Reviews 12-05-2005 


Music Reviews 



Twilight in the Offing

by Chad Hoefler

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I have come to expect quality ambient recordings from the Hypnos label, and Chad Hoefler's Twilight in the Offing causes no departure from that expectation. Small wonder too, when one realizes post-production work on this CD was done by none other than Robert Rich.  

Sometimes an album that's just "right" falls into your hands. That seems to be the case with this one. This is an album of deep atmospherics and rich, full textures. One can gain a sense of the flavor of this CD by reading the track titles: crimson lost, enveloping shadow, substrata, refugia, in a marooned moment, on the eve of plum forest, and orchard of stone. Six out of the seven pieces on this CD are longer than eight minutes in length; two of them are nearly 10 minutes long. In many ways, this is ambient music the way it's supposed to be!  

Bubbling cauldrons, hypnotic beats, guitar "noises" (honest, that's what it says in the liner notes) by Peter Maunu of Group 87 fame (among others), and yet the music simply oozes along. There is no doubt that Hoefler is in good company, and the results of this album demonstrate that.  

Brian Eno made us aware that music could become part of our experiential landscape. Chad Hoefler has fulfilled that promise admirably with his Twilight in the Offing.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions



Artificial Symphony

by Alex Tiuniaev

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As the first notes emanate forth from the speakers, the question comes to mind: is this classical music with a new age twist, or new age music with a classical flavor? There are certainly classical airs to Artificial Symphony, and the title lends itself to furthering the conundrum.  

The Grey Wanderer, the opening track, harkens to the likes of the symphonic composers of old. The Mist, track number two, on the other hand, adds a drum kit and subdued vocals to the mix, bringing the flavor of the mix right up to date. In fact, five of the nine tracks have vocal accompaniement (in English, despite the fact that Tiuniaev hails from Mosco, Russia). So despite the title, the music really is contemporary in nature.  

Tiuniaev tips his hat generously to the classical composers of old. However, the symphony is in fact, an electronic amalgamation of synthesizers, pads, atmospherics and affects. Strings, horns and orchestra have been replaced by Tiuniaev at the controls (one assumes his voice also provides the vocals--no credits other than the copyright are given on the CD jacket).  

At just over 42 minutes, the CD is short by today's measure. Tracks average about four and one-half minutes. The emotion and tenor is consistent throughout the CD, allowing for an easy, pleasurable three-quarters of an hour listening. It's not ambient music, by the strictest definition of the term, but it's a nice diversion for a peaceful, relaxing break.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions



Pieces of Piano

by David Alstead

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“Pieces of Piano” is David Alstead’s follow-up to last year’s “Piano For Both Ears.” Alstead once again brings a variety of playing and composing styles, effectively mixing his classical training with jazz and pop idioms. Pieces range from gentle and soothing to very big and discordant, once again showcasing the artist’s wide-ranging musical sensibilities. This is a CD to sink your teeth into and to grow with each time you listen to it. Ear candy it isn’t, nor was it intended to be. Citing Alstead’s classical training, this is more like free-form 20th century classical music than Bach or Beethoven, and there are many exciting moments as he effectively juxtaposes styles, creating a strong and distinctive musical voice.

The CD opens with “Nymph,” the breeziest piece on the album. With fingers lightly dancing on the keyboard, there is a mischievous feeling, but also one of grace - a promising beginning! “Sometimes I Feel” is much darker and more reflective, and has some fascinating chord changes. “Downtown” is one of my favorites. There are feelings of rushing, nonstop activity, and agitation. This piece really moves! “Flip Side” is also lively and exciting, but much more playful - fun! “Through the Falls” effectively conveys the power and grace of a waterfall - constantly moving and sparkling as the water pours down. “Jazz In a Box” is full of fun - I really like this one, too! “Not Even 5 Yet” has a nostalgic, old-fashioned feel to it and is much more classically structured than some of the other pieces. The title track almost feels like a love song, and it probably is! Elegant and graceful with a beautiful, flowing quality, this is also a standout. “Tin Man” is wild and one of the more abstract pieces. Totally free of musical restrictions, this one won’t put anybody to sleep! It has flowing moments and then runs all over the piano, with an agitated rhythm and jazz chords that carry some bite. The closing track, “You Can Go Home Again,” returns to a lovely, bittersweet melody and a feeling of longing.

As you can see, this was an adventurous project that covers a lot of musical territory. David Alstead is an incredible pianist and isn’t afraid to show it. I really enjoy this album! A lot of the music is on the experimental side, so expect to have to listen to it a few times to “get it,” but I think you’ll find it’s well-worth the effort!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions



The Butterfly Effect

by Tim Gerwing

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THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is the second album from Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Tim Gerwing. It is a diverse mix of many styles, textures, and moods, which seem to have no unifying feature at first. You will find prog-rock electric guitar and garage-band songs, Vangelis-style synthesizer lushness, electronic drones, Middle Eastern oud lute and percussion, overtone singing, neoclassical piano, nature sounds, and spoken words – all on the same album! Gerwing used spoken words in different languages such as Greek and Chinese, as sound-material in his previous album, BEING TO BEING (2002) in which the translations were only available on his website. Here, he stays mostly with English (with a bit of Japanese layered in on track 10). 

The unifying factor in this album, as with his previous one, is not necessarily musical, but intellectual. Gerwing is an adherent of a philosophy sometimes called the “Fourth Way,” which was created (or perhaps “brought to the West”) by the esoteric teacher G. I. Gurdjieff in the early 20th century and elaborated by inheritors such as the English philosopher J.G. Bennett (whose voice can be heard on BEING TO BEING). A bit of knowledge about this philosophical practice can explain otherwise cryptic lyrics and titles on this album. In the “Fourth Way,” simple words such as “sleep,” “waking,” “work,” or “available” are given spiritual meanings specific to the “Way,” whose Zen-like spiritual practice is not easy to categorize. For instance, the “Fourth Way” assumes that all people are “asleep” and unaware of the inner dimensions of life until they begin “working” on themselves to eventually become “awake.”

This may account for the highly meditative quality of many of the cuts, such as track 5, “effect04” which combines very soft, eerie electronics with the sound of crickets. The lyrics of the songs on track 8, “Working with you,” and track 12, “Stream of Consciousness,” also use Fourth Way language. The Gurdjieff heritage is also musical, and Gerwing’s piano “etude” in track 9 is influenced by piano music composed by one of Gurdjieff’s collaborators, composer Thomas de Hartmann. 

Another theme in this Gerwing collection is science, that is, the view of the world that science gives us.

In that meditative track 8, Gerwing includes a spoken word element which features a male voice (Canadian biologist and science writer David Suzuki) reciting simple numerical facts about the mass of the sun and the earth, the weight of the atmosphere, and other bits of environmental knowledge. Gerwing’s use of nature and water sounds (as on the beautiful Track 6) give a quiet sound-picture reminding me of a Zen garden, as well as a vision of an unspoiled environment. He uses “scientific” terminology in his titles: “Biota,” “Cumulonimbus.” And his album title refers to the famous idea, first promoted by “chaos theory,” that the effect of a single butterfly’s wing could be multiplied in the earth’s atmosphere to create a storm somewhere across the globe. 

All this philosophy wouldn’t be much good if the music weren’t up to it. As long as you’re all right with the wide diversity of musical styles on the album, this album is well worth the (spiritual and listening) “work.” On most of the tracks, Gerwing sustains an austere, contemplative, detached, cool aesthetic, keeping his harmonies simple and modal, kind of “Western-oriental,” with hardly any dissonance. I sometimes wonder whether the detached self-observation of Fourth Way practice might have something to do with this. But then you get the prog-rock songs as well, which I admit I am less fond of. Even those, though, have a certain coolness about them; he’s not shouting his way through it or pumping up the hot action, but singing in a rather philosophical way, tinged with more than a bit of romanticism. Altogether, this is one of the most interesting and complex albums to come my way in a long time, in which music, spirituality, and a “scientific” attitude interact in a rewarding and enjoyable way. 

Hannah M.G. Shapero

Reviewed by Hannah M. G. Shapero for  Ambient Visions


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