Spacemusic Reviews

Brendan Pollard: Prologue

Brendan Pollard 2020Brendan Pollard: Prologue
Released: 5 June 2020

It takes a musician of rare talent to make a 45 year old tradition sound urgent in this day and age. Yet, releases by UK synthesist Brendan Pollard are telling a story only time could fully reveal. His album Prologue (65’49”) is indebted to the core five LPs cited as establishing the 1970s Berlin-School: Phaedra (1974), Rubycon (1975), Ricochet (1975), Stratosfear (1976) and Encore (1977). Clear and direct, it is a beautiful meditation on the dawn of a bygone era – and adds to electronic fables still being told today.

From his monastery of modular synths Pollard realizes three substantial tracks on this his first studio album in 13 years. As expected, each piece generates a unique atmosphere through which the listener travels. But while advances in music technology have miraculously re-established the sound palette of this decade, it is this artist’s continued investigation into the mechanics of the mind and the depth of the spirit that enlivens the sound seekers among us.

Solo synthesizer notes circulate in runs of melody atop the mechanical thrall of pulsing, echoing tone patterns. As the sequencer drives outward, flights of strings lightly interact with the underlying motor of sound. Sometimes soft, always assuring, Prologue is suffused with a stark tenderness. The darker passages are deep, yet gentle, and use controlled dissonance to open up negative space. Drifting between moods the rush, hover and fade of Pollard’s ever-present Mellotron M400 tones and chords moves our thoughts, as does the powerful experience of being in close proximity to an instrument weighted by so much history. In a grand edifice of texture Pollard elevates familiar themes. Cosmic yearning… A curvature of space… The Universe and its warp toward disintegration… Anyone inspired by the era of Kosmische Musik will want to have this release.

Listening to Prologue [along with the four other 2020 releases: Isolated Passages (77:21), Diffuser (44:37), Live and More (63:28), Isolated Passages Two (63:53)] it becomes apparent that a person made this music, not a computer or software, nor a digital device. While the hands-on confidence of this output may be intimidating to mid-level musicians, its expeditionary feel, lack of irony, and the overwhelming presence of optimism and hope will surely move those open to such promises.

The five Tangerine Dream classics cited previously provide a standard Pollard (and his contemporaries) will never meet with his own work… His true success lies in moving the field on to the next moment, and monument. Expressing his truth, Pollard is playing music directly to the people for whom it is meant – the few of us still maintaining a faith in tomorrow.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 November 2020

Arjen Schat: Cosmic Reef

Arjen Schat

Arjen Schat: Cosmic Reef
Released: 1 November 2020

Relief will come to those feeling lost and alone amid the air-lanes and space-ways by listening to Cosmic Reef (102:35). With its enveloping mood of confidence and certainty the grandly imaginative and sprawling sonic artistry of Dutch synthesist Arjen Schat feels like it is opening new strands of possibility. As interesting and enjoyable as anything Schat has previously realized, its lush and verdant chords billow out in a drift of cloud-motion – their minor-key tonality setting the atmosphere through which we are meant to travel. Simultaneously detailed and expansive, like maps of neural networks, or constellations of distant stars, lines of echoing notes interweave and tighten in advancing onward motion. From tenebrous beginnings, each track unfolds in the gradually blooming reiteration of the pulse quickening, momentum building hallowed sequencer rite Schat has perfected. Propulsive and captivating, the virtuosity and deliberate pace of his secret synthesizer ceremonies are impressive. Listeners cannot help but be dazzled by the complexity of the patterns, the way the layers interact with one another, and how each track holds fast – coursing fresh, new angles in cascading complexity. The effect is transfixing. Cosmic Reef as a whole is as innovative, ardent and masterly as any of Schat’s earlier releases, or (for that matter) those of his contemporaries. A model of the form, and a deep exploration of it, this work possesses the force and insight of Schat at his best. Never less than fascinating, albums by Arjen Schat operate between and beyond the hallowed halls of the Berlin-School – as we find in his music the spirit of this 1970s aesthetic alive with the inflamed spirit of 2020. The future will be got to through the mind and the body – through thinking, feeling and doing. As fans of Spacemusic will listen to and keep pace with Cosmic Reef in a way their more mainstream counterparts will not, those few will find it rising above the darker currents of our world – and may feel heartened, by the best possible accompaniment on our journey into the brighter era yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 November 2020

Kevin Kendle: Laniakea

LaniakeaKevin Kendle

Kevin Kendle: Laniakea
Released: 20 October 2020

On Laniakea (60:34) the fuel propelling us to the furthest reaches is the glorious music of Kevin Kendle. This album probes space and scale, rendering the cosmos in sound. Composing beautifully and precisely his seven wondrous tracks together provide an exhilarating cosmic scene. Each realization soars through an interstellar dreamworld of heady textures and soothing ambiance. In a contemplative cool Kendle and long-time collaborators Brian Abbott (electric guitar) and Nigel Shaw (synthesizers and flutes) imagine different skies, different stars and different systems. Building on the glowing energy of the five previous releases in the Deep Skies series Laniakea rises to past peaks. For anyone who has stayed with this ongoing endeavor this far it is well worth following the music again on another voyage into the heavens. Projecting outward to a galaxy supercluster far far away the listener is invited along on a journey of wonder. Sustaining strings extend their lengthy lines along the sweeping arc of starlight and tone. Shimmering notes combine in a sweeping resonant unity as breathing synthesizers reinforce the air of discovery. While strong bass tones roll beneath slow motion chords, resonant harmonies rise from vaporous spheres of sound. In a glimmer of synth magic Kendle finds himself again in his sweet spot. How silvery and swiftly this album proceeds – and yet how exquisitely it stills and lulls. Laniakea deals more with the inspirational grandeur of the heavens than it does with their challenging mysteries and unknowns – and reveals how music about The Universe can take us on a journey through our own inner infinities. This frontier will never cease to intrigue, so long as we occasionally take a break from the ever-present hum of everyday life to become present with ourselves – to better receive transmissions from the most remote reaches of our minds.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 November 2020

Alien Planetscapes: An Act of Reason

Doug WalkerAn Act of Reason

Alien Planetscapes: An Act of Reason
Released: 24 March 2020 (re-issue of 1988 cassette)

In these strange landlocked times, it feels good to again experience the wide-ranging efforts of Alien Planetscapes. Headed by multi-instrumentalist Doug Walker, this project expanded and contracted personnel to accommodate whatever sonic vision its founder was seeking. His perfect imaginative indulgences circulated widely through the lost world of the cassette underground – to be rediscovered in the light of the present today. One such release (from 1988) is An Act of Reason (55:44), and now finds its re-issue through Penga/Alternate Media Tapes. Although Walker passed away in 2006 his Alien Planetscapes is part of a story that has been unspooling since synthesizers first began to proliferate among creative types in the 1980s – in which Walker, the then Spacemusic knave, ultimately is recognized as a Free Music knight. Joined on An Act of Reason by Carl Howard, the duo act on creative impulses, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant, that come together in a music of its time – even as it evokes an era yet to come. In the thrill of an unfamiliar ritual this pair’s animated interplay commands attention throughout the nearly one hour running time. Glancing and indirect, then suddenly illuminating, their soundscape reflects a psychological apprehension – as the listener, groping through a dark maze, may at any time round a corner into revelation.
The athletic experimentation results in the creation of an ever-evolving sound print. Unexpectedly moving, this recording shifts easily from serenity to improvisational fervor. Muscular and dusky, then tenebrous and searching, the resulting spontaneous composition masterfully converts notes and tones, textures and timbres, into rare cerebral states. As expressions growl and shriek, listeners and players alike feel a cleansing of negative emotions. In a gradual outward motion the arrangement of organ, synthesizers, sequencers, flute, glissando guitar and effects moves from a quiet ferocity of sudden new reckonings to more minimalist murmurings of mystery and awe. Listening to An Act of Reason we can hear Doug Walker being more than an electronic musician. An innovator, he approached music as an exploration, an improvisation, a means by which to put his inner dimensions out into the world. His jams were exciting, as he brought listeners into his remarkable realm… a place where anything could happen. But not everyone will take the time to appreciate this work. It requires some effort to become aware of how well Alien Planetscapes created atmosphere and mood. With its intertwined forms and shades of timbre, and improbable approximations of light and dark, Walker & Howard produce an effect that becomes gradually more unsettling the longer we listen. Nevertheless, An Act of Reason more than repays the effort, as its honesty, intensity and urgency remain undiminished by the passing years. This tape truly put the “mental” in experimental. As long as this vital recording exists, so will its message of free-spirited creation.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 29 October 2020

Softbase: Of Its Time

Softbase: Of Its Time
Released: 9 October 2020

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must make music. Best known as a member of the trio AirSculpture, Peter Ruczynski explores the propensity of the individual with Softbase, a solo project allowing him to realize works completely of his own vision. The album Of Its Time (44:11) presents seven manifestations of a continually blooming mind. A skillful Electronic Musician Ruczynski knows well how to generate unique tones and textures, but also how to keep his electronic stories moving. Ranging in feel from a low gentle expansion on up to kinetic head nodding this release attains a friendly, pleasant consonance throughout. The player’s practiced sense of composition conveys his interiority, just as his prowess with purring oscillators and resonating filters allows him to expose and flavor the sonic space we occupy. His compositions register as propositions of certain principles – chiefly, openness and clarity. The gentile atmosphere, nuanced inflections and tonal clarity will be found enchanting – and enhancing to the mystical landscapes of the mind. Of Its Time also achieves a more mechanical feel. As concentric bands of sequencer patterns emerge and establish themselves the electronic pulsing and echoing form a kinetic glow of metrical forms – which push through different levels and phases in a most imaginative way. Further on, Ruczynski demonstrates the deeper continuities of abstraction – and the energies released in reductive forms. With the delicacy of a miniaturist he administers fitting samples here and there, and adds to the album’s sonic diversity. Yet, with its recurring synthesized string motion, harmony and contrast interplay to great effect – as does the stability of consonance along a progressive musical arc. Music means many things to many people, and grants us experiences we otherwise may not have. But the warmth of this music feels like a fragile happiness that has been sought out. Realized through a system of intuition this production is an expression of the self, meant for anyone who may be looking for a star in the night, or maybe something here on the Earth, something completely Of Its Time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 October 2020

Mathieu Karsenti: Dimension Blue & Bygones

Downstream BlueBygonesMathiue Karsenti

Mathieu Karsenti: Downstream Blue & Bygones
Released: 5 June 2020 & 2 October 2020

Although a composer for film, Mathieu Karsenti is on the same wavelength as the best of our Ambient Musicians. With Downstream Blue (21’54”) and Bygones (41’14”) he resists the urge to compose music which shows off how fast a player can play, or how quickly an ensemble can turn, but rather dares his musicians to perform his scores at a more measured pace and with the utmost care. This pair of releases features work made with a range of instruments: piano, acoustic guitar, bowed strings, as well as electric and synthetic textures – to make a different kind of soundtrack, one for a future that may never arrive. In his enchanted, compact symphonic take on Ambient Music Karsenti composes tone poems slowed to a crawl. Re-imagining the monumental structures of orchestral music, he relaxes them, removes the front, center and background, and replaces the virtuoso focal point with a more spacious arrangement – a thoughtful texture and atmosphere which listeners may step into rather than watch playing out from the sidelines. Where restless ever-shifting tones emit a frosty, string-led cold wave, further in an electric piano provides an inventive magical lilt. Chords play and progress toward a resolution, but some seem to get lost – dissolving into a soft aura of digital reverberation. It is the array of expressive sonic shades and hues that produces the looming ambiance of Downstream Blue and Bygones – which make their expressions through variations in the density, surface and radiance of timbre. Away from the familiar climax and release of the common repertoire somber thematic workings move with a beautiful dreamy deliberation. While some of these (12 in total) compositions feel anguished and stormy, others are sonorous and subdued, merging with chilled waves and rounded pulses in a philosophical deconstruction of Classical Music. The resulting fragile soundscapes will lull many to sleep, but awaken a fine few others to all that is good in the world. The duplet of Downstream Blue and Bygones impart the sustaining atmosphere of Ambient Chamber Music, but with a sense of intimacy and immediacy better known from poets of the Spoken arts. This kind of music sounds and thinks the way we do. It is a language we can use to better understand ourselves – while dispelled in its pleasant diversion. It is true that these two releases offer passages of aural beauty and heartening ascent – which will indeed be pleasing to the ear and restorative to the soul – but both also offer a significant challenge to the listener… to hear and know this music deeply, to have your own thoughts and know your own meanings, and respond in the way that you move through the world.

15 October 2020 – Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END

K Markov: Dimension Warp

K Markov: Dimension Warp
Released: 1 October 2020

Dimension Warp
Dimension Warp

With Dimension Warp (63’56”) K Markov again shares his journey through space. Showing us what it is like out there on the astral plane he reminds us of the origins of the Berlin-School while helping to write its next chapter. The three rich and studied electronic compositions strike at the core of human existence, and aspire to bring out feelings of vastness, possibility and potential in its listeners – in a way that no other art can. Swirling in a circulation of synthetic sound the arc of each track extends secretly through absorbing fields of sculpted textures and glowing atmospheres. With its stretches of building harmonies and measured melodies, the energy level lifts, drifts and slips in a freedom known only to those experienced at traveling in place. The experience deepens as languid sequencer patterns emerge, establish, echo and energize, then resolve and recede into a quiet sense of mystery. These entrancing cyclical motifs and subtle synth solos unwind in your mind. Surging and cresting, then shifting and drifting, every starry resolution points to the bright future this work promises. The power, potential and precision of Markov’s sonic fortitude conjures some cosmic terrain, as his assuredness of tone and theme seems to lift our faces to the heavens. Through the sheer manipulation of sound practitioners in this style realize expressions of a substance different from that of any other form of music. The best of these works reach a place within us where spoken words do not. Dimension Warp is a fine example of combining the forward-thinking ambitions of sonic innovation and emotional complexity. Every minute is well spent.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 October 2020

Various Artists: Head in the Clouds

Head in the CloudsVarious Artists: Head in the Clouds
Released: 28 September 2020

Head in the Clouds presents 24 tracks realized by artists under the influence of the Berlin-School of Kosmische Musik. Available as a limited edition double LP + double CD set this anthology will certainly be stimulating to collectors as well as to aficionados of thought-provoking, mind-moving Spacemusic. Loaded with MiniMoogs, Mellotrons and Modulars this release pays tribute to the innovators of the style, and bears witness to the decades of musical wonder they have begotten. Referencing early incarnations of groups such as Can, Jane, Popol Vuh, Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel, Neu! Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and others the energy of this extensive collection roams from the upbeat of Prog-Rock rhythms to downtempo currents of shivering chills.

An assuredness of tone reflects the theme of each work by Anton Barbeau, Sula Bassana (David Schmidt), Black Tempest (Stephen Bradbury), Blue Lily Commission (Stephen Palmer), Jack Ellister, exedra (Darrall Knight), Helicon Wave (Jochen Oberlack), Jah Buddha (Bob Hedger), The Lost Stoned Pandas (Marc Swordfish & Peter Bingham), Maat Lander (Arkady Fedotov & Ilya Lipkin & Ivan Fedotov), MAC of BIOnighT (Jason Krueger), Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen, Brendan Pollard, Saturn’s Ambush, Son of Ohm (L.A. Wijma), Jay Tausig, Trace Imprint (Jon Chinn), Under Golden Canopy (Geoff Puplett & Simon Lewis) and Vibravoid (Christian Koch). From the diffuse formlessness of negative space to densely packed layers of harmony, on to melodies unfurling above mounting sequencer motifs their work encourages the imagination. Happily detained in awe the music washes over us – as we simply revel in its many shades of sound.

The 1970s decade of music is now a world apart from the present day. The identity of this era was believed to have resided in the consciousness of the makers and consumers of this music- a voluntary association of many people, organized under an idea. Head in the Clouds offers all that Spacemusic is known for, and then some. At the heart of every contribution contains the simple desire to follow the course of thought, to transfer a unique atmosphere, mood or story between the the mind of the musician and listener. Full of intellectual power and aesthetic beauty they thrive on the idea of The Universe as a place of possibility and wonder… A realm where the intimate is melded with the epic, in primitive machine beauty.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 October 2020

Simon Lomax: An Ember Glows/We Echo Endlessly

An Ember Glows/We Echo EndlessleySimon Lomax: An Ember Glows/We Echo Endlessly
Released: 27 July 2020

The internal temperature of Simon Lomax may measure a few degrees lower than that of the average person. Plotted, realized and delivered over the course of two late-night on-air sessions for STAR’S END his An Ember Glows/We Echo Endlessly is a real chiller for the mechanics of the mind. Halfway to a dream, these cool transmissions wandered the radio frequencies until reaching interested ears. Playing only to the night this double CD documents an exploration of textures, moods and memories. Sent touring through the airwaves the music is invariably subtle. Its sense of restless and ever-changing moods (rather than a single line of progression) projects isolated states. The two common features of both sets on An Ember Glows/We Echo Endlessly are openness and clarity. As there are no conventional narrative patterns or cues it may be hard for the listener to establish a direction. But this is exactly what Lomax is striving for – there-ness that then becomes here-ness, as a scenic background might emerge to the foreground of center-stage. Utilizing the Ambient Music aesthetic, these two concert broadcasts contrast one another in subtle ways. An Ember Glows (60’00”) from 11.22.15 was built around us in muted opulence, never overwhelming the essential fragility of the atmosphere. In a slow-motion shimmer of synthetic sounds Lomax elicited eerily beautiful sonorities from his electric guitar and software. On We Echo Endlessly (59’58”) 11.03.19 he produces recurring phrases like drowsy thought loops. Engaging a nocturnal tone, projecting sophistication, this effort offers a sound space full of ambiguities. Suggesting and sustaining a few sonic shades it stays inside the moment, leaving us in our own solitude. In radioing his efforts to listeners Lomax may be searching for an alternative form of consciousness, one closer to the sleep state than to full-on wakefulness. If you need your “now” to be something else, then spin one (or both) of these works. The expanse of this music will go as deep as the listener it is being poured into.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END24 September 2020

Various Artists: Form and Function

Form and FunctionVarious Artists: Form and Function
Released: 18 September 2020

Reinforcements arrive with the release of Form and Function (62’39”), the fourth in the DiN Records Tone Science anthology series. Documenting a continuing revolution this run of releases features an equipment list as diverse as the motivations, desires and pedigrees of its contributors. The one thing they do all have in common are imaginations unrestricted by mainstream dictums. This group is dedicated to producing expressions using sounds that have no relation to any acoustic instrument. These are realizations that register as aural propositions. They are not about anything, and afford no traction for analysis as they make us conscious of the sound space that their work is filling. Falling under their enchantment listeners may withdraw into a fanciful inner life. The nine tracks by nine different artists are fitted together with irresistible perfection. Not for the sake of innovation alone, each exhibit on Form and Function possesses its own unique musical intent. Its themes of initiation and enlightenment should be heard rising from each electrical fantasia. Loosely organized into three sections this compilation initially invites us into a spritely colorful dream world. In a passionate rather than procedural air the tracks by Batchas, Lightbath and Panic Girl ripple like synapses along neural pathways. As our hearts lurch and lift in response their graceful precision undergoes expressive permutations. By turns meditative and mobile, the atmosphere soon softens to a tender incandescence. Through the middle phase Andrew Huang and Stefan Bojczuk play in a theatre of twilight. Enigmatically musing these two compositions present both the fundamentals as well as the higher math of sound generation. Ghostly melodies coalesce out of turbulent drones, as fragile openings transform into more rarified textures. A darksome montage displaces the bright sound of stainless steel synths in quiet, unadorned insularity. The pieces by Ebcidic, Steve Davis and Mattia Cupelli displace sonic contemplation with confrontation. Exquisite and harrowing their fugitive timbres balance a discordant tonal range. A thrusting beat pushes forward. The creative mangling of sound writhes in sonorous note clusters. The clarities of mass penetrate, but soon draw back. The concluding piece by Tim Held wrings poignancy from the perilous soundscape, bringing an Earthly calm, which hangs in the distance until it vanishes completely. This style of music occupies a distinct realm of art not subordinate to any other. Expressing some intellectual dimension of its composers the Tone Science series will continue its vivid collections. It is where we will always find Electronic Music living up to its promise – as this community continually proves to be an inexhaustible store of wonder.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 September 2019