The “Ministry of Inside Things,” composed of Pennsylvania synth-man Chuck Van Zyl on electronic keyboards, and Art Cohen on electric guitar, have released another compilation of passages from their live concerts. Contact Point was recorded in various places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including two planetaria. Chuck Van Zyl, as ambient aficionados know, is the host of the “Star’s End” music program on WXPN in Philadelphia, as well as the organizer of the ambient music festival series, “The Gatherings.”
Contact Point follows in the “traditional electronic” style set by “Ministry” (also known as the acronym MoiT) in their previous albums and concerts. The seven tracks on the album (this time a single CD) contain a wide variety of moods and paces. It opens with surf sounds, as the first track. Track 2, “Serenity Cove,” is restful, contemplative trancemusic, with a floating, modal melodic line over a slow repeating sequencer. Track 3, “Uncharted Isle,” is more weird, spacey, and expansive, best listened to in a quiet dark place. Track 4, “Fortescue,” is an uptempo, sequencer-driven jam, accented with looping guitar by Cohen. It’s all in one minor key, sounding like the European synthesizer pop of decades past. Track 5, “River Dream,” is a more experimental piece, full of eerie sound-effects including water glurp, distorted guitars, electronic bleeps, static, and multiple echoes. An even weirder element is a distorted loop repeating a clip from a Yiddish folk song. At times, “River Dream” sinks into very soft atonal minimalism, and would be best listened to on headphones. After that, Track 6, “Nightscene,” returns to a more rock-influenced sequencer sound, led by Cohen’s sustained electric guitar melodic line. The collection ends with “The Red Sun Rises,” another evocative, gentle piece accented with natural sounds of tree peeper frogs.
This album features a rich array of tone colors, feelings, arrangements, textures, speeds, and instrumental virtuosity. But it all hangs together stylistically. These are ambient professionals and it shows in their work. If you’re an ambient fan, you’re sure to find lots to listen to in Contact Point.
Included with Contact Point in the sample package sent to me was a CD of a live solo electronic set by Chuck Van Zyl, dated October 2005. This set lasts about 26 minutes, and moves from drone electronica to hard-driving sequencers. Van Zyl provides the melodic line on keyboard over the sequence, using his wide electronic and sampling resources to sound like a flute, an electric guitar, an organ, or a more raw synthesizer sound. He also punctuates one of his more droney sections with a field recording of what sounds like a chanting sports crowd. Or is it a political demonstration? He returns to a rhythmic sequencer improvisation with a keyboard melody overlay, before he ends with a sampled choral and orchestral sound, adding a kind of majesty and even reverence to his electronic panorama. It ends somewhat abruptly, rather than trailing off into a fade. As this is all in one single modal/minor key, it holds together tonally.
This set is certainly worthy of commercial release, though I don’t know whether he’s planning to do it. At 26 minutes, it would have to be collected with other pieces to make up a typical hour-long CD. It shows how a talented electronic musician can continue to be creative within the “traditions” of electronic music.
by Hannah M.G. Shapero for