Reviews 04-10-2004


Music Reviews 



by Jon Hopkins

Visit Just Music's website





Hopkins is a Royal Academy graduate who's making a name for himself in the studios of London. His music is finding a diverse audience through exposure on HBO's Sex and the City and other outlets. On this moody and subtle CD, Hopkins takes a somewhat different approach to the ambient genre, in that he treads the line between ambient and post-rock. Though I wouldn't exactly call it derivative of Sigur Ros (in fact, Opalescent's 2001 release date precedes Sigur Ros' ascendence), more than once I found myself expecting to hear jónsi  break in with some lush Hopelandic vocalese! This is not a bad thing.

The instrumentation is basic: synths, percussion (incl. drum kit) and guitars - no shakuhachis, didgeridoos or dumbeks, The electronics are subtle and avoid ambient cliches, such as breathy pads and bells, faux world-beats or fakey drum machine bits. The instrumental textures and rhythms intertwine and move forward in a slow, steady hypnotic pace without any element overwhelming the others. For example, the tracks "Eleglaic" and "Grace" features slippery slide guitar colorations over a light-yet-solid drumbeat. A nice classical guitar line propels "Afterlife" while some subtle vocal samples intertwine with the rhythm in "Cerulean". Other tracks feature subtle synth pads, bubbly sequences and some very organic beats. Some arpeggiated guitar and piano work fill out the melodic space nicely.

Apparently no website - but available all over the internet!

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions



by Igneous Flame

Visit Igneous Flame on Myspace

Igneous Flame is the musical working title of Pete Kelly a musician based in Leeds in the United Kingdom.His music falls into the category of floating ambience and by visiting his website his musical credentials are second to none, having achieved two degrees in music technology and allied media. He also records under the name Formbank which although electronic in nature like Igneous Flame is more beat orientated.

From his website it also emerges that Pete creates music for the visual arts which no doubt matches up very well with the serene soundscapes of Pete’s music.

“Oxana” forms itself into a shifting cloudlike series of ambient soundsculpture where the emphasis is on shape and mood rather than melody and regimented structure. For possible musical reference this album reminded me very much of Vir Unis’s work particularly on his albums “The Drift Inside” and “Aeolian Glow”.

This is an interesting album and comes with a highly recommended status if your tastes run to the classic floating approach to ambient

Reviewed by Gary Andrews for Ambient Visions



Vivid Circles

by Subterranean Source

Visit Desolation House's website


Subterranean Source (a.k.a. Andrea Bellucci) has produced a collection of dark ambient soundscapes that rely for their mood on the elusive sonic suggestion, the slow unfolding of murky visions, and the willingness of the listener to immerse themselves in a mysterious and ominous atmosphere. Fans of very deep soundscapes, like those produced by Lustmord would enjoy this release. All the atmospheres lend themselves to sustained listening and become more expressive sounding as the listener’s ears adjust to the unusual sonic vocabulary. This release is probably not for you if you are looking for a lot of melody and harmony and are not open to unusual sound sources. However there is nothing in the release that jars,and if you have an adventurous spirit, go for it.  I enjoyed the release and look forward to hearing what Subterranean Source has to offer in the future.

 “Growing” offers largely nontonal sonic tapestry, drones based on filtered and processed noise with soft echoing winds whistling by. Structure is given to the piece by the use of repeated patterns and ,one assumes, occasional looping of atonal ambience. The sound is distant and murky and an eerie atmosphere is created that is sustained for the remainder of the release.  “Subliminal” continues this mood, drawing the listener into what sounds like an underground or submerged world utilizing pretty much the same sonic materials as the previous track, and creating an effective claustrophobic atmosphere.  Some of the sounds reminded me of a search utilizing sonic radar. “Afraid of Sunlight” continues the impression of hidden or submerged environments. Some distant, unidentifiable percussive sounds and faint tonal drones begin to be mixed into the roiling background. “Spiritual Darkness” continues the use of the same sonic materials, and introduces vocal chant –like sounds. The entire release “builds” from track to track sustaining similar moods but increasing the intensity. For me ,this was best listened to as a whole because the moods become deeper as they are sustained. The sonics in this piece seemed to paint a picture of cavernous lakes, with water lapping at the shore of the interior and echoing around. This piece also continued to develop the faint tonal drones that sound tantalizing in the distance.

 The final two pieces were my favorites. In “Orange Visions”, the faint tonal drones continue to develop and morph into attractive melodic intervals that drift by the cavernous lake. The finale, “Ancient Echoes” uses bleating tones to interject a plaintive quality to the soundscapes. This pieces was too short but closed the release on a strong note.

If you like dark ambient soundscapes , where the form is partially determined by the repetition of unfamiliar patterns and you are looking for adventurous , challenging listening, then I suggest you seek this one out.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions




by Ryan Farish

Visit Ryan Farish's website

Lots of pretty piano lines and shimmery sounds, but not a lot of direction or development on this lightweight collection of electronic new-age compositions. Most tracks follow pretty much the same formula - a cheerfully optimistic drum machine line chugs away with a few synth arpeggios percolating along underneath. Faux vocal pads move around in somewhat simplistic chord progressions while a minimal piano melody pops in and out. Variety is occasionally introduced by occasional flutey timbres, vocal chants or unaccompanied piano bits.

Farish makes direct comparisons of his music to Enigma, Deep Forest, Moby and Enya... and I would have to admit that if you were to distill each of these artists into their lowest common denominator, the result might sound a lot like "Beautiful" - but in the process you be stripping away what makes each of these artists unique. While Farish's music is certainly well-crafted and accessible, there is no real individuality to his sound or approach. It's like muzak, you can imagine it playing in the background in a trendy bookstore or cafe, but it would never make you want to ask the clerk what was playing.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions



Sleepy Baby Suite

by Wayne Gratz  

Visit Wayne Gratz's website


Longtime Narada pianist Wayne Gratz has produced "Sleepy Baby Suite" as an independent release from his own production company. Described as "calming piano music" inspired by the innocence and purity of a sleeping baby and by the joys of being a new parent, the minimalist piano solos are played over the sound of a "distant" Florida rainstorm (including chirping crickets or some other insects) that runs through all of the album except the first track. Designed for rocking a baby to sleep or to remember "the feeling of innocence we all once felt when we were sleepy babies," this album was obviously meant to be used as background music, a long lullaby, and/or for deep relaxation. Personally, I have a very hard time keeping music in the background - I have to listen to it actively - so the very spare pieces aren't nearly as interesting to me as Gratz's other albums, and I find the chirping crickets to be a bit annoying at times. In the spirit of the intention of the album, I can't imagine any living creature not being totally soothed or relaxed by this music.

Very gentle with no edges at all, some of the music is played in the upper registers of the piano, hinting at the sound of a music box. I especially like "Imagination," which seems more developed and composed where some of the other pieces are more improvised. Wayne Gratz has been one of my favorite composers for many years, so on a personal level, I'm a little disappointed in this album, but feel that Gratz succeeded very well in creating an incredibly soothing album that can act as a massage for the mind, melting away the cares and woes of a stressful world. With titles such as "Night Night Teddy," "Blanket Angels", and "Fairy Nice," I doubt Gratz is going to be marketing this album to his usual audience.

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


 Human Contact

by Galactic Agents 

Visit New Earth Records website

If you enjoy World Fusion, then you will like Galactic Agents' Human Contact. This is probably one of the more musically eclectic albums I've listened to in a while. Native American, Hindu 'Bollywood', African, Asian, Middle Eastern- they're all in this one, plus a few blends that have no category.  

The mood is trancy and danceable throughout the disc. It clocks in at just under an hour, so you get your money's worth. The over mix is complex without being overwhelming, and the levels are not overboosted, so the listening experience was pleasant.  

The album kicks off with the Native American colored "Earth Passport Denied" with a wailing chant and electronica background. Next, the Indian flavored "Mullumbimby Bazaar" picks up the beat. On the big speakers, this one was a favorite. Along with the sitar and the singer, the song blends didgeridoo and synths. 

Cedar flute and Native American drumming leads in the next cut- "Anasazi Exodus". "Afro Tech" uses animal sounds as part of its trancy rhythm track, accented with chants and synths.  

"Electric Zikr" brings us to the Middle East, with Rai chants, hand drums, and strings. The more stately rhythms here would lend themselves well to a Middle Eastern dance class. The blend of electronics with live instruments is well done here. 

"Brown Eagle's Daughter" is Mongolian in expression, with the singer and the Chinese flute melody (which I have heard elsewhere, but which is used here to great effect). It is probably the most elegant piece on the album. The vocal electronic atmospherics that come in at about 2 minutes into the song give it an air of vastness, which makes the flute solo even more poignant. 

We go from the boonies to nearly urban in "Glastonbury Festival"- with abstract tonal rhythms on a drifting vocal background. This is the most electronic of the pieces, but still quite well done. I am still trying to place the fiddle melody, cleverly buried in the middle.  

The rhythm picks up again with "Kailash Baba", with its swirling electronic vocals and what sounds like a Sufi chant somewhere off in the distance. Are those whirling dervishes? Could be! 

"Future Dreamtime" has a distinctly Asian on top of Australian feel, with Middle Eastern samples floating on top of a didgeridoo drone. It seems suspended in space-time, and is a perfect chiller to all the dance rhythms that went before it. It does eventually break into a rhythm, but it remains as stately as the beginning.  

The final cut on the album, "Buddha of Compassion" sends the listener off with a Buddhist prayer (in English) topping more eclectic drumming and dance rhythms. In spite of the drums, the piece has a serene feel to it, a fitting end to an excellent musical odyssey.  

While I recognized a lot of the source material in the album, I do give Galactic Agents credit for putting it together in an interesting manner. For chillout, trance, and electronica fans, this will be a decent addition to your collection. 

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions




by Steve Verity  

Visit Steve Verity's website


I owe Steve Verity more apologies than one person can possibly make in one lifetime. I feel I may irreparably damaged his music career, and for that I am truly regretful. For you see, Steve Verity blessed me with a copy of TimeStar last year in the hope I would review it and post the review on my web site. My web site has fallen into disrepair for reasons I won't go into. Suffice it to say, the review never surfaced. This alone is one of my great regrets of the past eight years, when I began reviewing and evaluating new age and ambient music.

For TimeStar is one the best albums I have heard in that entire time! Verity's self-published album, its accompanying video, and his previous release, Digital Planet, are all available from Steve Verity's web site, At an unreasonably low price of $11.99US, to not purchase this CD is criminally insane!

And what do you get? While comparisons never quite hold true, TimeStar can hold its own when compared to Giles Reaves' classics Wunjo and Sea of Glass, the spacier works of Christopher Franke and Tangerine Dream, and similar electronic works. To say that Verity knows his way around an electronic keyboard is an understatement. He is a senior engineer with E-MU Systems, a leading manufacturer of digital musical instruments.

Thus, he not only plays the instruments, he also helps to design and build them! His love for his work is apparent in TimeStar. This is a CD lovingly crafted; a year of work went into its creation.

Fans of Jonn Serrie's star-faring work, or of Constance Demby's Through the Stargate, will find themselves in rapt awe of TimeStar's majesty. There is a certain plaintiveness and longing felt in the music of "Last Century Signpost." Sequenced loops highlight "Late for the Millenium" in the manner of Paul Sauvenet's Eleusis. "Arise new decade" is reminiscent of Geodesium's planetarium music; repetitively insistent as the stars and planets traverse the heavens. "West span winter" drifts languidly over the rolling hills of one's imagination. "On the path of seasons" is a mildly light-hearted foray into the outer reaches of inner space.

"TimeStar," the title track is tour-de-force exposition into modern EM.This is EM not as practiced by the European chill parlors and Berlin school of drum-n-bass bottoms, but a full range of electronic, synthesized, blend of joy, hope, and promise.

This review has been long overdue, and my words hardly do justice to the work on this CD.  For endowing me with the pleasure of this music I owe Steve Verity an unpayable debt. Don't make the same mistake I did: buy this CD!

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.



Within the Whirl

by Hypnosphere

All tracks composed, performed and produced by Lambert Ringlage & Wolfgang Barkowski 

Visit Spheric Music's website


Hypnosphere combines elaborate dark ambient soundscapes with old-school “Berlin” sequencing to great effect. The Berlin influence seems more patterned after Klaus Schulze’s early work than the template of the more frequently utilized Tangerine Dream and the release benefits from this by sounding correspondingly fresher. This is recommended to all dark ambient and Berlin school lovers. As I count myself among both groups, I very much enjoyed the release.

“Isolation Process” begins with an “ambient” sounding opening filled with droney filter sweeps, delay, and string pads , similar to classic 70s Klaus. The piece develops at a relaxed pace, introducing creatively used phaser effects and feedback tones that lead into a sad sounding melody. The piece leads into “Sleepwalk”, an uptempo number that begins with a driving and swinging sequence that is very satisfying despite the fact that it is monophonic.  The piece is very long and is propelled by several different sequences that have their turn on center stage. There is plenty of jazzy soloing over the sequences , which are separated by mood changes, e.g.., a section with slow pad sounds. Although the tools used are the classic Berlin forms, the music created sounds spirited and fresh and there is plenty of creativity in the sound design as well. ”Hypnotic Fields” begins with a slow minor melody and transmutates into a dark ambient soundscape with an interesting processed drumbeat. The development of the piece features echoed loops and processed “vocal synth” sounds . The piece at times seems like the listener is being led into a remote part of a vast swamp. Continuity is maintained by the rhythm loops and pads that play softly in the background. “Anguish” is a frenetic return to Berlin sequencer territory. Pitch modulation of the sequenced lines is used creatively here, adding an updated twist to a classic sound. The sense of anguish is conveyed by brooding horn patches that build to a whirling dervish climax. The recording ends with “Trancelunar Drive”- here “trance” is used in the “old’ sense in the deliberate repetition of a pattern hoping to induce a trance-like state. Synth solos using portamento slowed to simulate glissando and filter sweeps help build the release to a successful conclusion.

 This was a very enjoyable “Berlin” recording, which managed to make creative use of the style and materials to sound fresh and “in the tradition” at the same time. I commend Hypnosphere and hope to hear more from them soon.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions



Guard Lock Skin

by Tone Ghost Ether  

Visit Kit Watkins' website


Kit Watkins is making quite a splash these days (see the current [March 2004] interview with him for more detail). One of his non-solo projects is a collaborative effort with musicians John Tlusty and Brad Allen. The three of them comprise Tone (Watkins), Ghost (Tlusty), and Ether (Allen). That this collaboration is an equal effort should be evidenced in the naming convention used for every CD and every track on every CD: all the titles contain three words!

I first reviewed Tone Ghost Ether's three debut CDs in 2002 (see 05-15-2002 link for the review). Then I was enthralled with the combined ethereal quality of the music; Watkins' trademark electronic wind instruments and lilting ambience and the percussive effects of Tlusty and Allen, both of whom are also multi-instrumentalists. As the trio has matured, their sound has become more cohesive. Guard Lock Skin is presented as TGE's "World Fusion" CD (the first three being Ambient, Acid-Jazz, and Mind-Trip), but aside from some background guttural utterances, the music on this Cd is every bit as flowing, and every bit as listenable as the three previous releases.

The four tracks on the CD are lengthy expositions that allow the individual instrumentalists to explore and stretch their inspirations. The shortest track is over seven minutes in length, the longest twenty-four. Tone Ghost Ether records all tracks live, using minimal editing and no overdubs. This personal improvisation allows the music to emanate as it develops. The result is astounding. That three musicians can work together in such a manner is remarkable; jam sessions are not unknown, of course, but typically a jam consists of a musical foundation based on a known pattern, such as a twelve-bar blues. In TGE's case, the core quality of the pieces develops and mutates as it grows, the end result being a fascinating excursion of ambient and epic proportions.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.



Lucid Circles

by Brannan Lane and
Amir Baghiri

Visit Brannan Lane's website
Visit Amir Baghiri's website

Lucid Circles is a deep sonic treasure from Brannan Lane and Amir Baghiri, two of e-music’s most prolific and proficient performers. They are also dynamic collaborators so this disc is a natural. The collab is smooth so the sound design is Amir and Brannan, not Amir or Brannan. The atmospheres spring from deep drones and electro-tribal grooves. The elements are interwoven and surround each other. While it is probable that the exchange of ideas took place via the mails – both e and snail – Brannan and Amir were definitely on the same page and in the same space at the same time. It is scary to imagine what these geniuses would do in the same studio!


Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.


To Reach the Other Shore

by Ben Fleury-Steiner  

Ben Fleury-Steiner is a regular participant in the lively – and sometimes comical – debates on The Hypnos Forum. He is also a serious electronic musician recording as Paradin.  … To Reach the Other Shore is his first set that he has made available to the public on his new label - Gears of Sand. (Ben is also interested in releasing other artists’ music. More info is available at It is a wonderful disc!  He weaves subtle drones, experimental sounds, field recordings and atmospheres around and through each other. He processes the sounds – adding panache and charm to the soundscapes. His sound design is reserved yet he gets a full-bodied sound. This CD is an early candidate for debut of the year!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.


Carbon Based

by Rick Strittmater


Carbon Based is a set of eclectic compositions from Rick Strittmater. He uses his mixing board as a canvas and his combinations of electronics and acoustics as paint brushes. The resultant art is existential in nature. There are dozens of question, hundreds of clues and no answers. Rick’s intelligent sound design forces deep listeners to search their inner selves for the answers. The soundscapes are perfect vehicles for the journeys. This is a great CD from a relative newcomer.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.


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