Reviews 12-03-2000

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Sleeping on the
Edge of the World

by David Helpling

Spotted Peccary Website

This is David Helpling's second recording for Spotted Peccary, and it features the same sound that he established in his first album, Between Blue and Green. It is a percussion-driven mix of electronic synthesizers, piano solo, some electric guitar, and occasional wordless vocals, blended with lots of reverb. There is no pseudo-tribal or pseudo-"world" styling here; it is resolutely American-sounding, with follow-able pop harmonies and melodic lines. Helpling's music at times sounds much like movie or TV scores, or even the soundtrack for ads for elegant cars. This commercial quality is not a bad thing, as he is excellent at suggesting a mood or even a visual scene with well-chosen sound.

Much has been said about Helpling's close musical resemblance to Patrick O'Hearn. And this is true – the two styles are very close. Helpling uses some of the very same synth-percussion sounds as O'Hearn, as well as other synthesizer presets. He also uses the characteristic O'Hearn arrangement of a heavily reverbed, single piano note line against an "orchestral" synthesizer background and a steady percussion pulse.

As an experiment, I played METAPHOR by O'Hearn directly after hearing this album. To my surprise, I found Helpling's music smoother, more sophisticated, and more melodic than O'Hearn. Helpling has taken the rather choppy, rock-inspired O'Hearn style and gone with it into a smoother, more cinematic, dramatic environment. Helpling's music has a melancholy, wistful quality, though it is never "dark" like the more a-tonal, and far less accessible, "dark ambient." Helpling's music, with its flowing piano line, might even be called "romantic," unlike the harder-edged O'Hearn. And the addition of a drifting, "angelic" female voice in some tracks (sung by Kelly Caton Hurley) brings in a gentler quality than the driving O'Hearn. This gentleness comes through in cuts like #5, "Sticks and Stones," and especially in cut #8, "All Things End," which is a tender, emotionally moving piece, created out of very simple ambient elements.

Nevertheless, the highly imitative style is still a concern for me. Since I like O'Hearn's music, I'm always glad to hear more of it, no matter who composes it! But I also hope that David Helpling, who has already proved his competence with this album and its predecessor, will move into a more recognizable territory of his own as his work progresses.

Hannah M.G.Shapero 12/3/2000

Origninally appeared on the Wind and Wire website.


To the Shores of Heaven Jeff Pearce album cover

To the Shores of Heaven

by Jeff Pearce


There are quite a few artists in the ambient field who use electric guitar as part or all of their musical instrumentation, but none does it so well as Jeff Pearce. In this solemn but beautiful album there are timbres and sound-effects, and even percussion sounds, which you would think were done on a synthesizer - but all of it is done with electric guitar. That does not mean that there is no actual guitar-playing on the album; it does show up, contemplative and smoothly slow, at times reminiscent of Will Ackerman’s work for Windham Hill and “Imaginary Roads.”

Indeed this is a slow-paced album, but that hardly means that it is dull or boring. The motion of this music is drifting and cloud-like, often circling around a single motif, a minimalist meditation on a few notes or even one or two chord changes; in this it is similar to the work of Tim Story (Beguiled, The Perfect Flaw) who does similar things with piano. Because Pearce chooses to work with conventional tonality most of the time, he chooses harmonies which stand up and become enriched by this minimalist treatment, blended by the “infinite reverb” which is so characteristic of the best ambient. The sound-material dissolves into a magical shimmer that glows and fades at just the right moments.

At times, this soundscape dips into the realm of dark ambient (as in cut 5, “Rain as a Metaphor,”) but it never stays there very long. This is an album I would classify as “ambience of light;” even though it sometimes has a melancholy undertone, it is created to bring out feelings of hope, beauty, and even exaltation. Towards the end of the album, with cut 10, “To the Shores of Heaven,” Pearce unleashes swells of soundwaves which reach toward a vision of glory, then follows with a pastoral guitar epilogue, no. 11, “Reunions,” where the “country” evoked is that of the far country beyond the gates of this world.

Pearce has put this album together beautifully, the succession of pieces creating moods which form a kind of ambient narrative leading from darkness to light, from sadness to hope. It is an exquisite album which should be numbered among this year’s best.

HMGS rating: 10 out of 10 Review by Hannah M.G. Shapero originally posted to the Eclectic Earwig Reviews page.

Radio Sputnik Arc album cover

Radio Sputnik

by Arc

DiN Website


The group Arc is actually a collaboration between synthesists Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve. This effort represents their second joint effort. The first being Octane on Ian Boddy's Something Else Records which has since gone out of print. This CD includes four of the cuts from that original CD done live. This CD was recorded live in 1998 during the 5th Alfa-Centauri Festival in Huizen, The Netherlands and released this year on Ian Boddy's new imprint DiN music. Other than the fact that you hear the voices of the audience at the beginning and ending of the CD there is little else that would inform the listener that the music they are hearing has been generated live in concert. The production values are very high and the music is allowed to sparkle with the energy imbued it by Ian and Mark during their performance.

For much of the music there is an underlying sequencer which acts as the glue that holds the music together and that in turn allows the improvisations to be layered on top of that firm foundation. The CD has epic moments of cosmic significance and also has moments of quiet reflection that lets the listener float upon waves of shimmering sound. Ian Boddy has been involved with the electronic music field since the early 70's and this experience shines forth on Radio Sputnik which features some great work by both of these artists. Electronic music in general reminds me of the freedom of some jazz forms where you establish the parameters of the song and the boundaries of what you can do within those parameters and the artist is free to improvise within those lines with the instrument that they play. Ian Boddy's type of electronic music is much the same as that form of jazz. The sequencer provides the parameters of where the song will ultimately go but the artists can take us on whatever little side trips that fit their mood at the time. A fine release from Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve and a fine addition to this growing label's catalog of titles on CD.

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