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Reviews 4-24-2004

 

Spacial Glacial Nebulous

by Zero Ohms

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Written, recorded, performed live in the studio in Oct. 2003 by Zero Ohms on Wind-Synth

This release appears to be primarily synth and sampler based. Traditional melody is eschewed for long motives of 1 or 2 notes, often sustained with consonant harmonic drones underneath that slowly drift and evolve. Some tracks reminded me of the first pieces of Brian Eno that expressed an aesthetic that could arguably be called "ambient" in "Another Green World".  The music is also perfectly described by the title, moving from the warm spatial overtones of the first track to the nebulous drones of the conclusion. The release also conforms well to the so-called ambient aesthetic in that one can benefit from hearing it whether close attention is paid to it or not. I enjoyed this release and recommend it to fans of the "pure ambient" genre.

The first track, Marsh of Mists, begins with a pretty melody. The melody is wrapped in undulating, slowly moving harmony played by richly phased string and vocal patches that are well integrated with the piece, which drifts and slowly evolves to a, um, nebulous conclusion. Track 2, Sea of Vapors, starts by sounding like an extension of track 1, although it is even more peaceful and quiet than the first track. It centers around what sounds like a looped 4 note motive that quietly repeats through echoing variations, like a slowed-down, more consonant Vidna Obmana from his Trilogy period. Track 3, Sea of Clouds, begins with a heavily phased drone. The vocal patches from track 1 return and go through some reverb to appear as a shimmering counterpoint to the drone. Here an occasional dissonance creeps in, lending a welcome ambiguous tone. Meanwhile, the vocal patterns keep repeating, creating a hypnotic effect. Tremolo is used extensively.

The cumulative effect is to suspend the realization of time passing while listening. Development of this type continues in track 4, Sea of Moisture, where a more complex, layered drone with overtones takes center stage. This track begins a little like Eno's "Discreet Music" with a repeating melody passed between voices and overlapped. Again there is the feeling that time is suspended. As the piece progresses there are developed melodies and counter melodies that loop and pass between voices in a very successful evocation of the pure ambient style. Track 5, Sea of Crisis, begins with a drone based on some open-ended harmony that includes just the right dissonant touches. This is augmented with long tones and pad sounds. The tones float on top of the time dissolving drone while the piece rolls slowly to a quiet conclusion. Another heavily reverbed,  cavernous-sounding drone opens track 6, Sea of Cold. This has some metallic or bell-like tones that distinguish it from the previous sounds. Gradually, the drone steadies and some melodies form the stratosphere descend and begin to be added to the mix. As these melodies seem thematically connected to previous melodic material, track 6 seems like a continuation of the other tracks. Echoed reverb and phase shifting continue to be used to provide atmospheric continuity.

The final track, Lake of Dreams, opens with a long, low, resonant drone that provides a mysterious mood.  This drone is looped with contrasting timbres and pitches on display, all very slowly, which provides the listener with a great feeling of release. Gradually a contrasting 2 note melody ( Fripp and Eno-like, but much slower)  begins to shape the piece. Again, I found this to be very successful, providing intensity as it built up before gradually fading out.

Zero Ohm's adherence to the pure ambient aesthetic, and his use of tools that belong to the finest practitioners of the genre, along with his compositional good sense in allowing the pure ambient style to reveal its beauty in unabashed glory make this a must release for all who enjoy this style.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions

 

 OXANA

by Igneous Flame 

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"Oxana" is the latest release by Igneous Flame, one of several monikers for Leeds, UK musician Pete Kelly.  It is a long (69+ minutes) flowing ambient work, and completely lacking percussion or beats.  The music has a striking ebb-and-flow on a slower time-scale than that of a conventional rhythmic beat which gives the music a sense of motion, engaging the listeners interest in a way that more aggressively ambient music cannot.

"Oxana" is divided into mostly shorter tracks, but none-the-less forms a cohesive whole, a soundscape, not a fragmented collection of songs.

The soundscapes are mostly formed of ringing, organ-like tones, throbbing and powerful, giving the impression of some vast echoing space in which toils a mysterious machine.

Ambient music generally has suffered from a labeling crisis, with record labels and music writers constantly trying to find exciting new ways to group the generally very diverse products of the few musicians attempting to create more than mere instrumental Muzak.  Alas, the constant relabeling has made certain terms nearly meaningless, and one of those is "Space Music", a term for which I have a certain fondness.

My friends and I use this term to refer to music which takes you on a voyage, often _through_ space, but also _to_ a space.  This quality distinguishes such music from mere songs, which are typically an end in themselves.  Good Space Music carefully introduces the listener to a new sonic realm, and gradually moves them to a new place, a "space", where the crystal heart of the music lies.  Prime examples of this music would be Brian Eno's "Ambient 4: On Land" and Kit Watkins' "Thought Tones".

In these terms, "Oxana" is vintage Space Music, and almost from the introductory notes succeeds in taking the listener on a mental voyage.

The emphasis in "Oxana" is on the sense of space developed by the gently throbbing washes of sound.  The exact nature of that space is dependent on the individual listener, which is completely appropriate for an introspective piece of music (which "Oxana" most assuredly is).

The heart of "Oxana" is ambiguous, neither entirely light nor excessively dark.  The darkness stems from the machine-like tones which form the basis of a few tracks, but these are balanced by the overall floating and shimmering tones of the bulk of the tracks.

As with all ambient music, words can give at best a halting impression of the listening experience.  The best way to understand what Igneous Flame is about, and what Pete Kelly has achieved with "Oxana", is to listen to it for yourself.  For this listener, "Oxana" was definitely worth the effort, and I give it my highest recommendation.

For more information on Igneous Flame and other Pete Kelly projects, see www.petekellysound.net

Reviewed by Grant Goodes for Ambient Visions

 

The Sacred Ordinary

by Paul Ellis

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Synthesist Paul Ellis has come to prominence lately with a string of impressive and acclaimed Berlin School sequencer albums.  I'm the first to admit that Berlin School doesn't punch my buttons these days, but, as with the impressive Life Sequence by Steve Roach (which Ellis appeared on), I'm open to modern takes on the classic form, provided they sound fresh and new, rather than be rehashes of past triumphs from thirty-odd years ago.  Ellis, a former member of Dweller at the Threshold, seems to have moved past pure sequencing in favor of space music featuring it rather than being stylistically ruled by it.  Somewhere at the intersection of ambient synthscapes and entrancing sequences lies The Sacred Ordinary, Ellis's latest record.   

The Sacred Ordinary begins dramatically with "Icon," a ticking clock of mid-tempo sequencing that cascades prettily and progressively, with a deep low end punctuating the crystalline shimmer.  A synth flute solos in tune with the sequencing, bringing a sylvan theme to the proceedings.  This is dramatic electronic music, paced well and with ever-changing sequences that feel like gentle showers brushing over the listener's body.  Ellis is careful to intersperse the track with many random tones and sounds to keep the listener actively involved--it's a strength that prevents the sequencing from getting too repetitive.  "Shining" starts with low, deep gurgling, eventually cut with a slow sequence and phased synth.  The sequence begins to build into a more complex pattern as notes are added.  A second sequence arrives, this one more frenetic, and the tone is set.  More and more sequences are built upon the track until we are placed straight in the middle of an artery; we become a blood vessel furiously tumbling through the circulatory system.  Any ambient tendencies from the first track are tossed out the window, as full on sequenced, phasing patterns shift and morph over eleven minutes.  The next track, "The Sacred Ordinary," is an almost jarring about face, presenting a gorgeous nine-minute ambient drift piece.  Fans of Vir Unis's drift work will especially enjoy this piece, which could find a artistic brother in VU's The Drift Inside.  Ellis proves to be no slouch in creating evocative soundscapes; this is a slowly gliding journey, and one that I was happy to listen to on repeat for a while.  A surprisingly ambient highlight.  "Blue Heron" sounds almost jazzy with a repeated synth phrase met by vibraphone sounds and scattered synth noises.  It's times like this that I wish I had a musical vocabulary to describe what the separate elements are doing, because I'm sure it's called something in particular.  Needless to say, all the elements build to a tuneful melange of different synth passages.  "The Still Center of a Turning World" has an Eastern flavor as if one is walking through a bustling bazaar run by mechanical beings.  This song reminds me very much of Roedelius's musical sensibility, and is a light confection of progressive synthwork.  "Oresence" begins low and deep, but explodes into dynamic sequencing with a refreshing Indian tonality provided by synths that sound like processed sitar or sarod.  The sequences and more traditional sounding instruments (though altered and virtual) don't quite fit, but this is an interesting experiment in East meets West that surprises at every turn.  "Cascade" brings harmonic singing into the milieu--always a wonderful sound--and effectively an introduction to Ellis's sacred sequencing which bubbles along as intense as the vocals.  The synths are psychedelic and progressive here, reminding me more than a little of Tangerine Dream, though in a far more modern context.  The sequencing gets more intense by track's end, eventually hushing into near silence.  "After All" returns us to ambience, with an Eno-esque zone of stillness.  This is a great, though short, track with melancholy synth that echoes Harold Budd or James Johnson.  Gorgeous and a highlight of the disc.  "Turning Towards the Sun" is more active, but pursues a similarly meditative mien, with trance synths straight out of the Fax catalog mixed with the flute from "Icon."  Finally, "Slowly Beating Wings" begins with a lovely mellotron and opens out into an infinite vista of electronic arpeggios and synth harmonies.  This is the most dramatic track on the album, bringing thoughts of ancient earth, early humans, and bright sunlight over desert. 

Ellis makes an intrepid attempt to bring the spiritual into sequencing, with varying results on The Sacred Ordinary.  While the successful tracks are active and interesting, the spiritual flavor often seems to be no more than another instrument or sound in Ellis's arsenal.  Naturally, the sequences tend to overpower other characteristics on the album, which is fine for work of this type, but seems to lessen the impact of elements like the harmonic singing on "Cascade."  That said, the sequences and synthwork here are top notch--sure to please any fan of modern synthesis.  While The Sacred Ordinary is not quite a seamless blend of ambient and Berlin School, there are more than enough touches of each to please fans of both styles (though the tone of the album tends to favor sequencing over atmospherics).  For my own part, I'd love to see Ellis branch into pure ambience--the few tracks in this style here are a fine taster of what an album of that nature would be like.  As with the previously mentioned Life Sequence, there is little on The Sacred Ordinary that will convince naysayers of the Berlin School to change their opinions.  However, they'd also be missing a very entertaining and diverse work that often manages to transcend the boundaries of its genre as it attempts to reach ever higher into the stratosphere.

Reviewed by Brian Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Brian's website by clicking here.

 

 

Expanding Horizon

Alio Die/ Mathias Grassow

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This recording, a 2-disc set, is a series of drone compositions, augmented with tasteful field recordings of cicada, water sounds, and other seasonings from the sonic atmosphere, occasional quiet improvisations from sitar and tamboura, and light, unobtrusive "world" percussion. The back cover, which shows a bird soaring into a halo in the sky, perfectly illustrates the mood of the recording and if my description intrigues you it is quite likely that you will enjoy this recording. I certainly did and can recommend it without reservation.

The drones chosen are usually static and harmonic in nature, as contrasted with the evolving, modulating kind. They blend in well with the compositions, which feature the ambient sounds and the distant, calm percussion. Occasionally they take the fore and provide an emotional backdrop.

It appears that the artists intended to create a sonic emotional state, varying slightly over each short piece but staying mostly consistent throughout the entire set. The state that I observed in myself listening to this was one of reflective inner calm and observation. This was a very interesting state, as it allowed me to observe each musical event, how it changed the atmosphere and how I felt as the music changed and expressed different things. My overall feeling after listening was one of calm and refreshment.

If you were to just put this on and go about your business, you might be able to view this as one piece but concentrated listening could reveal that it is a series of small tone paintings, each subtly different. "Enchanted Land" begins the set with a steady drone with cicada sounds and distant tribal drums echoing over a grassy hill. Water sounds are faded in and out, providing more variety. "Day of Fulfillment" continues with a similar harmonic drone and the cicadas (which act as a recurring motif throughout the recording) are again present. In "Radiant Clearing" a higher drone, still static and more resonant begins to sound. This is blended with some very nice field recordings of running water for a relaxing effect. "Organum" continues the peaceful feeling with a melodic drone tone that sounds subtly different than the others. "The First Bright Light" continues the movement toward melodic drones and introduces some very minor melodic change into the background drones. Many different water sounds are now mixed in along with a repeating insistent soft bell . This is the most layered composition on disc 1 and managed to conjure up images of what glowing, a visual phenomenon, must sound like. "Amithaba" introduces a tamboura sound and short, plucked melodic fragments that sound like the sitar. The feeling of listening in on some far away development is manifest in this piece. "Dawn" features more tamboura explorations, light percussion, and a drone that becomes multidimensional. The entire effect is to enhance or encourage "Deep Listening". The first disc ends with "Dew Drops", which has the heaviest water sounds and a background drone that can only be described as ethereal.   A "guitar-cither", played by Grassow, makes its first appearance here and offers some intriguing textural embellishments.

Disc 2 begins with "The Falcon" which continues the guitar-cither developments, giving the piece an improvisatory feel. Again, percussion is heard in the distance. "The Poetess" provides a dark sounding drone in the background as the guitar-cither continues to color the proceedings. The effect here is of many micro-motives that all fit together. "Serpent's Hollow" reintroduces the quiet static drone and an interesting thunder sound, but is merely a brief transitional piece on the way to "Tuscany" which begins peacefully enough but is soon introducing quiet, metallic tones into the mix. The harmonic drone returns and reintroduces the cicadas, tying the 2 discs together. This long atmosphere is succeeded by the disc's closer, "Brugh Na Boine-the Elves Reign" which features, susurrations in the wind sounds, the cicadas and a prolonged and rewarding sitar/tamboura improvisation.

The effective use of Die's drones demonstrates that these gentlemen are in full command of their music. If anything I've described in this review interests you, I urge you to seek this out.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions

 

A Distant Signal

by Alpha Wave Movement

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"A Distant Signal" by Alpha Wave Movement perfectly captures the wonder and mysteries of the cosmos, but unlike most space music which suggests travel and exploration beyond the stars, AWM has created a disc that pays tribute to the inspiration that space brings.  Rather than exploring space itself, "A Distant Signal" seems to explore our own perceptions of the cosmos.

With track one "Mapping the Heavens" our curiosity is piqued with a simple question asked to open our minds to the possibilities of life on other planets. Lush synth tones caress the senses, a feeling of movement, the slow passage of time.

The mood builds in track two, "Distant Signals", where the sounds of  beautiful, thick pads pass through the soundfield like comets in the night sky sending obscure signals to us in unspoken languages.  Soon a sensuous groove draws us in and we find ourselves surrounded by alien voices.  Quite beautiful.

"Liquid Cosmos" slows the tone but continues to draw us deep into the mysteries of the stars, a beguiling arpegio playing in the distance, a wash of synth, and the occasional chime. A truly breathtaking track.

In track five, "Outward Bound", tones slowly build up from seeming  nothingness until they achieve a level of clarity and focus, a slight groove taking shape and complexity much like our own understanding of the heavens has grown with further study.  Marvelous work.

Skip ahead to "Portal Full of Stars" which begins with a subtle drone and grows from there.Low deep tones slowly inch the piece forward giving way to minimal piano work, rising and falling sounds in the distance, each note another star, another galaxy to explore.

"No Man's Land" suggests the isolation of space, the vast openness, the ideas of distance so great that our minds can only just begin to understand what they mean.  Starting with a sombre and sparse intro, the piece builds in complexity with parts fading in and out throughout, a sense of understanding taking shape that while we may gain a greater understanding of the cosmos in our lifetime, there are still many lifetimes worth of discoveries to be made. A truly beautiful track capping a truly beautiful album.

With the release of "A Distant Signal" Alpha Wave Movement has truly captured the feeling of looking to the sky and wondering what's out there, and inspires us to continue looking in hopes that one day we'll find out.  Surely this is space music at it's  finest, a disc with as many discoveries and delights as there are stars in the sky... 

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Rik's Ping Things website by clicking here.

 

 

Atmospheres

by Michael Dulin  

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"Atmospheres" is pianist Michael Dulin's second release of original piano solos. After a long career in the classical music field as well as acting as producer of music for others, Dulin is emerging as one of the brightest stars in the new age/ambient genre. Calling his music "inner music - music that balances and centers and replenishes," his pieces are soothing enough to stay in the background to set an easy mood, and yet are complex and challenging enough to be consistently interesting and rewarding for the active listener. Dulin's playing "chops" are impeccable, and the tone of the Steinway he recorded the music with is crystal clear. Most of the tracks have washes of synth instrumentation for color, but this is definitely a piano album. 

The title track opens the CD with a quiet melody that is enlivened with shimmering runs up and down the piano keyboard. Both pensive and serene, the piece is a very elegant opening. "Once Upon a Time" is a bit more wistful and dreamy - very gentle and sweet. "Mirage" is more ambient, with a beautiful flowing quality and a sense of moving forward. "Bedtime for Little John" is a simple, cozy lullaby that spills over with innocence. "Nocturne" is absolutely gorgeous - cool and peaceful, and very atmospheric; very definitely a "night song," as the title implies. "The Highlands" is a bit more structured, and could easily be a movie theme - a beautiful melody. "Morning Clouds" is fluid and tranquil without any hard edges. And then there is my favorite track, "Night Rhythms." This piece is much more "smooth jazz" than classical, and it pulls me in every time. It has the easy-going pace of the rest of the CD, but is more rhythmic and has a sense of fun. It surprised me the first time I listened to the album, but I just love it!

"Atmospheres" is destined to be one of my "Top 10 for 2003," I'm sure, and Michael Dulin has become one of my favorite contemporary composers. "Atmospheres" is available from equitydigital.com and amazon.com. Very highly recommended! 

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.

Visit Kathy Parsons' bio page for more information.

 

Journey to the Edge: 76 Light Years

Discovery: The Edge of the Universe

by William Edge

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William Edge is a relative newcomer to the ambient space music community. Journey to the Edge: 76 Light Years is his debut CD and it is a gem! It is a concept CD, dealing with a doomed space flight to the well edges of the outer realms of the universe. William mixes sequences, atmospheres, overt rhythms symphonic synths and some funk to tell the story. The music ebbs and flows with somber tones and dramatic crescendos. This is a noteworthy debut. 

 

Unlike most newcomers, William Edge seems to have found his musical niche already. He is quite accomplished at composing and performing deep hypnotic sci-fi space music. Discovery: The Edge of the Universe is a continuation of his debut CD. Through his musical vision and imagery, William takes his listeners to the edge that his doomed space flight sought. He combines symphonic synths, expansive atmospheres, subtle rhythms, obtuse voice overs and unusual samples to expand his metaphors. The music is upbeat as William celebrates discovery. This coupled with his debut is a harbinger of great things to come!



Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.

 

Sub.Terra

by Various Artists

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This release from Foundry Records, "sub.terra" is a fascinating compilation based around the concept of creating a series of pieces using only a trumpet as source material. the artists all started with a set of trumpet recordings and from there processed and treated the tracks until they came up with the works contained herein.  

A very impressive collection of works it is! Featuring tracks by Vir Unis, vidnaObmana, Saul Stokes, Michael Bentley and Interstitial, "sub.terra" provides not only an excellent group of challenging pieces, it also serves as an introduction to some of the best artists in the field of electronic music today.  

With each of the artists contributing their own interpretations, each adding their own particular sounds and flaours, "sub.terra" crosses a range of styles and ideals. from the dark drones of Interstitial, through the percussive groove of Vir Unis, the space and movement of vidnaObmana, the hypnotic chilled electronics of Saul Stokes, and the dark deep-space explorations of Michael Bentley, "sub.terra" is an excellent collection, and well worth checking out.
 

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Rik's Ping Things website by clicking here.

        

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