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Spacemusic Reviews

Saul Stokes: Local Crowd

Local Crowd

Local Crowd

Saul Stokes: Local Crowd
Released: 16 December 2017
www.databloem.com
www.saulstokes.com

The work of Saul Stokes is always somewhat of an identity statement. His many substantial releases never fail to relate how he is feeling, in both heart and mind. Appealing to our intelligence instead of insulting it, their best moments have a delicate beauty that stays with you. Stokes’ whirring intellect again finds focus in the eight tracks of Local Crowd (62’45”). This wonderful album bridges and bounds the opposing energies of crude electricity and accomplished art, and aligns perfectly with the beat and pulse beneath and behind everything. The sensitive ear of the sincere listener will acknowledge the live, vibrant timbres present at every level of Local Crowd. Using the studio platform, Stokes is not arranging for the dance floor, but for the place in the mind where sensory detail becomes thought. Listening consciously to the sound we find that there are two moods, with drums and without. While the precious pastels of divided oscillators enrich the arrangements in several sonic specifics, they also dissipate the force of well-timed snare hits. Unexpected bass progressions, and other devices of drive, refine and soften the throb of rhythm. In a harnessing of the mind of the composer, the most imaginative and productive of arrangements are still to be used for the delicate, more tender moments found on Local Crowd. Blooming synth notes sustain just beneath the lead line in expressive tone colors and flights of imagination. Stokes’ high vibrant main synth voice becomes fairly sparked with melody – as a harmless counter voice enhances the general mood of enjoyment. If we think of this music as electrical, a thing made of electricity, then we find it to be always remaking itself, changing in every instant, yet never changing at all. The limit of effect is merely the limit of the musician’s imagination. Versatile, alluring and inventive, with a fine ear for every novel discharge of the great modulators, Saul Stokes makes music for our time – and for all time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 January 2018

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Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness
Released: 19 May 2017
www.lowercasenoises.com

Through his instruments, Andy Othling speaks as much to himself as he does to his listeners. Performing and recording as Lowercase Noises Othling’s music is shaped by the pressure of ideas and emotions. The Swiss Illness (42’03”) offers eight profound and personal wonderings. Each rich with detail, these tracks reward close and repeated listening. While this album’s dramatic power is inseparable from its hushed, sensuous spender, the quieter this work becomes the deeper we may to go into it. Using electric and acoustic guitars, as well as pianos (well-tuned and otherwise), basic tones are fed through layers of echo and reverberation effects – emerging on the other side completely transformed, or at least slightly sweetened. From small moments of grace to grand sonic flowering The Swiss Illness alternately calms the interior monologue and charges the imagination. The unifying power of simply arranged chords enhances the sections of cerebral complexity. Slowly strummed steel strings are sent vibrating through processors, which yields varying new colors of sound. Othling’s arrangements project a rare combination of divinity and discipline, instinct and intelligence. His work benefits from a mode of attentiveness closer to that of browsing an art gallery than feeding a jukebox. Listening to this album, which is perpetually changing shape, we move with the shifting soundscape. Spare and diminutive one moment, thick and dense the next, we admire its ability to clear our minds of everything other than the music itself – as what appears to be just a few spare notes and chords conjure an entire world inside our heads. We will eventually leave this realm, and return to the plane of reality – however thick with gloom – with a sense of clarity and composure. The Swiss Illness is so perfectly tuned to our sense of sonic desires that it is beautiful – a thing of beauty moving through the air, and to our ears, and then with our brain’s neurons in an eerie synchronicity. But it does not push anything in the real world forward. That task lies with its listeners – as we try to live up to the ideal of this music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 January 2018

Safe Creations: Images of Saturn

Images of Saturn

Images of Saturn

Safe Creations: Images of Saturn
Released: 27 September 2017
anvilcreations.weebly.com

Somebody is up to something. Ken Moore and Dave Vosh, under the name Safe Creations, find a strange sublimity in states of imminent collapse. The album Images of Saturn (52’00”) encapsulates their collaboration, bringing into focus the incisive conversation these two artists sustained. This realization is for believers in the beauty of workmanship. With Moore and his gongs, and Vosh and his synthesizers, the duo manipulate mood and atmosphere with hands-on dexterity, and resolutely resist conventional musical narrative. Defying any metaphorical interpretation of their work they seem completely comfortable with the mutual conflict that will inevitably arise between artist and audience. Images of Saturn provides a great many forbidding, fugitive sounds. Its four tracks are each met in the mind of the listener with no frame of reference to anything in the natural world. Penetrating, yet uninflected sonics serve as a reminder of a more complicated existence. Unable to define its shape, we find their arrangements to be surrounding us. Rounded clangorous tones, like messages drifting lost in the darkness of space, seem to unstitch the fabric of reality. Hair raises from the skin as electrical charges build up, and bewilderment becomes the effective state. The seething, writhing, building mass of sound, silver against dusky clouds, creates a spell of slow motion demise. While further in, motionless passages of rumbling bulk lead the mind into a cold quiet. Images of Saturn combines these many sonic figments into dark shadows of their imaginary world counterparts. In time disconnected, an unexpected beauty emerges. With each track roiling in tumultuous ferment along the edge of a cryptic abyss, the listener struggles to find unity and cohesion. Our attempts to impose order on this vast primal world are met with enigmatic counter forces. Yet Images of Saturn remains engaging from beginning to end. This music was not performed, it happened. Past hard to soft dissonance, the receptive mind reaches out to a remote realm – for a warning of the emptiness and desolation that dwells at the edge of humanity.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 December 2017

Ascendant: Particle Horizon

Particle Horizon

Particle Horizon

Ascendant: Particle Horizon
Released: 7 November 2017
www.synphaera.com
www.ambientascendant.com

Particle Horizon (73’42”) shows a new confidence at the reunion of two coolly calculating minds. As Ascendant, music makers Don C. Tyler & Chris Bryant work well together at communing with our interior monologue. In touch with the current of creativity, by way of the current of electricity, here this duo provides ten harmonious compositions – each portraying ideas and feelings of magnitude. With its benevolent messages, drifting lost in the darkness of space, Particle Horizon is an intricate but effortlessly listenable album. From meandering melodic thoughts, to luxurious lead lines, Tyler & Bryant champion civility. Sounds shine spectacularly as synthetic sighs and whispering waves expand across note dappled soundscapes. Skittering electronic pulsations are woven into the music, yet refuse to establish a regular beat – as each piece on Particle Horizon turns like a system of intermeshed helical gears. Enhancing the sonorous aspects of this work its tonal material intricates a lofty character, and achieves a surface of equalized tension. Synths slowly crest, then recede into timeless cosmic serenity. Bass notes mark a slow time in potent dramatic holds, just as intermittent sonar chiffs signal an incoming message. But, for all its musicianship and production values, the importance of this music lies in the emotional responses of its listeners. In an apparent independence from terrestrial concerns, Particle Horizon has been designed to create and sustain a particular state of non-climactic thought. As its users grow ever wiser to its technology, one would think that this genre would eventually begin to sound conventional, and become tamed. Yet, it still has the capability to unleash latent creative potential in everyone who engages with it (musician and audience alike). The true wonder of Electronic Music is not that its reaches are so vast, but that its people continually attempt to touch that which will always be just beyond their grasp. In this spirit, the technological revolution will be proven to be not an unstoppable, unguided force, but a product of human creativity. As the authors of each advance, Mankind will always decide where technology will take us.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 December 2017

Slow Meadow: Costero

Costero

Costero

Slow Meadow: Costero
Released: 17 November 2017
www.hammockmusic.com
www.slowmeadow.com

While modern culture enjoys the distractions of its electric sideshow, Slow Meadow opens a rare space for peace, thought and warmth. The second release by multi-instrumentalist Matthew Kidd is titled Costero (43’01”), and provides ten tracks of reassuring Ambient Chamber Music. An album that flows with the solemn and blissful insistence of life itself, Costero brings fragrance into the listener’s solitude. Featuring mainly pianos and strings, as well as an imaginative assortment of samples, gentle distortion, and other detailed effects, Kidd’s key-centered pieces each move, by root progressions, to a perfect resolution. He makes the relationships of triadic tonality as interesting and understandable as possible, and so the character and quality of his ideas become richer in the process. The musical gestures encountered on Costero are straightforward and uncomplicated. By combining vague classical influences with weightless ambient music, Costero conjures up a safe zone – a realm where notes always stay the same, but meaning is ever changing. Presented in delicate scoring, the violin is explored in all of its registers and shadings, with the piano engaging in lovely melodic substance. When convincingly performed, contemporary music may project strong emotional content. Played with sensitivity, one might touch a flower without troubling a star. But, what world created this music? Surely not the 21st century – where mainstream consumers of music feel anxious, as the marketplace thrives on their exploitation. On the inside, the rest of us explore our music fully in thoughtful repose – where we might imagine but one thing more pleasurable than listening to this album, and that must have been the act of performing it.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END23 November 2017

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

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