starsendradio

Spacemusic Reviews

Category: Ambient

Jeff Greinke: Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Jeff Greinke: Before Sunrise
Released: 6 April 2018
www.spottedpeccary.com
www.jeffgreinke.com

An artist cannot really be represented by a single release, but rather is suggested through an accumulation of work. Throughout his lengthy and varied career Jeff Greinke has gone through an evolution – or maybe, because of its length and so many interesting twists and turns, this aspect of his life may be better described as a convolution. While his earlier albums searched through the rubble of the unconscious, Before Sunrise (57’20”) switches from the cerebral to the specific. With the rigorous organization of the interplay of texture, melody and harmony, and stemming from a developed instinct, he organizes Ambient forms to give his creativity a lucid expression. As usual, Greinke approached the task of producing Before Sunrise with a point of view all his own. Due to the presence of cello, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, flute, French horn, violin and viola this release may be thought to fall in the category of Ambient Chamber Music – and certainly, if you like this sort of thing, then you will not be disappointed. But Greinke has always been a musical outsider – not even faintly trying to get inside – and so these eight tracks do retain that feel and integrity to one degree or another. Some sections of Before Sunrise flow like a spiritual quest for life’s meaning, while others celebrate the outlaw life this remote genre of music may support. As the unwinding ribbon of notes from a violin bend plaintively, droning strings support a melodious narration. Further in a wooded wild place materializes, where we wait, under stars, in the cool of night, well in advance of the first sign of dawn. Thickening under a solemn atmosphere, we may feel a nocturnal presence – like something impending. Possessing the capacity to inspire contradictory responses, it is often very gorgeous – this strange and beautiful wayward place of sound. After all these years, decades of making records, Greinke still asks for nothing more than our quiet attention. There is something radical about that, and about such stubborn faith in one’s work – and in us.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 August 2018

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Meg Bowles: Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Meg Bowles: Evensong: Canticles for the Earth
Released: 22 June 2018
www.megbowlesmusic.com

Meg Bowles makes us vulnerable to the beauty of our planet. In doing so, she shares something of herself with us. With each album release she is becoming new herself – in ways that matter. Evensong: Canticles for the Earth (63’13”) is a beautiful original, with echoes of the greats. It is rapturous music that grants us passage into a fair land where worry follows us no more. The seven soundscapes afford space for both melodic pleasure and probing reflection. Verdant harmonies, spacey modulations and lustrous tones float through these tracks, but what lingers is the overall aura. While beautiful synthesized chords and effects drift randomly between tones and textures, rounded string pads extend above a dramatic rumbling darkening realm. Along with its ethereal choirs, murmuring bass and delicate atmospheres, Evensong: Canticles for the Earth also offers glowing bursts of energy – yet it still feels like a refuge. In an engaging, converging arrangement of sounds Bowles exerts a force on our imagination. Blurry chords of keyboard tones and the occasional gently pulsating sequencer pattern provide sleek propulsion across shimmering sonic terrain, the musical equivalent of crossing a majestic landscape, over the earth and beneath the stars. Playing with an unforced tenderness and warmth, Bowles tries to help connect the listener with terrestrial currents. But as reassuring as this work is it does remind us that we live with many questions. People seek certainty and meaning, but all the world seems to give us is ambiguity. That is because the Earth lives in its own kind of deep time, moving at a rate we cannot comprehend. So better we embrace the beauty and impermanence of the human condition, celebrate the mystery and the unknowing of life, and add our voice to the chorus of humanity.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 July 2018

Hotel Neon: Means of Knowing

Means of Knowing

Means of Knowing

Hotel Neon: Means of Knowing
Released: 14 May 2018
archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com
www.hotelneonmusic.com

Hotel Neon decorates our condition with music. They draw on old photos, crumbling landscapes, mythic archetypes and their own restless sonic imaginations to realize albums that seem less made than discovered. As if plucked from the cultural ether and given color, voice and form, Means of Knowing is a work for large forces. Offering the audience relief from the plight of Mankind, if this release suffers from anything, it is that, in delivering that ease, it is, at times, almost too gorgeous for its own good. Their work moves, not at the rate you would expect for Ambient Music, but at a speed determined by the motion of atmospheric eddies – like the turbulence of refracted effects on unresolved distant sources. Thanks to the players’ subtly heightened, fiercely focused energies, Means of Knowing resounds with emotional and intellectual acuity. Using primarily electric guitars and a synthesizer, the occasional addition of field recordings or room noise adds a dimension of place. With pure harmonics spiraling around us, sound seems to hang in the air, at once diffused and enriched. Routed through various levels and kinds of processing, the vibrating steel strings of their instruments blur into interference fringes, the result of unique sonic diffraction or subtle distortion. Below this vague churning mass, electronic emanations hold forth in a foundation of low-lying drones. Across 12 waking prayers Hotel Neon’s studied imaginings have a tug of an inescapable gravity. Evoking a feeling of somber introspection, some pieces are as still as death, in a representation of the eternally forlorn. Black as winter branches, these passages deepen quietly, with a ghostly flourish and the rush of darkness. Here a frost wrought stillness mingles with the void. Later, the sound of a rough edge on a surface tugs from the edges, echoing and pulling attention away from the center. Further in, tracks gradually evolve into an intense aural field. Finally stretching across all instrument ranges, the expanse of notes becomes so large that the collective layering of instruments are treated as one single entity – just texture, loudness and tension. As the spell unravels, we shield our eyes – with the night yielding once more to day. As warm as sunlight on your face, a winged spirit does rise in day glow tones. This taming is a quieter action that calls upon us to grow. In addition to being masterfully made, Means of Knowing is an honest exploration of human qualities. Some will find it a balm for the troubles and griefs that pull people together, while others will use it simply to still the wheels of an over-worked mind. Hotel Neon lends enduring form to the stuff of their lives. You sense their sound on the skin, but feel it in your gut.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 June 2018

Steve Roach: Molecules of Motion

Molecules of Motion

Molecules of Motion

Steve Roach: Molecules of Motion
Released: 1 June 2018
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

Those who have traveled the farthest have gained the most perspective. Steve Roach invites us to listen with him, granting us privileged access to a hopeful view. His work exerts a force on the imagination, and brings much news from a distant corner of life. The album Molecules of Motion (73’18”) feels new and electric. Excitingly alive, this CD finds its dramatic momentum and action situated in Roach’s sequencers. Focused with full-beam intensity he lends musical energy to the language of ideas. Like many armed sparks sequencers issue tones and tumbling grooves break out of the controlled voltages. In an appreciation of complexity wordless structures explore forces – as the circulating fractals of tone patterns embody greater themes: the speed of life passing, the burden of memory. In an apt blend of vigor and momentum we become bedazzled by the sound of echoing synthesized riffs running on beneath swirling textures of atmosphere. Molecules of Motion has its soft spots too. As Roach occasionally idles the engine, late scenes are filled with serene sonic beauty. This taming is a quieter action, a simpler transaction of sound. Falling into infinity, we are unable to name the upper realm. This release rewards the deep diver – as we find the undercurrent of each track includes a whispered confidence shared with every listener. In streaks, flares, and charges in the open air, each of the four tracks transport our thoughts through space and time – just as easily as they may guide our attention down to territory more microscopic. The imaginary soundworlds Roach creates have an entrancing effect – enfolding such optimism in an era of blank desolation. He never loses sight of the natural wonders he is trying to capture, or of the nebulous mysteries he is attempting to fathom. Molecules of Motion reaffirms our sonic joy as the sustaining life force that it is.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 June 2018

Robert Rich: The Biode

The Biode

The Biode

Robert Rich: The Biode
Released: 25 February 2018
www.robertrich.com

What will we be thinking about while we listen to The Biode (57’37”) by Robert Rich? Is existence a property? Or a state? How do we measure the modern world? What constitutes the self? A talent on a free course, Rich progresses, not in a straight line, but in alternate divergences from one side of creativity to the other. His work on The Biode re-awakens the discussion of music and the surreal. To the ear accustomed to soothing atmospheres, this album is a risk – as it deviates quite seriously from better known traditions. A great deal of its charm lies in its ability to confound and perplex. An exploration of new aims and tendencies, the ten tracks found on The Biode are each an exploitation of carefully chosen and contrasted tonal qualities. Rich’s harmonic lubrications are subtle, revealing the dim light of mystic musing. Instrumental tone colors are combined, yet each stands clear of the other – asserting a mutual independence. As a gathering of rhythmic threads arise and resolve in unconventional sequencer patterns and percussive structures, tiny snatches of melody pass like vain dreams – heedlessly into some other chord. From sweet, to pungent, to the primordial, a slow progression of pale hues test permitted concords and discords. Throughout this release Rich features his notable research into the qualities of timbre, into the effects of new combinations of tones. These imaginative modulations are highlighted as prominently as the more familiar reverberant flute solos, steel guitar leads and synthesized pads. The result is a wonderful zone of beautiful melodies and sonic grandeur, accented by glurping electronic utterances and an unsettling intonation. However scientific its conception may have been, The Biode proves very expressive. As faithful in detail as any of Rich’s best work, it represents the furthest progress yet in acknowledging the human subconscious, and the emotional and intellectual attitudes of the mind.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 March 2018

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: Being of Light

Being of Light

Being of Light

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: Being of Light
Released: 8 September 2017
www.spottedpeccary.com
www.howardgivens.com
www.craigpadilla.com

While the synthesizer ceremony which begot Being of Light (68’26”) may have begun in a studio, it concludes well out into The Universe. Howard Givens & Craig Padilla have met again in a fellowship of the imagination, and aspire to be their best selves. Building on a musical relationship established on their previous release Life Flows Water (2015), they continue to mine the possibilities of Spacemusic as the perfect tool for exploring the possibilities of the world. As the robust dialogue unfolds in weightless flight, we find it hard to resist a work animated by such free-form randomness. Passing through the night, diffuse emanations rise against a much larger backdrop. As starlight chords shine in a shadowy midnight, waves of rounded electronic figures produce tranquil zones for inward contemplation. Within mesmerizing drones, this album’s momentous moments slip by in a beguiling ease. Yet, thanks to its recurring synth string chord motion, harmony and contrast interplay to great effect. Making a gentle path through the sense of hearing, Being of Light presents four sustained atmospheres for fathoming our own mental mysteries. Issuing cool notes as in a round silvery beam, well-warmed keyboards seem determined to conjure joy. Measure upon measure of slowly changing, undulating chords advance and recede along a musical arc of vague dimensions. The slowly breathing tones summon interesting variations in mood and space. Synthetic pads rush together to form a still subtle layer, as further in the atmosphere charges with a wispy, bewitching haze of restrained, poetic minimalism. Signaling forward motion, the quiet patter of slowly repeating bass notes support well-placed guitar and piano, hovering just within our grasp – offering much-needed points of reference along an expansive aural journey. Givens & Padilla shape the listening experience by stretching and compressing time through the arrangement of sound, its density and timbral elements. In cool constraint, they dwell in restful sonic colors – luxuriant in their stillness. Any work flooded with this level of emotion is worthy of our respect. The refuge of music offers (those open to it) safety from the prevailing contemporary spiritual vacancy. Being of Light brightens, and the darkness seems chased away – which should be quite helpful while charting the inner map of knowing.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 March 2018

Hollan Holmes: Prayer to the Energy

Prayer to the Energy

Prayer to the Energy

Hollan Holmes: Prayer to the Energy
Released: 1 February 2018
www.hollanholmesmusic.com

Beyond mainstream contemporary music we know well that there are worlds both surprising and fascinating – yet it is still quite difficult to get people to visit them. Encountering the music of Hollan Holmes would surely leave the first time traveler wondering what took them so long? Prayer to the Energy is his sixth release. A double CD of high principles, it is yet another opportunity for Holmes to share his excitement for his highly personal style of EM with others. Much more than a collection of mechanical signals, Prayer to the Energy is an interpretation of the self – his and ours. Felt like a spark of warmth through the icy Universe, the astute listener will enjoy the details and geometry in its texture (that is if you are not first lulled into a blissed-out state of repose). Sound waves propagate and exhibit colors, textures and opacities both intricate and alluring. Confident melodic lines lead into near digital black, while further in an Escherian lattice of cycling notes echo out like the furies at work. Here the sequencer patterns act like a force accelerator – as swooning dabs of sound achieve a strong, contrasty, multi-tonal soundfield. Variegated in tone and atmosphere, Prayer to the Energy moves from densely packed benighted soundscape to the brightfield sound of layered analogue synthesizers. Presented with shimmer and gleam, brilliant chords build and haunt. Holmes regards his gear as a rich sphere of aesthetic possibilities – always applying his instruments in an imaginative and individual way. The 14 tracks found on Prayer to the Energy (the two most lengthy works were commissioned for STAR’S END) lead us through a delicate realm. We the people of this community have the unique ability to hear things in a way others cannot. It is important to share this privilege. In realizing his work Holmes has made a journey that few can understand – yet through the simple act of listening, of traveling through this music, it may be fully comprehended… and Holmes always makes this destination worth the trip.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 February 2017