Reviews 09-30-2001

Music Reviews 



by Dan Abrams


Dan Abrams has some offbeat ideas about music.  He has released CD's on the 12K label as Shuttle 358.  "Stream" is his first release under his given name.  It is on the Mille Plateau label.

The CD is a triumph in the computerized ambience arena.  There is a distinct structure to the arrangements of computerized noise.  It also has definite and positive musical integrity. 

Unlike many albums of this ilk, "Stream" defines itself and its own niche.  The entire project has a human feel to it.  The recording captures random snippets from Dan's repertoire and plays them back as samples.  The structure of the program defines the human element.  The overriding essence is dark minimalism.  That quality requires a human touch!



Reviewed by Jim Brenholts  


A Monument of Chance

by Seofon and Thermal


"A Monument of Chance" is an eclectic collaboration between Seofon and Thermal, both members of the San Francisco association of musicians known as The ArchipelagoSeofon is also a member of Ambient Temple of I-MaginationThermal is a frequent contributor to ATOI. 

The merger of Seofon's sound design skills and Thermal's intuitive creativity gives listeners a dense and organic soundscape.  Like most ATOI efforts, this plays like it belongs in the chill out rooms.  But it does have a greater purpose and destiny.

This CD stands proudly with the best efforts of the modern minimalists and master electronicians.  The experiMENTAL overtones create an aura of mystery.  The electronic manipulations create the organics.

Always bordering - but never crossing over to - the avante garde, Seofon walks that fine line skillfully.  Thermal's contributions add some zest to the art.  This CD is an obscure winner!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


End of Days

by Darshan Ambient

Michael Allison began his recording career under the pseudonym of Darshan.  To avoid confusion with a similarly named musician, he changed it to Darshan Ambient.  (It can be fairly confusing.)

There is no confusion about "The End of Days."  Gentle pastoral minimalism is the order of the day and Michael delivers it with style and grace.  The sound design is expansive and drifting.  There is no hidden agenda within the soothing melody.  Michael urges listeners to sit back and go with the flow.  The organics come from his heart and soul.  There are no samples. 

This is a cool disc for lazy days.



Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Autumn Light

by Darshan Ambient

"Autumn Light" is Michael Allison's second CD.  He records under the nom de plume, Darshan Ambient. 

He is not trying to fool anybody.  This is straightforward electronic minimalism with one purpose.  The music is designed for relaxation and meditation.  Michael's soundscapes are gentle pastorales that evolve and dissolve constantly.  He uses no samples to achieve this affect.  Much like the classical masters, he creates the moods only with instrumentation and technique.  He is a master synthesist and a studio wizard.

This disc is a sleeper and a keeper.


Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Darshan Ambient

by Darshan Ambient

Michael Allison's third CD is titled "Darshan Ambient."  That is also his recording alias.  It is somewhat odd that he would release his third effort as a self-titled album.  Then again, this genre is anything but mainstream and normal. 

That being stated, there are expectations.  This CD is exactly what listeners expect from Michael.  The atmospheres are expansive; the minimalism is pure; the ambience is austere.  There are no sampled enhancements.  There are no hidden meanings.  There is plenty of relaxation.

That is Michael's forte.  By staying within his self-defined boundaries, he achieves holistic balance.


Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Zen Breakfast

by Karunesh

Visit Real Music's website

In the legend of Zen archery, when the archer is one with the target, the arrow flies true.  According to Karunesh, in the liner notes of "Zen Breakfast," "When you become at peace with your world, you become the target."

This new age masterpiece begins with a tale of a wise elder pouring tea for a student.  The elder continues to pour after the cup is full.  Upon observing this, the student asks, "Why do you keep pouring when my cup (is) full?"  The sage answers, "Why keep asking questions when your head is full?"

That is typical of a sage and a teacher.  They answer questions with questions and students are forced to answer themselves.  That is the truest and surest way to learn completely and holistically.

"Zen Breakfast" asks many questions, both to seek knowledge and to deliver responses.  The primary and primordial responses are the perfect balance among three distinct musical genres.  Karunesh embraces all that is worthy in true new age fashion.  This disc has positive elements of classical, world and healing music.  the balance creates a vast spiritual and emotional soundscape.  Love oozes from every note!

The liner notes state it best: " 'Zen Breakfast' is sacred music from far off visionary places that touch the heart ever so close to home."

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Wise-Ta-Nech (pre-European Africa)

by Vampire Nation

Fredrik von Hamilton records as Vampire Nation.  I am predisposed to like his music because he is a rarity - an electronician from Pittsburgh, my hometown.

"Wise-Ta-Nech (pre-European Africa".  It is a musical yarn based loosely on the explorations of Christopher Columbus and his quest for "spears tipped with gold." 

The CD is loaded with atmospheres and rhythms.  It is similar to the "nu" ambient from the chill rooms and it has some elements of trip hop.  The atmospheres are vast and the rhythms are frantic.  Fredrik compliments that frenzy with some gentle acoustic piano passages and a deep bass drone.

The entire package comes across as surprisingly appealing.  Fredrik is onto something here.  He needs to refine and define it.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts  



by alva.noto

"Transform" is a CD of experimental e-music from alva.noto, nee Carsten Nicolai.  The dissonance on this disc is programmed rather than sequenced.  Carsten's mathematical editing gives precise rhythms to the compositions.

The computerized beeps, clicks and glitches are the essential elements of the set.  They are not mere ornaments.  The progression and programming have unprecedented depth for this style of music. 

The press release accompanying this disc describes Carsten having applied those techniques to hip-hop and R & B.  There is some evidence of that.  The release also states that Carsten takes experimentation one step beyond.  There is much evidence to support that claim!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts   


Planetary House Nation

by Ambient Temple of I-Magination

"Planetary House Nation" is volume five in the "Mystery School " series from Ambient Temple of I-Magination.  They recorded it live at the fifth anniversary of The Gathering Winter Solstice Yule Celebration on December 21, 1996. 

ATOI has been part of a loose fellowship of bay area musicians known as The Archipelago.  Indeed, Seofon contributed to their set on the Foundry label.  Many of those artists contributed to this project as well.

This is definitely a strange set!  The soundscape is dense and foggy with organic and experimental elements.  The organics, mainly from Stephen Kent's didg and Thermal's e-bow, compliment the electronics of Seofon and Richard Sun.

The liner notes are bizarre, poignant and hilarious.  With ATOI, reading between the lines is both essential and improbable.  The hidden meanings are subtle and overt.  The humor is sophisticated and crude.

In short, this is a CD of unlikely juxtapositions.  It is also a classic!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts  


Strange Bolero

by Gravity Hill

Visit Gravity Hill's website

A bolero is "a Spanish dance characterized by sharp turns, stomping of the feet and sudden pauses in a position with one arm arched above the head."  Gravity Hill recorded "Strange Bolero" "live with no complex midi or tape overdubs."

This CD, on Treecastle Music, is an absolutely wonderful surprise!  This ensemble is a quintet with two keyboardists, two percussionists and a guitarist.  Their website,, describes their music as synth and drum and as "Mickey Hart meets Tangerine Dream."

The soundscapes are dense and full.  The synth sequences are monumentous and bold.  There are few, if any, hidden meanings.  This ensemble is having loads of fun and the music is infectious and the effect is contagious.  Listeners will find their toes tapping and their minds wandering.  Listeners that find this CD will be captivated.  They will also spread the word.  Get this CD now!  It is essential listening!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Inner Beauty

by Stephanie Sante

Stephanie Sante used to release her albums using just her Christian name.  "Inner Beauty," her fourth CD, features her full name on the credits.

The CD also features a review by my colleague, the esteemed Bill Binkleman, of Wind and Wire.  Bill describes Stephanie's talents accurately and astutely.  He states that she "can conquer any electronic music arena she damn well pleases!"  Sometimes the best statements are simple an obvious hyperbole!

Indeed, Stephanie covers all the bases from dramatic symphonic synths to expansive minimalist atmospheres to gentle synth washes.  Her versatility sparkles as her electronics paint deep spacescapes and soulful soundscapes.

That's it!  This album is soulful!  Stephanie always puts her heart and soul into the music for all to share.  But this CD goes farther than that.  I was taken to the far reaches of my inner self.  The variety of styles creates a harmonious vehicle for the exploration. 

Stephanie also thanks my good friend, Lloyd Barde, owner of Backroads Music, home of the Heartbeats Catalog.  Lloyd advertises the music that he sells as "music to get inside of."  That description fits this disc perfectly!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts  


Nocturnes Digitales

by Cyrille Verdeaux

Visit Clearlight Music's website

Cyrille Verdeaux is a veteran electronician.  He has been recording for over 25 years.  His career has traversed the globe and encompassed tragedy and enlightenment.  He records on the Clearlight Music label.  He is the owner and founder of that label as well.  He has recently re-issued some of the milestone releases from earlier in his career. 

"Nocturnes Digitales," originally released in 1980, is a meditative CD, scientifically designed to stimulate alpha brain waves thus enhancing relaxation and increasing the sense of well being.  Such brain activity counteracts the effects of stress and tension.

The presentation of the CD also corresponds to the color orange, symbolic of family, procreation and sexuality.  Orange also represents tolerance, passion, vitality and optimism.

All of that is very significant and very cool.  The most important matter is that this CD still has absolute musical integrity and is current even after 21 years!  This disc runs the gamut in its presentation.  It has dramatic symphonic passages, expansive minimalism, pastoral ambience and new age sensibility.  The packaging is elegant.  The liner notes are informative.  The nature samples augment the score expertly.

While this might not be the perfect CD, it is flawless.  Again, this CD is essential for meditators.  It has something for everyone!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts   


Journey to Tantraland

by Cyrille Verdeaux

Visit Clearlight Music's website

"Journey to Tantraland," by Cyrille Verdeaux, is a trip to the second Chakra.  This Chakra is linked to energies and thoughts of the sexual nature.  The album was originally released in 1982.

In legend and mythology, individuals trapped at this level view life selfishly and sexually, from a standpoint of instant gratification.  Thus, they debase life.  Practitioners of the holistic tantric rituals integrate the sexual energy, thus purifying love and selflessness.  (There are distinct similarities to addiction and recovery.  Indeed, the ultimate goal of recovery is holistic integration.)

Again, the music is scientifically designed to stimulate brain wave activity and enhance relief from tension and stress. 

And, again, the musical integrity of this majestic soundscape is intact!  Cyrille blends all the positive elements of e-music into a broad-brush effort with mass appeal. 

Does this CD promote sexual activity?  No.  Does it enhance lovemaking?  Maybe (I'll let you know.)  Does it promote peace of mind and relaxation?  Absolutely!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Pulse: Music From the Home Planet

by Sozra

Visit the Pulse Page on Sozra's website


Thus John Sosnowsky, a.k.a. Sozra, introduces "Pulse: Music from the Home Planet" a multi-dimensional CD of acoustic space music.  Hannah Vo-Dinh (vocals) and Matt Kraft (bass) accompany John's guitars and keyboards.  The wordless vocals are part of the instrumental soundscape.  The bass carries the gentle rhythm gracefully.

Despite his humility and willingness to give the credit away, john is the star of this album.  His electronics are sparse and well placed; the acoustics are light and airy; the sound design and production are deft.  John does not use a heavy hand anywhere on this CD but the pieces come across as full and satiating as they explore the realms of acoustic minimalism and gentle space music. 

This is a surprising winner from an obscure talent.  John is based in, of all places, Hagerstown, MD and much of the post production work was done in Pittsburgh, PA (my hometown).

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts