Reviews 03-01-2002


Music Reviews 


The Gathering 
Set 1 and Set 2

by Kit Watkins

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Anyone with a few dollars can purchase a synthesizer. Some people, after a few years of practice and study, can become quite adept at coaxing sounds and music out of it.  Then, there are the few, the upper echelon, or the "elite" who become total masters of the instrument.  These are the people who would make Robert Moog proud.

Kit Watkins is unquestionably a master of electronic instrumentation. And he's got the credentials to prove it. Born to musician parents, Watkins joined the seminal prog-rock group Happy the Man some time around 1973. From there, he went on to join the British band Camel in 1979.  His solo career began in 1980 with the release of the album, "Labyrinth," and the list of releases has been growing ever since.

Interestingly enough, Kit retired from performing live in 1982. As a result, when Happy the Man reformed with its original lineup recently, Watkins was the lone holdout. Although he was interested in creating a new album with the group, he was not interested in touring or playing live. This is why "The Gathering", a set of 2 CD's, each available separately, is worthy of note. Recorded live at the 25th annual event of the same name in March of 2001, this collection of twelve solo pieces performed by Watkins showcases the man's mastery of electronic music, and his in-depth knowledge of musical form. Some of these pieces are live renditions of tracks released on earlier albums (Melrose Cavern, from "Beauty Drifting," Morning Mothra, Evening Mothra and Angels We Have Known from "The Unseen," Tone 10, from "Thought Tones") others are new works, heard for the first time, in a live setting.  The titles alone give some indication as to the type of music played: The Upper Regions of Space, The Metamorphosis of Truth, The Infinity of Three and The Soft Caress of Freedom, to name a few.

One way to gauge an artist's command of his medium is in his ability to touch the listener in many different ways. "The Gathering" is filled with sonic textures that range from the dark, irregular, emotionally jarring insistence of The Aftermath of Neglect, with its gonging and metallic timbres, to Melrose Cavern, with its fluid, almost idyllic keyboard-and-horn counterpoint. Each piece on the entire two CD set is a solid, self-contained work; a complete statement on and of its own.

Each CD is available for purchase separately.  I suppose this is good marketing, but in all honesty and fairness, I can't see buying just one.  For one thing, which would you choose?  For another, doing so would be much like walking in or out of a concert halfway through.  Since Watkins is loathe to performing live, one should take the initiative and grab a full two-hour performance captured live.  It may be a long time before an opportunity appears like this again.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.


Inside the Inside: Live at the Gathering Concert Series 32

by Spacecraft

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Spacecraft is the ultimate space music ensemble.  Tony Gerber, Giles Reaves, John Rose and Diane Timmons are consummate professional electronicians.  The only thing more sure than that is their devotion to God and spirituality.

Inside the Inside: Live at the Gathering Concert Series 32 is a deep ambient space set as only this quartet performs.  While there are certainly similarities to other artists, Tony, Giles, John and Diane have a style that is instantly recognizable and captivating. 

This disc embraces haunting atmospheres, foggy sequences and meditative mists.  These folks have always promoted healing through music.  this disc is not as overt as some of their others but it has healing and biorhythmic qualities nonetheless.

Deep sequenced rhythms surround Diane's wordless chants in the ultimate paradox.  The subtle chant is an absolute highlight but the music overpowers the chant.  Deep listeners will feel the warmth of the chant's embrace and succumb to its healing prowess.

This is one of many excellent Spacecraft CD's.  it is a superb compliment to their discography.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Ourobouros: Processor Music

by David Lee Myers

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David Lee Myers uses electroacoustic feedback to create a very different and very exciting brand of electronica.  Through a very meticulous and detailed process, he allows his equipment to "sing its own songs."  The process involves completely contained feedback with no influences from the "outside world." 

Ourobouros: Processor Music is a set of 12 "compositions" that David processed and manipulated from totally random feedback.  The music is damn near impossible to describe.  And it is damn near impossible to resist!

It is most surprising that the music is not dissonant.  It is avant-garde and fresh.  But it is just a little too active to be minimalism and it is too interesting to be ambient.  It is, however, too good to be ignored!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Deep Unknown

by vidnaObmana and 
Brannan Lane

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Visit vidnaObmana's website



There are some e-music collaborations that are just meant to be.  The collaboration between Vidna Obmana, nee Dirk Serries, and Brannan Lane, nee Brannan Lane, is such a collaboration.  Dirk has been one of the new millennium's busiest electronicians.  Brannan's release schedule for 2002 has lots of neat stuff and lots of CD's.  He has five or six releases right now that are "new."

Deep Unknown is a set of foggy tribal expansive atmospheres.  Brannan's space minimalism and Dirk's electro-tribal soundworlds blend smoothly and neatly into a somber, almost destitute soundscape.

This CD is about isolation and the limited benefits of that emotional defense mechanism.  The benefits are the perceptions of freedom, self-importance and egotistical introspection.  The dangers of isolation are clear.  The biggest danger is listening to one's own interpretation of the inner self.

So the low-key soundscape plays to the angst of isolation too.  These expert sound designers have built a massive soundworld for isolation.  Those listeners seeking guidance from a support group or a higher power will cherish the ride.  There is absolute strength in numbers and the most important word is we!  Embrace the we!  Embrace the higher power!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


We Gaia

by Ashera

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We Gaia is a set of gentle symphonic synthesizer minimalism from a master of that style, Ashera, nee Anthony Wright.

he augments his gentle minimalism with subtle wordless vocals by Valerie Willemsen and Caroline WilsonGary Brown's lap steel guitar adds depth and the nature samples add authenticity.  Anthony's sound design and production skills are evident on this soundscape.  He takes a very subtle hand to his instruments.  Deep listeners will appreciate the effortlessness of Anthony's work and the tremendous efforts he has put forth.

The gentle soundscape surrounds listeners and hugs and protects them.  The subtlety of the arrangements and drones is total.  Total subtlety - or totally subtle - is an interesting concept.  Perhaps subtle totality is the best term.  In any case, Anthony's paradoxical approach has tremendous appeal. The deep minimalism is both clear and opaque.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


To the Earth and Back

by Brannan Lane

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To the Earth and Back is a heavy-handed - and sometimes very busy - sample from Brannan Lane.  He classifies this as "ambient space" music.  It is all that and much more!  Brannan covers the gamut from tribal minimalism and desert ambience to symphonic synthesizers and spacey sequences.

The heavy-handed and busy sequences work very well as Brannan displays his versatility and wide berth of influences.  The world and tribal influences take this to the next level.  The drifting space minimalism keeps the CD firmly grounded.

The journey goes full circle as Brannan leaves the Earth and goes back to outer space!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Grooved Whale

by Lisa Walker

Visit Earth Ear Records' website


Ever since people have been making music, we have looked to other musical species for inspiration.  Western music has several examples inspired by birdsong, but with the advent of scientific field recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, we have discovered the musical master of the seas, the humpback whale.  With its fascinating and complex sounds, and combined with the unusual properties of underwater sound distribution, the songs of the humpback have had a special resonance for musicians since the 1970 release of Dr. Roger Payne's Songs of the Humpback Whale (still the best selling environmental sound recording ever).  Artists like Paul Winter and Paul Horn have worked with whale song, performing duets with wind instruments (flute and soprano sax) and whales.

Some musicians have also explored the different resonant properties of underwater recordings.  Sound properties are very different underwater than in the air -- sound travels faster, but can become delayed and distorted because of its reflection on boundaries of waves, bubbles, or undersea surfaces.  Since Michel Redolfi's experiments with underwater concerts twenty years ago, several artists have used speakers and hydrophones (underwater microphones) to excellent use.  More recently, scientists and musicians have collaborated in concerts that have attempted to use music to communicate with various species of whales, such as a recent concert in Seattle where the City Cantabile Choir used a special speaker system to communicate with the Orca Whales that summer in the Puget Sound.

Lisa Walker, a sound artist resident in the Pacific Northwest, combines whalesong and underwater sound projection on her second CD release, Grooved Whale, an exploration of interspecies ambience that combines whalesong Walker recorded in Alaska and Hawaii with her own violin music projected underwater.  Walker spent several years as a sound consultant on whale research projects, as well as an artist-in-residence period at Simon Fraser University where she developed her Midi Violin system.  Her violin provides an excellent foil to the whales and is a welcome and interesting change from the more typical wind instruments.  In addition to field and studio recordings, for this release she played through underwater speakers and recorded them back, incorporating the underwater sounds into the final compositions.

In addition to the imitative sounds of the violin and the whales, Walker's in-depth knowledge of the whale song structures her music as well.  In the liner notes to the album, she focuses on two different types of whalesong: the feeding calls that groups of whales use to harvest huge amounts of herring; and the long winter songs that are the humpback whale's epic poems, brought back each year during mating season, always with new additions and variations to the songs of the previous years, and which can last up to a half hour in length.  These two types of songs are the boundaries of Grooved Whale, which opens with the Tenakee Feeding Call recorded in Alaska, and closes with a snippet of the Winter Song.  Walker emphasizes the circularity of the album with a repeated arpeggiated figure used in both the second and penultimate tracks, but the remainder of the album displays a wide variety of ambient music.  The violin serves the whalesongs remarkably well, with the sounds morphing into each other.  About half of the tracks have gentle percussion sounds, getting into a rhythmic tribal beat as on Hawaii Gruv, a faster click track inspired by the whales' echolocation sonar on Vertigo, or the climactic primal pulse of Transfixed.  The rhythm serves as an underpinning to Walker's violin, which she combines into lush string orchestras as well as the enhanced solo lines of ViolinLaugh or the traditional hornpipe of Boogie.  The music of the whales is blended into the plaintive string melodies and mysterious atmospheres.  Walker also mixes in water sounds, recalling her field work as we hear the sounds of the whales' flukes as they dive, the waves lapping against the sides of the boat, and the radio transmissions that contrast the rough human communications with the beautiful and eerie songs of the humpbacks.

Walker and EarthEar's Jim Cummings have done a superb packaging job for Grooved Whale.  Inevitably, a work inspired by interspecies communication accepts a more environmental worldview, and Grooved Whale comes in a environmentally-friendly digipak with extensive liner notes on whalesong, Walker's personal recollections of field recording, a brief status of the whales' current population (holding steady now after a significant decline in the mid 1960s), and a brief selection from Joan McIntyre's celebratory book on whales, Mind in the Waters.  Walker provides even more information, along with whalesong sound examples interspersed with an introductory explanation of underwater listening, on her website,

Reviewed by Caleb Deupree for Ambient Visions.


The Convolving Universe

by Diatonis

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This is a recent (2001) release from Diatonis who specialises in minimalist ambient and spacemusic styles. I was well impressed with his much earlier Landscape of a Dream album; The Convolving Universe is another excellent work, but, like the rest of his releases, not one for the faint hearted. I say that because, in my experience, this kind of music deserves a lot of concentration from the listener to appreciate it properly. A CD with say 50+ minutes of music in this genre is more demanding than one with a lot of variety, rhythms, and melodies.

Whilst listening to this CD I couldn't help but be reminded of John Foxx's Cathedral Oceans; both of these albums have gothic, mystical, and heavenly qualities. Diatonis has used heavily processed voices to good effect, sometimes they are so ethereal as to be of a will-o-the-wisp nature. I'm not at all religious, however, some tracks put in mind the image of angelic beings guiding one on a tour of the marvels of the universe.

This is a great album for putting on when you want to chill out and be transported away from quotidian concerns to a more peaceful and otherworldly frame of mind. Like all good instrumental music this steers the imagination of the listener in a certain direction but allows plenty of scope for personal interpretation and imagery.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington for Ambient Visions


The Craft

by Vampire Nation

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The Craft is a set of angry techno ambience from the master of ambient funk, Fredrik von Hamilton, a.k.a. Vampire Nation.

This soundscape is full of some frantic angry overtones and riffs.  It is neither sinister nor vengeful, just ticked off.  Fredrik makes it all work by surrounding the experimental sounds and angry rhythms with soft wordless vocals and intricate atmospheres.

This soundscape is as intense as it gets.  There are deep integrity and heavy emotions involved.  The atmospheres add hope!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Planetary Mysteries

by Mark Dwane

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Planetary Mysteries is a set of - DUH! - mysterious deep space music from MIDI-guitarist Mark Dwane.  Mark stepped up the ante on this disc.

In addition to his customary guitar synthesizers, he uses "electro-acoustic" guitars.  And, an incredible female vocalist - Michelle Nader - adds some wide atmospheres to the proceedings.  Her vocal stylings add another instrument to Mark's repertoire.  It is crisp and almost staccato and the perfect accompaniment to Mark's deep spacescapes.  Some of the vocals are wordless and others are terse poetry.  Michelle's energy adds style and grace.

Of course, it is not as if Mark needed more style and grace.  His compositions have always teemed with both.  But this set has exponential qualities.  Michelle's energy energized Mark.  His extra energy took Michelle up a notch.  That in turn, raised Mark to the next level, and so on.  It became an infinite loop of emotion, Karma and tantric and holistic vibes.

Mark's intuitive ability to compose and perform sci-fi mysteries and spacescapes has never been sharper.  This is essential space ambience!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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