Spacemusic Reviews

Erik Wollo: Winter Tide

Winter TideErik Wollo

Erik Wollo: Winter Tide/Live at Soundquest Fest 2021
Released: 20 July 2021

How many ways are there to be human? By seeking transcendence in the crucible of the concert Erik Wollo validates his existence in the showcase of live performance. With Winter Tide (60:14) he adds another enduring work to his discography – this one realized for SoundQuest Fest 2021. Released during a summer when thinking feels like a big ask, this eight part suite unfolds in slow, cooling sighs of sparkling synthetic sounds. As soaring guitar-driven anthems head for the sky, this album’s confident melodies hold fast to the heart. Sending his instrument through a labyrinth of digital processing Wollo’s playing yields a rich and varied palette of textures and tones. Alongside silvery lead lines he deploys chords of steel strings – which ride atop rising rhythms of electronic precision. The overflow of magical musical moments impacts us at a level deeper than that of words. Arresting, absorbing and rewarding, Winter Tide freezes time by inundating the mind with thought. Searching and contemplative, then striding into the deep, it achieves a satisfying, constant level of high thinking. The bright spots are incandescent, and we are moved by the concord of sweet sounds – only to sink into icy waters, where the turbulence really attracts the ears. The recital setting allowed room for risk. In this familiar space Wollo discovers a potent sense of drama – heard in the unique energy exuded throughout each track. Subtle in all the right ways Winter Tide was made for a particular kind of listener – determined to collect unique feelings and enjoy each span of sonic goodness while it lasts. Finding our way into this music is a familiar adventure – one where we learn the secrets that we knew all along.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 July 2021

Huron: Burning the Past to Light Our Future

Burning the Past to Light Our FutureJohnny Lancia

Huron: Burning the Past to Light Our Future
Released: 20 June 2020

Most EM is described by its magnitude. So much work in this field is known only for its volume, density, speed, energy, mass and duration. Music by Huron (Johnny Lancia) admirably distinguishes itself. By also possessing direction, in addition to these more basic attributes, the inner voyage of his Burning the Past to Light Our Future (28:56) is as stimulating as the outer one attended by listeners. The plot of this release works as well as its purpose. Lancia’s modular synthesizer, a paradise of hidden synergies, conspires with the composer to suggest a kind of beautiful, untouchable realm. Its electrical currents, spilling out into the air of our three dimensions, charge the four tracks in a dreamy, reflective glow. In a refinement of this instrument’s raw material notes resound over the enigmatic rumbling of ever-churning electro structures. This spell of harmonic turbulence winds down into a shimmering flow of arpeggiated melodies – the notes seeming to dance just a few feet above our heads. Keenly calibrated shifts in surface drift by in breaths of sonic mist, then fade away into smoldering circuitry. Burning the Past to Light Our Future exudes zest and heart under unwavering machine precision. Such invention gives hope, as new kinds of beauty are bound to emerge from this process. As thoughts turn midway into sound, Lancia’s artistic labor deals with the materiality of sound, within a living moment of music. A radiant magnificence exists both within us and around us, but is so difficult to encounter, and even harder to sustain. These lofty goals move him to search for something still unknown – while waiting for the echo of a better day.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END15 July 2021

Howard Givens/Madhavi Devi/Craig Padilla: Precipice of a Dream

Precipice of a DreamGallagher Padilla Givens

Howard Givens / Madhavi Devi / Craig Padilla: Precipice of a Dream
Released: 2 April 2021

On Precipice of a Dream (45:12) sound seekers Howard Givens, Madhavi Devi and Craig Padilla traverse great distances of thought. Presenting the complete recording of their live set for SoundQuest Fest 2021 this release is an intriguing mix of harmonious designs and anomalous forms. Within the framework of seven sonic interludes this trio thinks as one, with the goal of building and exploring a range of sonic zones, then drifting into ever deeper hideaways. Their arrangements bring out feelings of vastness, possibility and potential in their listeners. Calming in an unexpected, otherworldly way Precipice of a Dream may indeed reveal inner realities. But its most obvious success is in the completeness in which its warming electrical current surrounds the listener – cycling steadily to the beat of the human heart. As electronic and technological as this music may seem, there is real humanity at its core. We can hear the musicians thinking through this album as patches of shadow and light ebb and flow about the sound space, and recurring notes tumble through the air in echoing precision. Doom drones provide an impression of infinite distance, while further in overlapping planes in parallel recession produce effects of power, freedom and open-ness. When tranquil sequencer notes trip from the gathering shadows, a rising and recurring energy ascends in echoing trails of tones – eventually to submerge in trembling turbid textures of sound. Freeing themselves in the cool clean waters of a live concert, raising a structure out of silence, in a style that is personal to each, yet creates something greater than each on their own, this outfit approaches the bold possibilities of Spacemusic. Their Precipice of a Dream exhibits the vitality of working together – in a soft cosmos of collaboration.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 July 2021

Three Point Circle: Proximity Effects

Proximity Effects

Three Point Circle: Proximity Effects
Released: 28 May 2021

It has taken a good long while for K Leimer, Marc Barreca and Steve Peters to reunite. Nearly 40 years after their last performance (and the 2020 release of those sessions on Layered Contingencies) Three Point Circle has set out again, this time with Proximity Effects (74’15”). Capturing a rawness and directness distinct from their solo efforts, the trio reconvenes under a familiar framework of extended improvisations. Unfurling in shimmering slow motion, their journey never ceases to entrance. The five tracks, each of their own particular power and mood, conjure a sensual stillness. The resulting album comes across as a statement of purpose. Proximity Effects reads well from a distance, but the closer we listen the more layers of meaning are revealed. Embracing sonic diversity in shapely harmonies and crafty ambience, a textural analysis finds ornamentation and richness gradually accumulating. Amidst numbed melodies that seem to struggle for air the narrative sometimes idles, but the transfixing mood remains fully intact. As silvery fluttering sounds resound above a mumbled flow of drones, notes surge forth from the subconscious depths. Cohering in the imagination, rather than the ear of the listener, maybe it is the psyche itself that is the subject of these billowing, slow-building realizations. Leimer, Barreca and Peters are telling stories with sound. Communicating in a language without words it is the arrangement of tones of different weight, gravity and value, and their placement according to function and meaning which has produced such an expansive and elegantly crafted work. Less reliant on motion than on atmosphere we find this Ambient triplex still functioning in an uncharted higher dimension – providing us with a soft place in a hard world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 July 2021

Margot Blue: (re)currents

(re)currentsMargot Parker Elder

Margot Blue: (re)currents
Released: 4 June 2021

There is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness in its proportion. Responding vividly to a moment of hope, Margot Blue (a.k.a. Margot Parker-Elder) has produced (re)currents (31:39) – and captured well the wired euphoric feeling of electronic countenance. Alive with possibility, complexity and depth this album comes through the speakers sharp and bright. By turns stark and strange to the ear, then spacious and sombre, (re)currents presents seven unpredictable flowing designs. Cycling beneath an immaculate musical surface the music skillfully changes shape and character, yielding a work of brilliant variety. In a lucid interplay of timbres measured sighs of sonic luxuriance stir quietly. Cresting and subsiding waves of stately sonorities lead the listener into a state of sensuous transport, culminating calmly in the sense of having gone on an expansive cerebral jaunt. Plangent synth pads give way to delicate maneuvers of resolving recursive melodic lines. With dissonance controlled this tumbling momentum provides radiant dramatic action. As swirling aural activity rises above gorgeous cascading patterns, the feeling of unity becomes unconscious – and all the more potent. The texture thickens, as does the breadth and depth, and the music seems to become a room the listener may enter and roam through. With the hazy and gorgeous playing right up against keen crystalline constructions, (re)currents balances density and clarity. Within this liberated zone we may imagine our way into the experiences and feelings of the musician. Listening to this music makes travelers of us all, taking us away from home, but finding us shelter wherever we land. Yearning for a world that cannot exist, Electronic Musicians are taking a different approach through the 21st century. Their way realizes the sound of electricity singing its song – of clear and true freedom.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 24 June 2021

Erik Wollo: North Star

North StarErik Wollo 2021

Erik Wollo: North Star
Released: 18 June 2021

Fans of Erik Wollo find his music so engaging that the act of listening leaves them little time for anything else. Leading us through the psyche of the artist his albums portray places not know until we reach them. A marvel in its structure, execution and heart North Star (51:09) reminds us of the power of music, the rigor of musicianship, the joy of creativity, and the realization of potential. Where the output of his contemporaries may unnerve, Wollo reassures. Exciting to behold North Star‘s eight tracks each have the distinct sensation of encountering a miraculous mind. As we step from our familiar moment into an alternative realm of swimming sonics and cerebral energy, listeners are transported deep into a world that we are eager to grasp. Exploring the potential of sending his guitar through an endless array of digital processors Wollo designs a rich and varied aural palette. The playing builds slowly, then proceeds in a measured surge of plucked steel strings, breathing chords and sustaining E-bow notes – all surrounded by a luxuriant atmosphere of harmony and texture. Submitting to this dreamy quality we find that each note seems to carry its own message. A new pleasure born every moment, themes linger just long enough to stir the memory. In profound moments of contemplation unnamable tones mingle with undulating drones. Elsewhere, forward motion is attained in North Star’s pulsing synthetic percussion and snaking electric guitar leads. Ghostly assemblages of drifting electronics merge to form bright major chords or mysteriously minor ones. As the soundscape darkens, dulcet melodies glide gracefully above waiting fading forms – stilled in the long cold between stars. Some pieces are of a scale that asks listeners to become lost in their dimensions, yet further in an intimate ballad offers familiar moments of stillness and repose – akin to one of life’s small redemptive mercies. As stargazers study The Universe, musicians ponder the mind, and what to fill it with. Listening to this work beneath the dark arch of the night sky we may imagine escaping the limitations of the Earthly plane. Throughout North Star Erik Wollo’s nuanced gestures are fully readable, and the music is exactly what it wants to be. Looking toward the stars, Wollo’s music heads straight for the heart – so that we may awaken to what is inside.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 June 2021

loscil: Clara

ClaraScott Morgan

loscil: Clara
Released: 28 May 2021

It is well worth learning how to listen to albums by loscil. As Scott Morgan‘s releases drift, drone and roam toward the future, and other spaces, we should want to feel some of the remarkable confidence he exhibits while taking us into the un-chartable. His Clara (70:00) provides a soft place in a hard world. These ten tracks are all their own in mood and power, yet each cannot escape the reality within which it exists. Penetrating and genuinely energized Clara hovers in some new no-space. With its withdrawn mood and a drowsy density of ideas, the music offers just enough substance for us to recognize something of ourselves in it. Everything happens slowly – such power from such deliberation – and though the narrative sometimes idles, the mood always remains absorbing. The character of the sounds range from the rounded and consonant to the brittle and bleak. Mechanized patterns of notes emerge and shift in assured meter and contrasting chord action. In the succession of tones, rhythms and ideas we find ourselves traveling in place. Luxuriating in these ambiguous sonorities it is an easy slide further into thought. Between the disarmingly gentle and the animated and unconfined we sink under the whirling atmosphere. Doom drones offer both vulnerability and resolve, while further in the sonics soften and slow – evoking the realm of the subconscious. Solemnly, this work unfurls beneath heaving shadows, which draw our imagination into their depths. Irregardless of the area being mined, Clara all fits together to create a cerebral experience devoid of EM’s vapid image – encompassing darkly the luster of each creative spark.

– Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END 10 June 2021

Loren Nerell: The Gong Prophet

Loren Nerell: The Gong Prophet
Released: 26 February 2021

The Gong ProphetLoren Nerell

Each release by Loren Nerell is good for listeners, and even better for dreamers. Spanning a range of sonic terrain, from minimal and dark, to powerful and enlivening, his The Gong Prophet (63’24”) is a deep cerebral journey to a place, suggested by the composer, but ultimately defined by the individual. In its torrent of reverberating electronics this tech-tinged hybrid work seems of a primordial past, somehow beamed to the present day. The most identifiable sound sources throughout its eight tracks may be that which is struck, blown or plucked, but it is more from murky synth textures and wildlife field recordings that Nerell achieves his signature mindspace. Sounding through dense digital reverberation tones heave against an atmospheric weight, as synthetic sonorities combine with acoustic instruments in a specific gravity. In a blend of ceremony and technology timbre, pitch, and rhythm are arranged to form the perfect nocturnal nowhere. With the note cycles of gamelan and other percussion instruments originating from specific areas of the globe, this music moves beyond the boundaries of any Western construct of time. In places shaded and subdued, The Gong Prophet exudes nuanced notes of reverence and ceremony rarely known in contemporary innovative music. While synthesizers seem to rub up against cold bronze, up-close listening reveals the sound elements to be beautiful; worn, rough and resonant in ways that invite contemplative scrutiny. Shifts between shadow and light, and stasis and change, carry us along a steadily expanding compositional arc. Passages heated by the urgent force of seething patterns declare Nerell’s grip – and are readily built-out by guest musicians: Patrick Bagacina, Forrest Fang, Markus Reuter, Steve Roach, Mark Seelig, Nyoman Wenten and Erik Wollo. Subtle and inexorable, each piece spins and moves ahead in metal-keyed meter. Emerging from this potency, a tenebrous mood clouds our thoughts, and conjures a land we can only visit while listening to The Gong Prophet. Loren Nerell realizes work for the world that surrounds him, by means of the world that is within him. For the listener, swathed in its suggestive shadows, we dwell knowingly within ourselves.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 June 2021

Polypores: Shpongos

ShpongosStephen James Buckley

Polypores: Shpongos
Released: 26 April 2021

Where some Electronic Musicians hope to traverse the cosmic distances separating the stars, others wish only to investigate the space between the sparks of the mind. Offering realizations that acoustic instruments cannot render, and so a world of his own making, Stephen James Buckley asserts a freedom conventional musicians cannot imagine. Under the name Polypores he tells a personal truth, and the release Shpongos (42:11) carries the weight of his musical intent. Each of its eight tracks offer a fresh start, and go a very long way in just a few brief moments. Here, form follows force – as the vividly imagined moods remain quiet and supple, and remarkably cohesive for an album so wide-ranging. Some songs feel like a wall we are meant to walk through, while others offer lean and efficient textures that simply fill the room with light. When recurring motifs bring a unifying sense of order and constraint to this airy matter, countering shadowy tones brim with intention and invention. Bracing, but never overloading comprehension, within the fantasy and fidelity of Shpongos we may absolutely let down our guard. Aroused by the poetry resting in his music of machines, Buckley portrays what is possible from the standpoint of sound. Despite the modern electronic vocabulary, the chromatic and spatial ratios of the music and their clarity, depth and weightless tolling sonorities will surely wake listeners to the promises of the Spacemusic age. As other explorers gaze into the night sky and ask if we are alone, Polypores peers into the components of his modular synth and asks if there is any life in there. His Shpongos would have us be still and dwell within ourselves, which may lead to important questions about expression and existence – and meeting this music, out there somewhere, on the brink of the future.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END27 May 2021

Martin Sturtzer: Illumination Cycle

Illumination CycleMartin Sturtzer

Martin Sturtzer: Illumination Cycle
Released: 18 May 2021

Each generation of Electronic Musicians dream bigger than the one that came before – on the sparks of technology certainly, but also in accordance with this field’s demand that its actors constantly extend their reach further. Illumination Cycle (58:09) by Martin Sturtzer clearly meets this call. In tightly worked performances of sequencer command he portrays sonic realms somewhere outside of ours. Closely aligned with the forward-thinking promise of Spacemusic, Illumination Cycle is an album which peers hopefully into the vacant future – where somewhere shines our tomorrow. Moving with determined speed each track opens carefully, breathing clean, clear sounds into reverberant space. Lines of rhythm advance. Compositions build out. Tone patterns motor on steadily about their course. Within a latticework synthesizer whirl echoing notes dance up and down minor key scales – as the neatly raised patterns arrange themselves comfortably throughout the listening zone. With these wondrous broken chords retreating into our thoughts, the ebb and flow of stasis and change carry us along. Across eight electronic expressions Illumination Cycle moves outward by Sturtzer’s design. With the directness of a dream we feel as much as listen to his arrangements. Cloaked in a nocturnal mood his effortless electrical currents encompass the breadth of the listening mind. Our consciousness is the medium through which this music passes, dramatically unfolding, slowly revealing its energy and complexity – and transforming the listener in its living moment of music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END20 May 2021