Spacemusic Reviews

Brendan Pollard: Cycles and Pulses

Cycles and Pulses

Brendan Pollard: Cycles and Pulses
Released: 6 May 2022

For his first album back after months off resetting his music studio Brendan Pollard delivers a release that is somewhat less than an all-out sequencer celebration than it is a carefully cultivated atmosphere of deliberation. Full of hidden connections and secret encounters, his Cycles and Pulses (65:08) is an epic in five-parts. Its ambitious scope is tender and reaching, then stormy and searing – the sound field reducing down to a lithe tensile thread, then expanding out into wider, wilder dimensions. Rising into the pleasures of pulse his Berlin-School inspired works gain momentum in cycles of note motifs echoing energy beneath hovering ambient shadows. As commanding melodies flee past shimmering sonic shapes, the structured delirium resolves into a solemn hymn to humanity. Converging in darkness Mellotron strings roll over corroded drones. While glittering accents and fluttering modulations swirl above a motoring pattern of tones, sustaining organ chords enter and chill the electronic current. Throughout over an hour of exploration Cycles and Pulses is in a constant state of motion. Its spare, controlled style unites intrinsic conflicts and vast landscapes in framings as haunted as the are provocative. Overcome by rolling swells and peels of sound, powerful patterns and hushed harmonies, the listener surrenders to Pollard’s spacey spell. In complete command of this style he communicates in code. From wildly impulsive, down to the more cerebral, encrypted messages grow abstract and questioning – easily delivering exhilarating, propulsive synth devotionals on a celestial scale. Our world is big, but the realm of space and sound is even bigger. Pollard’s form of expression is infinitely mutable, its structure open, yet orderly – allowing for innovation and variation. The mind is its own place, which is where Cycles and Pulses takes up residence. The re-birth of wonder, and the insistent reclamation of our humanity may be among its highest productions.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 May 2022

Chuck van Zyl: The Winter Wind

The Winter Wind Chuck van Zyl

Chuck van Zyl: The Winter Wind
Released: 8 May 2022

An artist of independent mind, Chuck van Zyl has sighted common goals with industry8, which has now released The Winter Wind (41:22) – the first vinyl LP project for both artist and label. Leaning into Spacemusic’s expressive potential, Chuck van Zyl directs our attention inwardly – where it expands. Across two side-long aural odes to wind, frost, snowflakes and ice he generates meaning from an array of analogue and digital studio devices and instruments. Referencing classics of the Berlin-School, sounds and energy arise, combine, change and melt away – gradually, as all things sub-zero must.

Side A’s In the Dull Soft Skies of Coming Snow (20:50) conjures ice, frost and snow, as well as a sense of scale. Navigating between tundral gloom and arctic brilliance the sequencer notes tumble one over another in echoing syncopation. The motoring pulse expands and contracts beneath lilting lead lines and gelid chords. Synthesized strings freeze and thaw, while silvery strains hold fast to the heart. This lovely electronic wandering sonifies the bold proportions of the wintertime, and electrifies the listener in its chilled charm. It seems for a season yet to come – further ahead than our own, but not too far removed.

The hibernal texture of Side B’s On the Swift Howlings of the Winter Wind (20:32) are bright, crisp and clear, producing the feel of the confidently cold. As crystalline tones tinkle and twinkle under hovering reverberation, a slow storm forms a quiet force. Snowflakes chase along ten banks of sequencers – returning a vision as fresh as the new fallen snow. This magical boreal region of shining auroras and starlit melodies freezes time by inundating the mind with thought. Searching and contemplative, then striding into the deep, it achieves a satisfying, consistent level of creativity beyond the cold logic of the machines used to create it.

Whether describing the bareness of a vast tundral landscape or the complexity of an individual snowflake – The Winter Wind offers unique insight into our realm through the infinite perspectives of music. Finding our way into this work should be a familiar adventure. It has been made for a particular kind of listener – determined to collect unique feelings and enjoy each span of sonic spirit while it lasts. Chuck van Zyl believes that this kind of music has the potential to contain the world, and asks only that we please listen to his album, and the world, together.

From the Press Release – 7 May 2022

Paul Ellis: Pulse Width

Pulse Width Paul Ellis

Paul Ellis: Pulse Width
Released: 22 April 2022

The work of Spacemusician Paul Ellis is to imagine, through music, a world better than the one we live in now. His system of instruments harbor a realm they can actualize, a reality we cannot know until it is here. Out of a hazy shade of square waves comes Pulse Width (63:33), appointment listening which only whets the appetite for more music of this kind. Ellis splits his story between five pieces. Never simply academic, but in turns visceral, sensual and epic, Pulse Width expertly shifts focus – reducing a composition to its skeletal shape amidst the gentle untangling of melody, only to rise in sonic overdrive just for the sake of how it sounds. An advanced sequencer mathematics builds smaller cycles into larger ones. Mellotron strings and flute call out in a fragile consistency – providing a fleeting reference against which the developing patterns stand out. The tracks come on easy, but a few moments in we realize that each has got hold of us. There is a particularly striking openness to this album, marked by spacious improvisations, and a tendency to reveal secrets and melodies at their own pace. Poetic without being overwrought, the narrative of Pulse Width expands past its maker, to edge gently out into the cosmos, in a realm where we find the magical, the otherworldly and the unexplained. If this release qualifies as experimental, then this experiment is instantly effective.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 April 2022

David Helpling: In

In David Helpling

David Helpling: In
Released: 15 April 2022

The David Helpling double album In presents 13 tracks of new and beautifully original Contemporary Instrumental music. Bringing a wealth of thought-provoking complexity to these calming and pleasing works Helpling drifts between sonorous soundscapes and twilight worlds, to synthetic cinema sonnets and animated blooms of mood. Along this knowing arc of artistic vision, luminous synthesizer tones and chords, with electric guitar patterns and swells, sound out his musical voice. With clarity and simplicity being the dominating philosophy, Helpling builds out some pieces with guest artists. Nidhi Bhatmuley, Matthew Schoening, Miriam Stockley and Benjy Wertheimer lend aid in the portrayal of a realm lit by sun, moon and stars, made new by sound and spirit. While some songs feature tight arrangements of clean melodies and harmonies over determined beats, further along our journey In the focus shifts away from rhythm, phrasing and pacing, and more toward atmosphere and texture. Where these sustained moods offer repose and contemplation, amidst lightness and hope Helpling does explore the more refined and elegant timbres of his instruments. The sonic designs which emerge out this tonalist dream are in constant motion – heated by the urgent force of a timeless and elegant music. The cumulative effect is genuinely grand.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END21 April 2022

Lisa Bella Donna: American Watercolors

American Watercolors Lisa Bella Donna

Lisa Bella Donna: American Watercolors
Released: 1 April 2022

On American Watercolors (43:25) Lisa Bella Donna reconciles enthusiasm for music technology with a reverence for the creation of mood, texture and atmosphere. Delivering this work with all the eloquence and excellence of more prevalent, better known methods and forms of art, each of its two lengthy tracks put forth a gorgeous love song to electricity. Seeking the current moving across the ages, these pieces both begin by emanating a quiet magnetism. Inching toward profundity, nothing can break the transportive spell. Suggesting inroads to the unknown, American Watercolors extends dynamically from quiet synth whispers and venting drones, to echoing sequencer runs and a commanding keyboard croon. Beneath spiraling electronic accents patterns cycle in metronomic syncopation. Sustaining like an engine in its power zone, we are propelled onward. As raw waveforms blend with rounded tones, buzzing notes resound with immediacy. Vibrantly animated, the sounds and tones on this album are pushed, pulled, coaxed and commanded to shape an ethereal realm, while lead lines bring a focus to the story of the song. Drawn along by outsized electronic chords this etheric articulation of space seethes with the artist’s excitement. With its haunting and persistent tellurian undertones American Watercolors is tender, mystical and spacious, saturated in forest spirits and the broader dream of planetary consciousness – proof that music carried out seriously is its own undeniable action.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 April 2022

Michael Stearns: Planetary Unfolding

Planetary UnfoldingMichael Stearns

Michael Stearns: Planetary Unfolding
Released 1 April 2022

Upon its issue on 1 May 1981 Michael StearnsPlanetary Unfolding (45:07) emerged as the clear standard for other such explorations. This release made history, and has retained its authority long after the flash of music technology that produced it. One reason why it has remained relevant for so many decades is because so many have tried to copy it. The deep Stearns sound and atmosphere established throughout Planetary Unfolding has been revived, recycled, reprocessed, re-interpreted and re-imagined continually in contemporaneous works ever since we first came in contact with it so many years ago. If studying the greats makes one greater, then we owe so much to this remarkable album. Its positive influence has catalyzed the generations that have followed it, which led to so much new and substantial music coming into our midst. Reflecting an interest in rendering sonically the unseen lines of The Universe, its two lengthy tracks, each in three movements, meditate on the mystery of the cosmos. Giving form to an expansive realm, Stearns offers us the use of his imagination to contemplate our place in the continuum of creation. Putting listeners on intimate terms with the present moment, its dreaminess and structural purity lends the music a kind of twilit mysticism. From stark, formless sensations to colorful whirlwinds of thunderous diversion, Planetary Unfolding is charged with inexplicable emotion, and once heard is apt to take up permanent residence within the listener. Over twinkling synth scales and heady string arrangements, we settle into a sense of hushed wonder. Soon, engulfed in ethereal voices, more vigorous feats extend to vertiginous heights, then branch off down unfamiliar paths. Where a quiet ambient march seems more instinctive than mechanical, rising symphonic electronic forms enthrall on their own. Further in, chord structures, amorphous and cool, present profound contrasts in harmony – in motifs which now anchor standard accounts of New Age music. Some music distracts, while other kinds numb, but the best moves the imagination. Here Stearns’ dramatic pressure provides an ingenious continuity – rising Planetary Unfolding to a realm above more rote EM realizations. Every moment of this album offers something marvelous and new. So what place does it have in our world? Something this wondrous might seem to be emanating from the future. Yet, 40 years after its release the values that Planetary Unfolding present still seem from a time yet to come. A time, hopefully for us, not out of our reach.

STAR’S END/Chuck van Zyl – 31 March 2022

Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 9 December 2021

The Gatherings 9 December 2021

Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 9 December 2021
Released: 26 March 2022

In early December of 2021 a circle of CIMA of PA donors assembled in the church sanctuary of St Mary’s Hamilton Village for an intimate “Candle Concert” with noted Electronic Musician Chuck van Zyl.

The Gatherings 9 December 2021 (72:01) presents the complete continuous set by Chuck van Zyl. Held during a time of great uncertainty, his concert realization Night Prayer was made live in the moment before a small yet enthusiastic, 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.

Lithe in movement, incisive in diction, finished in tone, vivid in an elemental way, concerts by Chuck van Zyl brood, then celebrate the world. Commensurate with its dark magnificence this live set began with the deeper spatial impressions Spacemusic affords. The furtiveness it encourages bestows a sedate equilibrium – known especially well to this artist. Gleaming in the night, the sound hollows out beneath us, pulling us along – toward strobing power electronics. As soon as one note pattern rises and clarifies another is born, building monumental musical structures in echoing layers of mechanized motifs. Settling into a subtle Berlin-School sequencer dance, the soundspace resounds in a dreamy and reflective glow. Each perfectly paced part blends with the next, generating a galvanic energy of cosmic scale.

Chuck van Zyl believes in the potential of Electronic Music, and the possibilities of live improvisation. Confidence in this pursuit seems to ripple through him – so much so that we can almost see the creative current flowing right out through his fingertips. Continuing to seek the elusive aspects of music and expression unavailable in the studio – he hopes that you will join him at a concert, to uplift and inspire, to listen, and to truly hear his life.

The Gatherings 9 December 2021 receives its Youtube Premiere on Saturday 26 March 2022.

Audio of this event has been produced into a concert album to benefit The Gatherings Concert Series – the release of which coincides with the Youtube Premiere of the 9 December 2021 full concert video. Proceeds from the sale of The Gatherings 9 December 2021 by Chuck van Zyl go to support the efforts of CIMA of PA, the IRS recognized, non-profit, all-volunteer organization which oversees The Gatherings Concert Series in Philadelphia.

from the Press Release – 24 March 2022

Jeff Greinke: Noctilucent

NoctilucentJeff Greinke

Jeff Greinke: Noctilucent
Released 18 March 2022

The wonder of Jeff Greinke is how his field of vision keeps expanding. An artist dreaming about transformation, about the world as it could be, his decades long discography commands a craft and capability unknown to most musicians. Each conducted in a methodical movement the nine pieces on Noctilucent (57:56) possess a lustrous tone, which registers in the cooler zones of the atmospheric weatherglass. From tender soundscapes for hollowed out souls, and tenuous, billowing phenomena, its stark electronic incantations are shadowed by a higher majesty felt in Greinke’s remarkable sonic architecture. There is even a fleet sequencer piece placed about midway through – where, taut and tricky, this album’s scope is widened and contrasts heightened. Turning shadows into recognizable Ambient Music, this release reveals its beauty slowly and intelligently. Vaporous and shadowy, completely in its own head, tracks burn best in the more measured moments. The softer this music falls, the longer we dwell upon it, and the deeper it sinks into the mind. Searching the range of consonance and dissonance, timbre and shade, ambience and aura, these gently resounding works thrive and wither each over a brief span – somehow elevated by our focussed attention. Throughout its run Noctilucent is neither completely lit nor entirely dark. It presents a subdued mystery, which it never intends to answer – that duty is left entirely to the listener.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 March 2022

Various Artists: Protons and Neutrons

Protons and Neutrons

Various Artists: Protons and Neutrons
Released: 18 March 2022

The DiN Records anthology series Tone Science submits its sixth volume with Protons and Neutrons (69:28) – an assemblage of stories connected by technology that when taken together has the power to extend and enrich our thoughts.

Wandering through a realm rooted in the electrical, Prisms by James Bernard flows in gentle brushstrokes of sound. Vanta by Elin Piel offers suspense, then the certain cycling of intermingling sequencer lines. Field Lines Cartographer (Mark Burford) provides an intriguing sonic collage with his Eddy Currents, which languidly drifts and flutters about the listening space. In a further step toward abstraction Contradictory Forecasts from Sarah Belle Reid tells its story of modulations and routings through a current of experimentation. Adrian Beasley gently restores consonance with Waving in Harmony, a sustaining transfer between resonant notes and dreaming modules. Elinch advances the energy level in the lively Upward, a building, strobing, pattern piece of voltic emanations. With Random Possibilities Steve Roach pursues the mystery pulse vibrating within his music system. In the Shadow of Giants by Ombient (Mike Hunter) references the 1970s Berlin-School in synchronized layers of mechanized patterns. Then, working all the dials, switches and patch cables Doug Lynner shapes and steers audio discharged from galvanic sources, and with his The Mutation Trio concludes this collection in a challenge to seek meaning in this conceptual work.

Protons and Neutrons presents another nine exemplary tracks based on the open architecture of modular synthesis, and is a must-have for those interested in adventurous Electronic Music. The realizations presented throughout the Tone Science series touch something essential within the informed listener. Making their statements through the manipulation of sound, this group forges electricity into music of no terrestrial reference. Each contribution in this run of albums is a commitment to the creative act itself – which transpires in a surreal, unknowable atmosphere – and asks nothing more than to ignite the gifts of the imagination.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END10 March 2022

Lorenzo Montana: Descent

Descent Lorenzo Montana

Lorenzo Montana: Descent
Released: 4 March 2022

On Descent (52:35), Lorenzo Monatana goes for a lasting wonderment. An absorbing release, those open to the seduction of Electronic drama will be greatly rewarded. A terrain of scenic contrasts always makes for more interesting travels. But on this Descent we may never make a landing, ideally spending the duration of this album traversing the depths of our own imagination. With some sounds submerged in shadow, while others are shining on the surface, slowly circling clouds of harmony produce a fascinating atmosphere. Enigmatic, but with an air of possibility, the mood and emotional momentum transform minute by minute in an ever-evolving manipulation of touch and tone. Where reverberant chords surrender to the horizon, glowing notes flex and fade among forgotten areas of the self. With subtle percussion riffs materializing on his evocative synthesizer textures, Montana produces passages of mystic intrigue. In devouring durations of dusk, the eight tracks advance under their own pulse. Using long building sonic structures and negative space to delineate form, it is possible to find grace somewhere in the minimal twilight of this beautiful work. Descent gradually alternates between the dark and intense, and the dense and untrodden, but also inside the gentle and delicate – which acts to open a space where we may submit to the innermost exploration.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 March 2022