Reviews 01-14-2001

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Cobalt 144 Ashera album cover

Cobalt 144

by Ashera (Anthony Asher Wright)

Visit Ashera's site


"Ashera" is an Australian artist whose ambient productions are very much in the "classic" spirit of Brian Eno. You will hear the by-now-familiar sounds of Ambient in Cobalt 144: rhythm-less floating synthesizer or electric guitar tones, sighing and whispering wordless female voices, tinkling or rattling percussion accents, heavily filtered electric piano notes, bells, and environmental sounds. All the tracks are soft in volume, designed to be a kind of "audible incense" to perfume the environment.

Even though the style of these pieces doesn't offer a lot of variety or change, and they are (as it were) designed to be ignored, it is worth listening more closely to one or two of the tracks, because Ashera has added some smooth and pleasant tone-colors to his delicate mix. His chord choices are an ultra-diluted tincture of modernist jazz. Track 6, "144," which is longer than the others at about 13 minutes, is especially pretty. It drifts along on sonic shimmer with a few moments of heavier percussion and gongs, and at some points actually gets loud. Another longer track, number 8, "Ultima Thule," has a slightly "darker" feel but is also good listening. (Note: I think these are the titles; this album has the most unreadable type I've ever encountered on a CD cover.)

Like a lot of the more successful "soft ambient" sounds, these pieces give the feeling of gazing into a reflecting pool of water, which is occasionally stirred by wind, or by fish just below the surface. Ashera's music certainly does its job of calming the listener down; in fact, it can get downright sleep-inducing. It's best to listen to this album late at night, or at least at some time when you don't mind slipping off into dreamland.

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero 1/14/2001  



by Thomas Barquee

Visit Hearts of Space Website


"Temple" is quite possibly the standard bearer or flagship release for the evolution of the Hearts of Space signature statement of "Timeless Music for a Changing World".  The byline reads "Ambient, contemplative, and cross-cultural music via syndicated radio and a family record label" and is indeed fully realized and embodied by this polished, "pop" laced entry.  My usage of "pop" is meant to characterize the state of the art mastering and presentation techniques utilized throughout to create an entirely engaging and satisfying soundscape of reverent space.

Introspectively solemn keyboards underpinned by, dynamic and tactile, layered percussion elements that drift in and out of the foreground propel the harmonic singing of Thomas Barquee through layered veils of a non-somatic sojourn.  The main "voice", besides Thomas Barquee's, is that of an acoustic piano possessing magnificent timbre enhanced by richly glistening reverb.  The entire disc for that matter is an exacting blueprint for exercising saturation, yet never drenching and achieving a dripping quality, through reverb and delay treatments.  There does appear to be some additive textures, that at times runaway sonically, but are nonetheless quite fun to try and follow, or ascertain their origins, as just about every instrumental voice in each track is "enhanced" by either delay or reverb treatments.

There are six tracks, all in excess of nine minutes, with titles of "la-buddha", "guru", rasa", "maya", lama", and lila".  The roots of the world of musical influences lie within and are manifest in unique and pleasing implementation for Barquee's vocals.  Though entirely capable of inducing trance like states the listener is now forewarned that there are startling dynamic levels here as well.  " Temple " contains many pertinent Shamanesque qualities that reward the listener with a new space for one's own introspective contemplative and enlightened journey, via the soulful vocals of Thomas Barquee, through his Ambient Visions.

Reviewed by BEAR  01.14.01 

Audiophiles Note: 

An extremely resonant and pleasing top to bottom feast for the ears carrying rich timbre and weight in the lower octaves.  The vocals are presented in a rainbow/halo effect that at first struck me as an odd presentation for the artists featured vocals.  Especially since the percussion tracks are the only instruments offered any stage placement and depth perspective as the balance of the tracking spending its placement hard panned left and right or cross fading.  The skin effect of the percussion is dynamically captured and results in glorious liquid reverb tales. The rainbow effect on the vocals bore itself out as being an excellent vehicle for the twin point source of the harmonies and overtones proffered in the soulful urgency of dynamic swells of emphasis as they contrasted the breathy quieter passages.

The listening sessions were performed in the following systems: 

(1) Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player, Electrocompaniet ECI-3 Integrated, Magneplanar MG1.6QR, &  Sunfire True Subwoofer speakers.

(2) Linn Classik into Stax Electrostatic SRX MkIII, Sennheiser HD600, & Sony MDR-7509 Professional headphones.

(3) The Holo-System: Rega Planet 2000, Belles XLM preamplifier, Belles 200 power amplifier and Altec Lansing 510 A speakers.  ( A relatively large system in an extremely small room with only one small holographic listening sweet spot


Lucid Dreams Patrick Kosmos album cover

Lucid Dreams 

by Patrick Kosmos

Visit Patrick's Homepage


Patrick Kosmos performed and recorded "Lucid Dreams" at an open-air concert  on August 14, 1998.  The title refers to the state of consciousness where one  is aware that one is dreaming.  The journeys and the para-normal potentials  are unlimited.  Patrick's Teutonic minimalism promotes this state.  The  performance lasted from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.  The similarities to a sleep  concert are expected.  They are inaccurate.  Patrick's style, while  subliminal, is neither as sophisticated nor as cerebral as Robert Rich's.  

This music is intended to induce lucidity.  Robert intends to provoke dreams.  Patrick's music does promote lucidity.  Yungchen Lhamo, featured on a vocal  drone, compliments Patrick's electronica exquisitely.  Listeners will benefit greatly from playing this while sleeping!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Contemporary Nocturne Vidna Obmana album cover

The Contemporary Nocturne

by Vidna Obmana

Visit the Hypnos website


After attending Vidna Obmana's heartstopping performance in Philadelphia last November, I thought that it would be a long time before I could take such a journey again.  I am very familiar with Vidna's music and its psychoactive properties and possibilities.  Yet I was totally unprepared for the perpendicular universe in which the soundworlds of "The Contemporary Nocturne" dwell.

Vidna Obmana, nee Dirk Serries, has been a master synthesist and minimalist for over a decade.  His music always provides me with a vehicle for escapes to within my soul and myself.  This WONDERFUL CD provides that - again! - And so much more! Dirk's use of offbeat and exotic instruments has become legendary in ambient circles.   This WONDERFUL CD provides that - again - and so much more.  The set takes those journeys to the next level and beyond.  Each piece focuses on a different instrument of construction to create vehicles for out-of-body within spirit journeys.  "Revelation," with Jim Cole's stunning overtone singing, is a stroke of pure genius.  (I can only imagine the experience of the Hartford concert.  It must have been triumphant, to say the least!)  The ethereal mix of voice, flute, fujara and electronics is mesmerizing.  I found it difficult to write while listening.  The pencil and paper just got in the way of the experience!

Thus has it been with the entire disc.  This masterwork has quickly become a favorite and a y2k top pick.  It immediately ascended to number 2 on my list of the year's best!  Vidna Obmana continues to prove himself worthy of Ambient Master status!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Prayers to the Protector Steve Roach album cover

Prayers to the Protector

Steve Roach, Thupten Pema Lama

Visit Celestial Harmonies website

Visit Steve Roach's Website


"Prayers to the Protector" is such a sacred and inspirational album that it feels almost sacrilegious to review it.  The liner notes tell of a visit by Thupten Pema Lama, of The Monks of the Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery, to the home of Steve Roach and Linda Kohanov in Tucson.  Linda's notes relate the tale of the visit with warmth, clarity, humor, grace and charm.  The spirituality of the event is evident.  Steve has gone to great lengths to build the proper soundscapes to compliment the prayers that were chanted that afternoon in the spring of 1996.  His efforts are repaid tenfold!  His atmospheric soundworld creates the perfect background for meditating with this great holy man.  The liner notes also provide interpretations of the chants.  They are helpful but the intense spirituality of the chants is crystal clear in any language. 

(I'll step out of the norm here to relate some personal reflections.  

First, this was easily the most difficult review that I have written.  The deeply personal nature of prayer and meditation is something that I share freely and willingly.  However the outright holiness of this CD kept drawing my focus away from the intellectual back to my heart and soul.  Thus, it became difficult for the pen to work with the paper while listening.  It was equally as hard to define the emotions and feelings when writing and not listening. 

Second, I first heard this CD at Steve's home during the reception following the Steve Roach/Jorge Reyes event in May, 2000.  I was sitting on his patio gazing at the desert and the mountains.  I began to meditate to the sounds of the chants and Steve's soundworlds and I got chills even though it was close to 110 degrees outside.  I still get chills when I get in touch with the feelings evoked by that moment.  This CD brings me back to that event.  In getting to know Steve through his music, communications in cyberspace (e-mail!) and our brief encounter in Tucson, I have come to learn that he is a spiritual and sensitive man.  I can only imagined how excited he was to make this album.  I can also appreciate his description of putting together the soundscape to accompany the prayers.  I look forward to seeing Steve again.  I will embrace him warmly and thank him for this CD.  It has become, for me, a spiritual essential.  It is also an exciting part of my daily prayer and meditation rituals.  THANK YOU, STEVE!)

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Seven Letters From Tibet Tangerine Dream album cover

Seven Letters from Tibet 

by Tangerine Dream


"This recording is not supporting any kind of political party or idea.  It is also not the composers' intention to support or criticise any kind of dialectical spiritual movement."  That disclaimer is quoted from the liner notes of "The Seven Letters from Tibet" by Tangerine Dream.  That being stated, this is probably their most emotional, spiritual and heartfelt album ever, certainly in years.  The concept is based on a universal doctrine that revolves around the seven gradations of density and nature in all things.  Each gradation is further reduced by seven continuously until all space is filled.  Edgar Froese and Jerome Froese approach this theoretical and intellectual postulation with emotional grandeur.  The soundscape is large and minimal and dense and expansive at the same time.  The emotional and spiritual performance overshadows the band's technical proficiency for the first time in years.  Despite the title, there are no Himalayan overtones.  Despite the disclaimer, this CD supports many spiritual movements!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Elegy for Time Matt Borghi album cover


Elegy for Time

by Matt Borghi

Visit Matt Borghi's website

"Elegy for Time" is a masterwork of minimalist synth drone from the unheralded creative soul of Matt Borghi.  The drone creates the perfect counterpoint for Matt's dark and melodic dirges.  This is NOT bright ambience.  Listeners have an invitation to visit the dark side of the psyche.  The timbre of the psychoactive minimalism is stark, bold and dense - almost murky!  Time stands still and dies on the vine - hence the elegy and the funeral procession.  There are NO subtleties on this album!  A dirge by any other name (elegy, drone, eulogy) is still a dirge.  This one is blatant and foreboding.  The disc is excellent for exorcism.  It is also downright excellent minimalism, worthy of Hypnos status!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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