Reviews 01-27-2002

Music Reviews 


Soil of Awareness 

by Mathias Grassow

Visit Mathias Grassow's website

Soil of Awareness is a double CD of deep dark droning minimalism from Mathias Grassow.  This artistic genius has been overlooked and written off for too long.  It is easy to write about his drones (I've done it.) and a cheap shot to complain about them.

It is harder to give Mathias his due.  He has been recording in diverse styles for close to 20 years.  His perseverance alone is worthy of praise.

But his creativity and originality are amazing!  These are not drones just for the sake of drones.  There are definite timbres and subtle nuances in this reflective soundscape.  Listening to this is almost like a religious experience.  The somber attitude and sober posture of the incessant drone and the stark atmospheres have absolute integrity and strong forces.  This is ambience with an exclamation point!  Mathias deserves many accolades and positive support.




Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Echoes in the Emptiness

By Exuviae

Visit Exuviae's website

Someone who casually heard a snippet from this CD may be forgiven for wondering if it's just a continuous tone. Lying somewhere between spacemusic and ambient this is actually a marvellous album comprising five tracks averaging around fifteen minutes each. Think of The Drift Inside by Vir Unis and you'll have a hint of the style.

What all the tracks have in common is a flowing or drifting structure based around a core sound texture. Throughout a track continually subtle changes to the music take one on an entrancing droning journey. Because the music on this album is so subtle in its delivery and form you need to listen attentively to get a full appreciation rather than having it playing whilst doing something else.

My favourite track is Silencia, this in my opinion is nothing short of superb. Listening to this is like travelling through some kind of a long tunnel. A recurring, almost plaintive, sound is heard over a fantastic drone which changes subtly, but never strays too far. I find this to be a great piece to play when I just want to lie back, switch off my busy mind, and lose myself in music for a little while.

The only other piece by Exuviae that I've heard so far is Blankets of Quiet on the compilation CD Convergent Evolution. On the basis of that and Echoes in the Emptiness I'm looking forward to hearing future work from this artist.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington for Ambient Visions   



The Intercepted Transmissions

by Cyber Zen Sound Engine and Matt Borghi

Visit Cyber Zen Sound Engine's website

The Intercepted Transmissions CD is a perfect blending of the talents of Michigan's Matt Borghi and Houston's Cyber Zen Sound Engine. Cyber Zen Sound Engine consists of GraceNoteX who handles keyboards, synths, percussion and treatments while Smith6079 takes care of guitars, synths and programming. Matt's share of this joint effort is his treated acoustic guitars and sound treatments.

The music on this CD has many hills and valleys while moving you inevitably forward toward the conclusion of your journey. It flows with gentle synths that lift you up and let you float among the clouds but as with life itself that feeling can not last forever. The darker environment of He Called Me Butterfly brings you back down and lets you remember that not all of life is pleasant or filled with light. As with all light there is the unavoidable shadow which is pleasingly explored on this CD but not to the point of plunging the rest of the disc into that darker place but rather acting as an interlude between the light and dark spaces.

The percussion is nicely placed within the flow of the entire CD and it creates a backdrop at times giving the synths and the other processed sounds a place in which to exist. This is most effectively seen in Consider This and Passing Us Unaware, two of my favorite tracks,  where the beat becomes more important to the journey and is ever present in the background as even more beats are layered over top of those tracks. Don't get me wrong, the beats are very fleeting in relation to the entire work which makes them all the more potent when they do show up. Like putting an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.  The rain and thunder sound effects of Endless Rain were very realistic and blended seamlessly into the song. I have heard many uses of rain and thunder in ambient/new age music over the years with most of them being very overpowering to the mood of the song but this track brings them together in harmony and so complements the music instead of drowning it out with poorly recorded and mixed sounds.

While the songs are not long when compared to many ambient artists who clock in at seven minutes or more on many of their compositions, the music flows well enough that you don't notice the transitions from song to song. Most of the music on this CD falls within the four to seven minute range with a couple of songs even shorter than that. If there were any criticism about this project it would be that some of the music seemed to want to explore their worlds a little further than it was allowed to do but because of the short edits of the songs they fall just a little shy of their full potential. Of course that does not detract from the many songs that were more than fleshed out during the course of this CD.

While garnering airplay on the Musical Starstreams radio program, Music From the Hearts of Space show and numerous other radio programs it appears that the combination of these two ambient entities has made a most positive impression on the community as a whole and is certainly one that should be revisited at some point in the future. This reviewer would have to agree with that appraisal and give a thumbs up to this most interesting and effective collaboration. We can only hope that this will be the first of many other collaborative efforts on the parts of Cyber Zen Sound Engine and Matt Borghi in the years to come but if this turns out to be their only one then we will have to just play this one over and over again.

Reviewed by Michael Foster for Ambient Visions


Emerald Aether: Shape Shifting

by Bill Laswell

 Visit Bill Laswell's website

Bill Laswell is one of the most diverse electronicians of today.  Overall, he is one of the most diverse musicians of this - or any other - era.  He has performed with some of the greats of modern jazz  (as bassist and/or producer); he has performed with some of the greats of modern electronic music; his solo electronic CD's are legendary; he is a pioneer in ethnic ambience.

One of his most astonishing and eclectic achievements is Emerald Aether: Shape Shifting.  This CD is a translation of traditional Celtic music in today's digital domains.  Bill calls the process reconstruction.

Irish music owes a great deal to other ethnic influences.  It reflects those ethnicities while remaining distinctly Irish.  Bill capitalized on those influences in his reconstruction and added modern techno rhythms and electronic atmospheres.  The result is a deep enigmatic set of ambience with a broad appeal.  It is essential to all lovers of Celtica and eclectica.  For fans of Bill's, it is beyond essential!


Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Digital Moonscapes

by Wendy Carlos

Visit Wendy Carlos' website

Wendy Carlos is the original synthesist's synthesist.  Her pioneering work in the '60s at The Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center and her early encounters with Robert Moog set the stage for every synthesist to follow.  Her intellectual and meticulous approach to sound replication led to the development of The LSI Philharmonic, the world's first digitally synthesized orchestra.  (LSI stands for Large Scale Integration.)

Digital Moonscapes introduced that technology to the world.  Wendy's liner notes describe, in detail, her motivation for pursuing the technology, the technology itself and the structures of the orchestral soundscapes.  That is all very cool and extremely fascinating.

Listener response is, however, more important and Wendy does discuss the emotional motivations for her compositions.  And she predicts listeners' emotional responses accurately.

The only thing missing is the spiritual response.  The majestic walls of sound and the gentle atmospheres compliment each other perfectly.  There are pastoral soundworlds and dynamic spacescapes.  The absolute beauty of the arrangements creates a temple in which to meditate and look for answers to unasked questions.

So, this CD points to Wendy's absolute brilliance as a modern symphonic composer.  Her ability to evoke such responses speaks to her ability as an e-music performer.  This is an essential disc - musically and historically!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Colours of the Caspian Sea

by Amir Baghiri

Visit Amir Baghiri's website

Until very recently, it has been impossible to get Amir Baghiri's early albums on CD.  Indeed, it has been difficult to get them on cassette or vinyl LP.    Amir recorded and released them in his native Iran.  And he did not own the rights to the music.

The company that owned the rights to the music has gone out of business and the rights now belong to Amir.  He is re-issuing all of his Iranian releases in a five CDR set, due in April, 2002.

His first album, Colours of the Caspian Sea, is a surprise and a gem!  Listeners will not recognize this as coming from the Middle East.  It is lush and full of experimental overtones.  Deep listeners will enjoy a tour of the Caspian Sea and its surrounding topography.

Much of his early musical influences come from his older brothers, one of whom "tried (in vain) to follow in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix."  Amir's father was also an accomplished musician, but Amir's primary influence was from Western cultures.

His early releases  were very similar to Steve Roach's desert ambience.  Amir has admitted freely that he was deeply touched by Steve's music.

Of late, Amir has been stretching his limits and coming into his own, musically.  Deep listeners will hear the development of a new hybrid.  It is a hybrid of his older music (as heard here) and his early releases.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts