Reviews 03-23-2002


Music Reviews 


Paint the Forest Winter

by Zola Van

Visit Zola Van's website




Zola Van's second CD continues the theme of telling the story of a hiking trip in Southern Illinois via eleven original piano solos and her arrangement of Vivaldi's Largo from the Concerto in F Minor. "Paint the Forest Winter", like "River to River Trail", colorfully depicts various stops, sites, and natural wonders, and both albums were inspired by hikes through Shawnee National Forest. Van's unique approach is gaining her much recognition from music-lovers and musicians, as well as hiking organizations,The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and The National Forest Service. 

I really like Zola Van's composing and playing styles. Her playing is strong and capable without using flash for its own sake. Her compositions are open and personal, and with her accounts of the songs and their inspiration in the liner notes, it is easy to see what she was seeing and experiencing on her hike. Most of the pieces are fluid and expressive, and some of them remind me a little of Robin Spielberg, who is one of my favorite composers. The entire CD works really well as a whole, but I'll mention a few favorites. "Snow Dance at Sand Cave" was inspired at the largest sandstone cave in North America while the snow "gently dances like crystals in the sunlight". Light, swirling, and very joyful, this is a beautiful way to begin the musical hike. "Winter's Kiss at Rim Rock Trail" gives an icy chill, much as the stinging wind does, also bringing a sense of exhilaration with the thrill of being out in the elements and experiencing the whims of Mother Nature. I don't know if it was intentional but "The Snow Day" reminds me in sections of "Linus and Lucy" from the "Peanuts" specials. This piece tells of the excitement of a "Snow Day" and not having to go to school. Who wouldn't rather play in the snow? Van effectively captures children's taunts during a snowball fight, and makes this piece a joy! "Trail of Tears: Kyrie at Brownfield" tells of the forced march of the Cherokee Indians in 1839 as they were being relocated. The conditions were so terrible that many of the mothers sent their children into the forest for safety, cold and alone. Many of the children as well as the elderly suffered and died, and were buried in this area in unmarked graves. The darkest and saddest of the songs in this collection, the emotions are very powerful and gracefully conveyed. "Burden Falls" is also bold and powerful in its depiction of a waterfall frozen in its path. The photo in the liner notes is almost as stunning as the song!

"Paint the Forest Winter" is a wonderful collection to inspire those who love the outdoors as well as those who prefer to experience it from the comfort of the couch with headphones on. Very highly recommended! It is available from

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Mainly Piano website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.


Avalon: A Celtic Legend

by Enaid

Visit Neo Pacifica's website


If I had only one word to describe "Avalon-A Celtic Legend," it would be "soothing."  If I had only two words to describe it, they would be "most soothing."  When I first glanced at the CD, the first thought to cross my mind was, "oh no, not another slick repackaging of worn and weary Celtic music."  Dropping the CD into the player and launching the opening track, "Road to Camelot" did little to dissuade me.  But when the second track, "Enchantment" began, my impression rapidly changed, and I most certainly became enchanted.  Small wonder, too.  Composed and produced by David and Diane Arkenstone, "Avalon" is a musical rendering of the ages-old tale of King Arthur, the castle Camelot, the magician Merlin, and the land of Avalon.  The track listing alone reveals this, with titles such as "The Spirit of Excalibur," "Merlin's Secret," "Lady of the Lake," "The Round Table," "Guinevere's Tears," and "Arthur's Farewell."  But one doesn't listen to titles, one listens to music.  And that's where this album shines.  I confess to listening to this album in its entirety twice before ever looking at the liner notes and jacket. 

Good thing, too, because I might have developed biases prior to the hearing, based on my own understanding of Arthurian legend. Despite the overwhelmingly "Irish-standard" sounding opening track, the remainder of the CD is a sheer delight for fans of melodic, mellow, and -- dare I say it -- soothing music.  The Irish influence is present in virtually every tune:  Irish fiddle, penny whistle, flute, and so on.  The fiddle is by far the dominant instrument.  However, none of the pieces is "in your face," and the tunes are so easy to listen to, that the instruments blend so well, the music flows so easily from one cut to another, that it's almost impossible to consider the album except in its entirety.  And while I'm not fond of the introductory "Road to Camelot," I think its inclusion is necessary, as it establishes the instrumentation -- but not the mood -- for the album.

 Fans of either Arkenstone will find their imprint on this album, but not the sometimes sweeping and dramatic flourishes.  This is a quiet, contemplative work, one that produces a feeling of peacefulness and ease.  I had the occasion to listen to it one time during a stop-and-go traffic jam over the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Florida, and it most definitely made the experience tolerable, if not even somewhat enjoyable.  It will find its way onto my CD player often in days to come.  Links: 

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.



by Leland Burr

Visit Leland Burr's website

Leland Burr is an improvisational trio formed by synthesist Larry Derdeyn. Percussionist/vocalist Geoffrey Brown (of the prog-rock group Paranoise) and vocalist Jim Cole round out the line up. Hover is their third collection of live improvs. This is a very organic sounding release. The electronics are kept to a minimum, with the players focusing on exotic acoustic timbres such as Tibetan singing bowls, steel cello, tamboura, kalimbas, etc. Minimal percussion loops snake in and out of the mix as the music draws into its ambient landscape, but this is by no means a rhythmic disc. The beats are subtle, peaceful and understated... blending into the total atmosphere rather than serving as a foundation. Much of this disc has no beats to speak of... just waves of sound moving over you.

The main feature of this disc is the amazing harmonic overtone singing of Cole and Brown. If you're familiar with the work of David Hykes' Harmonic Choir, or the Tibetan Monks, you will have a good idea of what to expect from Leland Burr. Leland Burr's use of overtone singing isn't as strident and in-your-face as the monks. It is more textural like Hykes' work. Overtone singing is a technique where the vocalist learns to manipulate the resonant frequencies that are present in the human voice in order to generate new pitches and timbres quite unlike an ordinary voice. A good overtone singer can be forceful, or angelic, depending on how they manipulate their voice.

Footnote: To understand the concept of overtone singing a bit better, try this simple exercise: Sing a long sustained "oooh" sound. While you're singing, gradually shape your mouth & throat so the "oooh" sound transforms into a "eee" sound and listen closely. As your voice moves from one sound to another, you should become aware of a new set of frequencies forming themselves in your head. These are the "overtones" that comprise the frequency spectrum of the "eee" sound.

Overtone singers have learned how to isolate and emphasize these sorts of frequencies in order to create multi-layered harmonies from one voice.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions



by Austere

Visit Austere's website

Visit In the Now's website

A 4 track EP with enough quirkiness to drive you insane. There are broken up pieces of winding ambience highlighted by whooshing winds and rain from a summer storm. Slowly mounting into a mirage of synthesizers becoming almost epic sounding. There seems to be a variety of layers, which clang into one another. The second track breaks in with a lo-fi chunky beat. The beat suddenly changes into an overdriven mass, followed by a repetitive droned oscillation. As the track progresses, it builds. This building is rather gradual. The beat changes from a lo-fi sound to something that parallels a hypnotic trance beat. The ambience layered within have a darkened edge, while the chunkiness of the structure becomes its adversary.

With these features, it keeps this EP interesting and moving forward. Track three picks up with the same feeling beat. This beat has less of the lo-fi qualities as presented with the previous track, yet still remains rather chunky and quirky. It tends to border the edges of drum and bass, but with the lack of speed. The final track streams into the chilled-out realm of spacey IDM. The quirky samples still remain and closely resemble that of the first track. Overall this is a nice pace considering the barrage of techno/electronica out these days. The EP stands out on its own, only to strive for a different sound.

Reviewed by Jack the Tab for Ambient Visions


Prayer for the Forest

by Antonio Testa
and Alio Die


Antonio Testa and Alio Die's followup to their 1999 Crowd Control Activities release "Healing Herb's Spirit" presents another program of mystical textures and reverberant atmospherics.  The new release is calmer than the first, befitting the luxuriant jungle overtones of the cover art, and focussing on the primeval sounds of the native American forest.  The flute melodies of the first release are more submerged here, showing up only as distant echoes in the drifting wind sounds of A Mechanical Dustsphere.  There are also fewer voice samples, audible only in the nearly subliminal prayer of the title track and the general camp sound field recordings in Walking through the Camp.  Instead, the textures have become more nebulous, with slow drum loops forming the background for resonant percussive gestures and billowing, slow-moving electronic drones. 

The languid percussion loops inspire the calm retrospective glance at the ancient forest, visible through the dreamscape superbly represented on the opening track.  Crickets and a peaceful drone give way to distant melodies barely audible beneath a wash of sound, before the opening tranquil beats and brighter electronics signal the beginning of the new day.  Crickets also accompany the murmured Prayer for the Forest, merging into a loping triple drum loop.  The long final track, An Active Foggy Pathway, starts slowly with sustained bell sounds, similar to a gamelan, then a series of alternating rhythms that lead the listener through a final introspective musical tour.  With its quiet ambience and gentle percussion loops, Prayer for the Forest is well suited for late night listening, reading or studying, and is an excellent followup to their first release.

Reviewed by Caleb Deupree for Ambient Visions


Sorcerer (soundtrack)

by Tangerine Dream



William Friedkin said that if he had heard Tangerine Dream in 1973, he would have commissioned them to score The Exorcist.  He did hear them eventually and hired them to compose and perform the soundtrack for Sorcerer.  While this is certainly TD's best soundtrack, it might also be the best e-music soundtrack ever.  That says a lot.  The CD still holds up as a fabulous piece of music after 25 years.

One of the keys to the success of TD was their insistence on working with the best equipment available.  To facilitate the purchase and/or design/manufacturing of cutting edge equipment, Edgar Froese signed a solo recording contract with Virgin Records.  His partners - Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann on this album - benefited from those efforts.

Working strictly in the analog domain, they forged a sound that stands the test of time and ranks right up with new millennium digitalia.  Edgar's guitar smokes and the sequences are huge.  There are strong ties to rock and roll.  But this is genuine Berlin school e-music from the originators and masters of the style.

And there are definite atmospheres and strong emotional statements.  It is certainly not minimalism and it is not ambient.  It is as dark and satanic as the deepest drones and dirges of 2002.

This is one of TD's best albums ever, regardless of the source.  It boggles the mind to imagine what Edgar, Christoph and Peter would have done with The Exorcist.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts



by Life in Balance

Visit Life in Balance's website



Sometimes a reviewer just knows that they are going to like a CD.  Such was the case with Deeper, by Life in Balance (Steve Sciuli and Ami Sciuli).  Two things about this CD grab "about to be" listeners before they open the jewel case.

First, the liner notes proclaim that this is music for "enhanced shakuhachi (and) quartz crystal bowls."  Second, Steve and Ami are from the Pittsburgh area.  Isn't that city known more for good football, bad baseball, redneck mill hunks and the defunct steel industry?  That perception is totally inaccurate.  This city thrives!  It is a hotbed of medical advances (The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and technological innovation (Carnegie Mellon University).  And, very slowly, Pittsburgh is discovering its new age and e-music bases.

This powerful CD is a minimalist's delight.  With minor accompaniment, Steve and Ami build a vast soundscape of atmospheric heights and intense depth.  There are no synths but the disc has an electronic and processed sound and wondrous walls of sound.

There are samples available at  Check them out.  It is also important to note that Jim and Ami are opening for Robert Rich on April (right here in Pittsburgh.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts

   Return Home