Reviews 07-08-2001

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Where The Earth Meets the Sky Heasley ambient album cover

Where the Earth Meets the Sky

by Tom Heasley

Visit Hypnos Records' website

Where the Earth Meets the Sky is a classic example of the "Hypnos" style of dark ambient minimalism.  The disc features Tom Heasley on loops, digital processing, throat singing and the Muafone 188 TUBAThat's right!  Tom performs on the ambient tuba!  There has not been a more eclectic or imaginative use of an instrument since 1989 when Markus Stockhausen contributed an ambient flugelhorn to "Flux + Mutability," by David Sylvian and Holger Czukay.  Like that great CD, this works surprisingly well.  Tom manipulates his tuba expertly on this meditative and introspective set.  (He performed the entire CD live in the studio.)  After the first couple of notes (announcing "Hey, it's a tuba!"), even the most diligent and practiced listeners will not recognize this as a tuba.  Tom lays down a gentle and smooth drone to augment his loops and voices.  He also carries a very subtle with this exotic instrument.

Taken on its own merits, this set stands proudly and rightfully with the rest of the Hypnos catalog.  It is difficult, however, to overlook the novelty and seeming juxtaposition of the "ambient tuba."  Listeners who are able to get past that will enjoy the dark and melancholy ride to the nether regions of the inner and outer selves.  This is a first rate CD from a first rate label.  It is also a strong choice for placement in the year's top ten!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Fade Austere ambient album cover


by Austere 

Curio Austere ambient album cover


by Austere

"Fade" is a slow motion, at times inaudible, sonic triumph from Portland-based Austere.  The soundscape feature dense and foggy minimalism replete with repetitious bass tones and an overt synth drone.  It has been described as "mood music."  Those moods are meditative and introspective.  The disc explores either the dark side of the pastoral or the pastoral side of the dark.  The sound-design threatens to become overtly dark and shows promise of glittering brightness.  It goes to neither extreme.  It opts to let the listener choose the path

"Curio" is a limited edition release from Austere.  Located in Portland, Oregon, THE hotbed of American minimalism, this ensemble has shown tremendous diversity and creativity in a relatively short career.  They have accomplished all of this while staying within the umbrella of ambient minimalism.

This disc, while dark and thick, combines organic drones with symphonic and pastoral textures.  Indeed, the highlight of the CD is a transcription (or manipulated sample) of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."  That is at the beginning of track 5, "Wawl."  They reference the piece throughout the track. 

The rest of the disc features some wild vocal samples and primal screams.  Those samples add much to a satanic soundscape.

This is first-rate somber minimalism.  Do not listen alone in the dark!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Silence Speaks in Shadows Paul Vnuk Jr ambient album cover

Silence Speaks in Shadows

by Paul Vnuk, Jr. 

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"Silence Speaks in Shadow" is a solo CD from Paul Vnuk, Jr., better known as one half of the duo, Ma Ja Le.  His cohort, Chris Short, edited, arranged and engineered this disc.  (Paul very graciously refers to Chris as his brother and friend and thanks him for his selfless contribution.)  The CD is billed as "psycho-environmental meditation."  Paul recorded the disc during two thunderstorms approximately one year apart and states, "The open windows and industrial sounds of a rain drenched city can have a strange calming effect on the soul."  So can Paul's soundscape!  He expertly mixes somber passages and samples with an expansive drone, nature samples and melodic pastoral ambience.  The effect is both chilling and calming.  The emotional and spiritual responses are clear and undefinable.  The physical response is immediate calm.  Congratulations, Paul!  This CD is essential psychoactive meditation material!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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