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Spacemusic Reviews

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
www.simonlomax.com

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
www.din.org.uk

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

Forrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers

The Book of WanderersForrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers
Released: 4 September 2020
www.projekt.com
www.forrestfang.com

Albums by Forrest Fang are for that rare breed of listener who, upon each outing, wishes to travel someplace new. In this and every way The Book of Wanderers (71’20”) is a great success, as each of its ten tracks takes us somewhere we did not know we wanted to go. Using an impressive range of percussive and stringed sounds, electronic tones and synthesized sighs to evoke the metaphysical dimensions within the player, he plays brisk and brilliant, then slow and steady – conjuring an inclusive space-laced, ethereal doorway into mind and mood. Forrest Fang has appeared on several works by Robert Rich, who returns the favor here by offering beautiful flute soloing throughout “Tale of the Egret”. Both are skillful musicians who can play for night owls as well as they can for morning larks, and know how to keep a musical story moving. Yet it is the soft harmonic auras and hovering melodies they realize which cling to the ears and whisper in the heart. As primitive states grow more organized we find certain arrangements on The Book of Wanderers rendered with a warm appreciation for their complexity. Further in we find Fang’s futuristic fusion sound combining features of world ethnic instruments with advanced Ambient Music techniques. Its pieces which are defined by subtle gradations of light and shadow are paralleled by compositions of hard line, high finish, and tight precision – works that bring back stardust, then resolve into the quiet grandeur of shores closer to home. Some evoke a feeling of melancholy, while further in muted palettes and a gauzy veil of atmosphere provide a poignant sense of repose. In our world where everything is known the music produced by Forrest Fang remains a mystery. A man of our time, or maybe somewhat ahead of it, he is in close touch with his imagination. This remarkable and evolving contemplation is an enterprise that is for all of us – as we struggle with a vague vision of a unified world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END10 September 2020

Three Point Circle: Layered Contingencies

Layered ContingenciesThree Point Circle: Layered Contingencies
Released: 4 September 2020
www.palaceoflights.com

Three Point Circle provides a place in the world where disquieting thoughts are fully honored. Pointing themselves in new directions K Leimer, Marc Barreca and Steve Peters slow down in a sonification of interior realms. Their Layered Contingencies (73’38”) is strategically restrained, as it offers a quiet specificity through a steady consideration of process, form and identity. The improvisation captures a fundamental flow that pulls the ear into its untold depths with music that remains very much in the shadows. Negotiating a delicate balance between the questioning and the consoling this album explores a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by less serious minded practitioners. A menagerie of muted sonics and slow-motion flourishes Layered Contingencies knowingly meanders, yet produces an exacting chill. Disarming and elusive the five tracks effectively capture the melancholy of limbo. Reverb heavy synths slowly surge in poetic search for meaning. An idea develops, a scene is suggested – nearly uncovering the secret of their own operation. Chords shift gradually, building a wall of tone and texture, then fall quietly into a gorgeous, ghostly translucence. Its art-minded dissonance resolves in electrical jewel notes and thick impasto drones. These quiet, humanizing moments seem eerily perfect – like the resigned feeling of things eroding beneath you. Layered Contingencies spends its force searching. Without any obvious mile markers or signposts this endeavor is meant less to move, and more to mingle with the spirit. Gesturing at New Age or Ambient Music, it then gives way to eccentricities, and the sober musings of three minds – well attuned to what is just beneath the surface of the sound.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 September 2020

Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence

ConvergenceErik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence
Released: 28 August 2020
www.projekt.com
www.wollo.com
www.michaelstearns.com

Spacemusic is equally complex at all scales. The majestic arrangement of sounds, notes and forms, even the silences become evident only when the music is surveyed over its largest extent. Yet, on a smaller scale the tones and timbres also impress – as it is through the manipulation of this sonic material that this genre enables its practitioners to make their most profound expressions. The music of Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns flows across spatial scales. As might be expected from these notable names, their collaboration Convergence is a harmonic match for all the enigmas of the Universe. Playing beyond you the listener, beyond now, this duo freely roams through the colorful depths of their imaginations. Achieving a beautiful dramatic cohesion Convergence shows how firmly each musician has grown into his own identity – which has been admirably interweaved into each composition. This album comes at us with the force and sophistication of high art, provoking questions, yet still works to shore up the spirit. Chords shift surely, gradually craving that which is just out of reach. Charmed melodies and delicate choirs signal vastness, as limber, lucid leads exalt through incandescent voices and strings. Between Stearns’ high-sheen synth-craft and Wøllo’s striking guitar artistry their ten well-honed tracks aim for smart production and continuity, for a sound that feels effortlessly theirs. Profoundly otherworldly, but always reassuringly human, Convergence occasionally gestures at the New Age, but then quickly reasserts the dreamy brilliance of its cosmic music credentials. Traversing a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by the more technology-minded acts, Wøllo & Stearns present their atmospheric constructs in swaths of electronics and floating mists of harmony – in hopes of enlivening the awesome potential of the individual mind-space. By bringing something of their cosmos into our listening area, we may feel their message, and some measure of peace.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END27 August 2020

Tim Motzer: Inside

Inside

Inside

Tim Motzer: Inside
Released: 5 June 2020
www.1krecordings.com
www.timmotzer.com

In his younger years innovative guitarist Tim Motzer may well have been influenced by the classics No Pussyfooting, Evening Star or Discrete Music, but his many releases in the soundscape vein have always shied-away-from reproducing exactly the sound of these pioneering artists. If Motzer is channeling anything from the 1970s it is the forward-thinking spirit of innovation and the freedom to try new things that arose uniquely out of this period. His album Inside (61’01”) arrives in another, different era of transformation, one in which we have all been asked to re-think our lives. While Motzer admits that these days, many of us are spending more time indoors, his five tracks were realized for play, not really in our living rooms, but in a deeper interior space – a head-space.

It is the endless potential of live improvisation that puts this whole enterprise in motion. Under these conditions Motzer is arranger, performer, and accompanist all at once. In his rare world of spontaneous composition he achieves a beautiful, often dramatic cohesion. Does he make a plan beforehand? Yes, he plans to start playing and hear what happens. Initially made as a gift to individual friends and colleagues, it was soon discovered that others outside this circle were also moved by these works. Their fanciful wisps and sustaining mists ease the mind, as well as does the slow dance of dreamy, breathing tones fortifies the heart. These pieces should not unsettle the listener with difficult questions – rather, they are offering the certainty that their notes go good together, and, once the journey is complete, resolve in a soft, sure landing.

Traveling on drifts of shimmering steel strings, reverb laden phrases softly emerge into the sound-space, then recede. Where electric guitar solos rise in ever strengthening leads, a rolling slow flow of calm and color radiates below. The expressive array of sonic shades and whispering washes clings willingly to the ears – eventually sending listeners back to themselves anew.

The current consciousness of mortality has provided Inside with a soulful heft. This creative act of contemplative companionship, of listening and thinking together through music provides a refreshing edge that favors life. While the world outside erodes, Tim Motzer restores the space inside. But his arc of melancholy bends toward an awareness… something that is invisible, but palpable – which accompanies us spectrally, in the back of our minds, well Inside.

-Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END20 August 2020

Johnny Woods: Pavilions

Pavilions

Pavilions

Johnny Woods: Pavilions
Released: 28 August 2020
www.behindtheskymusic.com
www.johnnywoods-music.com

Johnny Woods has a way with synths. A noted purveyor of the modular style he has released Pavilions (38’36”), an album of live-wire improvisations and a warm, welcoming, wide-open air. Allowing the listener space to wander in wonder, and to feel every feeling, its free flowing ribbon of melody ripples and twists in seven polite, coolly glowing sequencer-scapes. His sureness resounds in layers of tones cresting and trailing in tune with the music of electricity – and exerts a tender touch over anyone entering its domain. Upon stepping into these stories we find a song cycle faithful to its own unique rules of proportion and perspective. In mechanized cycling patterns notes rise, expand and contract in roundelays of creative inspiration on the wing. Woods’ prestige arrangements wind their way confidently from the charged and energized, down to swift shifts in texture, and then again into rising moments of synthetic verve. The organized electronic blips and bleeps that propel Pavilions are honed, but not overworked – rousing, yet never hurried. The spirited realizations foreground an artistic mindfulness that affirms the simple possibility of sound as sensation. Such heated circuitry should yield an intrigue. The here and now provides too few answers for Woods – a musician always seeking the next day’s beauty. When we engage with this music we are encountering someone else’s mind, and all the colors of its intuition and imagination. It is in the slipstream of sound and mood that minds are moved and secrets are passed between those who care.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 August 2020

Under the Dome: Almagest

Almagest

Almagest

Under the Dome: Almagest
Released: 25 July 2020
underthedome.bandcamp.com

We should be amazed at where Under the Dome can take us in merely a few moments. The beautiful aural verve of the release Almagest (69’34”) captures familiar feelings in ways we did not know were possible. Drawing the ear into untold depths Grant Middleton and Colin Anderson have realized ten tracks of contrasting sonic intensities and variations in mood. From bright kinetic landscapes down to tenebrous hollows of introspection, then upward amidst a celestial realm, their spirited synthetic forms seem to take up a physical location. From an impressive range of well-crafted textures smart sequencer patterns emerge, skip and trip through captivating story cycles. The repeating rhythms bring security, just as the melodic invention makes us feel free. While echoing electronic tones expand beneath Middleton’s heroic keyboard lines, Anderson’s electric guitar runs ring through the backbone of night. Advancing outward, sonorant leads, consonant harmonies and glittering effects peak, then suddenly morph into introspective vignettes of emotional power. Further in, Almagest provides Mellotron String chord progressions, slow ethereal choirs, swelling drones, and sparkling spacey modulations to bestow a wondrous cosmic atmosphere – until the energy dissipates in a digital deep cloud of spacious reverb. Made using machines, this music is meant to make us feel more human. Smooth power will leave its mark quietly – shining brightly in the most solemn moments. Between the focused, forceful, high-sheen potency, and simple stripped-down space-craft, Almagest‘s every track meets the vivid twists and turns of the listener’s imagination. Instantly accessible, this work will seem familiar to aficionados of the later Berlin-School, yet cannot be traced back to any one source, as it is always following its own interesting path. Almagest is a friendly work, aligning equally with the Minimalism of Spacemusic and the gloss of New Age. A bracing expedition among a treasure-house of stars, it projects a sense of wonder with every note.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 August 2020

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: The Bodhi Mantra

The Bodhi Mantra

The Bodhi Mantra

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: The Bodhi Mantra
Released: 26 June 2020
www.spottedpeccary.com

Howard Givens and Craig Padilla embrace a third collaboration with their The Bodhi Mantra (41’21”), a keenly spirited, heart-seizing work of celestial textures and higher atmospheres. At its core is the earnest emotion of two lovers of sound and space, which may stir our better angels if given a chance. Within their perfect electronic realm this duo conjure three thought zones through which to drift, contemplate possibilities, and imagine the better world this work wishes to call forth. Layers of warm notes slowly gather, build, sustain, and recede in the dreaming tones and lulling harmonies only the best Spacemusic may offer. Rounded tones of a sonorous timbre fluctuate in varying layers of charged synthesizer consonance. The underpinning chords brighten, climb and wane – then turn dark, swelling into a steadily sweeping soft mass. Out of the slow motion of cosmic ideas a roomy sequencer pattern emerges. Star chasing synths react. The accord of notes, so pleasing to the ear, answers to something permanent in our way of being. The Universe is made up mostly of space, how nice to find here some form. The Bodhi Mantra provides conditions in which to consider ideas as deep as the prospect of meaning in a fathomless void, or as vague as finding the infinite moment that this music proposes. What is life but to dream and do? Givens and Padilla summon the creative nerve, amid the gloom of dusk, to venture a passage through to dawn. The listener should use the light of this quiet glow to see better all the good that is around them, as well as the path ahead, and to peace.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 July 2020

Scanner: An Ascent

An Ascent

An Ascent

Scanner: An Ascent
Released: 17 July 2020
www.din.org.uk
www.scannerdot.com

Sleeping too close to an electrical outlet may cause one to dream about the music of Scanner, Robin Rimbaud‘s long-lived project of ambitious sonic messaging. His An Ascent (49’37”) is a mood album, although what exact mood has yet to be determined. From out of some distant district its low-key intensity lingers in our bloodstream, forcing a reassessment of the familiar. Using established EM technology he reveals a music both strange and new. Producing an alternating variety of grainy, cloudy, synthesized and digital sounds Rimbaud has no trouble in manufacturing the vividly breathing and softly pulsing notes that inhabit this release. It is the excellent assembly of these elements into semi-abstract, fuzzy edged forms that so distinguishes him. Giving voice to silenced states of mind An Ascent combines an economy of form and smart surface calculations, and exerts such control over color so as to bare the fullness of a truly eccentric imagination. This collection of varied, curious pieces moves between tightly bound frozen gestures and a slow burning contained emptiness, to the coiled strength and mutable texture of fractured waveforms and dense clouds of sounds. Samples, fragments and loops produce a restless energy – wired from the raw voltage of the imagination. At times his synths show their teeth, as timbre proceeds inexorably from hush to maelstrom – yet, as daunting as this may read, not one of us will hesitate to step inside Rimbaud’s story. From the placid lull of beating oscillators to a stark exposure and dissipation, these nine tracks each have an epic span that belies the few minutes of their duration. As landscapes and machines materialize in our minds this unvarnished minimalism slides into abstraction, then gently recedes into the firmament of night. The result is an album of Ambient Music – but only just. An individualist who finds his place in so many musical situations, Scanner is a creature of the vast aural plane in which he plays. His electronic agency allows him to address the human condition in a way that no other musician can. Probing the quiet recesses of where we dwell, An Ascent captures the spirit of our era. So long as ideas persist in his head, Rimbaud will keep exploring – and continue to give us much to listen to and think about.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 July 2020