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Spacemusic Reviews

Category: Looping

Erik Wollo: Infinite Moments

Infinite Moments

Infinite Moments

Erik Wøllo: Infinite Moments
Released: 4 January 2019
www.projekt.com
www.wollo.com

Often, music will reflect the state of the times in which it is being made. Fortunately for us, Erik Wøllo is making music not for our now, but for our future. The album Infinite Moments (57’32”) is a journey into Wøllo’s beliefs and perception of the world, and is powerful in ways that words cannot capture. Playing his electric guitar with an e-bow through a substantial amount of digital processing, he approaches these six sonic flights with a stable sense of serenity. In a masterful, tightly controlled performance his thick, spare, sometimes ominous approach conveys the joy of living, but also a few shades of solitude and isolation. Gone is the familiarity of the six-string tones. Bearing the drama of Wøllo’s slow melodies and embracing harmonies are his rounded, flexing sounds – which arrange themselves comfortably throughout the listening space. Breathing chords, friendly rather than foreboding, emerge, sustain and recede – drawn out in echoing waves of gentle tones. The explored realms pass between pastel cloud sunsets and the velvet cloak of night, to a place of private understandings. Charged with electrical nuance and the questioning nature of proper Ambient Music, Infinite Moments delivers the expected shivers. A completely meditative work, it is as if we are hearing the sound of the cosmos being filtered through 21st century technology. Wøllo observes the granular texture of reality, the severity of its miracles, and the range of its grace. For fans and novices of Spacemusic… Infinite Moments is a must.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END7 March 2019

Steven Kemner: Little Notes

Little Notes

Little Notes

Steven Kemner: Little Notes
Released: 3 December 2018
www.fluidaudio.co.uk
www.stevenkemner.com

Clearly Steven Kemner is fascinated with the inner life of sounds. The album Little Notes (39’18”) comes from a place where words are unnecessary, as music better conveys his story. Performed in a kind of slow motion, this album is a work defiant in its meticulousness. Little Notes offers eight places of ambient otherness – each realization of a languorous, inviting disposition. Some pieces are penetrating in their blankness, while others are well received by the ears and hold fast to the heart. Over their brief reclusive spell these compositions rotate and transpose keys. Chords progress and play to a resolution, but occasionally become lost – floating to the surface over and again. Along with its breathing blissed-out layers of vibrating electric guitar strings, Little Notes adds slow piano notes, organ-like tones, mysterious field recordings and manipulated samples. As long melodic lines rise out of a misty aura of harmony, we find its ambiance to be established by an array of expressive sonic shades. It was his concerts within reverberant church sanctuaries that led Kemner to imagine the component emanations of his instrument as objects in space. As notes would float through the air, surrounded in silence, he learned to allow time for themes and forms to be felt by each and every audience member. In his utter refusal to be dull Steven Kemner advances the nearly stationary textures of generic Ambient Music to the level of a steely structured, harmonic tale. Warming the circuits of the listening mind, he reminds us of an often neglected thought – that what has been accomplished in the past can show us what is possible in the future.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 January 2019

Juha-Matti Rautiainen: Above Me Weeps the Sky

Above Me Weeps the Sky

Above Me Weeps the Sky

Juha-Matti Rautiainen: Above Me Weeps the Sky
Released: 15 November 2018
www.juhamattirautiainen.com

We find the music of Juha-Matti Rautiainen drifting in a cool deep blackness. Tinged with cosmic melancholy his album Above Me Weeps the Sky (66:31) feels as intimate as a whisper, yet as vital as the sun rising on a new day. Rautiainen has a musician’s gift for finding and organizing the perfect range of sounds and textures meant for conjuring a specific atmosphere – in service to expressing certain emotions. It is this exact sonic poetry that gives this album its slow chill. Rautiainen has obviously left the conventional view of his instrument behind, as Above Me Weeps the Sky finds him using it to explore music of stillness and space. The music slowly alternates between a trembling vulnerability to waves of strength and light – often with a deep subsonic foundation. Coaxing new and surprising timbres, along with more comforting melodies and contrasting harmonies, the field of sound expands beyond the well-established palette of the bass with layered tones, bending notes, metallic pitch shifts and image altering processing. His success may be found in the connection of imagination and creativity to technique and technology – and the taming of a quieter action. Rautiainen has not found the right solutions to the problems plaguing our age, but he has found the right questions. By hearing him play the electric bass guitar in a most resourceful way, doing such imaginative things with it, eliciting sounds from out of the sky on down to the ground, with just four steel strings, it should not be hard for us also to imagine being bigger… larger than the way we find ourselves. We are a meaning seeking kind, and so seek to silence the turbulence within to better carry out our ways. By taking the way of the thinker we may find that we are not living through a bad time, but it is an empty time – which leaves it up to humanity to find the sacred. And so we shall, even as the sky cries above the weary world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END27 December 2018

In the Branches + Bluetech: Behind the Sky

Behind the Sky

Behind the Sky

In the Branches + Bluetech: Behind the Sky
Released: 8 June 2018
www.behindtheskymusic.com

Whirling through the halls like a wild wind Behind the Sky (60’54”) offers the listener relief from the plight of The World. In the Branches + Bluetech ask nothing more than our quiet attention, as unpredictable swerves and drifts of their conversation apply logic to sonic symbols. Dedicated electronic tinkerers Shane Cotee and Evan Bartholomew work through their influences to achieve an uncanny directness. A realization for large forces Behind the Sky offers seven scenes of a vital analytic gravity. Thanks to the musicians’ subtly heightened, fiercely focused energies, this album advances, not at the speed you would expect of space travel, but at a rate determined by the motion of atmospheric fronts. Each section is quite distinct, moving each into its own collective texture. Sounds are quietly yet forcefully flung at the listener. In a rush of darkness, thoughts dissolve into a waking prayer – each track a moment of authentic inner expression. Round synthesizer tones form consonant melodies, slowly praising the beautiful unknown. Cycling notes echo through reverberation, uncoiling over cloud covered landmarks – as spare guitar strings ring under heavens lit by stars. Masses swell and expand then recede into less reckless zones. Conductive to thinking, Behind the Sky is yet excitingly alive. In an outflow of music there must be something more than what is called force. There must too be distinction, and a rarity of feeling. Waiting for a sign in the sky, or a word from the stars, Cotee and Bartholomew express the soft fire of collaborative moments, and the elation of transcendence between the terrestrial and the interstellar.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 July 2018

Robert Rich & Markus Reuter: Flood Expeditions: The Gatherings 19 May 2018

Flood Expeditions: The Gatherings 19 May 2018

Flood Expeditions: The Gatherings 19 May 2018

Robert Rich & Markus Reuter: Flood Expeditions: The Gatherings 19 May 2018
Released: 4 July 2018
www.robertrich.com
www.markusreuter.com

People pray in a church. On 19 May 2018 Robert Rich & Markus Reuter played in a church, and did something that was truly new. Their program for The Gatherings Concert Series merged the aesthetics of Classical Music with the profanity of improvisation; as this duo did not just acknowledge the mystery of existence, they celebrated it. Their album Flood Expeditions: The Gatherings 19 May 2018 presents the full concert – where Rich performed at the grand piano and Reuter with his Touch Guitar and digital processing before a rapt Philadelphia audience. Some audiences sing along, or clap, while others may drink, dance, sway or bob. Symphony attendees read the conductor’s notes. At The Gatherings we listen, which provided Rich & Reuter with an opening to delve deeper into a new set of explorations – of a magic they had first encountered in the making of their 2017 studio album Lift a Feather to the Flood. These guys know all the notes, chords, scales, majors and minors. Yet the works found on Flood Expeditions are about the subtle power of sound – not for decorating the live space, but for a glimpse into something spiritual. With its ever-fading atmospheric tones and digital haze their realizations may seem a formless vacuum, yet everything is balanced by optimism. Rich’s piano notes resound through reverberation, surrounded by surreal fluttering environmental textures. Whether playing the keys seated, or reaching into the piano to pluck, scrape and strum its inner workings, he seems to produce emanations from a lifetime of receiving and expressing wonder. Reuter waits deep in the soundscape to find many electric moments. His guitar first breathes lowly, then asserts a color of succinct distortion in heated lead lines, expanding soon into ethereal consonance. Using a uniquely routed echo, he even manages to wedge in a conversation with himself. Rather than root the audience to where they sit, together Rich & Reuter transport us to an immaterial realm – where an internal guidance awakens. This music represents something outside of ourselves, upon which we project our thoughts and contemplations. There are no instructions for listening to Flood Expeditions, there is only the sensation of hearing. As we endeavored to hear their message in the darkened sanctuary this performance reminded us of the nature of possibility – of what we can become. But Robert Rich & Markus Reuter cannot play us into the answers, we must live into them ourselves.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 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

Stratosphere: Collaborations I

Collaborations I

Collaborations I

Stratosphere: Collaborations I
Released: 21 April 2018
www.industryeight.com
www.stratosphere.be

In his music project Stratosphere, guitarist Ronald Mariën, creates loop and effect heavy music that drones and burbles, tinkles and undulates, as if acknowledging the fragility of the state it offers. With his album Collaborations I (72’28”) he pairs off with nine other musicians to produce as many tracks in a distinctive range of new music. Mariën provides each collaborator with an atmosphere over which they may lay their signature sounds – each adding something to the effort that Mariën cannot conjure on his own. As ghostly assemblages of drifting guitar textures meet muted synthetic harmonies, we might zone out through whole songs at a time – only to become startled by some pristine sonic detail buried in the mix. In the restless surge of advancing tones the listener may find strength in the stillness – just as easily as the next track unleashes a lava-hot guitar drone “deal-with-it” drum jam. While some efforts do take the ear strangely, Collaborations I also provides enough reassuring ambient thought zones to color the listening space with familiar tones and warm temperatures. In the movement of these masses of sound, and the resulting radiant, translucent conditions, we find a certain comfort in all the openness, space, possibility and even the danger – as each track struggles for its own unity and cohesion.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END   19 April 2018

Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness
Released: 19 May 2017
www.lowercasenoises.com

Through his instruments, Andy Othling speaks as much to himself as he does to his listeners. Performing and recording as Lowercase Noises Othling’s music is shaped by the pressure of ideas and emotions. The Swiss Illness (42’03”) offers eight profound and personal wonderings. Each rich with detail, these tracks reward close and repeated listening. While this album’s dramatic power is inseparable from its hushed, sensuous spender, the quieter this work becomes the deeper we may to go into it. Using electric and acoustic guitars, as well as pianos (well-tuned and otherwise), basic tones are fed through layers of echo and reverberation effects – emerging on the other side completely transformed, or at least slightly sweetened. From small moments of grace to grand sonic flowering The Swiss Illness alternately calms the interior monologue and charges the imagination. The unifying power of simply arranged chords enhances the sections of cerebral complexity. Slowly strummed steel strings are sent vibrating through processors, which yields varying new colors of sound. Othling’s arrangements project a rare combination of divinity and discipline, instinct and intelligence. His work benefits from a mode of attentiveness closer to that of browsing an art gallery than feeding a jukebox. Listening to this album, which is perpetually changing shape, we move with the shifting soundscape. Spare and diminutive one moment, thick and dense the next, we admire its ability to clear our minds of everything other than the music itself – as what appears to be just a few spare notes and chords conjure an entire world inside our heads. We will eventually leave this realm, and return to the plane of reality – however thick with gloom – with a sense of clarity and composure. The Swiss Illness is so perfectly tuned to our sense of sonic desires that it is beautiful – a thing of beauty moving through the air, and to our ears, and then with our brain’s neurons in an eerie synchronicity. But it does not push anything in the real world forward. That task lies with its listeners – as we try to live up to the ideal of this music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 January 2018

Jeff Pearce: From the Darker Seasons

From the Darker Seasons

From the Darker Seasons

Jeff Pearce: From the Darker Seasons
Released: 22 September 2017
www.jeffpearcemusic.com

Emotions rise and fall, they come and go. It is only desire that is constant – and which is the substance of all great music. The work of Jeff Pearce feels the tug of this gravity. His album From the Darker Seasons (54’19”) forges yet another wonderful wordless connection with his audience. If it suffers from anything, it is that, in delivering its message, the music is almost too gorgeous for its own good. The eight pieces that make up From the Darker Seasons present Pearce the electric guitarist playing chords deliberately paced and picked and echoing out across great distances – caught forever in the hold of his compositional design. As trails of digital reverb hang in the air, atmospheric eddies at once diffuse, smooth and enrich the glowing textures around the defined notes. While these warm, heart-felt songs foretell the coming of shorter days, this album’s deep ambient zones provide their own frost wrought peace. Against a rush of darkness Pearce’s long tones address the bright starred face of lengthening nights. The expansion of excited steel strings through electronic processing produces a harmonically sustained movement – where the setting for such contemplative chords will seem numinous to our teeming, gleaning minds. Sounds emerge, then slide and glide toward and past one another in quiet transformation. Within these pieces, awareness is incremental. Drawing affirmation out of the renewing power of music, From the Darker Seasons readily throws off light. In a work of music there must be something more than what is refereed to as force. There must be distinction, and a rarity of feeling. Jeff Pearce is playing for this fragile cause.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 5 October 2017

Eyes Cast Down: The White Island

The White Island

The White Island

Eyes Cast Down: The White Island
Released: 1 October 2017
www.eyescastdown.com

Without words we would communicate by trading symbols. Recording as Eyes Cast Down, guitarist Greg Moorcroft produces music under this assumption. His album The White Island (65’13”) communicates to the listener, not just a substantial intellect, but also the many gray shades of mystery the human experience may touch. The musicianship found on The White Island goes beyond that of the virtuoso, and to a different kind of playing and composing. The addition of several layers of echo, reverb, pitch shifting, long and short delay lines and other forms of digital processing results in a confluence of processes, intuition and innovation. The idea of layering the sounds of a guitar by means of a long delay is about as old as our modern concept of Ambient Music. But Moorcroft aspires to more than he inherited. The White Island does represent his mastery of the equipment that loops, shifts, delays, flanges, filters and phases his plucked, rubbed and otherwise excited steel strings. However, his involvement with the music goes deeper than just a fascination with technology and technique. Consisting of six slow-motion cloud rider tracks, this album might help the mind reduce the taxing task of processing nonessential information. The pindrop performances were recorded essentially in real-time, and wanders from theme to theme in a free association of half-thoughts, lost memories and forgotten places. From smooth and swirling, to tempestuous and dark, the achieved atmosphere seems to be that of sustained calm and wonder – harmonic journeys without the usual conclusion. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and weighted by unpredictable shifts in timbre, The White Island eventually settles into its own unique ambient area – where the ethereal and surreal meet as a cerebral force.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 September 2017