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Spacemusic Reviews

Alien Planetscapes: An Act of Reason

Doug WalkerAn Act of Reason

Alien Planetscapes: An Act of Reason
Released: 24 March 2020 (re-issue of 1988 cassette)
penga.bandcamp.com
www.alienplanetscapes.com

In these strange landlocked times, it feels good to again experience the wide-ranging efforts of Alien Planetscapes. Headed by multi-instrumentalist Doug Walker, this project expanded and contracted personnel to accommodate whatever sonic vision its founder was seeking. His perfect imaginative indulgences circulated widely through the lost world of the cassette underground – to be rediscovered in the light of the present today. One such release (from 1988) is An Act of Reason (55:44), and now finds its re-issue through Penga/Alternate Media Tapes. Although Walker passed away in 2006 his Alien Planetscapes is part of a story that has been unspooling since synthesizers first began to proliferate among creative types in the 1980s – in which Walker, the then Spacemusic knave, ultimately is recognized as a Free Music knight. Joined on An Act of Reason by Carl Howard, the duo act on creative impulses, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant, that come together in a music of its time – even as it evokes an era yet to come. In the thrill of an unfamiliar ritual this pair’s animated interplay commands attention throughout the nearly one hour running time. Glancing and indirect, then suddenly illuminating, their soundscape reflects a psychological apprehension – as the listener, groping through a dark maze, may at any time round a corner into revelation.
The athletic experimentation results in the creation of an ever-evolving sound print. Unexpectedly moving, this recording shifts easily from serenity to improvisational fervor. Muscular and dusky, then tenebrous and searching, the resulting spontaneous composition masterfully converts notes and tones, textures and timbres, into rare cerebral states. As expressions growl and shriek, listeners and players alike feel a cleansing of negative emotions. In a gradual outward motion the arrangement of organ, synthesizers, sequencers, flute, glissando guitar and effects moves from a quiet ferocity of sudden new reckonings to more minimalist murmurings of mystery and awe. Listening to An Act of Reason we can hear Doug Walker being more than an electronic musician. An innovator, he approached music as an exploration, an improvisation, a means by which to put his inner dimensions out into the world. His jams were exciting, as he brought listeners into his remarkable realm… a place where anything could happen. But not everyone will take the time to appreciate this work. It requires some effort to become aware of how well Alien Planetscapes created atmosphere and mood. With its intertwined forms and shades of timbre, and improbable approximations of light and dark, Walker & Howard produce an effect that becomes gradually more unsettling the longer we listen. Nevertheless, An Act of Reason more than repays the effort, as its honesty, intensity and urgency remain undiminished by the passing years. This tape truly put the “mental” in experimental. As long as this vital recording exists, so will its message of free-spirited creation.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 29 October 2020

Softbase: Of Its Time

Softbase: Of Its Time
Released: 9 October 2020
softbase.bandcamp.com

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must make music. Best known as a member of the trio AirSculpture, Peter Ruczynski explores the propensity of the individual with Softbase, a solo project allowing him to realize works completely of his own vision. The album Of Its Time (44:11) presents seven manifestations of a continually blooming mind. A skillful Electronic Musician Ruczynski knows well how to generate unique tones and textures, but also how to keep his electronic stories moving. Ranging in feel from a low gentle expansion on up to kinetic head nodding this release attains a friendly, pleasant consonance throughout. The player’s practiced sense of composition conveys his interiority, just as his prowess with purring oscillators and resonating filters allows him to expose and flavor the sonic space we occupy. His compositions register as propositions of certain principles – chiefly, openness and clarity. The gentile atmosphere, nuanced inflections and tonal clarity will be found enchanting – and enhancing to the mystical landscapes of the mind. Of Its Time also achieves a more mechanical feel. As concentric bands of sequencer patterns emerge and establish themselves the electronic pulsing and echoing form a kinetic glow of metrical forms – which push through different levels and phases in a most imaginative way. Further on, Ruczynski demonstrates the deeper continuities of abstraction – and the energies released in reductive forms. With the delicacy of a miniaturist he administers fitting samples here and there, and adds to the album’s sonic diversity. Yet, with its recurring synthesized string motion, harmony and contrast interplay to great effect – as does the stability of consonance along a progressive musical arc. Music means many things to many people, and grants us experiences we otherwise may not have. But the warmth of this music feels like a fragile happiness that has been sought out. Realized through a system of intuition this production is an expression of the self, meant for anyone who may be looking for a star in the night, or maybe something here on the Earth, something completely Of Its Time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 October 2020

Mathieu Karsenti: Dimension Blue & Bygones

Downstream BlueBygonesMathiue Karsenti

Mathieu Karsenti: Downstream Blue & Bygones
Released: 5 June 2020 & 2 October 2020
www.slowcraft.info
www.mathieukarsenti.com

Although a composer for film, Mathieu Karsenti is on the same wavelength as the best of our Ambient Musicians. With Downstream Blue (21’54”) and Bygones (41’14”) he resists the urge to compose music which shows off how fast a player can play, or how quickly an ensemble can turn, but rather dares his musicians to perform his scores at a more measured pace and with the utmost care. This pair of releases features work made with a range of instruments: piano, acoustic guitar, bowed strings, as well as electric and synthetic textures – to make a different kind of soundtrack, one for a future that may never arrive. In his enchanted, compact symphonic take on Ambient Music Karsenti composes tone poems slowed to a crawl. Re-imagining the monumental structures of orchestral music, he relaxes them, removes the front, center and background, and replaces the virtuoso focal point with a more spacious arrangement – a thoughtful texture and atmosphere which listeners may step into rather than watch playing out from the sidelines. Where restless ever-shifting tones emit a frosty, string-led cold wave, further in an electric piano provides an inventive magical lilt. Chords play and progress toward a resolution, but some seem to get lost – dissolving into a soft aura of digital reverberation. It is the array of expressive sonic shades and hues that produces the looming ambiance of Downstream Blue and Bygones – which make their expressions through variations in the density, surface and radiance of timbre. Away from the familiar climax and release of the common repertoire somber thematic workings move with a beautiful dreamy deliberation. While some of these (12 in total) compositions feel anguished and stormy, others are sonorous and subdued, merging with chilled waves and rounded pulses in a philosophical deconstruction of Classical Music. The resulting fragile soundscapes will lull many to sleep, but awaken a fine few others to all that is good in the world. The duplet of Downstream Blue and Bygones impart the sustaining atmosphere of Ambient Chamber Music, but with a sense of intimacy and immediacy better known from poets of the Spoken arts. This kind of music sounds and thinks the way we do. It is a language we can use to better understand ourselves – while dispelled in its pleasant diversion. It is true that these two releases offer passages of aural beauty and heartening ascent – which will indeed be pleasing to the ear and restorative to the soul – but both also offer a significant challenge to the listener… to hear and know this music deeply, to have your own thoughts and know your own meanings, and respond in the way that you move through the world.

15 October 2020 – Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END

K Markov: Dimension Warp

K Markov: Dimension Warp
Released: 1 October 2020
kmarkov.bandcamp.com

Dimension Warp
Dimension Warp

With Dimension Warp (63’56”) K Markov again shares his journey through space. Showing us what it is like out there on the astral plane he reminds us of the origins of the Berlin-School while helping to write its next chapter. The three rich and studied electronic compositions strike at the core of human existence, and aspire to bring out feelings of vastness, possibility and potential in its listeners – in a way that no other art can. Swirling in a circulation of synthetic sound the arc of each track extends secretly through absorbing fields of sculpted textures and glowing atmospheres. With its stretches of building harmonies and measured melodies, the energy level lifts, drifts and slips in a freedom known only to those experienced at traveling in place. The experience deepens as languid sequencer patterns emerge, establish, echo and energize, then resolve and recede into a quiet sense of mystery. These entrancing cyclical motifs and subtle synth solos unwind in your mind. Surging and cresting, then shifting and drifting, every starry resolution points to the bright future this work promises. The power, potential and precision of Markov’s sonic fortitude conjures some cosmic terrain, as his assuredness of tone and theme seems to lift our faces to the heavens. Through the sheer manipulation of sound practitioners in this style realize expressions of a substance different from that of any other form of music. The best of these works reach a place within us where spoken words do not. Dimension Warp is a fine example of combining the forward-thinking ambitions of sonic innovation and emotional complexity. Every minute is well spent.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 October 2020

Various Artists: Head in the Clouds

Head in the CloudsVarious Artists: Head in the Clouds
Released: 28 September 2020
www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

Head in the Clouds presents 24 tracks realized by artists under the influence of the Berlin-School of Kosmische Musik. Available as a limited edition double LP + double CD set this anthology will certainly be stimulating to collectors as well as to aficionados of thought-provoking, mind-moving Spacemusic. Loaded with MiniMoogs, Mellotrons and Modulars this release pays tribute to the innovators of the style, and bears witness to the decades of musical wonder they have begotten. Referencing early incarnations of groups such as Can, Jane, Popol Vuh, Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel, Neu! Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and others the energy of this extensive collection roams from the upbeat of Prog-Rock rhythms to downtempo currents of shivering chills.

An assuredness of tone reflects the theme of each work by Anton Barbeau, Sula Bassana (David Schmidt), Black Tempest (Stephen Bradbury), Blue Lily Commission (Stephen Palmer), Jack Ellister, exedra (Darrall Knight), Helicon Wave (Jochen Oberlack), Jah Buddha (Bob Hedger), The Lost Stoned Pandas (Marc Swordfish & Peter Bingham), Maat Lander (Arkady Fedotov & Ilya Lipkin & Ivan Fedotov), MAC of BIOnighT (Jason Krueger), Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen, Brendan Pollard, Saturn’s Ambush, Son of Ohm (L.A. Wijma), Jay Tausig, Trace Imprint (Jon Chinn), Under Golden Canopy (Geoff Puplett & Simon Lewis) and Vibravoid (Christian Koch). From the diffuse formlessness of negative space to densely packed layers of harmony, on to melodies unfurling above mounting sequencer motifs their work encourages the imagination. Happily detained in awe the music washes over us – as we simply revel in its many shades of sound.

The 1970s decade of music is now a world apart from the present day. The identity of this era was believed to have resided in the consciousness of the makers and consumers of this music- a voluntary association of many people, organized under an idea. Head in the Clouds offers all that Spacemusic is known for, and then some. At the heart of every contribution contains the simple desire to follow the course of thought, to transfer a unique atmosphere, mood or story between the the mind of the musician and listener. Full of intellectual power and aesthetic beauty they thrive on the idea of The Universe as a place of possibility and wonder… A realm where the intimate is melded with the epic, in primitive machine beauty.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 October 2020

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