Music Reviews 


Reviews 11-12-2001


Not Without Risk

by Byron Metcalf

Byron Metcalf's website


Byron Metcalf's life defines holistic integration.  He holds numerous degrees in psychology and counseling and he is a shamanic practitioner.  He is a pioneer of the therapeutic use and healing potential of "nonordinary" states of consciousness.  He is also a world class percussionist and a leader in the field of healing music.

"Not Without Risk" is his third CD.  (His second CD was a collaboration with Steve Roach.)  It is truly a worthwhile endeavor.  (To quote Byron, "Any worthwhile endeavor is not without risk.") 

Byron's soundworlds are deep and rhythmic journeys into the self.  His intention is to give his listeners the opportunity to heal.  He does not do the healing.  Like any good counselor, Byron merely provides guidance and safety.

Byron has assembled a stellar cast of supporters to assist him.  Appearing with Byron are Steve Roach (Didg, spirit voice, ocarina, loops, processing, "Serpent Groove Alchemy"), Ron Oates (keyboards, soundworlds), Jack Coddington (didgeridoo), Richard Blum (Native American flute), Rian McGonigal (didgeridoo), Lena Stevens (vocals), Jamie Keehan (soprano voice), Michael Keehan (spirit voice) and Byron's wife and partner, Shawn Cardinal (spirit voice).

The set runs the gamut from intense rhythmic head music to gentle Native American minimalism.  Byron weaves his magic throughout the disc.  His percussion carries the flow and guides listeners to the healing touch.  That touch comes from within each listener.  It can be spiritual, emotional and/or personal.  It is always powerful!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts



By O÷phoi and Klaus Wiese


Not only have I spent the past month listening almost exclusively to collaborations but I have also drawn deeply from the Italian Amplexus label and it's stable of somewhat unknown or obscure sub-labels and artists, all of which have been welcome additions to the library.  As an interesting aside many of the release on Amplexus are limited editions, which utilize unique packaging concepts, which adds greatly to the allure and mystique for collectors.  Not to mention the conversation value of the gorgeous artwork that adorns the slip covers and are equally at home residing on shelves, coffee tables or display stands.

Let us begin with something drawn from the inside of the special cover booklet wrapped around the plastic protection sleeve containing the disc. "Stormy winds will fight against each other, and their Sound will reach God's ear" - Merlin.  "In Celtic mythology Wouivres the Divine Spirit: like a snake crawling along the ground, the Wouivre runs deep beneath the earth, bringing Life and Fertility.  There are places where this hidden and sacred Stream reaches the surface, creating a link between Sky and Earth: on such a place the Templar Knights built the Cathedral of Chartres."  A positively enthralling, heady, concept for sacred reverie through headphone listening beckoned at my first reading of these lines.  This is where the visions take their shape and the journey begins.

"Nemeton - The Celestial Clearing" is a 0:25 second embarkation piece that opens an inner window to a dimension of startling depth and an immense, all encompassing, voluminous soundscape.  The size of the soundstage presented by this piece is alarmingly large and unsettlingly real. This first glimpse of the stage set by the minds eye is incredibly adroit in presenting the spatial concept for what is to follow and hopefully what will come to pass from within the depths of Wouivre

"Llyr - The Dark Stream" is O÷phoi's solo homage to, and naming of the Wouivre, employing water, Tibetan singing bowls, stones, gongs, and birds.  "Llyr" is a definitive study of the world of spacious reverb tails and the endlessly expanding notion of liquidity in sound.  Employing dark suggestion "Llyr" is nevertheless a relaxing piece in the purest sense.  Readily inducing the contemplation of the myths and mystery that the Earth's elements employ to surround and entertain the inquisitive soul.

Klaus Wiese enters the mix with an upright cello, a bowchime and the monochord as his chosen voice for "Taran - The Thunder".  A third voice, that of Rick Rummler, engages the periphery of the soundscape on the bowchime while O÷phoi weaves a spell on electronics, a flute, looping and processing.  An extremely organic sounding track that had me casting sidelong glances about the room searching for cues to the impending release of the anticipated peal of thunder.  The anticipation was much akin to that which accompanies the sensory overload of a soundtrack that underpins the moment when you as the listener would rather not have anyone open that door or walk in to the open expanse of the waiting glen.

And thus enters the clangorous realm of "Llia'g - The Wizard".  A shorter piece in the context of the other tracks but one which is packed with potent visions of being in the presence of one that commands you maintain an unerring eye and keep a watchful vigil lest you be swept away following your bewitched grasp of reality.  Track four attempts to focus light on the face of darkness but only magnifies the mysteries cloaked in the unknown by revealing deeper recesses of blackness.   "Llia'g" employs the same instrumentation and artists as the previous track minus the monochord yet morphs their sonic identity enough to present a dynamic realm of unearthly voicing.

"Dheoog Bhair - Hallucinations" retains the undercurrent of tension introduced through "Llia'g" with an added dimension of what can only be described as an altered state.  Reminiscent of the metallic yet gauze swathed manipulations of sound created by the fever induced hallucinations from the Hong Kong Flu, which I contracted in my youth during an East Coast vacation.  The surreal quality created adds another level of tension that is at the same time relaxing and meditative, opening and closing alternative paths to understanding, and also engages ones thoughts in a confusing yet appealing interruption and re-direction of the stream of conscious thought.

"Guth Ather - Invocation" is exactly as the title states.  An 18:39 epic wherein I was presented with the possibility of direct contact with, and the inner peace attainable through, the entity of the Divine Spirit.

The closing concept of "Wouivre" is "Guth Ire - The Primordial Harp", also a dedication to O÷phoi's father who is now floating in the "Wouivre".  Pastoral and ethereal in its nature "Guth Ire" conjured a corporeal understanding of that which lies within the dimensional planes one usually only postulate's the existence thereof.  A voyage beyond yet deep within oneself that was as engaging as it was entertaining.  "Wouivre" was an outstanding ride that I plan on returning to again and again. Look not over one's shoulder nor listen to what you cannot hear unless you are ready to reconcile that it quite possibly may be yourself that you encounter within the "Wouivre".

Reviewed by BEAR 11/11/2001  

Four and one Half Bear Paws highly recommended. 



by Psychetropic


Todd Fletcher released some of the coolest desert ambience and some of the richest electro-tribal ambience in the mid 90's.  After his second CD, "Star," was released in 1996, he seemed to disappear, musically anyway.  He resurfaced in 2000 with a contribution to the "Tracks Across the Universe" compilation.  He has roared back in 2001 with two brand new CD's (CDR's, actually) on his own Microrelease label.

Todd created "23" under the pseudonym Psychetropic.  (He uses that moniker for his rhythmic and sequenced e-music.)  This is a powerful release.  There have been scads of electronicians mixing dense minimalist atmospheres with Berlin school sequences.  This disc stands with the best of them.

(I'll take a short aside and step a little out of character and style.  Track four, "Stream," is a great track.  It is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's "Stratosfear," one of the greatest e-music compositions of all time.  This track stands proudly as a Berlin school classic and a new millennium standard.)

Todd's atmospheres and sequences form a very dense soundscape.  It is powerful, dynamic and vibrant.  And it is catchy.  The hooks grab listeners.  The rhythm carries them.  The atmospheres embrace them.

It is absolutely great to have new music from this heralded (yet too often overlooked) artiste.  If he gets the support that he deserves it will not be another five year wait for the next releases.

Welcome back, Todd!  You have been missed!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Arcane Engergies

by Todd Fletcher

Visit Todd Fletcher's website

In order to get back to the scene closer to his own terms, Todd Fletcher founded the Microrelease label.  He distributes his new music on CDR's instead of manufactured CD's.  When he gets an order, he burns the correct number of CDR's to fill it.  Granted, the unit cost is higher but the initial investment is minimal.  That process also assures that the CDR will never be out of print.

And Todd is a consummate artist.  The packaging and artwork are beautiful.  If he had not explained this process on his website, most folks would not know that these were CDR's.

"Arcane Energies," under his given name, is more in the style of his earlier releases.  Todd's soundworld definitely revolves around deep atmospheres.  The variations are in how he compliments them.  On this release, the accoutrements are more mysterious and more complex.  While there is probably some sequencing going on, the extras have a natural feel to them.  Todd offsets the atmospheres with some jazz influenced riffs, some experimental sounds and with the aforementioned tribal ethnicity.

Many of these compositions were available as downloads on Todd's web site years ago.  (There are more unreleased tracks at the web site now.)  They sounded great then.  They still sound great and they sound fresh.  In this format and context they have something extra.  They shine!

If there were an award for "Comeback Artist of the Year," Todd would be the hands down winner!  Congratulations, Todd!  This CD proves that the magic is still there!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Dust and Glass

by Farfield

Visit Farfield's website

Nick Webb records under the pseudonym Farfield.  "Dust and Glass," his second release, is a true minimalist gem!  This is dark experimental minimalism in the Hypnos vein.  There are no subtleties here.  It is scary ambience, worthy of any Halloween sound design.

Nick gathered some strange and exotic - even erotic - samples from around the U.K.  (He even has a recording of seven hot air balloon burners.  Wow!)  The samples form the base of the soundscape.  Nick layers his synths and drones on top of the samples.  He also layers the samples on top of the synths and drones.  The wall of sound is constantly building itself and collapsing into itself.  It is reminiscent of a Frippertronics loop.

But this is an original artistic triumph!  There are similarities to many, derivatives of none.  The experimental and manipulated sounds top the project.  Nick has not had much, if any, exposure in the U.S.A.  This CD promises to change that.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


After the Night

by Darhan Ambient


Michael Allison records ethereal ambience as Darshan Ambient.  "After the Night" is his fourth CD.  Just from sight, this CD promises something different.  The cover artwork of the disc resembles a black and gray rose.  That will lead listeners to believe that this a darker effort than Michael's previous releases.  It is!

However, Michael has not gone completely over to the dark side of minimalism.  The darkness of this set is not sinister.  It is contemplative and there are gentle symphonic synth passages to offset the dark riffs.

So, this is a unique hybrid.  It does not go to the depths of sombient plunderphonics nor does it rise to the lofty heights of pastoral ambience.  This disc is a fence sitter and that is a good thing!

There is no "refrigerator hum" (thank you, Gordon Danis).  Michael uses an acoustic piano as a melodic drone.  It has a very gentle appeal to it.  Thus, the juxtaposition continues as the melodic drone surrounds the deep synth washes and dark riffs.

This unique hybrid is a wonderful addition to the banner year of space music - both dark and elegant.  This disc will make many "Best of Year" lists.  It is already on one!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts



by Sara Ayers

Visit Sara Ayer's website

Sara Ayers is a space music veteran.  She is one of the primary practitioners of electronic using the voice as an instrument.

Of "Interiors," her latest release, she writes, " music has become ... less linearI ... decimate time and melody.  I speak less (and) my sounds (are) very dense."  She also states that this is merely a vehicle for listeners to experience their own stories.  Her goal is for listeners not to hear her music.  That is ambient as Brian Eno defined it.

All of those statements are true.  Sara's soundscape is dense.  Her vocals, while integral to the sound design, are wordless and subtle.  She uses her chanting style expertly.

Defining the spiritual and emotional responses to this soundworld would be futile.  Sara's intent is for each listener to define his/her own experience.  Deep listeners will go on a journey.  The deepest listeners will experience integration.  This is one of 2001's ultimate meditative encounters.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Cruise Control

by Steven Halpern

Visit Steven Halpern's website

Steven Halpern recorded "Cruise Control" with The Sound Medicine Band.  The members are: Kim Atchison, Geoffrey Gordon and Ian Dogole on various percussion instruments; Jim Surles on electric guitar; Mark van Wageningen on bass and Steven on keyboards, acoustic guitars, drums and overtone chant.

This CD is uneven.  There are moments of intensely beautiful ambience and space music.  There are also moments of overt funk and rhythms with rock and roll charisma.

In and of itself, that is not a bad thing.  Uneven is not necessarily a criticism, either.  Indeed, variety can be the spice of life.  The difficulty here is wading through the unexpected.  Listeners have expectations of a Steven Halpern CD.  Those expectations include symphonic synthesizers, exotic space music, healing tones, subliminal relief and meditative soundscapes.  They do not include hard rock guitars and urban funk rhythms.

Of the ten tracks, five meet those expectations.  Those five tracks are classic electronic new age music, worthy of inclusion in any collection.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Peace, Earth and Guitars

by Darren Curtis Skanson

Visit Darren Curtis Skanson's website

Darren Curtis Skanson is a classically trained guitarist.  His gentle acoustic has a full timbre. "Peace, Earth & Guitars" is a set of classical, traditional and original compositions.  Darren's heartfelt performance erases the lines that separate the classical, traditional and original tracks.  Informed listeners will recognize the classical and traditional pieces.  The original compositions compliment those pieces well.  The flow of the music does not skip a beat.

Darren's CD's are hard to find.  They are available at his website or at festivals when he performs.  Check out his website and listen to some of his samples.


Reviewed by Jim Brenholts



by Darren Cutis Skanson

Visit Darren Curtis Skanson's website


"This CD is dedicated to my grandparents, Carl and Esther Olson and Christ and Mable Skanson.  I have always wished they could be here now to hear me play.  But then I remind myself that they are probably listening."

With that heartfelt sentiment, Darren Curtis Skanson introduces "Classica," a mixture of classical guitar and orchestral strings.  Wayne Templeman, Tom Capek and Darren arranged the strings.  Wayne performed them all.

Darren, As is his custom, performs original, classical and traditional selections.  He has added something extra for this CD.  He has included transcriptions of two modern pieces.  "Classical Gas" is the most recognizable.  Darren's arrangement and performance are flawless.

That will not surprise Darren's listeners.  All of his transcriptions are technically brilliant.  He adds the extra touch of putting his heart and soul into his craft.

This CD is essential for fans of classical and/or ambient acoustic guitar.  It is also hard to find.  Visit Darren's website for information and samples.


Your Lingering Touch

by Govi

Visit Real Music's website

"Your Lingering Touch" is a collection of pieces that feature Govi "at his romantic best."

Govi is a world class guitarist and there is no doubt that he is passionate about his craft.  

These tracks were selected because of their "dreamy melodies."  The selection criteria are accurate.  The melodies are dreamy; the selections are romantic; the performances are passionate.



Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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