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Spacemusic Reviews

Cosmic Ground: Isolate

Isolate

Cosmic Ground: Isolate
Released: 23 September 2022
www.cosmicground.de
www.tonzonen.de

With new technology comes the promise of styles and expressions that we have never heard before. Under the name Cosmic Ground Electric Orange keyboardist Dirk Jan Muller has for over a decade been amassing and deploying synthesizers beneath the beacon first lit over 50 years ago during the Berlin-School era of EM. Supplementing our sense of the possible this style of music, and the gear used to produce it, offers the potential for a remarkable range of revelations. With a strange beauty that borders on the forboding Muller submits his seventh studio album Isolate (73:14). The depth of each of the six electronic journeys is striking – with each realization providing a spellbinding sense of a place in space. In this full-speed ahead trip behind the beautiful forever of Kosmische Musik the listener encounters all that Spacemusic can be. Energizing and invigorating, emotionally piercing yet thrillingly alien, Isolate will exhaust those who cannot surrender to it. In the headlong drive of spiraling sequencer runs patterns of notes ascend in an echoing motor-motion. Settling into a careful clockwork, saturated Mellotron strings bestow a heightened sensitivity to the cosmic covenant. As creative energy moves from the musician’s interior to that of the audience, bold dissonances ring and spark across an outburst of dramatic imagination. From desolate soundscapes of darkening drones and chilled fallout fields, to the brooding sweep of sustaining sci-fi zones, Isolate easily pulls listeners into its specific sonic realm. This genre was, in ages past, all about the future. These days it is about survival. Synthesists dream about tones, and wake up thinking about them – which connects the artist to the story of the sound, and to what their music should be. But among us fans the act of listening is an act of trust. Along the upward arc of such resolute works of perpetual becoming we rely on Cosmic Ground, our keeper of mysteries, to lead us further – and to not displace too many of us during our drifting, dreaming voyage of the mind.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 22 September 2022

Alanis Morissette: the storm before the calm

the storm before the calm Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette: the storm before the calm
Released: 17 June 2022
www.thirtytigers.com
www.alanis.com

In an age where even the space of thought is at risk, where speaking is held over listening, Alanis Morissette submits a bold, beautiful, musical mind-zone of an album. Her release the storm before the calm (106:38) hopes to challenge stories that are false with better stories – stories in which people want to live. These eleven starlit works mean to reach out and touch the night, yet go much further – extending well into the hearts and minds of all those who will lend an ear. Morissette brings to this adventure a background in popular music, which has been switched off to accommodate the more languorous compositional arc and open-ended, multi-instrumental soft jams that populate the storm before the calm. Joined in this project by several other musicians, along with Morissette’s wordless vocals and feeling flute we will notice an intelligent mix of processed guitars, seductive percussion, spacey organs, ambient synths, gentle piano, dreamy vibes, subtle electronics and a host of other exotic instruments – painstakingly combined into a substantial sustaining sphere of sound. Serenely sweet sonics travel so deliberately that our awareness of time seems to stretch. In measured motion each track builds. With long chords emerging out of an aura of reverberation we may imagine a vast expanse. Entrancing abstraction yields to a stream of transformations, with optimism and artistry fully present throughout every moment. While contrasting tones are carefully arranged to direct attention inward, the sections of higher energy attract the front edge of our senses. These expressively played strong moments give way to passages of slow burning brightness, and an argument for the future becomes clear. For those who feel like ghosts wandering a world that has grown alien, the storm before the calm will make sense. We listen to Morissette’s moving music, but hear her message. Lit by tomorrow’s sun, she tells of life under a different light – and an age of calm where every existence knows meaning and truth.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END15 September 2022

Ian Boddy & Erik Wollo: Revolve

Revolve

Ian Boddy & Erik Wollo: Revolve
Released: 16 September 2022
www.din.org.uk

Night occurs while our side of the planet is facing away from the sun. During the darkness it may be easier to view the moon above studying us here on the surface – and receive the potential and possibilities La Luna brings us. Also perfectly happy traveling their own orbits Ian Boddy and Erik Wollo have changed trajectory just long enough to make Revolve (51:38) – a studio set of climactic chords, bewitching themes and richly arrayed wonders of rhythm and pulse. In a compulsively detailed mix of moods and impressions this duo pulls toward a hard chill. Across eight tracks momentum rises and falls in measured motion. Swirling under a circulation of synthetic sound, harmonies play and progress in a concord of affecting chromatic steps. Passing through assorted effects, Wøllo’s lead lines are poignant, ethereal and elegant – conjuring zones and tones known to few of his guitar contemporaries. Supporting the swell and contraction of scale we find Boddy’s passagework underpinning the luxurious lyricism. While shifting sequencer patterns run through a series of imaginative progressions, heart-felt strains and refrains unfurl in a rising ribbon of silvery silk. The direction theses tunes take is ever upward, with each resolution redolent of the future this music promises. Their sonics feel less supplied than turned loose. In one place exuding an ambient melancholy, then further in hitting the listener hard with expertly marshalled beats and grooves, a rapt, expectant air of exuberance vents. As voluptuous melodies become embedded in spacey structures the energy level rises by scalar steps. The back and forth between Boddy and Wollo shows a reflective tenderness. This heart-first doubleton derives meaning from simple forms, vague vibrations, and the unknown energies collaboration may release. Their magnificent album has been so carefully constructed that by the time the concluding notes bring us back to ourselves we are ready and willing to truly listen. Revolve feels from outside our own time. It speaks to an era – an era that has yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 September 2022

[‘ramp] happy days are here to stay

happy days are here to stay

[‘ramp]: happy days are here to stay
Released: 29 August 2022
doombientmusic.bandcamp.com

Whenever a label named “Doombient” releases an album called happy days are here to stay (73:15) we might wonder, can the end of the world be that far off? The irony emitted by such an incongruous view and title is the stuff of Stephen Parsick‘s favorite mania, and how he processes the world. His work under the name [‘ramp], with its shifting myths of sound and unrelenting territory of timbre, emerges from a place of wonderment and integrity. While the self-aware nostalgia of happy days are here to stay brilliantly conveys a Berlin-School enlightenment, as well as the mysterious mood and aura of discovery from this era, we must ponder what Parsick is not telling us. Across eight tracks a spirit of infinity seems alive – taking flight with enough force to place each listening spirit safely into Earth orbit. In exhilarating lateral shifts come simplified lines of ordered notes and rich colors of sound. Although of a monumental quality this realization may be heard better as an intimate chamber drama possessing an expansive cosmic overlay. In subduing the impulse for embellishment a quiet longing of soft Mellotron flutes hovers above a spare soundfield – an elemental simplicity softening the controlled riot of pumping sequencer patterns below. As finely tuned as anything by [‘ramp] happy days are here to stay is dense, prismatic, mesmerizing, and capable of imaginative leaps. But with this ironic title, it may be trying to catch the current moment… when actually the moment it succeeds in capturing is from a long ago age of truth and hope for the future. Complete brain engagement from the listener is not required, but it would help. Full of Spacemusic’s transformational promise, cosmic yearning and diverting abandon this music trusts you to have not outsourced your thinking. As the musician is revealed to the world through their actions, through their art, we should not miss even one split second of this aural adventure. Because with intimacy exhibited at this level, sometimes we learn more than we should.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 September 2022

Erik Wollo: Inversions

Inversions

Erik Wollo: Inversions
Released: 20 May 2022
www.projekt.com
www.wollo.com

Characterized by its simplicity and clarity Inversions (30:46) feels true to life. Here Erik Wøllo has managed to record seven gentle, soul-strengthening pieces of a quality more profound and resonant than most artists working in a similar vein. Spontaneously conceived and executed by conducting the output of his electric guitar into digital devices and effects this kind of improvising requires just as much listening as it does playing. The impulsive quality also notes a disarming honesty – an unfiltered truth. It is with great care and taste that Wøllo casts his tender spell of beauty. In just the right mixture of the earthly and the celestial he provides promising moments of affecting sentiment – that taken together convey a singular message. In a tone florid and rounded Inversions confers an aura of perpetually becoming. This collection of spacey slow burners gains slight bursts of color as ideas flow melodiously, rising out of experimental inclinations. A misty melancholy permeates as Wøllo charts a descent into darkness, and back. Coarse then sweet, timbre, melody and harmony divide our attention. Here and there the fog lifts a little bit, and we find reeling stars and midnight things. In an orchestra of looping lines a mournful lead line flickers like a lonely candle in the wind of time. Then the embattled twilight succumbs to a re-invasion of shadows. Listening our way through to the back end of evening we will notice that this musical spellwork is driven less by technology than it is by yearning and resignation – the most remote of all circuitry. Throughout these minimal passages and entrancing transformations the slightest gesture becomes much more significant. By avoiding the long and formless Wøllo builds an enjoyable ambient charisma of minute detail. The sound surface changes from feathery to hard edged, evoking a landscape terrain as surely as it does the amorphous aether above it. For the duration of this release the tone is intimate, but then so is the scale – a rare and cherishable quality in Spacemusic. Inversions presents a beguiling sonic sense – so much so that we owe it proof that we will one day become as free and as open as it asks us to be.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 25 August 2022

Mike Lazarev: When You Are

When You Are Mike Lazarev

Mike Lazarev: When You Are
Released: 1 July 2022
www.slowcraft.info
www.lazarev.com

The optimism and artistry of Mike Lazarev are fully present throughout every moment of his When You Are (34:47). In this wonderful journey of nine tracks he manages to move us from the complexities of melody and harmony, and slow-burning explorations of timbral and temporal space, to intimate moments of uncommon sensitivity and carefree electronic comfort. Moving into the thought zone with him we encounter the emotional momentum of each composition. Each perfectly paced piece bestows a unique emotional idyll upon the listener. Restrained when it matters and bold where it counts, When You Are extends a rare fragility. Grainy textures breathe slowly beneath luminous synth pads and ethereal vocal tones, which conjures a lovely, holding environment. Along with subtly distorted sonics haunting piano notes reiterate with increasing curiosity. With a performance sparse in delivery but dense with emotion Lasarev wanders his way through this album with affecting reserve. Forlorn, sorrowful, and occasionally with hope and joy his storytelling remains quietly cloudy – yet with enough clarity for genuine emotional connection. Striking a doleful chord he carefully modulates a narrow range of aural grays, greens, and blues. It is in these considered harmonic structures that we hear the most sparking, sparkling musical moments. With its subtle intricacies, clear beginnings and dramatic resolutions, When You Are exhibits a rare fragility. As Ambient Music it provides a confounding, vague, perfumed atmosphere – so it is only through careful listening that we may come to appreciate the intelligence and complexities of this work. With this music inside us, slowing the heart and stilling the mind, we may eventually ponder – is Lazarev imagining a better, more beautiful world? or mourning the one we have made?

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 18 August 2022

Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron

Elemental Temple Pt 1 Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron

Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron: Elemental Temple Part 1
Released: 21 January 2022
ensanchaelalma.bandcamp.com

Elemental Temple Part 1 (125:46) possesses a rare and cherished quality. The four lengthy tracks realized by Kwali Kumara & Pete Ardron open up and out into a blissful realm of gentle melodies, drifting ambience and reassuring consonance. An enigmatic, deep release of methodical pacing and ceremonial intensity Elemental Temple Part 1 does not lead the listener, but stays right with us well into its deeper dream. Electronic textures grow, thicken and gently shift, as harmonics become dense, then fall away into a smooth surface of sound. Expanding drones slow the plane of daily existence – their outward-reaching arc adrift on the stillness of thought. Taken together these elements convey the enigmatic yet simple essence of a world apart, and may even evoke the meditative vistas at the center of each player. Entering their weightless domain we feel received, accepted. Each composition has its own unique sense of weightlessness – as within these vivid soundfields every listener feels at the center of their own eternal circle. In a near constant state of gradual expansion, contrasting ambient landscapes blend and morph beautifully across a subtle cosmic backdrop. Utilizing a diverse electronic palette unique timbres arise, hang in space, brighten, then darken, then morph into something new. This atmosphere of flourishing synthesizers notably includes playful, graceful wordless singing. Intriguing treatments transform lilting vocalizations, slightly – into an even more ethereal encounter with the infinite. Late in this long-player the listener is summoned into focus with intuitive beats and rhythmic flow. As viridescent hums and buzzes give way to riffs, grooves and celebratory chanting, these heated moments seem taken from life itself – passing pleasingly at a human degree. Whether the mood is slow-burning bright and hot, or more of a nocturnal still chill zone, this duo’s sonic sense is beguiling – taking its lines from life itself. A mesmerizing combination of technology and tradition, aether and earth, sensuality and reason, this music, with its incense like dynamics, lingers on well after the ember’s glow has cooled. The mind, the soul, the heart… this work touches all three. Kwali Kumara and Pete Ardron have provided us with an aural expression intent on restoring contemplation over mere mainstream diversion. Their Elemental Temple Part 1 ennobles us with the resolve to carry out whatever realizations this journey has fostered – leaving we listeners hoping that we will always be as open and as honest as this album has asked us to be.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 11 August 2022

Chuck van Zyl: Skyspace

Skyspace

Chuck van Zyl: Skyspace
Released: 7 August 2022
chuckvanzyl.bandcamp.com

On 10 June 2022 an informed audience assembled within Chestnut Hill Skyspace in Philadelphia for a unique concert with noted Electronic Musician Chuck van Zyl. Skyspace (73:13) presents the complete continuous set. The concert realization Last Light was made live in the moment before an affectionate, informed audience. As these conditions are known to reveal an innovative spirit, we find the musician and listeners experiencing this extraordinary music together in the act of it being made. Energized equally by the pulse of the Berlin-School and the hope of the New Age, the remarkable setting and welcoming company brought out a substantial, expressive and meaningful performance.

In order to fully enjoy Skyspace one must accept the fleeting essence of this live improvised recital. Chuck van Zyl’s perspective on live performance remains particularly singular. An enactment of self-discovery his unschooled spark produced an undeniable dramatic energy throughout the venue. This exquisitely crafted concert, meant for the extraordinary open-roofed space that looks out onto the night sky, allowed this artist to do more than simply share his work. Set against the mystical grandeur of the heavens just above the heads of the audience, Chuck van Zyl was able to search for and share something of his true being.

Addressing the dreamer inside all of us Skyspace begins with bold dissonances. A spare sequencer pattern emerges, barely, amidst cross-modulated tones, synth string tritones, and a roiling Mellotron choir. As the wandering notes organize into an orderly pulsation, fluttering effects generate trailing spacey references. Once the rhythm becomes more mechanized additional lines emerge. The cycling tones interweave, overlap and wander across the inevitable arc of this extended set. In a passionate outburst of dramatic imagination melodic lead lines and key changes add a narrative force to this expansive nocturnal adventure.

In an act of shear concentration Chuck van Zyl oversees the ceaseless adjustment of his system of instruments. In refusing to work with a laptop or other kinds of pre-recorded, pre-programmed, pre-set resources his approach remains innovative, maybe even radical in our digital era of music making. In this space where compelling forces converge and combine – this mutually reinforcing circle of validation – it is only after a trial such as this one that this musician can become aware of himself, of what he is capable of, how far he has come, and how far he can go. Please lend your heart to this album. If you can, Skyspace will leave the trajectory of your thoughts surely changed for the better.

Skyspace was released by Synkronos Music on 7 August 2022 to coincide with the Chuck van Zyl on-air concert for Star’s End Space Camp 2022.

  • From the Press Release 7 August 2022

Steve Roach: What Remains

What Remains Steve Roach

Steve Roach: What Remains
Released: 5 August 2022
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

Steve Roach beckons with the promise of fantastic escape. A meditation on fugitive beauty his What Remains (70:22) glows with an air of cosmic yearning. Subtlety has always been one of Roach’s strengths, and the four tracks here are so well-stated and precise that their complexity seems to come quite easily.

This music, while made with machines, has been made for humans. Succinct and eminently re-playable What Remains drifts from moods of exuberance and wonder, to nocturnal befogged views and synth soft poetic power. Breathing his tetrad of realizations into our imagination, one by one Roach engulfs the listener in a sonorous minor-key semblance of ambience.

Shifting to a spectral plane handsome and imposing drones give way to a simmering groove. As electronic percussion moves under, over and through adjacent sounds the mind may sense a polyrhythmic texture. Only hinting at its ethno-origins this energy feels forged deep beneath some indefinite surface.

Slightly cloudy, reverberant synthesizer chords give way to echoing sequencer patterns. As the resulting restless energy, space and time are strikingly transformed, Roach is found to be pulling from different emotional poles. In the gathering gloom a collage of sounds – free-floating, rounded metal edged, linked within cavernous reverb – emerge from roiling digital effects. The slow burning closing piece erases all bearings, leading us back into the silent now.

Throughout What Remains Roach’s quiet compositions of connection and reflection gently articulate an intense well of feelings behind even the simplest gesture. United by the sense of discovery which may be felt by informed listeners he continues to re-imagine the potential of his music. Yet, no matter how far it is pushed, or how hard it is played, it never forgets the abiding creative energy that first put it into motion.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 4 August 2022

David Parsons: Atmanaut

Atmanaut

David Parsons: Atmanaut
Released: 21 March 2022
www.harmonies.com

David Parsons beckons to us again with the promise of far-flung fantastic escape. His 13 track double CD Atmanaut speaks anew to the dreamer inside all of us. Upon entering the Edenic atmosphere of this substantial release we set out to new places within ourselves. A journey at once vibrant and soothing, then crackling with live-wire energy, Atmanaut is more interested in reveling in the myths of World Music than in piercing them. A remarkable achievement of the imagination it offers paths of inquiry limited only by the mind’s ability to become aroused. Conjuring translucent textures, from an ethereal simplicity to a riotously rare intensity Parsons pulls from different emotional poles. To satisfy the craving for faster tempo and weightier percussion we encounter propulsive rhythmic patterns. Through enlivening pulsations the listener synchronizes with the music, only to untether during zones of night-black synth textures – places where Parsons just allows himself to vibe out. The closer one listens the more one hears this album’s glistening dark-edge fade into a ceremony of the spirit. Even in our broken and diminished realm it is possible – even necessary – to exult the mystical. Atmanaut offers otherworldly consolation – as we, like Parsons, take refuge in the beautiful mysteries that remain in our people and planet.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 July 2022