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Spacemusic Reviews

Arjen Schat: Spectrum

Spectrum

Spectrum

Arjen Schat: Spectrum
Released: 3 November 2017
www.tresordargent.com
www.arjenschat.nl

While the current crop of man-with-a-sequencer albums seems to trace their success back to a substantial cache of electronic gear, the two items most essential to the impressive work of Arjen Schat are just the two ears he was born with on either side of his head. His release Spectrum (44’08”) does indeed feature five striking works for synthesizers, and their associated accessories, but its most important attribute is a wondrous uplifting musicality. This album is so enjoyable to listen to that once it is over we will want to give thanks for how fine a listening experience it was. Schat has obviously fully absorbed the traditions of the Berlin-School, and improvised some new ones, but Spectrum is no mere homage to the early classics. In poetic precision note patterns echo out, glowing like sparks against a midnight backdrop. The multiple levels of reiterating tones taken together make for a fascinating, ever-evolving texture. These pulsing, crowded moments find order within the mind, as this music shows its ability to hold the listener. Sets of notes, marching out in exact machine order, prove crystalline enough to shine through dusky arrangements, yet raw and direct enough to put across complex emotions. Amidst all this serial mechanized winding do exist long lines of lithe synthetic chords. These ethereal sounds mysteriously soften the steady motoring and pumping at the core of each composition. Whatever challenges that were posed to Schat’s skills in the making of Spectrum, were perfectly met. It is this mastery of detail that adds to its sonic interest – which has great impact upon initial exposure, and continues to grow with each subsequent hearing. In Schat’s inventiveness we find hope for a new enlightenment – one born out of the heat generated during the making of this music.-

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 November 2017

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Scanner: The Great Crater

The Great Crater

The Great Crater

Scanner: The Great Crater
Released: 29 September 2017
www.glacialmovements.com
www.scannerdot.com

The work of Scanner has always been an uncommon counter-argument to conventional studio Electronic Music. Robin Rimbaud, and the formidable power of his ideas, continues to take us to new places – using things that exist freely all around us. His album The Great Crater (48’36”) goes deep and dark, unsettling the world into which it intercedes. Even brief exposure to this music may make the listener feel vulnerable, so much so that merely giving ear to it becomes a symbolic act. A departure from earlier outright aggressive experimentation, this work is based throughout on various permutations of its title. Across ten tracks suggestive of the unprotected region of the South Pole, The Great Crater whirls and undulates in the way snow drifts, and contracts as do the icecaps now melt. Its consuming dark moods, and a quiet sense of mystery, rise out of a tension within the fabric of the music. In a mysterious unfolding of spatial complexity grinding ice seems to flow. A textural interplay between synthesized tones and stringed chamber instruments provide delicately haunted passages – a remarkable somewhere in which a powerful quiet has washed over us. We find any rhythmic energy on The Great Crater to reside in the periphery. Lilting music box patterns gently surface out of a rumbling frost, as forlorn harmonies issue from overcast fields. In frigid, fragile understated constructs, bitter tones creak and scrape – as an environmental message is sent through. The one missing piece in most EM is ideology, so beyond its excellent concept and production The Great Crater offers a psychological depth not present in other Electronic work. Listening to Scanner, we find that he is not like other musicians. As he reaffirms the resiliency of the artistic imagination, we feel the growing impermanence of the permafrost, and that The Earth’s silence may be its one remark.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 November 2017

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 20 May 2017

The Gatherings 20 May 2017

The Gatherings 20 May 2017

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 20 May 2017
Released: 20 October 2017
www.thegatherings.org
www.ombient.com

The album The Gatherings 20 May 2017 (58’55”) presents the complete live performance by Ombient (Mike Hunter) and Chuck van Zyl during the 25th Anniversary Season of this most venerable innovative music series. Their realization KL-93 was made live, in the heat of the moment, before an enthusiastic, informed audience. As these conditions are known for revealing the creative spark, we find both musicians and their listeners experiencing this extraordinary music together in the act of being made.Without laptops or pre-set software this duo endeavors out into a realm made up of hardware electronics and mental reverie. Minor key Mellotron chords slowly sweep across the sound field. Synthetic drones hold, dim, then lighten. In an ascending rush, then a descending calm, with our imaginative sonic aviators we depart our more common thoughts… for mysterious regions. Bass laden drones soon swallow a melodious Mellotron flute solo, which lilts blessedly above a maelstrom of writhing timbres. Wrapped in a luminous halo of reverberation a string section rises from the rumbling tempest, before the introduction of Hunter’s signature breathless tone patterns – which mount, repeat, and seem to echo out across eternity. A demon behind the sequencer he forgoes the white heat of computer technology – for realizations of mechanical, electrical and analog origin. Utilizing several cases worth of sacramental modular synthesizers, in a secret ministry of sound he performs a most welcome digital detox on the audience.

In propulsive bristling fervor, tumbling sequencer patterns motor on in echoing perfection. The notes brighten, darken, modulate, add and subtract, in a futuristic syncopated minimalism Spacemusic fans have been fascinated with for decades. In a withheld energy these echoing interlocking runs of notes produce a mounting compositional tension, released in our minds as impressionistic cerebration. Every new ascent presents the classic sound of one or another vintage synthesizer, and a shivery reverence that defies explanation. With each turn, these Spacemusic mystics manage to conjure a stimulating atmosphere of mystery, adventure and motion. From its plutonium dense gray desolation and battles with extreme silence, to twinkling modulations and multiple rows of rolling sequencer patterns, we move – west with the night. Arranged under an atmosphere of netherworld sonics, the composition KL-93 throbs powerfully and bounds outward along an electrified musical current.

This work, and that of contemporaries such as Arc, Cosmic Ground, Free System Projekt, Node and Redshift, draws on higher-order capacities. Theirs is a minimalism that speaks volumes. By carefully exploiting the intrinsic technological limits of 1970s Electronic Music Mike Hunter & Chuck van Zyl enlarge the medium’s expressive range and prove this genre is an organism that continues to grow and change with each new manifestation. Today’s artists hope to elevate the Spacemusic experience to one of mystical proportions – as they continue to push this sound as far as it can go.

STAR’S END20 October 2017

Proceeds from the sale of The Gatherings 20 May 2017 by Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl go to support the efforts of CIMA of PA, the IRS recognized, non-profit, all-volunteer organization which oversees The Gatherings Concert Series in Philadelphia

Arc: Fleet

Fleet

Fleet

Arc: Fleet
Released: 20 October 2017
www.din.org.uk

Arc, the UK duo of Ian Boddy & Mark Shreeve, returned to the stage in force at the 13 May 2017 E-Scape EM Festival. Their resulting album is Fleet (74’31”), and includes seven select pieces from their performance. Only in part a vehicle for release and liberation, their live shows always reach towards the unseen depths within all of us. A compelling team on the stage or in the studio, we find that after so many years together their creative flame is still burning brightly. From start to finish, Boddy & Shreeve know where we are headed. Recruiting technology they feel could best carry their intents, it is a devotion to form, structure and rigorous compositional development that yields these tightly arranged and perfectly paced live works. So enormous are its gifts that this music nearly remakes the space around us. Bursting with moody sensuality Fleet takes each member of its audience on their own personal journey. This electrical, mechanical music obviously has something warm and human stirring far down in it. With its deep space gateways and brilliant, skull crushing sequencer breakdowns, from the heights of its combustible, cut loose, superb heedlessness, on down to its quietly ominous consuming dark fields, Fleet invites wonder. While some pieces were designed to be nothing more than a fun good time, this album’s best works should unsettle the world into which it intercedes. In ever strengthening whirlpools of thought, Boddy & Shreeve deploy rows of echoing tone patterns and banks of synthesized harmonies. Unblinking, completely in control, their formidable powers of sound design can leave listeners feeling profound and impervious to lasting harm. Heroic keyboard leads and Mellotron chords peak over a pumping, commanding bassline and rocked-out drumming – only later to be drawn down into shifting shadows of sustaining synth textures and a quiet sense of mystery. Fleet provides an epic intimacy in the digital age. In a time where just going to a concert becomes a symbolic act, we love to look back at the decade of the 1970s – as it was bursting so with musical abandon. But our so-called Electronic Spacemusic still keeps taking musicians (and us) to new and fascinating places. So many currents have contributed to its arrival, that one modernistic label should not be allowed to overshadow all else – even as it dares to satisfy us in a way music of an earlier age used to.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END26 October 2017

K Markov: Soul Keeper

Soul Keeper

Soul Keeper

K Markov: Soul Keeper
Released: 13 June 2017
kmarkov.bandcamp.com

The music of K Markov continues to take the listener to new places. His release Soul Keeper (61’29”) seizes our ears and our imaginations. The virtues of lucidity, concision and unity exemplify the refreshing clarity of Markov’s imaginative thinking. At times graceful and consonant, at times angular and dissonant, Soul Keeper has a broad atmospheric range. As we are drawn into a musical experience of larger proportions we find that the impulse for this work is overtly electronic. Throwing off sparks in a superb heedlessness and wild ferocity an intricate geometry of sequencer patterns run like a secret engine. Cast in three pieces the rhythmic buoyancy and variation of Soul Keeper reflects the innate quality of Markov’s creative gift. Patterns of minimalist complexion cycle and vary notes, length and key, in the still driving force of this music’s mesmerizing pulse. Its abstract structures are more overtly coloristic and varied in their expressive range, while textures are diversified to fascinating degrees. In a slow burn of quiet energy a dark sonic mass rustles sleeping shadows, as this album generates heat against a cool cosmic background. Coherent synth lead lines thread through multiple intersections – where ideas, memories and emotions connect and reconnect in myriad combinations. Spookily vacant passages recede within heroic synthesizer themes. Under these building chords we find that a heart still beats. Ultimately, the greater feeling of weight and power on Soul Keeper resolves into a suitable concluding section – an ending hopeful yet credible. So many currents have contributed to this music. While technology and contemporary life hold their high positions, we find Markov himself as the immovable center. He is a planet builder. His music generates worlds where we cannot feel the decay of ours.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 October 2017

Secondface: Transitions

Transitions

Transitions

Secondface: Transitions
Released: 10 June 2017
gterma.blogspot.com

Secondface, the music project by Frank V Jensen, portrays the excitement of being part of one’s own time. The release Transitions (74’30”) comes straight from the center of his nervous system. Across 12 solitary journeys for the mind, the person is the target of this work. So many details compete for our attention. In sluggish, swaggering grooves, and the swirling dramatic movement and brilliant color of horespowered beats, this music purrs, then revs – as the RPMs and BPMs whirl under an electric spirit. Noting its twists and turns as it progresses forward and at times changes course, Transitions deploys like a continuous undulating bolt of electricity. While one piece has the listener engaging with gigantic forces, another will leave us haunted and adrift. Accompanied by pulsing patterns, the low-end throbs under shimmering synthesized chords. When the tempo changes, varying energy levels stimulate thought and movement. But when the big beats drop in it seems like the celestial and terrestrial worlds are colliding. Breathy sustaining tones expand and brighten, while rhythms enter, build, drop out, and return – yet ever the more certain. As irresistible as these features are in a thoughtless dancehall, to the thinkers among us they reveal both the sensual reality and psychological intensity to be experienced on this sonic journey. It is thought that there is a normal everyday level, and then there is a quantum level where everything works differently. Listening to a beautiful piece of music is like falling under a spell – like entering a realm where magic may happen. This kind of music started out as modern but is now thought of as contemporary. Upon listening to Transitions we find that Jensen is awake to the outside world, and that his music consorts with it in a way that adds something to our concept of it.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END20 October 2017

Jeff Pearce: From the Darker Seasons

From the Darker Seasons

From the Darker Seasons

Jeff Pearce: From the Darker Seasons
Released: 22 September 2017
www.jeffpearcemusic.com

Emotions rise and fall, they come and go. It is only desire that is constant – and which is the substance of all great music. The work of Jeff Pearce feels the tug of this gravity. His album From the Darker Seasons (54’19”) forges yet another wonderful wordless connection with his audience. If it suffers from anything, it is that, in delivering its message, the music is almost too gorgeous for its own good. The eight pieces that make up From the Darker Seasons present Pearce the electric guitarist playing chords deliberately paced and picked and echoing out across great distances – caught forever in the hold of his compositional design. As trails of digital reverb hang in the air, atmospheric eddies at once diffuse, smooth and enrich the glowing textures around the defined notes. While these warm, heart-felt songs foretell the coming of shorter days, this album’s deep ambient zones provide their own frost wrought peace. Against a rush of darkness Pearce’s long tones address the bright starred face of lengthening nights. The expansion of excited steel strings through electronic processing produces a harmonically sustained movement – where the setting for such contemplative chords will seem numinous to our teeming, gleaning minds. Sounds emerge, then slide and glide toward and past one another in quiet transformation. Within these pieces, awareness is incremental. Drawing affirmation out of the renewing power of music, From the Darker Seasons readily throws off light. In a work of music there must be something more than what is refereed to as force. There must be distinction, and a rarity of feeling. Jeff Pearce is playing for this fragile cause.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 5 October 2017