Music Reviews 



Reviews 10-21-2004 


Anthology 1984-2004

by vidnaObmana

Projekt Records


Belgian sonic artist vidnaObmana has had a long career and the  further back ones goes the more one discovers the "industrial " roots. These early experiments often involve extreme sonic contrasts and techniques and do not sound similar to the 'ambient' styled work for which he is now known.  This compilation is a mixed bag of pieces, showcasing the wide variety and evolution of ideas in his work. Half of the pieces are previously unreleased, while the releases on the remainder of the pieces have been not widely available. The pieces cover a wide variety of moods , from serene ambient soundscapes to shrill industrial sounds. I thought the peaceful ambient pieces were outstanding and worth the price of the collection but, as a long time fan of Obmana many of the older industrial sounding pieces were , to me, not good, the contrast with the serene styles was so jarrinig as to be ineffective and the early pieces had a taint of unsuccessful public experiment to them. So, forwarned is forearmed with this collection.

The recording opens with "Shallow Faith' a short piece from the Legacy studio sessions earlier this year. This features some aggressive electronic percussion—sort of an electric-kool-aid tribal ambient sound, with some ethereal wood flutes and some noisy sampled sounds that drift around the piece. It is short and spikey, somewhat intriguing . The second piece" Praise for Last Hope' is an early piece from 1987. It is primarily nontonal sound effects that suggest something at the edge of perception. There is a lot of reverb and delay, and some metallic sounding noise and not much else. "The Nocturnal Air" is the first peaceful sounding piece, from the "River of Appearance'"sessions and it is very beautiful, too short and fully worthy of inclusion on that classic. It is followed by "Ecstasy", an early piece from 1984-5 that I found unlistenable. I agree with Obmana's apparent musical viewpoint  that ecstasy is not necessarily serene but this piece did not express ecstasy to me. "Kindred Spirits" is more ambient beauty from the "Crossing the Trail" sessions but it is again far too short. "Darkness Overpowers  it All" , from 1986, has a few, sparse melodic elements but is basically a repetitive , distorted, nontonal piece.

The longest track is "Soul Dislocation" from the  recent "Spore" sessions. This features tribal rhythmic loops and some ethnic sounding instruments treated with some reverberation to sound distant. Melodic loops combine into layered sound that becomes more dense. This style seems to take more from the early "noise" pieces, or from Obmana's shamanistic collaborations with Steve Roach , than it does from the quiet ambient sounds. While intriguing, and easier to take than the industrial-influenced pieces, it seems less expressive than some of his work from the early and mid 90s. ,. Some abstract loops in the latter part of the piece demonstrate that Obmana has learned to make abstract nonmelodic material more interesting. This would appeal to those who like the shamanistic explorations of Obmana and Roach. "By Abundant Rain is a short excerpt from a live performance of one of the pieces from the celebrated "Trilogy" recordings. It is haunting and beautiful, using shimmering, mournful electronic whispers that descend through the mind of the listener to great effect. As is his trademark, much reverb and delay is used in producing sounds from what sounds like a simple source or synth tone.

"Only Fear Will Survive' sounds to me like Obmana using the expressive properties of the synthesizer's low frequency oscillator to build a warlike soundscape. "Bemused Amphibian" is an early ambient piece that also experiments effectively with vocal effects, again using copious amounts of delay to build layers of swirling sound. "Assimilate", from the "Tremor" studio sessions is not ambient at all, but produces some interesting drones and modulations, using hints of didgeridoo and wood flute sounds and one of the most infectious of the tribal rhythms that Obmana conjures up on this compilation. Again, this piece is very enjoyable, but too short. The recording ends with "Assimilate' a short, nontonal ambient drone from the late 1980s. On this piece, one can hear the later tonal ambient loop pieces of the early 90s in an early formation.

Overall, while this collection contains some beautiful and many interesting moments, it is for the Obmana fan primarily, because of its extreme stylistic contrasts.  

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions.


Les Débris De L’été



by Sostrah Tinnitus


Available on Beyond Productions

and Umbra records.

Mario Costa is a prolific, yet largely unknown and obscure, Italian ambient artist who has come to my attention via a number of releases under a variety of pseudonyms.  Costa has recorded as the unheard by me Sistrum, the somewhat Zoviet*France-sounding Tumulus Seraphim, and the extremely environmental and trippy Sostrah Tinnitus.  This mysterious ambient project has so far yielded two LPs, a self-released EP, and at least one more album on the way soon.  Lest I become swamped by Costa's prolific release schedule, on toward the review of Sostrah Tinnitus's two terrific albums. 

The first of the duo is Les Débris De L’été, released on the black/extreme metal label Beyond Productions.  First glance at the cover reminds me of the Hic Sunt Leones label, most specifically the psychoactive works of Alio Die; an appropriate imagery because Sostrah Tinnitus dwells in the same mystical environments as Stefano Musso's excellent projects.  The album begins with "Oozëë," a track extremely similar to Musso's fantastic Incantamento album, right down to the chittering insects that serve as a droning accompaniment to the various tape, synth, and sample manipulations that follow.  Processed percussion, bells, chimes, and other, more inexplicable, sound effects create a zone of true ambience.  Next, "Post_deflagration Tinnitus" offers a more ghostly sound, with echoed spoken dialog (as if from an old foreign film) and spectral drones that border on creepy, as though a Mario Bava soundtrack were filtered through early VidnaObmana. Stunning stuff.  "Underwater Impression," a dark but vibrant dronescape, conjures up the deep sea impressionism of Biosphere--processed shakers extended into shimmering washes of sound.  "Smell of Moisture After the Rain" is perhaps the most representative track on the album:  lovely off-kilter piano notes are played amidst a rain-swept, lo-fi atmosphere, birds chirping, strange environmental effects, and a surprising, moaning drone that threatens to eclipse all in white noise.  Tangerine Dream seems to enter the field of vision with Rubycon-like sweeps, and by this time you are absolutely in love with the album, without having heard the rest of the tracks.  "Infinite Colonie di Cirripedi" plunges us into the post-industrial landscapes of early 80s experimental music, a distant, churning soundscape that waxes and wanes somewhat threateningly.  Jeff Greinke fans take note; this track has the same fire as Cities in Fog, as though the landscape may be burned away by cruel progress at any time.  "Spheristerion" begins with a processed clock chiming the hour, and continues the post-industrial sounds of its predecessor.  One begins to feel as if time is slowing, forcibly calmed by natural or artificial means.  "Senecio" exorcizes the ghost of the sorely-missed Voice of Eye; wildly-played percussion and a distinctly creepy organ stabbed together, like the left-over psych freakouts of yesteryear, channeled through a broken transistor radio.  Crazy material, proving Costa's unafraid to experiment, no matter where it leads.  The resonant territories of earlier tracks return on "Il Masso Che si Sposta," once again recalling the earliest work of Alio Die, where nature is manipulated and blended with the sounds of alien machinery into some new biomechanical instrument.  "Deep Water Globular Floods" is effective in conjuring the mental images of its title, though it's only just over one and a half minutes--rushing, alien sounds blast over the wind-torn landscape, a vision of destruction, perhaps, but no less beautiful than creation.  Finally, the title track, and my favorite on the album, offers a lovely lo-fi tone poem of processed shells and other detritus mixed with the usual processed sonics.  The cricket chirps from the first track return, bringing us full circle, ending our resonant journey, compelling us to return to the start nevertheless.  A fantastic album, and a must for fans of early Alio Die, the darker work of Jeff Greinke, and the Manifold label. 

Débris's successor Nebra, on Gianluigi Gasparetti's Umbra label, is perhaps a more understated work, but is no less strong.  It's also a more concentrated ambient effort, for the most part lacking the unbridled experimentation of its predecessor.  "Novena di Falene" is a beautiful piece that reminds me of "Childhood Memories" on Oöphoi's own Time Fragments, Vol. 1.  A great start, melancholy and memorable.  "Rainlight Opaline" is an appropriately rain-swept atmosphere that oscillates between David Tollefson-style interstellar ambience and a hushed church ceremony of organ tones that closes the track on a gorgeous, surprising note.  Marvelous material, dispelling the notion that ambient tracks must be over ten minutes to get beneath the listener's skin.  "Terra Profumata per Fabbricare Vasi" inhabits the glisteningly bright zones of Jeff Pearce or Aloof Proof--phased washes of pure vibrant harmonics.  "Sun Carriage" is my favorite track on the album, beginning with ticking clocks, and gradually opening into a lovely, understated tonescape that reminds of the preceding track, but is far more intense and gorgeous.  For some reason, my mental imagery is thoughts of cathedrals with lancing beams of sunlight filtering through breaks in the roof.  Somehow Costa instills his music here with a sense of reverence, loss, disintegration, and, above all, melancholy beauty that is singularly wonderful.  Fans of VidnaObmana's earliest breathing synth works will be similarly impressed with Sostrah Tinnitus's work on "Sun Carriage."  "Spore" continues the rapture, with an organ drone recalling the brightest work of Mathias Grassow.  Strange subterranean sounds cluster around the drone, obscuring heaven perhaps, but always vibrating radiantly above.  "Carnival" details Sostrah Tinnitus's changed demeanor on Nebra, operating as the ambient postscript to Débris track "Senecio"--avant-percussion conjoined with a bright drone, a ballet of a strange, catastrophic nature.  "Il Cuore Scintillante dell'Europa" ("The Sparking Heart of Europe") is the most experimental track onNebra, an eleven minute tableau of unrecognizable sounds, a lysergic travelogue of Europe.  It's utterly entrancing, though, frankly, difficult to describe!  "La Nave della Notte" closes this memorable work, with a decayed soundtrack that returns to Sostrah Tinnitus's Alio Die roots.  This is a fine, traditional, environmental ambient track, and a snapshot of the best of what Costa's music has to offer.

 Les Débris De L’été andNebra have earnest differences of approach, and I hesitate to recommend one over the other.  I found them both to be of uniformly high quality, and, indeed,Nebra is likely to appear on my top ten of 2004.  The strength of both albums is not just in their consummately gorgeous, though difficult, natures--each track suprises, making for a diverse, constantly interesting journey that never panders to the listener's expectations.  Costa's tracks feature many mood shifts and style-switches, often during tracks that clock in at less than six minutes.  The skill displayed here is impressive--though style-shifting quickly, the tracks never appear disjointed, and are always marvelously composed and orderly (even at their most chaotic). 

Both Les Débris De L’été and Nebra are marvelous examples of new, experimental ambient music, and I highly recommend them both.  Listeners who shy away from lo-fi experimentation will want to steer clear, however, for the recording of both albums is quite primitive.  Nevertheless, each is a vastly entertaining and often transcendent journey into mysterious, alien, and quite unusual zones of ambience.  I sincerely hope to hear a lot more from Sostrah Tinnitus; with early albums of this caliber, we just might have a future master on our hands. 

Reviewed by Brian Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Brian's website by clicking here.


Return Home