Reviews 04-29-2001

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Bislama Jim Cole AWM ambient album cover


by Alpha Wave Movement

and Jim Cole

Visit Jim's website

Echoes and images of Far Eastern lands are the immediate impression one gets after one listening of this bright and harmonic album.

Bislama” features the unique vocal harmonic overtone singing of Jim Cole. For readers who may not be familiar with this form of singing it involves the person using techniques that enable him to sing two or more notes at a time. The resulting vocal effect is one of eerie beauty that conveys “ambient” in an original and refreshing light.

Alpha Wave Movement (aka Gregory Kyryluk ) has produced several compact discs that follow many styles of electronic music, from the floaty, and ambient to the ethnic/Middle Eastern flavor on his other project “Open Canvas”.

This album features seven tracks, starting with “Bislama”. This piece incorporates Jim’s overtone singing, sampled Tibetan chant and Greg’s ethnic tinged synths and gentle gamelan like percussion sounds.

“Offering” starts with subdued synth chords before a wind-like effect blows over the composition. Jim’s voice enters this space and the deft subtleties of the different textures makes for a deeply contemplative piece that is very well done.

“Satari” is described in the liner notes as a hypnogogic journey and apparently was recorded live and spontaneously improvised directly to DAT. This track shows that Jim and Greg have a second nature in composing “off the cuff” compositions that work surprisingly well in a free and non-conformist way.

Imagine an Eastern monastery at pre-dawn with Tibetan bells ringing out their holy tone. This is the track “Theida” a short reflective piece that conveys gentle emotions and reflective silences. The pace quickens somewhat with “Sanguine Moon”. This is a more rhythmic piece that breaks up the more drifting moments on this album.

Its back to a more haunting piece on “Waking the Divine” eerie bell like tones combined with soothing melodic sections that travel the music highway. In addition to the sounds already presented we have the addition of an “ambient” guitar that adds an extra dimension to the overall feel of this unique album.

I am guessing that the last track “Samui” is inspired by the beautiful Thai island Koh Samui. This is a track that reminds me of a piece of music that Jean Michel Jarre recorded back in the eighties; “Fishing Junks at Sunset”.Jarres version was good and almost bombastic in approach. This piece has a much more delicate feel and touch, and is all the better for it.

This album deserves to do well it combines a well-chosen set of differing textures and ambiences. It is evident that Jim and Greg can work extremely well together and I will hopefully look forward to more releases from this duo in the future.

Written by Gary Andrews for Ambient Visions


Immaculate Conceptions Stephanie Sante ambient album cover

Immaculate Conceptions

by Stephanie Sante

Visit Stephanie Sante's website

This ambitiously titled album by synthesist Stephanie Santé begins with a crisply rhythmic piece inspired by Steve Roach, "Rainmakers." This piece features mildly "tribal" percussion, synthesizers and instrumental samples, recorded thunderclaps, wordless voice, and a rather unmixed-sounding, somewhat incongruous acoustic guitar. This is followed by a sequencer-driven synthesizer piece, "Topaz,"  in a solidly modal, Euro-electronic style. These two openers are typical of what will follow in this album.

Santé, in her liner notes, cites a wide and mostly well-known array of artists as her influences, including Roach, Michael Stearns, Jonn Serrie, Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Jarre, Brian Eno, and Tangerine Dream. But she might also have cited MIDI guitar artist Mark Dwane, since her music often resembles his.

Immaculate Conceptions sounds like music for movies or commercials. But in my opinion that is not a bad thing.

The album tends to bog down and lose momentum in the middle pieces, especially in those without percussion, but it's always pleasant to listen to. Track 4, "Twilight," is my favorite, with a soaring dramatic line which, if I were the director, would accompany a hang-glider flight or some glorious panorama.

Unfortunately (at least on my copy) this piece is abruptly cut off in mid-stream - I hope this does not happen on the commercially available albums!

{Note from Stephanie Sante: Just wanted you to know that we knew that the track "Twilight" was cut off prematurely in the first batch of discs. However we have sent out an apology and a second disc (with the corrections). The problem was in a redbook to mp3 conversion flaw which was actually my fault that I did not catch early on. The master was perfect. }

 The last two pieces, "Alchemy" (also one of my favorites) and the obligatory "Cycles" (seems like every spacemusic album must have a track called "Cycles") move back into a more rhythmic, Tangerine Dream-like style, which seems to be where Sante is most comfortable. All of this is sound you have heard before; it is not a terribly original album, but it sounds professional and clean, and that counts for a lot when it comes to ambient listening.

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero for Ambient Visions


Sufi Al Gromer Khan album cover


by Al Gromer Khan

Visit New Earth Records' website

The German sitar player Al Gromer Khan has produced numerous albums fusing Indian music with Western electronics, and Sufi continues in this pattern. Khan's sitar lines twine around somber, mellotron-like synthesizer or sampled-instrument chords and slow, thumping rhythms. The rhythms and sound-effects seem to imitate heartbeats and sighs, which is probably intentional. At the same time the music contains echoes of blues and rock, which mesh with the Eastern harmonies and electronica.

The album is billed as an aid to "accessing certain inner states" or as "trance-inducing," connecting with the sounds of Islamic mysticism. But when I listened to Sufi I had quite a different impression. The album seems to me as if it could be the soundtrack to a "film noir" set in, say, the back alleys of Karachi, Pakistan, complete with musical evocations of street characters (track 2, "Moderate Mast", may refer to the God-intoxicated street wanderers called "masts"), dark suspense, evocations of hidden and forbidden eroticism, and everpresent, ominous danger. In this spooky scenario the sitar becomes the main character, a world-weary European searching for - what? an evildoer? a lost love? a stolen treasure? Gromer Khan does a fine job of creating a soundtrack for my inner Orientalizing fantasy cinema.

A soft, melancholy mood pervades this album; the use of attenuated rock and jazz chords only contribute to its sense of remoteness, loneliness and estrangement. The sound of blues played on a sitar, while synthesizer notes float in the background, underscores the cross-cultural atmosphere which Gromer Khan has created in this mysterious and sometimes unnerving musical experience.

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero for Ambient Visions


Smile on the Void A Produce ambient album cover

Smile on the Void

by A Produce

Visit Hypnos' website

This is the first brand new solo release from A Produce in five years. His collaboration with Mark Griffin on the much-respected 1999 album “Altara” was his last excursion on to the CD medium. There has been much excitement over this new release and I am glad to report that “Smile on the Void” is a most enlightening album of deep and mindful soundscapes. The overall theme of the album is the sleep cycle common to us all, restlessness, sleep, dreaming and awakening.

With his music A Produce is able, with much skill, to draw in the listener with his “Trance music” which he prefers to call his particular brand of ambient music. The title track for example starts with what sounds like Tibetan singing bowls ringing out an almost subliminal message. Added into the mix an almost organic rhythm is heard, entering and entwining around ones senses. The next track “Night Curve” acts like a brief respite of shifting and shimmering ambience as if the listener is being prepared for sleep, which one guesses as the following track is called “The Big Sleep”. As may be expected this “big” track envisages on the listener the main sleep cycle so consequently it flows as a powerful and strong melodic music.

Another track of note is “Inner Sanctum”. This is a most beautiful piece of music and reminds me of Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s “The Pearl”. In my view a definite contender for ambient track of the year. The last track “Spirit Room” contains much of the above ingredients, but a surprise awaits the listener. Starting with trance atmospheres this has it all faint tribal references in the form of an ethnic drumming sequence, and in the last part the addition of an electric guitar really brings the track and consequently the album to a most satisfying end. This is a very impressive album indeed. Lets hope we do not have to wait another five years for the next A Produce release, this guy has tremendous talent.

Written by Gary Andrews for Ambient Visions


Musique d'Ambeulement
"(Furniture Music)"

by Robert Scott Thompson

"Musique d'Ambeulement" (Furniture Music") is a four CD set from the brilliantly creative and creatively brilliant Robert Scott Thompson, a.k.a. Dr. Ambient.  He created the CD's between 1998 and 2001, inclusively, for various installations and performance pieces, some using multiple CD changers.  The CD's are also available individually under the titles, from newest to oldest, "Manifold," "Sapphire," "Siren" and "Music for a Summer Evening."  The set is over 280 minutes long.  Each CD is comprised of one long composition.

I was going to write an individual review for each CD and summarize the set with a fifth review.  However, as I listened to the CD's and lived with them, I found that while each disc has unique character and definition, the flow is continuous and the boundaries are gray and undefined.  Indeed, Robert's sound design is the thread that conjoins the set into one project.  And that sound design is grand!

Over the past seven months or so, I have delved deeply into the shamanic qualities and textures of Dr. Thompson's music.  I have come to expect the unexpected!  None of that could have prepared my biosonic playback device (BRAIN) for this experiential listening!

Robert traverses the fine lines between ambience, minimalism, avant-garde and dissonance.  While the music has echoes and qualities of all those styles, it fits none of them in toto.  Dr. Thompson calls it ambience.  Other "experts" will call it avant-garde and dissonant.  Still others will find it minimal.  Personally I have to coin a term and call it "FUTURISM!"  (I'll discuss more on that below.)

The music is all of that and the proverbial glazed doughnut!  The stark soundscapes evoke feelings of isolation.  The computer sounds evoke warmth and friendliness.  The manipulated vocals of "Siren" evoke angst, existentialism, excitement and terror.  (That CD is 57'54" of manipulated, processed and computerized wordless vocalizations by jazz vocalist Mary-Jo Bischoff.)  This is NOT dark minimalism.  Robert is in a zone that only he can define and he is not about to do so.  He is perfectly willing to share his soul and his spirit.  He is just as willing to share his techniques.  (He is, after all, a teacher and a very generous man.)  Not sharing the zone does not come from unwillingness.  Like all great artistes, Dr. Thompson is unable to define how his intellect interacts with his spirituality and emotions.  As a therapist (and a therapy patient), I know that process as integration.  Dr. Robert Scott Thompson, Ph. D., is one of the most completely integrated individuals I have ever met!

It takes total integration to create futurism.  As I delved into Robert's older works this past week, I heard the influences on more current recordings.  Indeed, one artiste seemed so deeply influenced that the influence bordered on plagiarism.  (It is not plagiarism.  I know the individual well.  They do not need to plagiarize.)  If the pattern continues, we'll be listening to this in 2010 and wondering how so-and-so came up with this.  If we listen to Robert NOW, we'll know.  This is beyond the perpendicular universe.  This music dwells in the sixth or seventh dimension!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholt


Echoes from the Last Fariryland Tales album cover

Echoes from the
Last Fairyland

by Tales


"Echoes from the Last Fairyland" is a fantasy adventure from the creative soundworlds of Jean-Luc Herve Berthelot, a.k.a. Tales.  It spins a fable that exists "only in the recesses of the minds of those lucky few who remember marvels from their childhood."

Jean's style is densely atmospheric.  He creates that atmosphere with deep layers of synths, all performed in real time with digital delay.  Even experienced listeners will want to believe that this is heavily sequenced.  It is not.  Altered and manipulated voice samples add to the fantasy and give the disc a sci-fi quality.

Indeed, the theme of the fantasy is of time and space.  Jean-Luc is one of the premier electronicians working in the pure space music.  This album celebrates all of the simplicities and intricacies of that style.  I found myself cavorting with the "fairies, elves and gentle wizards."  I frolicked with the "white unicorns and iridescent dragons."  I was in the forest that exists in "huge ships flying over the three moons' mainland."  In short, I found the memories of the marvels of my childhood.  Those memories are precious.  (My childhood marvels were few and far between.)

That qualifies this CD to have a special place in my heart.  It has helped me to be childlike without being childish.  The pure and unpretentious space music qualifies the CD as special!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Aidan Hall

by Mary Deschamps



"Aidan Hall," by Mary Deschamps, is not electronic.  Nor would I call it ambient in the terms that readers and followers of this web site define that style.  However, Webster's defines ambient as "encompassing."  By that definition, this CD is ambient.

The album features 12 original compositions performed by Mary on acoustic piano with her vocal accompaniment.  It is superb!  Her piano playing is subtle and powerful.  She is a first class torch singer!  She has a broad range and it works best in the alto end.  She is able to reach the high notes effortlessly and capably when called to do so but her breathy low style is sultry, seductive and downright sexy!

Mary recorded the piano at Aidan Hall on the campus of Carlow College (see my bio for the connection) right here in Pittsburgh.  The sparse production highlights Mary's personal and touching lyrics.  The pieces range from love songs to ballads of the psyche and the inner child.

I like this CD a lot!  It does not fit my general preference but, hey, quality is quality!  If you choose to stay within your musical boundaries, you'll miss out.  If you are willing to go beyond those boundaries, I recommend this highly!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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