by Robert Fox
The long awaited, four CD, Limited Edition, Signed and numbered release of "Blue" has been in rotation on the New Age Sampler and has had its jewel case on permanent display atop the speaker cabinet for several months now. It really has taken me this long to become familiar and comfortable with writing a review of the vast soundscapes contained within my personal copy, No. 231 of 2000, of the latest ADML release by Robert Fox and David Wright. Okay, technically, there is also a Code Indigo release of a live performance at the Derby Cathedral included as well.
I must first confess to being a relative newcomer to the music of Robert Fox as my initiation was through the Code Indigo release entitled Uforia. David Wright, also a member of Code Indigo, was familiar to me from the "ThreeSixZero" ADML release of last year.
This signed and numbered limited edition release includes a twelve-page booklet that contains a wealth of information about the making of "Blue" and the surrounding events that, in a good way, conspired to make the discs an updated retrospective. The two pages of explanatory history, penned by David Wright, offer a fascinating commentary of the creation processes involved in the final version of this definitive and historic analysis of the music of Robert Fox and David Wright. I would dearly love to share the entire contents of the liner notes with you but for now that is something that must be reserved for those fortunate enough to obtain a copy of "Blue" for their own listening pleasure. Hints and excerpts may appear throughout the balance of this lengthy review and the possibility of a future addendum to the review may be warranted when the limited edition run is sold out. Cutting to the end of the review, for a moment, the recommendation is to Purchase This Box Set Release, you will not be disappointed. For those that wish to know why... read on, please.
Disc number One is entitled "The Stuff of Dreams" (TSOD) and contains eight tracks. It is composed, performed, arranged and produced by Robert Fox. Originally completed as a double album in 1998, "TSOD" ran into stiff competition from Robert's own back catalog, video and Theatre soundtracks, a studio upgrade, and the initial tracking of the "Talking Heads" release, which was delayed until 2000. "So, when "Talking Heads" was completed, Robert re-recorded "TSOD" for his own satisfaction, and in the process, edited it down to a single album." This was accomplished during June and July of 2000.
Reminiscent of everything wonderful about U.K. music and replete with superb sound this is easily the finest work of Robert Fox's solo career. A tip of the hat of concurrence goes out to Lloyd Barde (Backroads Music) as we spent a little bit of time discussing the veritable gold mine of excellent space music contained within the "Blue" box set.
The sequences are plentiful, the layering of sounds masterful, the effects highly engaging and the transitional factors between moods incredibly thoughtful and dynamic. The calculated rhythms engage the melodies in a celestial dance of delightful magnificence that is as introspective as it is entertaining. After much contemplation it is my personal opinion that "TSOD" is the disc that contains the most "light" or optimistic vibe as the dream reflection aspect is characterized by a positive and joyous energy. The personal transportation and minds eye visions encountered were of an expansive journey guiding me towards revelation and celebration. All in all the Right Stuff for Great Dreams and a highly recommended journey through space music of the highest caliber awaits your pleasure with new and subtle nuance discovered upon successive listening to Robert Fox and "The Stuff of Dreams".
As "TSOD" was a pivotal point for Robert Fox, disc two, "The Hypnosis Concert", was also a pivotal transitional tool for David Wright. Music composed, arranged, and produced by David Wright and performed live in concert during 1998 at Nottingham, Derby, and London. Subsequently compiled, edited and mastered at Ambivalent Studios during April-July 2000 by David Wright. The concerts were intended to be the basis for his next release, however after attempting to re-arrange and re-record the live ideas this process evolved the music until there was little resemblance to the original concept. Eventually "ThreeSixZero" was born and "Hypnosis" was shelved in favor of the new project.
Fortunately for us "THC" lives to see the light of day as disc number two and begins to shed light upon the collaborative effort to come in disc three while offering insight regarding the sonic origins of David's input within the context of Code Indigo. The U.K. sequencer sound palette is present within "THC" but to a different degree than in Robert's work, as David utilizes and flirts more with the ambient, ethereal, space washes while his melodies contain an affinity for jazz and eastern music influences.
The journey for the mind is a destination of fantasy and confrontation with the unknown at the edge of space concealed and revealed by layers upon layers of transition and morphing textures of soundscapes. The final track, No. 14, is a studio version of "Sygzy" that is equally at home in an almost pop context as it is in the space realm. Richly textured and driven by an engaging rhythm "Sygzy" is a comforting grounding of the senses after the journey through Hypnosis. This track has more pop hooks than any top 40 U.K. release in recent memory but maintains a viable and credible voice for David Wright as a master composer of great music.
More often than not, even with continual reminders to myself, I lost track of the fact that this was mainly a live concert recording. I have no doubt that much of the superb surreal ambience found in the two parts of "THC", "Hypnosis Part One" and "Hypnosis Part Two", are the result of combining the direct to media recording capability of today's technology and the actual ambient space of the venue captured by microphones. The amount of air and depth of the space surrounding this recording is phenomenal as the instrumentation stands in a third dimension of sound. This not only makes for a most enjoyable listening session but makes the darker, haunting, essence of the music that much more engaging and accessible.
Two reviews down and two to go with a brief anecdotal recommendation inserted for those keeping score at this juncture. Either disc, considered on its own merit, is not only worthy of addition to your collection, but would be wholly viable as single release. The fact that they are part of a limited edition box set only makes them that much more desirable.
The Crown Jewel of this release is the collaborative effort of Robert and David found on disc three entitled, of course, "Blue". All tracks were recorded at Trevalyn Studios with a range of session dates from 1993, 1994, and 2000. Music composed, performed, arranged, and produced by Robert and David. The guitars employed on the tracks "Blue" parts 1,2,3, & 4, were played by Andy Lobban.
Recorded entirely at Robert's Trevalyn Studios the first track, appropriately enough, is entitled "Meeting At Trevalyn". Not wishing to go out on a limb and engage in the "who played what" guessing game, although the more I hear this particular disc the better my guesses will get, let me suffice in stating this. The light and the dark, the yin and the yang, and the rest of the blathering cliches including opposites attract are very much alive and evident here. The ability to listen to and play off each other's insight and musical ideas is totally refreshing and convincingly enjoyable from a musician's standpoint alone. The mere fact that their musical association and friendship has endured for nigh on to a decade speaks further volumes about their destined fait accompli. "Meeting At Trevalyn" portends the amalgam of interwoven style and technique and is possibly the earliest recorded collaboration having been originally recorded in May-June 1993.
"Overture", a January-March of 1994 recording, begins with a fanfare that melds into a foreboding ambient veil accentuated by the spatial signatures of David Wright. Stately, majestic, synthesizer chords are then underpinned by and impending rhythm of hi-hat chirps and a pulsing bass note. A plaintive guitar entertains the transition to a swirling chordal pattern that gives way to a sequenced rhythm beginning the journey through space. This then finalizes the melding of the talented artists in an extended ride through layered worlds of wonder and enchantment.
"Finale" is the "oh so appropriate" third track which begins with panned rhythms and synth washes. It is also another extended journey through the world of sequenced space music in the grandest style. The number of transitional styles and moods is nothing short of astounding, especially when one considers that this is another archive retrieval number from the January-March 1994 sessions. It also contains much of the thematic pop themes entertained in "Sygzy" and the Code Indigo works.
The disc concludes with the epic, four-part, "Blue" wherein Robert and David complete the collaborative effort and achieve total juxtaposed harmony of their individual styles. Every element of their combined passion for electronic music is contained within the experience of "Blue" making the cycle turn full circle, yet leaving the listener wanting more. I would also be remiss if I did not share the feeling of déjà vu encountered while listening to the four concluding tracks. Much of my earlier listening and playing was caught up in all things English and I can't help but be reminded of so many of my own early influences and styles that seem to wind there way into these closing tracks. Listen close enough and you too may hear the whispers of Pink Floyd, Michael Oldfield, The Strawbs, Alan Parsons Project, Yes, Badger and a host of others that will stir your memories like they did mine.
But wait...there is one more disc to review. And what a treasure this one is. Disc four, "The Derby Cathedral Concert", was recorded live at the Derby Cathedral on the 19th of October 1998. The members of this Code Indigo performance were David Wright, Robert Fox and Vaughn Evans on Keyboards and Andy Lobban on Guitars. A matter that I found to be amusing, having reels upon reels and boxes of cassettes that to this date remain un-listened to from my own early bass playing days, is that this concert's tapes has a story behind it. David writes (no play on words was intended it just happened) "As ideas for "Blue" continued to evolve, we also decided to include unreleased material from Code Indigo's Derby Cathedral Concert on the collaborative CD. We hadn't listened through the concert tapes before because of the technical problems with the actual recording on the night. There had also been a serious PA and stage monitor failure during the beginning of the set which made the first number, quite frankly, a complete disaster." A tip of the hat to modern technology and the digital re-mastering efforts of David Wright for bringing this one back to life. And alive is what this performance and sound of this disc is like. There is a feeling, a groove if you will, that only happens when the interaction of talented musicians, who listen to each other, utilizes the attendant adrenaline and live crowd atmosphere to transcend the individual parts and live within the moment of the concept as a whole entity. Once again we are presented with a piece of musical history, as this concert was again a catalyst for Messrs. Fox and Wright. The Derby Concert was a stepping stone for the, in David's words, "much more chilled out", 1999 Code Indigo CD release entitled "Uforia", also on ADML.
Once again a superlative work that contains incredible ambient information that only enhances the atmosphere created in this remarkable live recording. Suffice to say that the entire experience is both enlightening and immensely enjoyable and that commentary on the individual tracks would serve no purpose other than to report on an incredible experience out of context. Once again a disc that would stand on it's own and only enhances the complete package concept of presenting a productive musical period that would have otherwise gone unheard. "This box set puts that right and "fills the gaps"."
Very highly recommended as an essential addition to any space music fans library of listening material. Please remember that there are only 2000 of these sets released. Fair warning as I cannot imagine that they will last very long.
Reviewed by BEAR 03.18.01
Addendum to review:
Thanks for the complimentary review, of which I have passed on a copy to Robert Fox.
One minor detail, paragraph 7, my concert was in 1997, not 1998 (actually the 1998 in the booklet is a misprint, not picked up at proofing).
Also, for your interest, the Blue track (1-4) was actually composed mainly at Ambivalent studios (extracts from track 4 were done at Trevalyn), all mastering and compiling, editing etc. of the track done at Ambivalent Studios.
Robert and I live approximately 250 miles apart, which isn't too much of a distance, but to get to each other, we have to travel via London, which makes the car journey anything from 4.5 hours to 7 hours.
We also utilize two quite different studios which are not easily compatible. Robert is into computers; i.e. Cubase VST on PC, (I'm a MAC user - hate PCs!!), very much for his personal use. My studio is designed to record synths, vocal and acoustic instruments, and I use Fostex multitracks- so more a general studio.
So, the Blue track, conceived mainly at Ambivalent, involved some interesting "overdubbing" when we've worked at Roberts studio.
Hope that's of interest.
David Wright AD Music Ltd (ADML). PO Box 3021, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN16 2NX, ENGLAND.
In the short version stunning and most revealing through loudspeakers as they are through headphones. Every layer of every track is articulate and engineered to suspend itself in its own dimension. The studio mixing is of the highest caliber and the employment of effects is very noteworthy. Mainly in the ability to portray the individual layers as being transported or conveyed about and within the soundstage by the effect. Very much akin to being encased or encapsulated inside the reverb or delay algorithm itself. The third dimension of suspended voicing is also to be commended as many of the individual instruments just hang in space right before your ears.
There is a warm, read tube, feeling to the entire mix which more than likely is the result of the initial engineering than it is the mastering process. For an electronic instrumentation release these discs contain an incredible amount of definition and ambient spatial information, even though it is for the most part artificially generated.
The frequency spectrum is presented with an intensity that is rare and so defined that it invites "tech head" listening on every disc. The spectral balances of every instruments individual voice are also mixed with masterful care and attention to subtle detail. Even the throbbing and pulsing bass and rhythmic kick drum tones avoid the normal one note conglomeration that usually just lies on the bottom and woofs to the beat. The high-end frequency information is also kept in check by the overall rounded, warmth, of the mix. High frequencies remain defined; they just never reach that overbearing strident effect and enhance the recording rather than demand attention.
Remarkably present and very much like having the entire session performed in your listening room. The "Blue" box set is a sonic treat for any size or caliber system.
The listening sessions were performed in the following systems:
(1) Belles XLM preamplifier, Belles 200 power amplifier with Magneplanar MG1.6QR, & Sunfire True Subwoofer speakers.
(2)The Holo-System: Musical Fidelity A3 CD player, Musical Fidelity A3 Integrated amplifier with Altec Lansing 510 A speakers. ( A relatively large system in an extremely small room with only one small holographic listening sweet spot) Additional listening done with Sennheiser HD 600 and Sony MDR 7509 Headphones and the Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 headphone amp.
Tracks Across the Universe
by Jim Brehnolts
I love ambient and electronic music, but I have always had a problem trying to share this musical passion with other people. No matter what kind of music they prefer, whether classical or rock or folk or whatever, ambient and electronic music just doesn't fit in, and I face the problem of introducing this music to people who don't know anything about it.
Now, with Jim Brenholts' new book TRACKS ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, there's a solution to this problem. Brenholts loves ambient/electronic music even more than I do, and he has written a comprehensive guide to this genre which covers every facet of it from its earliest days in the late '40s to what is coming up this year. Jim has been writing music reviews for years, and from his repertoire of thousands of reviews, he has condensed and classified them and linked them into a rich, information-packed resource about ambient and electronic popular music.
Brenholts defines what he means by "ambient" right at the beginning. In his chapter on early ambient music, he describes what might be called the "classic" form of ambient, namely electronic and acoustic sound that is meant to be a kind of "atmosphere" for background listening, rather than something you want to put your full attention into. He rightly attributes the original invention of this music to Wendy Carlos, (rather than Brian Eno some years later) whose 1972 SONIC SEASONINGS introduced this form. However, a wild proliferation of musical creativity (as well as technical innovations in electronic sound production) soon expanded the "atmospheric" ambient into more complex and varied musical directions, and Brenholts wisely has decided to take a wide view. That means that he talks about anything from electronic rock to acoustic folk-like material, from "tribal" percussion rhythms to cosmic floating spacemusic originally meant for planetariums, from minimalist trance explorations to neoclassical orchestral "symphonies." He's got it all here, and the only common factor that really links it all together is that all the music has something electronic in it. And that's fine with me - the more the better.
The text, after a few introductory pages, consists of short review paragraphs, each citing one or more albums first by chronology, and in later chapters by the discography and chronology of some major individual artists. His chapters on Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Michael Stearns and other major people in the field are well-researched and informative even for long-term aficionados of their work. There is also a long chapter on the "lesser" or upcoming artists in the electronic music world. Every album description comes with an evaluation, mostly positive but in some cases honestly critical, which is welcome especially to a newcomer who needs guidance as to what to listen to first.
TRACKS ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a very personal statement. You feel, reading this book, as if Jim is right across the coffee table from you, talking about his favorite music. His enthusiasm shines through on every page. His rambunctious style does take some getting used to - it is full of exclamation points, hyperbole, mini-rants, wordplay, off-the-cuff comments, gossip, and lots of humor. He uses what might be called "creative" spellings on some common words throughout the text, such as his alternative spellings "artiste," "psychadelia," "avante-garde," and the amusing "experiMENTAL." Though he will talk clearly about the musical and technical aspects of a piece or an album, Brenholts is best when he is giving his own impressions of what he is hearing, whether in metaphors or simply in descriptions of feelings. These impressions can be just as useful as any specific musical description; they can tell you, for instance, whether with a certain album, you will be hearing scary "dark ambient," or triumphal electronic anthems, or relaxing mystical "synthesizer washes."
But this book isn't all words. There are three audio CD's that come with it, and each one of them is loaded with the best of the genre. You can hear for yourself just what this music is all about. Brenholts has done a monumental job selecting perfect examples of just about every musical and sound-form that ambient/electronic music comes in, from very quiet "audible incense" to hard-edged sequencer drives, from melodic to noise, from ethnic-inspired to far-out spacemusic. Many of these pieces are previously unreleased tracks that Brenholts was able to persuade even major artists like Steve Roach and Vidna Obmana to contribute. That's right, this is unique music that is not available on any other album (at least not yet). There are some top-flight tracks on these CD's, such as the cool depths of "Star Sailing" by MaJaLe/Vir Unis, the Orientalizing metallophones of Loren Nerell's "Plane of Density," the Native American flute meditations of "Cornsmoke" and Marina Raye, the triumphal Scottish bagpipe-inspired "Out of the Mist" by Constance Demby, and my favorite of the whole set, Kevin Keller's wonderful arrangement and transformation of Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," called "Across the Sky part 3." Even if you somehow miss the book (which of course you shouldn't) these CD's would still be worth the price.
So, ambient fans, we need not keep our music to ourselves any more because it is too esoteric or unknown. This book, and the musical examples that go with it, can help us spread the word. And if the listeners and readers want to hear more of this hard-to-find music, Brenholts has included lots of references to music dealerships, record labels, and artists' private production companies, mostly online at Websites but also in some conventional postal addresses. I heartily recommend TRACKS ACROSS THE UNIVERSE to both seasoned ambient fans and newcomers. It's an invitation to an exciting musical adventure that is still growing and unfolding.
Forests: A Book of Hours
by Douglas Quin
Douglas Quin's radiophonic work Forests: A Book of Hours is a masterpiece of peace and tranquillity. He has taken soundscapes from around the world, including several locations in Africa, the Amazon basin, and Antarctica, combined them with instrumental recordings recorded in studios in the USA and choral recordings from the Kenya Music Festival. The integration of all of these sounds into this unified work is a truly impressive achievement.
Quin has a long career in acoustic ecology and sound art, working on solo exhibitions and performances as well as in collaboration with video and dance artists. With the 1998 release of his Antarctica album, he started becoming known to a wider audience, and Earth Ear has released his album with David Rothenberg, Before the War, as well as Forests.
This work is structured around the medieval Benedictine prayer horarium (hence the subtitle: A Book of Hours), and each part of the piece is based on one of the prayer cycles. The accompanying booklet includes an essay about the piece which includes the correspondences between the sections of the work and the prayer schedule, as well as an excerpt from Quin's Amazon journal and technical notes about field recordings in general.
A first impression of Forests already reveals the contrasts between nature and culture that inform the entire work, but it is with closer listening that the overall structure and texture begins to sink in. The Prime (dawn) chorus starts in Africa, then features both colubus monkeys from Kenya and the howler monkey from the Amazon, all singing with an ethereal three-part human chorale. Through the compline (mid-morning), the forest sounds continue with the addition of percussion, a clarinet (played by David Rothenberg) and electronics. Insects sing to the accompaniment of the Kenyan choir during the Sext at midday. The bird calls and the clarinet in the None (mid afternoon) circle lazily around each other. Evening services include wind harps from Antarctica and the choir singing a poem from the Kenya Music Festival. The closing section brings back the clarinet, playing a slow, taps-like melody, to the accompaniment of distanct insects.
Inherent in most contemporary soundscape recordings is a passion for the acoustic ecology movement as initiated by R. Murray Schafer in his landmark book Tuning the World. This sensibility informs not only Quin's Forest recording, but all of Earth Ear's recent releases. Earth Ear is making a concerted effort to provide listeners with profound experiences of different environments and ecosystems, and this recording is a superb example of a truly musical work integrated with sounds of the natural world.
by State of Bengal
"Your attention please. Indian Airlines announces the departure of flight IC408 to Calcutta", so opens State of Bengal's first release Visual Audio. It's an apt introduction for this musical voyage through an eastern flavored soundscape. If you're like me, you've dreamt for years about taking this exact trip. The richness of the Indian culture with all of it's sights and sounds speaks deeply to me, but alas with the cards that life's dealt me, for this trip I've been destined to the life of an armchair explorer (at least to date, one can hope). It is precisely for this reason that I found myself so thoroughly appreciative of this release. Sam Zaman, the DJ/musician who is State of Bengal, has woven himself a wonderful mesh of musical influences here that range from drum & bass to traditional Indian ragas and modern Bollywoodesque soundtracks. The result is a sonic picture of an eastern land that's not stagnant, immobile and locked in the past, but dynamic and ever changing.
This is not your father's Bengal he's portraying, but rather the land as it is today with Western culture ideals and styles mixing, recombining and integrating with the traditional. Zaman's mixes find sitars, samplers, tablas, violas, drum machines, synths, and even a mandolin sitting side by side in the kind of structure that reminds me of the photos in National Geographic of indigenous people wearing traditional clothing and Ray Ban sunglasses. It's the adoption of what's useful to create something better than before, or at least functional, appropriate and possibly even stylish.
Digging deeper into the music the listener finds a well organized set of tracks that could function equally well by themselves or as the whole of the release. This is likely not a dancefloor CD (at least not in the basic 4 to the floor sense), but the elements of dance in the broader sense of the musical world are threaded thickly throughout. Honestly, it's rather hard to listen to and not feel the desire to move your body at some junction. This is rhythmic music at its best. All said and done this would be a welcomed addition for anyone's collection that can appreciate energetic eastern-oriented music that is wonderfully ripe with surprises. In Zaman's own words, "B to the E to the N to the G to the A to the L"! Standout tracks include: Chittagong Chill (laid back lounge sax transcending into jazzy eastern rhythm coolness), EK Bullet (probably the most modern feeling piece with heavy doses of Jungle and dub reggae mentality), and Elephant Ride (with it's bassline that couldn't help but remind me of Ben E. King's Stand By Me, this track astutely shows just how close East and West can be)
Reviewed by Jim Kosinski for Ambient Visions