Spacemusic Reviews

Erik Wollo: Recurrence

RecurrenceErik Wollo

Erik Wollo: Recurrence
Released: 22 January 2021

Erik Wollo occupies a special place in the space-time continuum. Realizing music that shifts between contemplation and intimacy, impulse and wonder, he seems to turn each moment of listening into something more vivid than is possible in any earthly spell of time. His Recurrence (64’14”) displays an impressive command of the sound-space. In tightly worked performances of rare focus Wollo draws on an apparent in-born mastery. Mingling rich tones, rhapsodic gestures and silken textures with bristling guitar lines and shimmering synth notes he creates harmonious landscapes – where our mind will find some peace. Wollo’s work always extends in a vast world embracing scope, and Recurrence moves outward amidst his distinctive design. Its eleven tracks (eight on the CD) fluctuate between restless sonic states and the more refined and elegant frequencies. The darkening then brightening of notes and chords repeat, then resist soft sequencer patterns. An alive atmosphere provides an area through which each piece may move. With generous applications of reverb and echo an airy halo seems to surround each note. Synthesizer voices blur one into the other, forming sonorous colors of striking beauty, as Wollo aims for the high horizons of the spirit. From a crisply articulated and confident control of the musical flow, to the singing sadness of electronic choirs and strings, Recurrence offers a wealth of serious, inviting complexity. Spacemusic has no higher aspiration than to rise the listener above their worldly concerns to a place where beauty speaks for itself. Erik Wollo’s advanced magic aims to provide this sense of renewal – as it transforms the knower in the living movement of music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 March 2021

Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen: Strange Gravity

Strange GravityCraig Padilla & Marvin Allen

Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen: Strange Gravity
Released: 15 January 2021

Strange Gravity (64:35) is most remarkable for how it fills space. With both exceptional scope and nuance it is a release of genuine force and shear dramatic intensity. This second collaboration between Craig Padilla and Marvin Allen may have begun as an expression of their friendship, but in the act of making this music the duo takes on a larger creative significance. The album spins in a fine showcase of ingenuity and natural chemistry, and highlights each’s gift for melody, texture and careful emotional balancing. Memorable, confident and deeply considered Strange Gravity is delicate, but steady – progressing like a breeze that builds to a gale when the mood takes it. Down its five tracks Allen’s silvery guitar licks gleam like metal through Padilla’s gauzy shimmer of synthesizers. Where electric steel strings rise in floaty psychedelic grace, the weight and warmth of rounded synthetic tones recasts the sound in a jolt of buzzing energy. In its slowly unfolding ambient elsewhere each guitar riff falls cleanly into place. These extended wanderings maintain a pristine musical surface, as in more energetic zones the pure rush of showy lead lines and synthed-up indulgences motor on toward starlit reaches – discovering new, more vivid corners of the cosmos. Spare, but expressively pointed, an atmosphere of unity hovers above Strange Gravity in a hypnotically lush timbre. Reveling in what they have made Padilla & Allen remain sensitive to the promises of the Spacemusic genre – and shine brightly within their work.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END25 February 2021

Peter Chilvers & Jon Durant: Always Golden Sands + Vista

Always Golden Sands + Vista

Peter Chilvers & Jon Durant:
Always Golden Sands + Vista
Released: 11 December 2020 + 15 January 2021

There is the kind of Ambient Music that you notice as you would notice the wallpaper or the furniture in a room, and then there is the kind that you notice because it is whispering something to you – something intimate, something only you can hear. Venturing into this alluring territory keyboardist Peter Chilvers and guitarist Jon Durant have realized two releases; first on the EP Always Golden Sands (19’14”), followed promptly by the album length Vista (50’44”). Meticulously improvised across separate solo studios the resulting music is tranquil, but never intends to lead the listener into sleep. As it grows dreamier its meaning sets. The ever-changing levels of atmosphere, melody and texture are a gift to the imagination. Vista presents five well-ordered impressions in an opulent tone. Wherever used, Durant’s guitar subtlety explores all of its registers and shadings, with Chilvers’ piano engaging in lovely melodic substance. In a slow-motion churn of harmony the two elicit strikingly beautiful sonorities sensitive to the flux between consonance and something a bit more disconcerting. The soft cosmos of the lengthier concluding track grants a deep interiority. However, this duo does not give over completely to the serene and sedate. Somehow, amidst all the reverb and digital processing on Always Golden Sands, Chilvers & Durant find room for a beat. A simple steady drum pattern enters, leaving room for picks and plucks of clean steel strings, as well as the drones and groans of tremulous synthesizer notes, and even some open space. In a command of gesture and color this duo reveals slowly changing perspectives. Each possesses an exquisite ear for composition. Reacting to the other’s piece of the story so gives their music warmth and a recognizable human character. While some may find these works staid, polished and composed – others will hear how uninhibited both Always Golden Sands and Vista truly are. Yes, Chilvers & Durant do play carefully, so that we may dream freely. Enchantment never tips over into stasis in their expressions of memory’s blur. The past may be dark, but this music soundly wins the future – and flows with the solemn and blissful insistence of life itself.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 February 2021

Steve Roach: Tomorrow

Tomorrow Steve Roach

Steve Roach: Tomorrow
Released: 23 October 2020

All through Tomorrow (73:59) Steve Roach exhibits a continuing fascination with the sequential controller – the essential device used to explore his reiterating, pulse-based, minimalist music. Aligning this technology to his creative vision Roach’s expansive work irradiates rather than occupies space. Across Tomorrow‘s five tracks synth voices intertwine in arrangements of gentle gravity, and take shape in portentous contrasts. Echoing and recoiling through the sound space lines of notes interweave in machine precision, as spiraling electric glides and cycling patterns blend perfectly beneath vivid atmospheres. Progressing beyond the aforementioned stretches of luxurious chords and spacey, shimmering accents the listener encounters tranquil zones for drifting and thinking. While we might not give a thought to the hidden cognitions that made these sections possible, the craft and artistry found on Tomorrow does indeed show a firm grasp of tonal organization and musical structure. Its recurring motives and expressive shades of sound gain a magical release for our thoughts – as disused channels of the mental faculty are gradually opened and lit up. When this kind of innovative expression first came into being, its first few listeners described hearing the future. Not the music that would be popular in fifty years, but a sound from somewhere other than the known past, or the fleeting present. It was of a time unknown to us, of somewhere else, of an age yet to come – it was of the nearest possible Tomorrow.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 January 2021

Jesper Pedersen: Katydids

KatydidsJesper Pedersen

Jesper Pedersen: Katydids
Released: 5 November 2020

Across the mysterious heavens of the mind machines are singing to us. In another demonstration of how beautifully electricity may be rendered into music Jesper Pedersen has realized the album Katydids (61:23). A masterstroke of pure creativity, musical technology and intent its veering, dissolving planes of sound compel us to contemplate where we are in a given space, and how our sensations alter as space changes shape around us. This music’s weightless sonorities and blended timbres issue from a well-managed system of modular synthesizer components. Over the slow building ascent of each of its five tracks this brilliant follow-up to Three by 15 (2020) exerts a confident magnetic pull. Some sections emphasize energy, while further in Pedersen’s potent forces recede, and are replaced by subdued aural environments. The two moods meld together, and in these fleeting moments we are unable to perceive between light and dark. In vivid tones giving way to paler, starker ones we find a fractured beauty resolving – and ultimately restoring a stable consonance. Thus Pedersen recaptures our attention, even as the listener is drifting into a serene hideaway of thought. In the way the various forms track, swerve, arc and bend, then concentrate and release into the shared space, Pedersen connects with a wider range of minds. Jumping, gliding and dashing through a mystical electronic realm Katydids irradiates rather than occupies the sound field. It is the kind of magic you will feel fortunate to have found and known.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 21 January 2021

Serena Gabriel w/Steve Roach: Inanna’s Dream

Inanna's DreamSerena Gabriel

Serena Gabriel: Inanna’s Dream
Released: 28 August 2020

Music can be many things. It can be harsh and subterranean just as readily as it can be starlit and soft. So, for anyone with any poetry in their heart, the shimmering soundscapes and exploratory pleasures of multi-instrumentalist Serena Gabriel should feel as if from a loftier realm. Her album Inanna’s Dream (70:27) manifests an affectionate attunement to a calm, controlled and detailed aural artistry. Its six tracks (#5 & #6 w/Steve Roach) present ideas about ambient space, and how sound may intersect with mood – transforming the two in the process. Peacefully paced, as if part of a devotional ritual, Inanna’s Dream produces a reserved resonant energy. Within its meticulously designed arrangements we journey from one region to the next in an easy onward motion. Constructed from shades of rounded electronics, distant voices, and a soothing drifting consonance, this album emphasizes this genre’s capacity for elemental beauty. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and extended sound generation, tones swell and resound sweetly through an infinite distance. Tranquil notes hold and intertwine, then ripple and decay. Sustaining warm chords gently gather and build – to later recede into a lulling infinite moment. Elsewhere Gabriel’s signature phonetic textures roam, hover, then settle together in a beautiful vocalise. As ethereal “oohs” and breathy “aahs” transform under a mysterious undulant atmosphere, a stirring warmth comes to us – as if Gabriel’s heart were trying to reach out, concealed in one of those extended sighs. She has the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each benevolent breath will be released just the one time. Along with the echoing calls and chants, here and there we can make out a harmonium, didgeridoo, lyre, or wooden flute among the subtly shifting synthesizer keys. But these works are so exquisitely balanced in their manipulation of the sound space that one scarcely notices the separate elements. Throughout these passages of beaming reverie and lustrous stasis Gabriel’s music casts a mesmerizing spell. Inanna’s Dream is so beautiful that its existence might suggest a higher plane. Therefore, this music could be a bit beyond the level of comprehension of the average Spacemusic fan – in a world as compromised as ours a soul such as Gabriel’s may be comprehended not. Her work is the end point in a long process of seeking and of thought – a point where time becomes space, and something of the human spirit has come to bear.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 January 2021

The Soviet Space Dog Project: Experiments in Sound

Experiments in Sound

The Soviet Space Dog Project:
Experiments in Sound Released: 22 November 2020
Further Experiments in Sound Released: 19 December 2020
Advanced Experimentation Released: 22 December 2020

Andy Bloyce practices Electronic Music under several aliases. As The Soviet Space Dog Project he produces works pursuing the Berlin-School tradition first established by Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream in the 1970s. His trilogy of releases Experiments in Sound (66:28), Further Experiments in Sound (65:38) and Advanced Experimentation (22:48) showcase the incessant activity of a person who is constantly working – reimagining the sense and sensations of a boldly imaginative age. Pursuing meaning in nuances of format, color, texture, and the other aesthetic givens of his medium Bloyce’s dreamy abstracted landscapes turn more absorbing and exciting when actively contemplated by the listener. Using the specific vocabulary of the Kosmische Musik era the “Experiments” triplex presents inventive works of a far-reaching atmosphere. The music opens up space and then travels through it – to sonic realms of new depth and intimacy. Expressing his compositional precision TSSDP shows a striking agility to conjure elaborate synthetic forms, and, once positioned above mechanized patterning, really letting it rip. Subtle and syncopated the flickering echo of sequencer notes propels us along the tack of a quietly turning galaxy. Generating charges of rhythmic snap and chromatic consonance the wheezing, whirring and winding of modulated sounds yield broad planes of alternating density. From the rush and roar of these dense undercurrents striding lead lines estrange and enchant, emotionally spark, then soon become soothing and lilting – as if beamed in from some distant district of the sky. As raw waveforms blend with other rounded tones, underlying structures soften in relation to variations in opacity. In a reverent engagement with craft, entwined with the inherited yearning to open up new vistas, this “Space Dog” evokes his inner world, to say something about himself that cannot be stated in words. We may never know the precise idea or feeling that carried him through the creation of this series. It may be a way of hearing, understanding and metabolizing an innermost meaning, or maybe just a fascination with technology and systems. But artists such as this have pushed the genre forward, further into the creative zone, opening it out wider, with new timbres, from new instruments, manifesting new moods of mystery and discovery – along a path found one sound at a time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END7 January 2021

K Markov: Ancient Light

Ancient Light

K Markov: Ancient Light
Released: 23 December 2020

In an outward expression of his inner journey the Croatian Electronic Musician K Markov offers us Ancient Light (67’45”). An album featuring five galaxy strength synthesizer fantasies it probes a sprawling expanse of tone and texture. At times brooding and forlorn, or experimental and primitive, along the compositional arc of each track the atmosphere does become lighter and brighter – with winks and blinks of rays and beams amidst consonant keys in gorgeous synthetic sound. Brimming with star shine and spark Ancient Light remains at all times a captivating listen. While its glitter and glimmer dizzily distract, calm sequencer notes trek from the gathering shadows, rising and recurring steadily – leaving in their wake a slipstream of echoing blips. Perfectly placed within this gentle surge reverb laden lead lines gracefully play with space. When the churning winds down the spacey fields scale up. As a mass of roiling drones absorbs and stills the pattern energy we feel the tender complexity of the inner realm… by way of outer space. Spanning planets and suns, lunar landscapes and empty spaces, Ancient Light is another one of Markov’s attempts at interpreting cosmic beauty – and reveals an artist in ascendancy. This sort of music provides a kind of emotional charge, rather than a mere place of hiding, and hopes to transform the listener from the inside out. This kind of thinking is where we come closest to realizing the bold possibilities of Spacemusic – where we see beyond the scope of our present selves, to an assured time yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END31 December 2020

Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon: Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come

Ghosts of Christmas Yet to ComeJohnny WoodsJosh Ascalon

Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon: Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come
Released: 19 November 2020

Lingering at the outer limits of the holiday music section, Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon have this Noel deployed down our chimney their Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come (34:17), an irresistibly listenable electronic release of eight bright Yuletide tracks. Rolling out one musical confection after another this duo does know when to cut the sugar – enough to render their quiet subversiveness into something politely experimental. Extremely serious about their craft here Woods & Ascalon interpret for us an ogdoad of time-honored Christmas classics. With their modular synthesizer system delivering sounds, notes and tones fully animated, if not completely by the spirit of Christmas, then utterly by the principal of electricity, these crossed-wired quintessential carols light up the listening mind like strings of twinkling fairy lights. Set against distant chimes a familiar strain reaches us, from perhaps a place of childhood memory. The confidently cold crystaline timbres heard on The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come climb through the canon of holiday music, then soon tune down to the quieter frequencies – inside songs where we may feel fully a heart-swelling comfort. Whenever the airy softness gets to be too much, the muted luster of rumbling oscillations drifts in under the frosty layers, dimming the mood beneath the weakening eye of day. Ringing across this frozen panorama melodies, murmurous and uninflected, run together in a soothing texture, yet we sense the atmosphere casting a darker hue. Most Electronic Music is about sound seeking and exploratory pursuit, but this album seems to be mainly about Christmas and one of its most ominous characters. In the scattering gloom this unknowable figure provides, like the future itself, nothing but foreboding silence. Yet, to this spectre we ask if fate can be changed? Can we overcome the gravitational pull of this story’s dark subject? If not, if we are past all hope, why then play this warmhearted music for us? …It is because the tale from which the title The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come is taken is ultimately about conversion and transformation. In simplicity of heart its carols hope to bring people together each end-of-year season. In a quality of eternal reassurance this feeling will hold us – when we are once again alone in the quiet night.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 24 December 2020

Robert Rich: Neurogenesis

NeurogenesisRobert Rich

Robert Rich: Neurogenesis
Released: 1 December 2020

With an advancing career propelling itself forward in a series of bold fresh starts Robert Rich brings us the forward facing fire of Neurogenesis (48’04”). Rousing and artfully constructed it evokes the passions of a free-roaming mind. As is the case with Rich releases, this mighty outpouring abides by its own rules. The sounds exhibit a force of their own, and lend the seven tracks each a unique depth. Retreating into thought, after a proper listening the music on Neurogenesis lingers and coalesces in the mind. Choosing the beauty of a less familiar harmony this album’s somatic timbres swell to brief brilliance, flicker, then recede into a somewhere far away. About space and the act of listening these undulant environments produce dizzying impressions of infinite distance – all the while in tension with its dense encephalic locale. The bright feathery textures form featureless realms – though a restless sonority traverses the orbital night. But the resulting reverie yields to underlying energy fields, as moody rambles merge with crisply shattered geometries in tightly ratcheting tone patterns. The cycling sequencer notes wind in spark plug rotation – emitting power, declaring stability, summoning the future. Drifting from a vague dreaminess to dramatically directed momentum Rich’s steel guitar lines snake and writhe beneath arrangements of amplified scale. The tight concentration and vigor of his liquid leads provide contrast to wondrously expressive flute solos. Conjuring huge forces while constantly tuning our minds these notes last only as long as the player’s breath – which enables these pieces to touch at a human level. In translating electronic currents into sonic textures chords move from the deep-toned to the light and radiant – melting the experimental mood under a sudden gravity. In his self-revealing expressions Rich understands the spell he continues to cast on us. From its stirrings of disquiet and subtly graduated dynamics, to regions where the score is applied like a balm, Neurogenesis locates the quietly burning point of a single soul. Many of us are feeling the punishing isolation of our era. Yet for creative types dispossession is part of their natural state – as they need a substantial amount of alone time in which to ply and advance their craft. So now is the time to experiment and be creative, to work – not as a distraction, but rather as a prayer, a hope… for a time yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 December 2020