes from the piano seem to bounce aimlessly through it, lending to the abstract nature of it. A strong bass line punctuates the second track, “Reductive.” Strange clicking sounds are the primary percussion. “Recall” is just as unusual but with a melancholy, almost mournful tone. The piano chords at the start of “Retention” give it a jazz flavor, though the idiosyncratic Rich and Reuter sounds are still found in abundance. “Remote” is just that, with a faraway feel, the closest to “normal” ambient that the disc gets. I like the things that go bump in the night in the distance. “Redemption” starts as the prettiest song on the disc, but turns into a dark minimal haunter. Robert’s flute playing adds just the right touch to “Relative.” Not for casual background listening, Eleven Questions is for the serious music fan who likes to really listen.

 

 

René van der Wouden “Alchemia”

(www.renevanderwouden.net, 2006)

5 tracks, 59.57 mins

 

Sweet, drifting space music begins the 20-minute epic “The True Glass of Alchemy,” which opens René van der Wouden’s Alchemia. Several minutes are spent in dreamy reverie, light and bright, full of warm pleasant tones. At the 10:30 mark the Berlin school sequencing starts simple and slow. It adds a double stutter step into the loop just before the 14:00 point, then changes again a half a minute later, continuing to meander its way patiently through. Eventually it doubles its pace for that classic retro sound, with warm pads in the background to complete a satisfying piece. Windswept synths start off “Far Across the Heavens,” joined by bubbly sequencing and nice flute sounds. More sequencing is layered in, as is a slow, simple but effective bass line. Completing the effect is a melodic synth lead line. “Golden Dreams of Silver Elements” again makes me think of bubbles as the light, brisk sequencing starts. All the sounds are thoroughly electronic. Gurgling churning noises introduce “The Alchemists” but it too settles into the pattern of bright melodic synths and sequencing. The last track epitomizes the whole album – nothing fancy, not too fast or too slow, with a sunny outlook on things. The emphasis throughout Alchemia is on keeping things upbeat and moving. Nothing wrong with that.

 

 

René van der Wouden “Recreation”

(www.renevanderwouden.net, 2007)

8 tracks, 62.28 mins

 

Recreation is a new release of material that René recorded in spring 2004. The cover photography and the season adequately reflect the happy tones within. The first track has a wavering Vangelis-like synth lead. I often find Vangelis overly sweet for my taste, and the same is true here, although once it gets going the melody is pleasant enough. “Recreation 2” fares better, with a sound like a cross between a koto and a 12-string guitar, and warm pads laid over the top. The steady beat should get the toes tapping. The third track continues the spring theme with very light sounds. An even more infectious beat establishes itself later on. I could easily envision Jean-Michel Jarre coming up with something like this. Jarre also sometimes gets too cute, and might come up with something like the bouncy “Recreation 4,” which may appeal to perpetually happy people I suppose, and I wouldn’t totally rule out it growing on me. “Recreation 5” is one of the few darker turns, a moody atmospheric affair that I like quite a lot. In stark contrast, “Recreation 6” is pure synth pop with happy beats, playful bass lines, and warm synth pads. Moods continues to alternate, as track seven goes back to melancholy textures. A harpsichord appears in the middle to lighten the tone somewhat, then jumps right back up with pounding drums and soaring synth leads. Going back to more ambient touches at the end, this one really covers a lot of ground, but does so in an engaging fashion. An oboe-like synth lead begins “The Last Recreation,” but it soon goes back to the optimistic sounds that permeate the majority of the disc. Recreation is light, uplifting energetic music for sunny, happy days.

 

All reviews © 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

September 2007

 

In addition to the 11 CDs reviewed here, check out the half dozen reviews on the Features page from Databloem in this month's Label Spotlight.

 

Beta Cloud “Nephology”

(www.betacloud.com, 2007)

5 tracks, 66.49 mins

 

According to the liner notes, nephology is the study of clouds and cloud formation, and Nephology is an album of five deep drones and experimental noisescapes. Intense throughout, it starts with the very short opener “Supercell,” a restless set of distant metallic reverberations. From there it jumps headlong, quite literally, into “Stratus” – no fade in, just the sudden onset of sound. It straddles the middle ground between pure drone and wall of sound. Throughout, the music is adventurous, generally atonal, and without beats. At times the sounds get a little softer and smoother, but dissonance predominates, particularly on the first two tracks. “Cumulus” continues the trend with almost pure white noise to start, but then a few discrete notes emerge from the mist. This is perhaps the closest the disc comes to music in the conventional sense and the most relaxing, though the white noise remains very much in the foreground even as the softer elements surround it. “Nimbus” is not as stormy as the name suggests, taking a different drone with a somewhat calming pulse. The drone is rich in tonal colorings, such that the mind seems to grasp subtly shifting changing facets, either real or imagined. The sonic palette shifts midway through with low rumbles into deeper bass tones. The character is again quite metallic, ringing out into the darkness. “Corona” is a surprisingly lovely conclusion, with beautiful sparse piano echoing on a backdrop of yet more white noise, this time blended about equally. An adventurous listen that should appeal to fans of dark ambient, drone, and more experimental electronic music.

 

 

Peter Challoner “Beneath the Ice Flow”

(www.peterchalloner.co.uk, 2007)

3 tracks, 67.45 mins

 

I loved Peter Challoner’s debut CD Ambient Abstract Form, and I am equally enamored of his two latest offerings. Beneath the Ice Flow is three lengthy, gently flowing pieces that are completely soothing and mesmerizing. The nearly 22-minute title track is first, full of radiant light and just enough tinges of shadow to keep it balanced. Like the beautiful blue cover art, it is dark and cold beneath the ice but we can see the light from above. “Drifting Fixed Point” follows in a similar vein for the next half hour, a shade softer, muted, and feather light. It doesn’t do much, but does it really well. “Plus 4 Degrees” brings 16 more minutes of the same, glistening a bit more brightly as it shimmers. Tune in and chill out. 

 

 

Peter Challoner “Interpolation”

(www.peterchalloner.co.uk, 2007)

6 tracks, 61.34 mins

 

After two quite minimal albums, Peter Challoner’s Interpolation is different from the get-go. Though the title track is still very floaty, a synth saw wave sounds much more like Vangelis than Challoner. And before long a steady beat appears, soft and slow, to my recollection the first use of definite rhythm on Challoner’s works, but certainly not the last on Interpolation. But that’s not to say Peter has gone dance or techno, the use of synth drums and percussion remains tastefully restrained. Soft cymbals accompany dreamy synth pads on “Form Follows Function.” A perky little meandering synth provides melody and structure. This compares favorably with mellow tuneful offerings by Alpha Wave Movement and Jeffrey Koepper. “On Axis With The Sun” starts with male choirs and swirling wind-like synths, followed in short order by a delicate sequence that plays lightly in the background. The one develops very nicely over 12-plus minutes, eventually adding gentle beats and then maintaining a moderate tempo and peaceful mood throughout. “Solid State Memories” is more of a drifter, but with a touch of dub influence for extra panache. “Transcendental Journey” seems like it will be another floater but pulls a nifty hat trick with a totally cool synth-based acoustic guitar riff that gives it just the extra oomph the rest of the way. Fantastic. Presumably a tribute to the X-Men, “From Magneto” closes things out with a perfect blend of space music and classic Berlin school sequencing, still with the velvety smoothness that Challoner does so well. His best album to date.

 

 

Nelson Foltz and Tom Lynn “Still Life – Volume Three”

(www.stillsounds.com, 2007)

1 track, 43.43 mins

 

Elegantly simple packaging and music define the Still Life series, as evidenced on Volume Three. With glowing comments from Laurie Anderson, Jon Hassell, Pauline Oliveros and other prominent avant garde musicians, it is not surprising that this music falls more into that category than EM. In fact, the disc makes a point of stating that no electronic instruments were used. So the bouncing, amusing bass line is, in fact, a bass, or presumably something along those lines. The music definitely has an intellectual feel about it, like it is something to be studied before it can be fully grasped, taken in and appreciated. The sparse elements adhere to one another in a deceptively spartan manner, but basic does not necessarily equate to accessible. It is assembled with sounds that do not seemed like a natural pairing, but one adapts to it fairly readily, or at least that was my experience on first listen. Familiarity breeds comfort as it goes, although there are subtle shifts throughout. The playful bass line eventually disappears, but not until over halfway through the lengthy piece. From there bright shimmering drones take over, becoming more minimalist than the preceding 25 minutes by quite a bit, which surprises somewhat because it didn’t seem like there was that much to strip away from the overall sound. This is my favorite section of the disc right through to the end, probably just because it is more familiar to my ambient ears, but the entire disc has something highly positive to offer.

 

 

The Glimmer Room “Now We Are Six”

(www.theglimmerroom.co.uk/, 2007)

11 tracks, 63.34 mins

 

While it seems a bit odd for a person with only a couple of official releases to already be putting out an album of various outtakes, it is hard to argue with the pleasant results of Now We Are Six, a collection of recordings from the past six years. Detailed liner notes explain the origins of each track. Cool bell tones and brushed percussion start off “Fields Full of Poppies (Live)”, followed by a light, happy tune of the sort The Glimmer Room excels at, a most pleasant opening. “707” starts with little blips and cosmic winds whooshing by. Female chanting lends an exotic, faraway feeling. “Brown” blends synthesizers with tribal undertones, another winning combination. “One Room Flat (Live)” is quite different at first, with a British girl telling a story, but after that we move into a catchy melody with soft beats and bass. “Haworth” is more straight-up Berlin school than usual, with satisfying results. Breathy synths harken back to Tangerine Dream around the time of Underwater Sunlight. Most tracks find a comfortable middle ground and set an engaging mood, such as the friendly toe-tapper “Unknown Substance.” Variations on three tracks from Tomorrow’s Tuesday also appear here, different enough to warrant inclusion here, although I could’ve done without the singing on “Sweet Smell of Cloves (Macondo Mix).” On the whole though, Now We Are Six adds up to remarkably consistent set that plays like the tracks were always intended to be part of the whole that they now are.

 

 

Igneous Flame “Hydra”

(www.chillfactor10.com, 2007)

11 tracks, 57.49 mins

 

Pete Kelly is back again with his cool dark ambience as Hydra presents 11 bite-sized journeys into the depths. “Selene” is haunting from the very beginning, a deep drone seeming to emanate from all around, reverberating into infinity. Things swirl ominously, though generally peaceably, except for a brief burst of intensity in the middle that goes away as surprisingly as it came. “Heart of Darkness” churns restlessly with distant rumblings, dark choirs, and general murkiness - cool. By the time “Colour my World” arrives one begins to wonder how deep, dark and cold things will go, and if we will ever get back to the surface. But there is softness as well, and a strange kind of warmth, so if we can’t escape maybe it won’t be so bad. “Elemental Energy” sounds like a journey into an underwater cavern with echoing drips and assorted other gurgling dark ambience, loaded with a variety of sonic textures. “Terrible Beauty” is much smoother but still quite dark despite a lustrous quality as well. “Unseen” is so sparse as to be nearly silent at times, equal parts haunting and beautiful. And so it goes, exploring every nook and cranny of sublime dark watery ambience that Hydra has to offer.

 

 

Inquisitor Betrayer “Space Elevator”

(www.inquisitorbetrayer.com, 2006)

9 tracks, 68.54 mins

 

A sticker on the front cover of Space Elevator proudly proclaims, “NEW! In the tradition of Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, and Synergy!” While it is undeniably very TD-like, “new” is a stretch, as whole sections and identical sounds from various vintage recordings are included. “Jade Emperor” is mostly a reworking of the most familiar sections of Tangram, with a bit of “Diamond Diary” from Thief, and even a snippet of “Detroit Snackbar Dreamer” from Edgar Froese’s Stuntman album. “Gamma Parallax Light” has heavy orchestral touches and wordless female vocals, more in Synergy mode. It changes abruptly into moody space music with a synth oboe. This track is much different than the first, and even within the track it sounds like unrelated musical ideas thrown together. “Quantum Off World” moves along steadily with a decent melody, but it suffers the same fate as most of the rest of the disc, which is rather uninspired. There are moments here and there, but it’s all been done before by others, and better. Also, mixing TD’s style and Synergy’s style on the same disc gives it a very uneven feel. One exception that rises above is called, appropriately, “Ascension,” which distills the best of Tangerine Dream’s essence from the early 1980s without outright plagiarizing it. “Garden of Shadows” does fairly well also, with vague references to “Tiergarten” from Le Parc, but it evolves into something else over its 15-minute course. Still, it takes far too long into the disc to reach these high points, and they aren’t enough to salvage what in the end is a mediocre effort.

 

 

The Jupiter 8 “Songs From The Engine Room Part One”

(www.theglimmerroom.co.uk/, 2005)

3 tracks, 55.59 mins

 

The bio in the liner notes and on his webpage gives little information on who the mysterious Jupiter 8 is, but I can say that I certainly enjoy this CD, featuring three lengthy sonic excursions in what he calls a “short jaunt around our solar system.”  It is one of the coolest hybrids of retro and modern electronica and rock that I’ve heard in some time. Hypnotic sequencing asserts itself right away to start “Fifth Blob From The Sun” (love that title!), a 17-minute journey where both the beat and the bass line sound much more rock-oriented than I anticipated, but it totally works along with the space music synthesizers going on around it. Layer upon layer builds in a mesmerizing manner, setting up a strong groove that moves things along at just the right clip. “Sea of Tranquility” has an even cooler rhythm line, sort of mechanical or industrial sounding, like a slowly chugging steam engine. Warbling synths float over the top, then a stuttering bass line takes up residence as well. Once again the combination proves unique and irresistible. This one is more laid back than the first but no less enjoyable. As if that isn’t enough, “Red Spot” provides the 24-minute pièce de résistance. Simple chords are played sparsely over spacey electronics, and then the beat asserts itself strongly once again, this time with crisp, brisk percussion. The bass line is active, almost jazz-like, an unexpected twist that works. Later on, the percussion moves forward as the other elements drop out, leaving it to subtly shift as it pans back and forth, before the bass and beats return. Later on the percussion gives way and the bass takes its turn, doubling up on itself in a somewhat spastic manner but at this point I’m hooked and willing to go about anywhere The Jupiter 8 wants to take me. This is a 2005 release, where’s the follow up, I want it now.

 

 

Nattefrost “Underneath the Nightsky”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

9 tracks, 58.15 mins

 

A brief German female narrative begins “Translogical Movements,” giving way in short order to driving synths and sequencing. A catchy melody and a steady beat follow, completing the powerful opening of Nattefrost’s sophomore Groove release. Quirky unique synths mark the beginning of “Searching for a Distant Planet,” punching into the night air, though it develops into another accessible steady number. The title track bubbles briskly along as well, light and lively. You’ll be hard pressed to keep the toes from tapping and the head from bobbing. Better still is “Observing Emotions,” slowing things just a shade but keeping things moving forward with irresistible rhythms and memorable melodies. A strong Jarre reference asserts itself near the end, deftly weaved in to the rest. “Winterland” exudes surprising warmth as it jumps right in, continuing the emphasis on energy along with plenty of silky smooth synth work. The playfulness and optimism keep coming with “A Different View of Jupiter,” again with hints of Jean-Michel, though not as much as on the bouncy retro sounds of next couple tracks after that. Underneath the Nightsky is just about the most fun you can have with your electronic music.

 

 

Nemesis “Gigaherz”

(http://www.nettilinja.fi/~ahassine/, 2006)

14 tracks, 66.03 mins

 

The title track of Gigaherz starts off with the usual infectious beats and melodies that Nemesis is known for, blending modern dance and electronica elements seamlessly with good old-fashioned Berlin school and just the right amount of moody ambient touches as well. Like other recent Nemesis releases, this is largely new to us but not to them, having been recorded in the 90s with some later remixing and rerecording. Obviously a very creative period for them, it’s great to continue to hear the fruits of their musical labors from the archives. Particularly good is the “Evolution Suite” which makes up the last 10 tracks of the album. There is considerable range and depth here. Take “Meander” for instance, a gem of a track that contains several cool ideas and sounds in a mere 2:20, mostly on the moody atmospheric and experimental side, with a chugging pulse briefly in the middle that shouldn’t fit but it absolutely does. Water effects and electronics like whale song highlight another less-is-more piece, “Origin of Species,” which is even shorter than “Meander.” Warm synth tones hang in the air at the beginning of “Terra Firma,” joined by deep pinging tribal drums and rich bass tones. However, it soon picks up the pace into classic Nemesis toe-tapping energy. This one would fit right in on Sky Archeology. Earlier on, “Cryogenic” is a lovely airy piece to open the suite, very breathy and quite like Global Communication’s watermark album 76:14.  Dreamier still is the light gossamer sounds of “The First Sea.” Whether wandering in space or moving to the beat, Nemesis always seems to satisfy, and they certainly do it again with Gigaherz.

 

 

Nemesis “Stereofields Forever: Live Archive Vol. 2”

(http://www.nettilinja.fi/~ahassine/, 2007)

9 tracks, 64.38 mins

 

Culled from recordings from 1997-2004, this is another solid set from the best EM band from Finland. “Entrance” is a brief spacey intro with some cool warbling electronics. “The Cosmic Garden” picks up the energy straight away with brisk, bubbly sequencing. Thin at first, the sound grows a more aggressive edge to it as the low end picks up. This one feels very much like two separate tracks, as the final two minutes are quite ambient with gently lapping waves. We then flow into the cool bass ‘n beats of “Desert Miracle” as it shuffles along quite nicely. Bright synths dance not unlike “Tango Fornax” on Sky Archeology. Speaking of which, this archive features a couple of reworked songs from other albums; “Sky Archeologist” is a reinterpretation of that album’s title track, and a slightly longer version of “Gigaherz” is included. My favorite track is “People at Sunset,” a mellow one featuring quiet crickets, gentle choirs, and a delicately playful synth solo that pings slowly about. It is understated but excellent, reminiscent of another favorite of mine, Spyra. Another high point is “Lunar Mansion,” a hypnotic piece that alternates between cool sequencer grooves and expansive space music passages. After the seven minute “Finale” of subdued smoky synths all I can say is bring on Live Archive Vol. 3

 

All reviews © 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

 

August 2007

 

8 new CDs reviewed this month.

 

AirSculpture & Star Sounds Orchestra “Okefenokee 2002”

(www.richochetdream.com, 2007)

12 tracks, 79.54 mins

 

This limited edition of 300 includes a disclaimer that it has been released due to fan requests, and that the sound quality is not fully up to par. With that in mind, this rough-around-the-edges recording is nonetheless a worthwhile piece of electronic music history, covering a fair amount of territory over its 80 minutes. I love the punchy drum-like noises on the brief opening track, followed by “Ommattidial Sorcerers,” a moody floater loaded with atmosphere. “Sunny Dew Pixie Stix” is pure AirSculpture, with lovely bright bubbly sequencing, chugging rhythms, and assorted electronic wizardry. “Tacit Fox” is a quirky number that starts off interestingly enough but gets bogged down with a tinny orchestra hit sound that is way overused and really annoying. Thankfully it is one of the shorter tracks, easily skipped. “Suwannee Riversill” fares much better with warm synth pads, bright piano with reverb, and deep rich sequencing, an excellent example of classic Berlin school. Twangy guitars on “Name That Tune” take us to the Old West side of EM. I think someone may even be banging a pot or something – not the best of the bunch but fun nonetheless. Speaking of fun, “Spacestation Hamburg” offers a brisk rhythm and percolating synths, a unique track with a fresh sound somewhere between rock and EM. An aggressive, edgy sequence takes over and sounds splendid. It builds and builds as high-pitched synths threaten to spiral out of control at the end, great stuff. By the time “Easy Stranded Time” bounces smoothly by, it’s clear that this week of music in 2002 was about trying a little of everything. There are gems throughout definitely worth mining, for example the 13-minute “Mars” featuring John Christian from AirSculpture. And “Syncing in the Swamp” (ha ha) is pure sequencer bliss as it stutter steps quickly by. With far more hits than misses, this set was well worth releasing and is well worth getting before they sell out.

 

 

Broekhuis, Keller, Schönwälder, Spyra, and Bill Fox

“Space Cowboys @ Jelenia Góra”

(www.richochetdream.com, 2007)

4 tracks, 75.56 mins

 

From the Ricochet Gathering in Poland in September 2004 comes the Space Cowboys, which for me immediately brings to mind Klaus Schulze’s group the Cosmic Jokers from over three decades ago. However, the music is the typically modern take on the retro sound that these space cowboys are known for. “Memories of Yesterday Pt. 1” is a cool, relaxed piece that is given plenty of room to breathe over its 17 ½ minute course. Broekhuis’ drumming adds to the mood as effectively as Harald Grosskopf has done for KS over the years, active and energetic yet blending into the overall sound. “Londermolen #21 – The Live Mix” is a 27-minute Schulze tribute with a slow, regal, classical touch, much like “X” at the beginning. But the familiar Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder sound takes over with moderately paced sequencing and brighter timbres as it goes along. I suspect the xylophone lead later on is Wolfram der Spyra, as it is one of his trademarks. “Memories of Yesterday Pt. 2” starts with soft fluty synths, followed by a steady, thumping beat. Warbling spacey synths sound like something out of an old sci-fi film. After several minutes of mesmerizing electronic meditations, the music takes a surprising turn with a lengthy percussion solo in the middle. Bright brisk piano playing draws the number to a close. Somber, marching synth strings start “Memories of Yesterday Pt. 3” but it quickly builds in both pace and intensity. Once it peaks it holds there for several minutes, finally leveling off and settling down for the last couple of minutes for a dreamy atmospheric finish. Yee haw!

 

 

Free System Project & Dave Brewer “Okefenokee 2000”

(www.richochetdream.com, 2007)

7 tracks, 75.57 mins

 

One of my favorite EM albums ever is the original release of Okefenokee Dreams from 2000, featuring four lengthy slabs of glorious Berlin school improvisation, the first of several Tangerine Dream inspired concerts played before small gatherings in the middle of the Okefenokee swamp. This new version is slightly rearranged and edited, and features some new material. “Cottage #3” is 26 seconds shorter but none the worse for it. I had become quite accustomed to the mellotron strings swooping in loudly on “Ibis Flight” after the long slow fade of “Cottage #3,” but now it comes third instead of second, following “Billy’s Island,” and it has been smoothed out with a gradual fade in. But the biggest changes are the new additions. “In Search of the Big Alligator” sounds very much like it would have fit on TD’s Stratosfear album, with the same haunting quality and subtle melodic structure, including a slow steady drum beat. “Robot Foraging at 3AM in the Okefenokee” is playfully bouncy as staccato synth notes punch little holes in the night air. “Sounds from a Southern Marshland” is the third “extra” track, and it fits in part because “A Night at the Museum” has been trimmed from 32 minutes to just over 16. However, if my ears are not mistaken “Sounds…” is a 9 minute excerpt from the middle of the original 32. If not, it is a very similar piece or a variant mix of it. In fairness, it’s not a bad idea, as the original did perhaps go on a bit, even though I like it very much. And “A Night at the Museum (Evening Edit)” is different as well, stripped of its powerhouse sequencing and turned into a completely atmospheric number. So how does it compare? I’ve had 7 years to love the original, so the purist in me is a little miffed at the meddling. However, the new material is good, so I will withhold judgment until I’ve spent more time with it.

 

 

Grosskopf, Baltes, Heilhecker  “The Jelenia Gora Sessions”

(www.ricochetdream.com, 2006)

7 tracks, 73.29 mins

 

From the Ricochet Gathering in Poland in 2004 comes this CD that weaves progressive rock, electronic music, and eastern ethnic influences into a set of beats and grooves. “Jelenia Sky” opens with guitars and conga drums and then goes all-out with heavy rhythms. The intensity keeps growing, until it crests and then ebbs away. “Miami” has a catchy little electronica groove to start, but then it’s a full-on rock assault with forceful drumming and aggressive electric guitar. The band also calls itself Sunya Beat, and there definitely are lots of beats to be had throughout. “Lys” starts out lazily and quirkily, then a slow groove of relaxed bass ‘n beats takes over. Electric guitar leads the way again once it gets going. “Landmarke” starts restlessly as screeching synths and guitars find their footing. Then it settles down into a slow and steady pace, but the guitars return to the forefront a few minutes later. It becomes apparent this far in that this is more of a rock album with electronic music elements rather than the other way around. If you go in with that expectation, it should help you get the most out of your listening experience. Be sure to check out the tongue firmly in cheek on the closing number, “Drum and Bond.”

 

 

Indra “Colosseum”

(www.indramusic.ro, 2006)

3 tracks, 67.09 mins

 

Romania’s answer to Klaus Schulze, Indra, keeps putting out great Berlin school vintage sounds at a prolific pace. Colosseum is a fantastic set, full of classic Teutonic motifs. The title track moves at a steady clip with laid back synth solos, taking the listener back to the late seventies or early eighties. Sparse haunting piano takes it down a notch in the midsection, a deftly handled change of pace. Then pounding, powerful drums add to the intensity. Several themes are skillfully weaved into the half hour live recording, the centerpiece to the album. Before and after it are equally strong tracks. “Passion Around” makes for a relaxed opener, a leisurely number that sets and maintains the perfect mood throughout its 15-minute course. It actually reminds me more of Klaus in the nineties, but exceptionally so. In presumably a nod to Constance Demby, the final track is called “Deus Magnificent,” although the style remains thoroughly Schulze-like. Pure space music, this one floats about for a while, eventually joined by drums that add just the right depth and feeling to it, slow yet potent. I particularly like the last third of the piece, but it’s all good, as is all of Colosseum.

 

 

Indra “Tantric Celebration CD 1: Kali”

(www.indramusic.ro, 2006)

5 tracks, 71.24mins

 

Sold separately from its sister disc Tara (see review below), Kali shows Indra in more energetic mode, eschewing the overtly retro style for a melding of future and past. Sequencing still abounds, but beats are more regular and insistent, maybe even dance floor ready. “True Heart” gets right into it with a brisk bass line, warm pads, crisp fast percussion, and equally speedy synths. This is music that floors the accelerator from the get-go and never lets up. “Initiation” starts majestic and slow, but that lasts only seconds before we take off again. Light crystalline sequencing swirls quickly about, then dissolves into a rhythmic section that moves at a more moderate tempo for a while, but the energy level remains high throughout most of the rest, all 24 minutes of it. “Ritual Night Dancer” rumbles in like thunder, then spacey electronic twittering floats in above it. The beat is heavier, slower, with a tribal flavor to it. Pads and synth strings fill things out nicely to complete the package. More tribal still is “U Hunger,” which is all drums and dark atmospheric synths. It sets an ultra cool groove down and then stays with it, gradually building the intensity just so. “Fearless” wraps things up with more bass and beats, thoroughly unabashedly electronic with a strong nod toward Klaus Schulze, though of more recent vintage perhaps. By the end of this energetic album, you may be tired but you’ll also likely be very happy.

 

 

Indra “Tantric Celebration CD 2: Tara”

(www.indramusic.ro, 2006)

3 tracks, 69 mins

 

Whereas Kali explores other niches, Tara takes us back to more traditional EM, three lengthy pieces much like Colosseum, excellent for fans of Klaus Schulze. “Nectar Point” starts with cool pads in a minor key and a softly tinkling synth lead, piano-like but with an electronic edge to it. A crystalline sequencer like a slowed-down version of the beautiful one in KS’ “Sebastian im Traum” from Audentity comes into play, forming the gentle theme for the remainder. Even when it speeds up some toward the end, it remains soft and mellow. “The Long Journey” is even better, with a briskly pulsing bass line, ethereal atmospheric touches, and once again stellar sequencing that brings to mind the best of 70s and early 80s KS and TD. The music is just as good when the sequences stop now and again, giving the mind and ear a rest and allowing the dreamier passages room to breathe and expand. 21 minutes go by quickly and very pleasantly. “Anthology” is the 36-minute epic conclusion, starting with a shifting metallic pinging sequence. Eventually a throbbing beat joins in and the sequencing gives way momentarily to the lead synth melody, rejoining it a short time later. It builds and then releases the energy, and then does it all over again, creating sparkling highs and luxurious lows. Tara is another top-notch Indra release.

 

 

Natural Frequencies aka Andreas Leifeld “Tranquility In Motion”

(www.ozellamusic.com, 2007)

7 tracks, 62.30 mins

 

Lush sonic soundscapes adorn Andreas Leifeld’s Tranquility In Motion. “Dreaming” is a beautiful hybrid of Global Communication, Ulrich Schnauss, and other accessible EM that straddles the borders between various styles of modern electronica. “Dreaming” has gently pulsing rhythmic clicks, soft bell tones, and warm synths with light sequencing. “Inside” takes a 180-degree turn into eastern mysticism with pure sitar music accompanied by soft tribal percussion. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the disc, but it is dreamy and enjoyable nevertheless. “Time Waves” floats back into space music mode on tiny sonic bubbles, although it evolves significantly, taking a tribal turn midway through. What I like best about this disc is its fresh approach to electronic music; it isn’t dance music, it’s not at all Berlin school, it’s not quite down tempo or chill-out; it’s just good instrumental electronic music with fresh sounds. Often melodic, at other times it is content to evoke a feeling or mood. A rich, resonant drone forms the foundation for “Taking Shape.” A delicate pulse sets the tempo. Layered electronic wisps, a bit of playful bass and light melodic touches complete the sound. “Timeless” is a soft and dreamy floater, beautifully rendered. “Zero (pt. 1)” starts even softer, though it picks up with a bit of piano, percussion and bass, very soothing. Tranquility In Motion is a strong, exceptionally even effort.

 

All reviews © 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited. Thank you.  

July 2007

 

10 reviews this month, covering 12 new releases and reissues. I noticed when I was pasting them together that I did tend to rave a lot this month, and this after I said in the June issue that I had reviewed some of the best 2007 has to offer. What can I say, if I don’t like something I’ll tell you, but some stellar releases have been coming my way lately, so no apologies for liking them!

 

Jonathan Block and The Circular Ruins “Shadows on Water”

(www.gearsofsand.net, 2007)

8 tracks, 60.14 mins

 

Gears of Sand label founder Ben Fleury-Steiner urged Jonathan Block (a.k.a. Synthetic Block) and Anthony Paul Kerby (a.k.a. APK, Lammergeyer, and The Circular Ruins) to join musical forces, and I am so glad he did. The end product is a truly unique melding of talents, such that the resulting product isn’t readily identifiable as coming from either of them. Oh, there’s a mellow, soundtrack-like quality that I would attribute to APK, and the accessible melodic structure likely stems from Jonathan’s influence. But I have no idea where the gentle tribal sound of “Eye of the Beholder” comes from; clearly, they inspired each other to expand on their established sonic territory. I could envision Synaesthesia coming up with this track, although it’s a bit brighter than that. “The Outer Island” is darker and more ethereal. Formless at first, a soft melody drifts in, very nice; perfect music for a lazy Sunday afternoon, or whenever. Unusual background noises add texture here and there. “Circles” has a pinging bell-like tone, almost like hammered dulcimer, and smooth oboe sounds, very Patrick O’Hearn-like. The title track has a similar organic/synthetic fusion that so characterizes O’Hearn’s work, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest sort. Drones, piano, and subtle synth colorings prove the less is more adage. “An Ordinary Day” is light and yet daring, the sort of accessible experimentalism that Saul Stokes might make. Suffice to say, I think Shadows on Water is a winner.

 

 

Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder “Orange”

(www.manikin.de, 2007)

3 tracks, 71.49 mins

 

Part of the art of making a good album is knowing how to select the source material. Case in point, the tracks on Orange are not new recordings, nor were they created at the same time. But they do seem to naturally fit as a single artistic statement. Starting with a 2005 concert recording, “Orange One” is classic Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder, a mellow, gradually evolving piece that perfectly blends Keller & Schönwälder’s synthesizer wizardry with Bas Broekhuis’ rhythms. As usual they present their unique spin on Berlin school, which sounds retro and modern at the same time. “Orange Two” was recorded over three years earlier but seems cut from the same cloth, though with its own distinctive voice. Steady pounding beats and crisp percussion move the dreamy synth sounds along, creating 40 minutes of warm soothing music. Sometimes the rhythm fades to allow the atmospheric touches shine through, but rhythmic sequencing and drums are never far away as it goes through its paces. Dissonant crashing sounds at the end are a surprise, raising the cool factor another notch. I’m not sure how the color scheme was arrived it, but the last track is called “Orange & Blue.” I suppose it does have cooler electronic tones to go with a tribal vibe. The first of a series of “theory of colors”, Orange will definitely leave a pleasant taste and have you anticipating the next hue.

 

 

Hoffmann-Hoock & Wöstheinrich “Conundrum”

(www.DiN.org.uk, 2007)

7 tracks, 56.45 mins

 

A perennial favorite of mine, Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock has teamed up with DiN label musician Bernhard Wöstheinrich to create some first-rate electronic music. The very spacey retro passages, scintillating guitars, and ethnic touches from Hoffmann-Hoock are apparent throughout; to them Wöstheinrich adds his technical wizardry, modern electronica elements with an emphasis on the rhythmic component. The end result transcends genres and simply makes good music. Wöstheinrich’s influence is felt early on “Virupaksha,” as a cool bubbly bass sequence and punchy rhythms appear within the first minute. The atmospheric sounds swirling about are trademark Cosmic Hoffmann. These contrasting musical elements fuse together into a heady brew that cooks right along. “Bowed Visions” mellows things out considerably, focusing on dreamy guitar soundscapes until a slow easygoing bass line picks things up a bit. The disc has a very fluid feel throughout, perhaps best exemplified here. Klaus likes his eastern influences, appearing on the title track in the form of ethnic percussion and a small dose of female vocals. With its pensive faraway quality, this could easily pass for a Mind Over Matter track. Wöstheinrich gets to show off his talents on the quirky “Phased Realities,” a piece firmly rooted in modern electronica rather than retro. Though different in character it manages to fit in to the overall theme, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between these two gifted musicians. Conundrum is one of 2007’s best.

 

 

Ion “Future Forever”

(www.infectionmusic.co.uk, 2007)

8 tracks, 52.43 mins

 

Ion is the new solo project from David J. Hughes of T-Bass and Skin Mechanix. It is firmly rooted in the melodic Berlin school camp, without the rock riffs and power chords from other Hughes’ projects. The simpler, quieter approach pays big dividends, allowing the cool synth compositions to set the mood. The title track wafts in serenely, evenly. It breathes for a while before light sequencing and beats come in. Eventually the main melodic theme arrives, soaring over the top of the rest, its impact made by the restrained approach that leads us there. Deftly handled, this is a lovely understated way to open. Even softer is “Logoscape,” a dreamy musical reverie that leads us into “Minerva,” a romance-tinged piece that somehow manages to evade outright sappiness. Think of Tangerine Dream’s best soundtrack work from the 1980s and you get the idea. “Evensong” is similar in tone and style, though with a brighter sequencer line to build on. This one develops particularly nicely, with the same sure-handedness that permeates the entire album. “Farscape” is a trippy deep space journey. “The Silent Scream” is a nifty hybrid of modern shuffling beats and retro sequencing in relaxed mode. “Tangents” is pure Berlin school, with an atmospheric space music beginning and ending, and driving sequencers and rhythms in the middle. I particularly like the soft ethereal finish, which segues perfectly into the mellow closing track, “Flying Over Blue Waters.” I highly recommend Future Forever.

 

 

Frank Klare “Digitalic”

(www.groove.nl, 2007)

6 tracks, 70.57 mins

 

What an amazing CD this is. The first time I listened was on my iPod, on a noontime run across Portland’s downtown bridges in the midday sun. The steady hypnotic beat and mesmerizing sequences of “Digitalic One” were perfect, giving me exactly the invigorating push I needed. Layer upon layer is perfectly executed as one sequence tops another, and then as percussion and drums join in, making 17 ½ minutes go by like nothing. “Digitalic Two” is half as long and seemingly twice as fast as it lets the throttle open and lets it rip. Warbling twittering synths open “Digitalic Three” along with a chugging beat and warm synth pads. The whole disc has a very Schulze-like feel to it, particularly here. The stutter step drums could easily have come from Audentity. After three energetic numbers, part four cool things down a notch. Mechanical electronic noises flitter about for a while until it settles down and yet another sequence emerges. Sound loops come in waves, rolling over the top of one another in spellbinding fashion. The fifth track mixes it up a little more, with vaguely tribal though still highly synthesized-sounding beats. The disc has a wonderful flow to it as it segues from one track to the next, changing up just when it needs to. Following the more laid back approach of tracks four and five, “Digitalic Six” brings the energy back up just so, not too much, for a stirring finale. Digitalic is fantastic.

 

 

Stephen Parsick “Traces of the Past Redux”

(http://www.doombient.com/start.htm, 2007)

10 tracks, 74.58 mins

 

Thanks to Edgar Froese, I am now always more than a bit leery when a musician chooses to remix a classic album under the auspices of “improving” it. However, Stephen Parsick’s Traces of the Past Redux is a solid reworking of the 1998 original. “Close beneath the Surface” remains a strong collaboration between Stephen and frequent musical co-conspirator Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock a.k.a. Cosmic Hoffmann. The 10½-minute version here loses little from its 15-minute progenitor. The slower fadeout of the original is a bit smoother perhaps, but even seasoned listeners should not find this overly troublesome. Similarly, though “Totem Poles” is a great homage to Schulze’s “Totem,” cutting it from 25 minutes to 17 in no way undermines its musical integrity. And the upside is that the shortened tracks make room for three new pieces, all worthy additions. “Hydra” is a pulsing bit of electronic bubbles and churning drones with classic retro bits such as tinkling Schulze-like sequencing and beautiful mellotron flute. “Ashram”’s influence is obvious, an upbeat guitar-laden rhythmic track with Manuel Göttsching’s musical stamp all over it. “The Keeper of Time” is vintage retro, a dreamy atmospheric number that plays like a perfect hybrid of Cosmic Hoffmann and Redshift. My favorite track remains “Quicksilver Sea,” a beautifully understated Parsick-Hoffmann collaboration. Great original, great redux.

 

 

Richard Pinhas “Metatron”

(http://www.cuneiformrecords.com/, 2006)

2 CDs, 5 + 7 tracks, 55.47 + 75.19 mins (+ video track)

 

Richard Pinhas is an icon in electronic and progressive rock music, and yet I’ve somehow never had the opportunity to hear any of his work until now, and I must say I’m impressed by this 2-CD set of all new material. It is a wonderful fusion of progressive and krautrock styles, creating dense walls of sound as on the powerful opening track, “Tikkun (part 1),” whose four parts are scattered throughout the set – part four being the soundtrack for a bonus video which you can play on your PC. The 9-minute video is a cool montage of images from a North American tour in 2004. The wall of sound on “Tikkun (part 1)” builds into a cacophony as I write, but despite the fervent drumming and discordant sounds, the overall effect is quite hypnotic. The lengthy song titles suggest an overarching theme, as does the rich complexity of the music. Although Pinhas’ guitars and electronics form the centerpiece of his compositions, special mention must be made of Antoine Paganotti’s emotive, forceful drumming, which features prominently on several tracks, in particular the excellent “Moumoune and Mietz in the Sky with Diamonds.” Repetition is used to great effect on “Shaddaï Blues,” even more hypnotic than the mesmerizing opening track. Disc two brings more of the same, psychedelic swirls of sound blended in a captivating manner, from the intricately weaved gentle sounds of “Metatron(ic) Rock” to the rocking drums and guitars of “The Fabulous Story of Tigroo and Leloo.” Metatron is excellent.

 

 

Robert Rich “Illumination”

(www.robertrich.com, 2007)

7 tracks, 71.06 mins

 

Robert Rich seems to do well drawing on visual artists for his inspiration. Three of his recent recordings, Echo of Small Things, Atlas Dei, and now Illumination were derived from, in turn, still photography, computer graphics, and a multimedia installation. What amazes me is how Robert has been turning out some of his strongest work after what could easily have been a career-ending hand injury. Any limitations he experiences seem merely to focus laser-like sharpness on his ability to create minimal soundscapes in a variety of creative ways. Listening to Illumination, as well as other recent recordings by Rich, one marvels at his ability to make music out of the barest elements. Deep, cavernous echoes and resonant drones are the order of the day. I’d be hard pressed to identify the instrumentation used, and Rich isn’t saying in the liner notes. Barely audible whispers can also be heard in the background at times, adding to the haunting quality. Much of it has a metallic or ringing character as well, sometimes sounding similar to Steve Roach’s The Magnificent Void. Though Rich’s tones can sometimes have melody, Illumination is all about textures and tone. Near-nothingness never sounded so good.

 

 

 

Klaus Schulze “Blackdance”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

5 tracks, 73.33 mins

 

Klaus Schulze “…Live…”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

2 CDs, 2 + 3 tracks, 72.24 + 78.18 mins

 

Klaus Schulze “Ballett 3”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

2 tracks, 79.08 mins

 

Here are the latest reissues from Germany’s SPV label, again with beautiful packaging and bonus materials. The briefest extra is on Ballett 3, the 3:28 bit “Schauer der Vorwelt” an almost rock-oriented ditty that may be of interest to serious collectors, but definitely has a tacked-on feel, not matching the rest of the music. However, if you didn’t have the opportunity to purchase it the first time around on the 10-CD set Contemporary Works I, you should get this for the excellent 75-minute magnum opus “My Ty She”, which features a variety of guest musicians on cello, oboe, violin, flute, and more. The oboe is particularly moving; the acoustic and electronic elements blend seamlessly together as they did on Schulze’s classic “X” album.

 

I’ve always enjoyed the raw vintage Schulze material on …Live…, particularly the 51-minute version of “Sense,” a true Berlin school classic. “Bellistique” is powerful as well, with Klaus really going to town at breakneck speed on his beloved synthesizers. Arthur Brown’s vocals have never done much for me, and that’s still the case on “Dymagic.” However, the new version of this 2-CD set includes an 18-minute bonus, “Le Mans au premier,” from late 1979. As Klaus mentions in the liner notes, this is one of his quieter pieces, with synth strings and a few other electronics. Definitely a worthy addition to this set, KS fans will want to hear it for sure.

 

Which brings us to Blackdance, one of the more interesting discs in KS’ back catalog. Fans and critics alike seem to extol the virtues of the discs immediately before (Irrlicht, Cyborg) and after it (Timewind, Mirage, Moondawn), leaving this 1974 release feeling somewhat neglected. That’s a shame, because it has much to recommend it. Stark synths open “Ways of Change,” followed by a unique sequencer loop that sounds like strummed acoustic guitar. Next insistent drums come pounding in, picking up the energy considerably. Warbling spacey electronics ring out over the top. From there the music whips itself into a bit of a frenzy for the next several minutes before pulling back into dreamy deep space realms. “Some Velvet Phasing” is a gem that proves less is more, one of KS’ best. I’ve never cared for the mournful singing on “Voices of Syn” but the synth work is strong. The 2007 reissue includes two vintage bonus tracks, the cold black space of “Foreplay” and the weakly titled but very good “Synthies Have (no) Balls?” featuring silky smooth synth strings and whooshing wind. Musically sparse at first, it gets busy later on with crisp percussion and intense synth solos. One has to wonder how many unreleased gems like these are still out there waiting to be heard. Thanks to SPV, we will hopefully get to listen to them all.

 

 

Klaus Schulze “Kontinuum”

(www.spv.de, 2007)

3 tracks, 76.22 mins

 

It is apparent from the opening seconds of hypnotic sequencing that Kontinuum is going to be a great Klaus Schulze album. I have enjoyed a lot of his recent output, but those who long for a return to 1970s form should be in heaven over “Sequenzer (From 70 to 07)”. This is all about the retro sequences, which are here in abundance. The tone is established quickly and the mood is allowed to seep into your pores as you soak it in over the first several minutes. Nicely understated synths float into the mix. About 12:00 in some warm low pads fill things out. A great mood piece, it stretches out into nearly 25 luxurious minutes. Although it definitely builds, drums never appear, keeping things held back just so. We segue seamlessly into “Euro Caravan,” which starts darker and more brooding. Just a few synth textures are used here, with no sequencing. A husky female voice wails plaintively in the background for a few minutes, apparently sampled since Klaus is given credit for 100% of the sounds on Kontinuum. Just before the 9:00 mark the first sequence arrives, with what retro fans might call a good “fat” vintage synth sound. Past 10:00 some percussion is added, layered in just so to drive the music forward. In the booklet, kdm notes that this album strikes him as perfect, no excesses and nothing underdone, and listening to the exquisite development of this track in particular, I must wholeheartedly agree. The disc concludes with “Thor (Thunder),” a nearly 32-minute epic. Thick resonant pads hang in the air. The female voice returns, an echo in the distance as a soft, slightly playful synth doles out a bit of melody. Eventually, sequencers return of course, as does the percussion. The pace and atmosphere now set, Klaus continues on to the end, with the obligatory cool-down for several minutes to finish it off. Kontinuum is perhaps Klaus’ most consistent record ever, and given his impressive track record that is really saying something.

 

All reviews © 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

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