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Reviews 5-15-2004


 Fever Dreams

by Steve Roach 

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Coming hot on the heels of Steve’s recent collaboration “Spirit Dome” with Belgian musician vidnaObmana, “Fever Dreams” is the first installment of three future releases coming in the future in the Fever vein.

Whereas “Spirit Dome” was a deep and dark spontaneous creation. “Fever Dreams” has a more mid-tempo rhythmic almost sensuous vibe to its formation and features the talents of Patrick O’ Hearn, Byron Metcalf who has worked with Steve before on albums such as “The Serpents Lair” and Byron’s own neo-shamanic release “Wachumas Wave”. Will Merkle, fellow sound traveler also features on bass on one track.

From the opening moments of “Wicked Dream” one hears familiar ambient percussive textures such as ancient rattles and scrapping stones that represent the earthy and organic feel that Steve is putting into his music to add differing sounds that combine with the more electronic atmospheric sound creation. Then a new sound is heard in the form of a dramatic bass line provided by Patrick O’Hearn that manages to shift the familiar Roach sound into a new focus of musical creation. The effect is one of pure dreamlike rhythmic meditation tinged with a sensual side.

“Fever Pulse” combines the energy of a rapid undulating sequence laid back in the mix with the ebbing flow of synthesizer chords and the use of the bass guitar of Will Merkle that punctuates the sound field in a relaxed way that merges with the composition very well.

The longest track on the album at just under half an hour is “Tantra Mantra” a definite Far Eastern flavor comes through from the opening chords helped defined by an Indonesian gamelan sounding sequence that entices the listener into the outer limits of this track, enticing, exotic and above all hypnotic in context.

“Moved Beyond” is slightly more electronic sounding at least in the beginning of the piece. The addition of Byron’s frame drum adds yet another point of contact with the organic feel that plays such an important role in the creation of an album in the tribal-ambient field that Steve and others have helped to define over the last few years.

All in all this is yet another defining album that has come out of Steve’s Timeroom studio, much magic has come from this studio over the years and judging by this new release much more magic will be arriving in the future.

Reviewed by Gary Andrews for Ambient Visions


 The Warm Chill

by TJ Rehmi 

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In a nutshell: Warm urban Eastern-style music to chill with. 

TJ Rehmi’s album, The Warm Chill is the set of tunes you’d want to take with you on a drive through the city, have in the background of a casual party, or in your yoga teacher’s collection. It’s a sort of laid back, urban ambience that fits right in with these environments- but with an extra twist of excellent drums and bass that brings a little more power to the sound. 

Rehmi returns with his excellent drums, and a few other Indian instruments, mixed with urban synth and bass. The ‘feel’ of Warm Chill is a layered series of relaxed rhythms, occasionally floating into a sort of Eastern fantasy of sound-on-sound synth, but always returning to the rhythms, breakbeats and the bass. 

This must be listened to on large speakers with subs to fully appreciate the spectrum of sound that Rehmi employs. The bass is deep, the drums are beautifully placed and played, and the engineering is excellent, as albums of this genre (world fusion) tend to be. I detected no distortion at low volumes, and cranking it was pleasurable. At nearly an hour and with 11 cuts, it’s a full disk, with no frills. 

Standouts: “Perfumed” with the dulcimer and the sensual flute, and “Lone Rider” with the guitar track wailing along.

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions

Visit Lorie's Bio page to learn more about her.



Lounge Control

by Peter Mergener

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Lounge Control is a difficult CD to review. It is extremely uneven. Peter Mergener attempts to combine Berlin school electronica with lounge music. That should lead most listeners to ask, “Why?” There is, without a doubt, some great music on this disc. Some of the music, however, misses by a mile.

Peter is at his best when he goes beyond the straight sequencing of his early career. The tracks that combine electronica and ambience are nice and smooth – almost symphonic, certainly romantic. They are delicate creations.

When Peter gets too heavy-handed, the music presents as rehashed tripe from the days of yore. There is no reason to re-visit that era and no reason to re-create it.

The mix of good to bad is about 60% to 40%, so that’s about a wash. The inconsistency makes it less than a wash.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.




by Saul Stokes

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A leading light of new ambient, Saul Stokes, returns to the fold after 2003's marvelous Fields with a new disc on Databloem: Radiate.  While not a new studio album per se, Radiate combines five tracks recorded live in San Francisco with two new studio tracks unavailable elsewhere.  Fields operated in more melodic and traditionally musical territory, often eschewing the wild synth improv of his early works.  Stokes's last live album, Abstraction, was at the other end of the spectrum; an ululating tableau of synth drone harmonics.  Those who had trouble reconciling the two styles Stokes has oscillated between on his last few releases will find Radiate to be an exceptional meeting point--both the abstraction and melodic invention of Stokes's music can be heard in equal measures here. 

Radiate begins with the title track, an ethereal, electrical dronescape recalling early Tetsu Inoue works.  A lovely tone sequence that could have been lifted straight from Fields appears, a sunrise of electronic brilliance.  Above all, Stokes's work is bright and warm--this track encapsulates the radiant ambience that made his name in the first place.  Being a live recording, we segue straight into "Wave Image Wave" which features sci-fi waveform sounds and unusual stereo crackles recalling glitchier electronic works.  Rather than the clinical sterility of Steve Roden, we are treated to understated electronic chirruping accompanied by a reverent synth drone appearing from nowhere.  We're circling some warm planet--from within the troposphere we find radio interference, ambient radiation, bright, unfiltered sun, and occasional sonic debris in the form of stark synth stabs.  The sounds seem to heat up into motion, and by the middle of the track are buzzing with the sounds of the spheres.  This is space music at its most alien.  Fans who've missed Stokes's improvisational style from Outfolding need look no further than here for more of the same.  "Nano Flame" is something of a throwback to the style of Stokes's earlier albums:  containing a fairly standard synth drone overlaid by mechanistic percussion.  Above all, Stokes's early works brought thoughts of air-travel by swift flitter to mind; mid-tempo journeys over landscapes both alien and strangely familiar.  "Nano Flame" is another classic "future nostalgia" moment of drift and glide through various atmospheres, huddled safely in a cocoon of super-strong plastics.  "Oceans Light the Shore" is similar to "Wave Image Wave," beginning quietly like that earlier track, its burbling sonics eventually conjoined with a strange chiming melody that could have been lifted from Kraftwerk's Ralf und Florian.  More bright synth tones follow, illuminating the constant flux of Stokes's impossibly organic-sounding synths.  "Hard Landing" crashes us straight back into Tetsu Inoue-land, a theme-park of gurgle rides and dot-matrix orchestras.  This is the most willfully experimental track on the album, inhabiting Atom Heart-style grooves and atmospheres--uneasy listening, of a sort.  This is, like each preceding track, lightened by almost Eno-esque stabs of atmosphere; cloudy and vibrant.  A stunning finish. 

Radiate's two studio tracks follow more clearly in the footsteps of Fields.  In "Curve of Symphony," an underlying drone is manipulated subtly, almost in the style of Fennesz's more listenable material.  Stokes's increased attention to technoid grooves appears, the quietly shifting tones becoming an armchair techno delight.  After four minutes we're steadfastly on the "frozen dancefloor," transfixed by pretty melodies and creative percussion programming.  The middle of the track is as close as Stokes gets to electronic freq-out, and it's a wonder to behold.  A return to melody for the last few, almost melancholic, moments, and we've just heard one of Stokes's finest tracks.  Finally, "Vast" puts everything we've heard before into perspective--a hushed, chill ambient track with subtle grooves and an almost Harold Budd melodic presence.  Shades of The Black Dog's more Plaid moments arrive (perhaps Detroit's isn't all that far from Stokes's hometown) and we finish with an elegant example of intelligent techno that ends almost too abruptly. 

The title couldn't be more appropriate: Radiate is a startlingly bright and beautiful album, with sonic washes both warm and experimental.  It also offers newcomers their best glimpse at the two modes of Stokes's work--willful improvisation and chilled ambient-techno.  Those who found Fields a little too musical will find plenty of strange electronics to buzz along to--though I myself find Stokes's newer direction into melodic territory extremely refreshing and welcome.  Stokes is clearly inspired by more modern electronic forms on his newest work, bringing a sheen largely absent from artists operating in square one Eno or Berlin School modes.  I hope more ambient artists will take Stokes's lead in touching upon techno and clicks and cuts style electronic forms, bringing ambient into the twenty-first century.  Above all, Radiate continues Saul Stokes's development, validating that he is in no way out of steam after the triumph of Fields.  I've already felt Stokes was the artist to watch for some time--Radiate only confirms that he is also one of the most important, and likely influential, artists in new ambient's worldwide milieu. 

Reviewed by Brian Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

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Abstract Circuitry

by Galactic Anthems

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Glenn Adams creates wondrous sounds and monumental soundscapes as Galactic Anthems. Abstract Circuitry is his second CD and it is hot!

Glenn uses lots of different sounds – all synth and electronic – to generate sci-fi atmospheres with metallic textures. His atmospheres and soundscapes have symphonic qualities. The crescendos are dramatic with mysterious imagery. The circuitry is indeed abstract. Glenn weaves a tale of intrigue and suspense as the tension mounts. There is, however, no denouement as he provides only clues and no answers or resolutions. Deep listeners will hear, feel and see the clues in the bright chrome imagery. The textures are harsh and stark. The space is cold. The vacuums are empty. The circuitry has no pattern.

This wonderful CD has vivid imagery and deep mystery. It is highly recommended!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.



Calling Down the Sky

by Robert Rich

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Those who saw one of Rich's summer concerts in 2003 probably counted themselves fortunate. I know I did when I saw his lively event in Detroit.  This is a record of an exceptional live event, apparently a "house concert" that took place in or near Denver Colorado in July 2003. A storm was approaching and , rather than playing a series of "set pieces' off his albums, as Rich was doing on other stops, the concert was entirely improvised as a response to the immediate atmospheric situation. The tools Rich used to provide this literal atmospheric piece are familiar to fans of his style: sensuous "gliss guitar" ,layered drones, full-bodied wood flute and sonic tapestries pulled from nature. But this was a special night, and the music has an immediacy that is superbly captured in this recording,  which should be considered a "must" for Rich fans and anyone who is attracted to the tribal ambient style.

Although the music is one long improvisation, the cd divides it into "tracks" and thoughtfully gives each track titles. "Erasing Tracks" opens the cd with nice layered synth pads that have a lot of overtone content, different from the pads I heard in Detroit. Rich soon introduces his guitar with long "open string " tones that evolve into a delightfully full "gliss" solo that fans of Rich and Daevid Allen would enjoy. The solo has a questing, yearning feel and the fresh tang of spontaneity to recommend it. Soon the synth drones reemerge and we are listening to "Overhead", a transitional piece that presents some nice floating improvisational sounds. These become atmospheric sounding, which suits the developing mood. "Vertigo" begins with a nice bout of "sound painting". I felt like I was rising up to the sky, rather than being called down. Swirling synth noises with a strong tonal center create the impression of an electric atmosphere and anticipation. The wood flute begins to play, invoking nameless feelings and a sense of awe. Rich uses a lot of delay and is wise enough to inject pauses to let the music breathe. There is an unusual amount of musical information being conveyed at once , thanks to the synth patterns that at first accompany and then dominate the long flute tones. 

Rich's melodic wanderings on flute are always interesting and frequently evocative. He is not afraid to play in unfamiliar registers and match the flute tones with the synth drones . Tremolo is used to great effect and gradually I became aware of the impression that I was listening to a natural process, not an improvised ambient concert. The anxiety that was expressed about the coming storm through the music appeared to be of a more natural communal variety rather than the individualistic anxiety of modern times. Pitch modulation on the flute tones turns into modern "siren sounds", albeit very gentle ones. The piece gradually fades into indistinct nature sounds, like rushing water
but , thankfully, no rain sounds, other than perhaps distant ones from outside the house, heard faintly . "Supplication" is a brief , relaxing modal melody played on the flute with accompaniment by  ubiquitous synth drones. "Borealis" introduces the guitar again, speaking slowly of lost landscapes that dance across the sky. Throughout this recording, Rich's guitar playing is inspired, as though he were in the grip of the approaching storm. Gradually, as tonal ambiguity is introduced, the accompaniment swells, creating another impression of approach. The drones again take center stage , only to become multidimensional and active, which then help the reappearing flute lead the piece into "Adrift" , which features stiking bell tones mixed in with environmental sounds. "Recognition" brings the long improvisation to a close with a reflective melody  played on guitar.

 There is a magic in this recording that is difficult to capture in words. Rich fans and fans of ambient everywhere should make a special effort to seek out this disc.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions



Ritual Awakening

by Dolmen

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Quite simply, Ritual Awakening is one of the most unique tribal ambient CD’s ever! Jason Sloan and Steve Smith - recording as Dolmen - created this gem and it is like a piece of fine China. It is beautiful and elegant but fragile and expensive. Jason and Steve built tribal atmospheres with subtle grooves from a base of minimalist dark drones. That’s the hook! While this disc certainly has tribal grooves and deep atmospheres, it is also excellent electronic minimalism and dark ambience. The dense atmospheres are almost solid and flexible – like Jell-O or a solid liquid (?). with such juxtaposition, it is the ultimate conundrum and an absolutely essential experience!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.




by Anomolous Disturbances

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Following up his first release "The Spirit Molecule", Terry O'Brien of Anomolous Disturbances has created a fantastic work with "HovR". Totally engaging, spellbinding and beguiling, this disc hasn't left my stereo since I got it.

It begins quietly enough with "Strange Fruit". Subtle movement, the occasional suggestion of crickets, but soon the subtlety gives way to larger more apparent tones, more obvious motion.

Floating, looping dreamscapes follow in "Apparitions" where looping guitars play underneath a sweeping and building backdrop. Beautiful work, very engrossing.

"Ploughing the Clouds" is a shorter piece, very effectively creating an atmosphere and environment in a very short period of time. I quite enjoyed this piece and would be very curious to see how it would evolve, perhaps during a further exploration in a live setting.

Title track "HovR" is an epic piece studying themes and ideas, moving slowly through spaces and times. A brilliant work this one, fully capturing the nature and intent of the release.

Skip ahead to "Lost Time" where percolating notes grow and swell, passing through the listener's consciousness. A very ominous piece, tension building throughout. Very impressive.

Disc closer "Sombunall" sums it all up for the listener, a highly emotional piece of stark beauty that remains long after the last notes have been heard. A truly beautiful piece and an excellent way to end this disc.

Needless to say, I think that "HovR" is a very strong release and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Brilliant work.

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Rik's Ping Things website by clicking here.



Nox Mystica

by Peter Mergener

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Peter Mergener is well known as half of the most frequent Software lineup – Michael Wiesser and Peter. After the demise of Michael’s label - Innovative Communications- Peter stayed low for a while. He has re-emerged recently. Nox Mystica is a collaboration with Amici and it is miles beyond everything that he has done before. This disc combines his penchant for Berlin school sequences with symphonic synths, dramatic crescendos, deep atmospheres and experimental sounds.

This disc packs strong messages and holds listeners tightly. Peter’s sound design creates many different moods and nuances for listeners’ enjoyment. He and Amici add some ethnic ambience to deepen the adventure. The sound is so unlike his previous efforts that it could leave some listeners at a loss. It should, however, get many new fans for Peter.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.




by Ken Elkinson  

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"Opal" is pianist/composer Ken Elkinson's third release to date. Both jazzy and reflective, the album sustains an even-tempered mood from start to finish. The pieces are varied, but the tone of the music is similar throughout, with no rough edges or jarring discordance. Like "Revelry" and "Midnight Conversation," "Opal" is solo piano and contains all original music. 

The big surprise here is that Elkinson is offering "Opal" and its cover artwork as a free download - at least initially - from and! He will be selling 100 copies of the CD autographed by himself and the artist who did the cover artwork to help cover his costs. This is a really novel approach to introducing more people to his music, and I encourage everyone to check it out!

 All of the tracks are appealing and easy to listen to. "Circle" is an upbeat piece whose form goes in a circle  - how about that? "Opal" has a cheerful sparkle like its namesake gemstone - or is it an aging sports car? "Augustine" has a lovely, gentle flow and an introspective feeling. "Change" is much darker and moodier, and there seems to be a lot of soul-searching going on - a very interesting piece! "Orchid" is much more carefree and forward-moving. As the title implies, "Indigo" is very dark and pensive - a piece that could have been composed in the middle of a sleepless night.

The closing track, "Afterglow" is my favorite on this CD. Pensive but warm, there is a sense of calm and serenity - a very nice way to finish!  

Whether you trust my opinion or not, checking out "Opal" is completely risk-free! While you are visiting Ken Elkinson's sites, but sure to read the liner notes for this CD - there are many life-enhancing promises (tongue-in-cheek, but very funny!). There is something here for everyone to enjoy, so don't miss this opportunity for some great music and some chuckles as well!

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

Visit Kathy Parsons' bio page for more information.



Hopes and Dreams

by Lisa Lynne

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I recently commented in another review that it had been a while since listeners had been treated to the sound of melodic harp playing. The gods of the music universe must have been plotting, since there are now several works based on the harp available, and they all have an appeal for fans of this ancient instrument.

Lisa Lynne's Hopes and Dreams is a blend of ensemble-type instruments: harp, guitar, flute, chimes, bells, and dulcimer. The style is soothing and mellow; not surprising, as Lisa plays harp at the City of Hope Cancer Center. There is something about the harp that affects people like no other instrument. Perhaps that is why angels are said to play harps...

Many of the pieces on the CD are light-hearted and gently flowing. "Soliloquy" and "Sea March," however, are deeper, somewhat darker, and a bit more introspective. Overall, this CD is purposely designed to take the listener on a peaceful, healing journey. It is an hour well-spent when one wishes to renew contact with one's spirit.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.




by Titania

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Listening to the self titled debut by Titania I can't help but think of the work of Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins, other artists who have celebated the beauty of the female voice. With this release, Mandy Cousins and partner Michael Turner have created a disc of stunning wonder, a collection of songs that showcase the fact that sometimes the best music needs to be sung.

Digitaria with it's guitar arpegios and simple percussion creates a hypnotic effect that leaves the listener in a state of blissful trance, euphoria. Rising and falling fretwork throughout this one highlight Michael's mastery of the guitar.

Tribal percussion opens Pale Sister, minimal instrumentation playing beneath Mandy's voice. Wonderful stuff here, rich sweeping vocals that set the hair on the back of my neck on end. Simply beautiful.

Smooth pads open track nine, Knowing and Not Caring, majestic guitar slowly building in their wake. Brilliant.

Postscript is a lovely piece that sends shivers up my spine it's so wonderful. A perfect piece of music where vocals, instrumentation, tension and emotion all come together in an ideal blend to form one of the most blissful pieces of music I've heard all year.

Without doubt, Titania is a fabulous introduction to a wonderful project that I hope to hear more from in the future. Fans of the aforementioned Bush and Cocteaus will find this disc indispensible.

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

Visit Rik's Ping Things website by clicking here.


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