Spacemusic Reviews

Category: New Age Music

Forrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers

The Book of WanderersForrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers
Released: 4 September 2020

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

Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence

ConvergenceErik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence
Released: 28 August 2020

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

Under the Dome: Almagest



Under the Dome: Almagest
Released: 25 July 2020

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

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

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends
Released: 10 July 2020

With fluctuating designs and feelings Steve Roach tenderly explores questions of connection and loss. His A Soul Ascends (73’57”) follows traditional Spacemusic markers first laid down on Structures From Silence, and achieves even more expressiveness and soul searching than his 1984 classic. In this chilled slow spark Roach finds his way to the serene center – going deep down dark, then into otherworldly calm. The long melodic lines of A Soul Ascends extends the sound-field with beautiful synthesizer tones and a slowly building ethereal energy. Inside arrangements of circulating electronic forms and rightly crafted timbres, unforced tones exert their own meaning. Shimmering sounds combine into a sweeping resonant unity, then fade out – replaced by an equally rare airy tone zone. As the music becomes dense we sense the emergence of a slow sequencer pattern. The interplay of staggered notes and breathing synthesizers reinforce the air of discovery. But this building ethereal energy provides a setting for contemplation – which we must make our own way to. While a chorus of oscillators swell from a sombre murmur to pealing resolve, we find colliding chords can coexist – as this work is dissolving and becoming all at once. At times luxurious and silvery, then turbulent and moody, the three gently shifting ambient realizations open up space and fill it with sound. Listeners will need to align with these sonic pleasures before finding a reassuring calm. In its succession of colors, atmosphere and feelings we may feel the past, trembling in the present – and should not worry about some unreachable spiritual world, we are already in our own. Above a gently broken silence A Soul Ascends.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 July 2020

Robert Rich: Offering to the Morning Fog

Offering to the Morning Fog

Offering to the Morning Fog

Robert Rich: Offering to the Morning Fog
Released: 24 May 2020

Propelled by a striking new inspiration Robert Rich heads for the dreamlands. Sailing in the direction of dawn he realizes an Offering to the Morning Fog (67’52”). Content are those who tour this realm. A lavish aural voyage this album unfolds at a right roaming pace. Progressing along a slow-moving arc it builds a sense of tonal otherness that is enticing, inviting and subtle. As this release has been composed within an alternate system of tuning, one might expect the effect to be disquieting. To his credit, here Rich uses this unique technique to conjure six works of wonder – sometimes curious and questioning, but always meant to ease, not challenge his advanced listeners. Offering to the Morning Fog invites us to dream. With breathing drones and undulating tones the ebb and flow of Rich’s slow flute lines circulate through cavernous reverb. The measured use of glissando guitar adds a sinuous shimmering shine wherever it arises. But beneath this lightening plain electronic sound sources materialize in a lingering portent. It is these brief heartless voids and unsettled regions that so fix and fascinate Rich. Declaring a twilight sound space he summons a daybreak where infinity is nothingness and the unknown impels his craft. Offering to the Morning Fog is the perfect balm for an age that demands art and music penetrate surfaces and depict a more complex truth. So although your heart and mind will be unfolding in a thousand different directions, please do not forget to look for yourself inside this beautiful landscape. And please know that, as the long night passes with the cleansing sunrise always comes the promise of a new and better day – at which time there is no better moment to concede that it is the contrast of light and dark that give each other their meaning.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END25 June 2020

Miles Richmond& Peter Grenadr w/Steve Roach



Miles Richmond & Peter Grenader w/Steve Roach: POV2
Released: 19 June 2020

When the accumulated trauma of modern life gets to be too much, there is POV2 (51’14”). The absorbing take-me-away release so many of us need right now, its effect is dreamy and disorienting in the best way possible. The true force behind this project is the chemistry between Miles Richmond (guitars) and Peter Grenader (various electronics). This duo directs the talents of sonic identities Thighpaulsandra (piano), Theo Travis (alto flute), Martin Shellard (guitar) and Steve Roach (synthesizers) to realize another sonically shapely inventive album. Atmospheric, bracing and effortlessly cool POV2 maintains an impressive focus and momentum through its five tracks. Gently swirling outward the playing is fluent and gorgeous. The designs of the compositions are elegant and gripping – moving as easily through the air as they do into your heart and your mind. Here and there we can make out a reverberant piano, an acoustic guitar, or a chord played on a synthesizer. But these works are so exquisitely balanced in their manipulation of the sound space that one scarcely notices their separate elements. Inside even its lowest midnight is a sincere interiority. Primary structures of minimalism become vivid, then darken into a quiet suspense. Where tensile electric guitar solos reoccur in ever strengthening cycles, rolling ambient loops and washes flow slow in the infinite permutations of theme associated with this approach to music. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and extended sound generation, fragments of flute melodies travel on currents of shimmering steel strings, while reverb laden notes softly emerge and recede. Aligning with the values of good Spacemusic POV2 enables a mental state that runs counter to that of the domain outside of the self. The promise of escape from the sad, the bad and the ordinary is central to the restorative concepts of this manner of music. Lovers of this style know well that Ambient musicians are world-builders of the mind. But just imagine that their principles were also used by the builders of the physical world. With movement being made towards the betterment of humankind, all of us could feel content in the thought that what was possible might still be done.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END18 June 2020

Jeff Pearce: Songs for The Gathering

Songs for The Gathering

Songs for The Gathering

Jeff Pearce: Songs for The Gathering
Released: 20 March 2020

The setting is a grand, although unrestored, church sanctuary in Philadelphia on Saturday 10 June 2000 where Jeff Pearce is set to perform a show. Along with his performance set he has on offer (produced especially for attendees) a limited edition six track CD called Songs for The Gathering. It was the perfect souvenir for The Gatherings Concert Series audience as it offered music from this formative era and remained out of print, becoming a collector’s item for a full two decades. Having now rediscovered (and remastered) this material, and added on two additional contemporaneous pieces, Songs for The Gathering (58’27”) has been given a proper re-issue – just in time to commemorate the porcelain anniversary of its first release, and also to remind us of the hope we all felt at the beginning of the 21st century.

Sending sound into space, each composition induces its own unique zone. Pearce’s six steel strings shiver under his light touch, with every tone challenging gravity’s pull. Each note builds on the promise of the one that came before, revealing a robust creative vision. Yet, in its inviting minimalism even the sparest of the tracks contain references to the cosmos. As sonic eddies form, slow yearning melodies reiterate at the rate and depth of a sleeper’s breath – and Songs for The Gathering deepens from the pleasant and consonant into the transcendent and moving. Arising from shorelines of unearthly radiance the mesmerizing impact of this music’s aural texture ventures to defeat space and time. Yet, when he commands it, this guitarist’s picking, looping and E-Bow echo techniques are exact and clear. In the dancing delicacy of arpeggio chords the spare procession of isolated notes articulate a soaring, confident energy – which settles down ultimately into a refuge of otherworldly beauty.

Songs for The Gathering is a lambent landmark from two decades ago, yet its bright message remains as meaningful as when it was first delivered. Written in a language and performed with a skill that has stayed with us across the 20 years since first hearing it, this music has been revived to help us through the times in which we now find ourselves. What can an artist expect to achieve in the shadow of disaster and doubt? For Jeff Pearce it has been quite a lot. In many a profound musical moment he has encountered glints of transcendence, and the hint of how things might have been in a less brutal world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 April 2020

Amongst Myselves: The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Good Earth

Amongst Myselves: The Good Earth
Released: 24 March 2020

Steve Roberts continues the inclination to dream big. His works under the name Amongst Myselves are brilliantly crafted aural poems to all things telluric. Another precision built soundscape, The Good Earth (65’02”) has taken several years to fully realize. Its six tracks have a connection to the continent of Australia, which is where Roberts resides, but seems more a devotional work to the entire planet and the tender land which provides us with life. A curious mix of naturalist details and a fantastic sense of sound, this album may be admired as much for its simplicity as for its tangled sense of fury, solemnity and ambience. Granting the soothing that modern life does not, rather than merely suppressing symptoms, The Good Earth provides a lasting improvement in our countenance. Layers of sustaining warm notes slowly gather, build and recede in a lulling and harmonious infinite moment. In its swirling storm cloud chords and charged electronics we seem to hear this music in the same way we absorb sense data. Beneath the soft glow hovering above each composition, a varying layer of synthesizer consonance and imaginative modulations are grounded by detailed drones and plucked steel strings. In slow waves of sleep harmonizing neurons, bass notes writhe beneath breathing ambient spheres – re-ordering the mind in a restless meditation on atmosphere and texture. The collage of tones tunes the experience, from ground brown lows to clear blue high skies, and on into a sacred black. As vast as the soundscapes feel, we find that there are only two people in The Good Earth – the musician, and you the listener. Simultaneously beautiful and tragic, uplifting and haunting, Roberts hopes we will feel the weight and wonder of life, and the beautiful part we occupy in a much larger organism.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END26 March 2020

Juta Takahashi: Pleochroism



Juta Takahashi: Pleochroism
Released: 31 December 2019

Juta Takahashi is strong enough to dream. In his music we do not re-locate, but rather we de-locate. The CD Pleochroism (62’06”) strengthens our hearts, as it stills our minds. Its music resides outside worldly realms – allowing us to step easily into sustaining zones of cerebral contemplation. As whispering synthesizers drift into silence, we find each of this album’s four electronic hymns to be a study in harmonic contrasts. Under a cloud cover of digital reverberation string triads sound out in the way moonlight sometimes shimmers. Beams of music, refracted through the spirit of the player, swirl elegantly throughout the sound space. Weightless notes bloom across a range of color and mass – in a process understood only on their own terms. Chords drift, slip and lift in a sweet reverie – as softer sounds prevail and coax the night to stay a few moments longer. Fitting easily into the New Age or Ambient Music categories, Pleochroism is a lush counterpoint to the lesser works of these classes. Each track seems to expand continuously over its duration – flowing gently through a range of sculpted textures and sustained moods. Pastoral and silvery then dark and dense, these slowly shifting realizations open up space then fill it with sound – as deep sonic pleasures lead to reassuring calm. In a time most concerned with the mastery of the world out there, listeners to Pleochroism may transcend the day-to-day – and find contentment dwelling in the universe found in here – within ourselves.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 February 2020