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Spacemusic Reviews

Category: Sequencer

Johnny Woods: Pavilions

Pavilions

Pavilions

Johnny Woods: Pavilions
Released: 28 August 2020
www.behindtheskymusic.com
www.johnnywoods-music.com

Johnny Woods has a way with synths. A noted purveyor of the modular style he has released Pavilions (38’36”), an album of live-wire improvisations and a warm, welcoming, wide-open air. Allowing the listener space to wander in wonder, and to feel every feeling, its free flowing ribbon of melody ripples and twists in seven polite, coolly glowing sequencer-scapes. His sureness resounds in layers of tones cresting and trailing in tune with the music of electricity – and exerts a tender touch over anyone entering its domain. Upon stepping into these stories we find a song cycle faithful to its own unique rules of proportion and perspective. In mechanized cycling patterns notes rise, expand and contract in roundelays of creative inspiration on the wing. Woods’ prestige arrangements wind their way confidently from the charged and energized, down to swift shifts in texture, and then again into rising moments of synthetic verve. The organized electronic blips and bleeps that propel Pavilions are honed, but not overworked – rousing, yet never hurried. The spirited realizations foreground an artistic mindfulness that affirms the simple possibility of sound as sensation. Such heated circuitry should yield an intrigue. The here and now provides too few answers for Woods – a musician always seeking the next day’s beauty. When we engage with this music we are encountering someone else’s mind, and all the colors of its intuition and imagination. It is in the slipstream of sound and mood that minds are moved and secrets are passed between those who care.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 August 2020

Under the Dome: Almagest

Almagest

Almagest

Under the Dome: Almagest
Released: 25 July 2020
underthedome.bandcamp.com

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
www.spottedpeccary.com

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

Ian Boddy: Modulations

Modulations

Modulations

Ian Boddy: Modulations
Released: 19 June 2020
www.din.org.uk

Throughout Modulations (132’02”) Ian Boddy throws off some sparks. A musician who explores freely in spite of the risk this clutch of live tracks transpires in a kind of continuous arrival. Managing a select system of instruments these concert pieces reveal an aural landscape of unearthly radiance, yet also offers advanced listeners strange stretches of confining emptiness. Across six composed and passionate performances Boddy’s technique is exact and clear. Wherever delicately dancing tones and swirling textures take hold, elsewhere the spare procession of an isolated harmony, and distorting darkness, descends into the murky dimensions of an unpeopled realm. Sonic eddies assemble to realize a refuge of unearthly beauty, yet further into Modulations we may too be confronted with the starkness of the world as it is. At once adrift and alive to shifts in momentum and direction these improvised musical works emphasize the interior space. In the non-space of the mind pearly high tones and rounded ringing whirls herald the release of perfect sequencer cascades. These spring-loaded grooves unwind and recoil in a crisp, easy buoyancy on the upbeat tracks. In a carefree air they fuse and flow through coarse attacks and engaging note patterning. But for every ceaselessly alluring sound-space there is another frozen in some bleak waste. Exchanging its manic intensity for a more measured focus Modulations slows from its majestic roar, down to a subterranean murmur. In shadowy and semi-abstract expressions of timbre and atmosphere we chill and thrill to a range of unexpected gestures and signals. This masterful maneuvering lends the work a prevailing sense of certitude, as well as the occasional unexpected bite. There are those who wonder… where will we find the frontier of Electronic Music? And there are those who know… it is anywhere Ian Boddy can plug in his synthesizers. While lost in the electronic wilderness he is far from our modern conditions of anxiety and desire. The intentional blankness of this state of dis-connectivity offers a surprising tenderness – a soft declaration from a zone that refuses to be utterly lost.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END2 July 2020

Hèléne Vogelsinger: Contemplation

Contemplation

Contemplation

Hèléne Vogelsinger: Contemplation
Released: 12 June 2020
www.modularfield.io

Although it seems that most musicians spend their time in the pursuit of being heard, Hèléne Vogelsinger seems to have taken some preliminary steps in pursuit of hearing her audience. Expressing herself in a way aficionados will appreciate, Contemplation (42’09”) is a release perfect for our time. Providing seven nimble synthesizer escapades, as well as a rival vision of what Electronic Music should sound like, this album lights up the dark space in a winsome way. Finding ongoing inspiration from her instrument the pieces on this album come about in the act of playing them. Vogelsinger takes notice of the sound output of her modular synthesizer system and shapes it into a captivating poem of electricity. Conjuring kinetic joy sequencer patterns echo, expand, and gently recoil through the sound space. As the warm circuits of technology emit layers of easy harmony, the tones of a clarinet or human voice stabilize consonance along a sensitive musical arc. While most resolving notes land softly, some are left marooned in the ether – floating lost in reverberation, eventually fading into velvet night. Each of the many parts of this innovative machine music interweave and meld into the fully and effectively imagined realizations found throughout Contemplation. Vogelsinger’s sonic identity deals with the ideas of light and dark, hard and soft, vastness and intimacy, all balanced by a musical intent touched by a profound cosmic yearning. Electronic Musicians do not write their music, they live it… and so Vogelsinger gets it right… and gets it right on behalf of the listener too. Her music gives us an experience of certainty, a structure we trust, a way things should go – and brings us to a realm outside of everything else. This facility is such a very powerful thing in a world where most of us do not have the tools to express the fullness of who we are. With her Contemplation, Vogelsinger shows us her self, and gives us the world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 June 2020

Various Artists: Portals: A Kosmiche Journey through Outer Worlds and Inner Space

Portals

Portals

Various Artists: Portals: A Kosmische Journey through Outer Worlds and Inner Space
Released: 2 June 2020
www.behindtheskymusic.com

Portals: A Kosmische Journey through Outer Worlds and Inner Space (77’41”) presents 13 tracks by a range of potent artists in electronic sound. With each generating its own hot-wired intensity these works originate at the wall outlet, but play out in the head. Charging the hidden activity of our minds with a dreamy forward motion each musician provides a wonderful jaunt across a kinetic synthetic terrain. Maybe a good place to begin this review is with the extensive inventory of gear, which is listed within the 70s retro album art and graphic design. Flaunting Mellotrons, modern and vintage synths, all manner of modular synthesizer systems (either custom built or store bought), and other powered tools – this inquiry will surely invite endless analysis and debate. So it should suffice to say that the true electricity running this music is flowing fast through the veins and brains of the musicians involved. Portals presents realizations by dreamers and builders like Ian Boddy, James Bernard and Steve Roach, right alongside the beat machine energy of Listening Center, Pleasure Corporation and Nigel Mullaney. When the searching sequencer meditations of Tungsten Mountain, Steve Moore and Lisa Bella Donna motor up, coiling surges nest inside long unwinding passages – where we can feel the light and heat of the creative current. In drifting moods at cosmic heights In the Branches + Bluetech and Polypores feel as immense as the heavens, while d’Voxx and Johnny Woods hold forth in the sonic schoolyard with a grounded questing optimism. Portals will certainly fulfill the audience’s appetite for energetic Spacemusic, as we will eagerly be seeking out the next installment in this well-done anthology series. Yet, let us consider also that a good compilation album will indeed present good music, but can function on a higher level as a statement beyond the genre – proclaiming that the power of this music is greater than that of the individual maker. The subject is connection, both electrical and human – which may mean that even in this dark world of ours there is still salvation to be found in each other.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 May 2020

Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij: Forgotten Tracks

Forgotten Tracks

Forgotten Tracks

Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij: Forgotten Tracks
Released: 11 April 2020
www.gertemmens.com

The triple CD set Forgotten Tracks compiles 16 studio works realized between 2006 and 2014 by the Dutch duo of Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij. Representing the best of what Berlin-School Spacemusic has to offer, with its mind moving minimal arrangements and spirit of adventure, this collection provides a meaningful experience to the seasoned listener. Finding an ongoing inspiration from their synthesizers the starry soul of this collaboration reveals itself over and over in the mood and mystery of a rare aural flair. The impeccable electrical sonic terrain found throughout Forgotten Tracks is a blurry blend of blossoming synthesizer tones, vintage Mellotron strings and other immaculately crafted sounds. As deeply breathing chords stack up and sustain, motor-like sequencer patterns gain momentum – powering through in a trail of echoing mechanized rhythmic interplay. Built by synthesized strings and harmonies chords move through dramatic progressions. Across vividly imagined distances the spacey swirl of moods and textures rise in quiet force. Synth lead lines soar above a vivid, thickening atmosphere as the music reaches a maximum possible dimension. And as a vast cosmic choir mysteriously ascends through the sound space, brief experimental zones leave us searching the cosmos and beyond. Decades after its inception Spacemusic continues to take musicians and their audiences to new and fascinating places. Emmens & Heij freely exhibit their creative talent and technological craft – in their push toward the limitless horizon.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 May 2020

Alluste: Aludra

Aludra

Aludra

Alluste: Aludra (70’57”)
Released: 23 February 2020
alluste.bandcamp.com

Piero Monachello hears voices, synthesizer voices. Under the name Alluste he realizes a vivid Electronic Music that reaches a place within us where spoken words do not. Noting that Spacemusic is the only language able to contain his creative aspirations, the album Aludra (70’57”) presents 10 tracks of incremental complexity. Quite comfortable to take in, it provides a soundtrack to new electronic destinations – and the wonderful realm outside of everything else. Aldura spends its tight, polished energy in climactic chords expanding above an arpeggio of fluttering notes – swirling together in a circulation of synthetic sound. While shifting sequencer patterns run through a series of imaginative progressions, heart-felt lead lines unfurl in a rising ribbon of melody. As if upon the workings of some powerful engine layers of bounding electro-blips thicken and brighten in echoing syncopation. The direction of the melody is forward, with every blissful resolution pointing to the bright future this work promises – and the optimism that is its most potent feature. Listeners to Aludra should know that they are going into a realm that is different from that of the everyday. As we enter this world of our own making we must trust ourselves with this music, and our ability to make something interesting, something worthwhile, something comforting, something better than where we are now.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 April 2020

Arjen Schat: LP2

LP2

LP2

Arjen Schat: LP2
Released: 29 February 2020
www.tresordargent.com
www.arjenschat.nl

Synth lovers awaken! The extraordinary Electronic Musician Arjen Schat possesses a distinctive understanding that music should be something that fills the sphere of the temporal dimension rather than a mere succession of multi-layered sounds. The two realizations found on his thoroughly re-playable LP2 (38’40”) have been founded on principals of the Berlin-School, yet renders anew the concept of timeless forward motion. These compositions draw us in along their many rhythmic strands, heard individually yet comprehended collectively – on a great journey through the mind space. Schat’s apparently endless gift for design, repetition and variation are on full display – with his LP2 effortlessly creating vivid ethereal feelings and associations toward the limitless. While its performance may be completely improvised, this music is always intentional. Played to entrancing effect the crisscrossing of fractured sequencer blips expands in echoing syncopation. Captivated at the interplay and intricacies of its manifold patterns and kaleidoscopic pulse there is room to imagine anything; as in one zone the warmth of the life force may be felt, moving further out puts us in the dead regions between stars. As minor key chords sweep across the sonic tapestry the tone darkens, lightens, and then holds in a vital synthetic fidelity. Providing a sense of certainty, creamy lead lines slip along heated scales and octaves – in the specific poetry of ideas borne on electrical current. Arjen Schat is called upon by a deep-rooted spirit of innovation to do this work. With its dreamy brilliance and spacey sonic logic LP2 is a sincere exploration into the mood and mystery of the Spacemusic genre. With strong core ideas and skilled execution, in this album listeners will find vast aural riches.

-Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END2 April 2020

Vic Hennegan: Between the Spaces

Between the Spaces

Between the Spaces

Vic Hennegan: Between the Spaces
Released: 9 March 2020
www.vichennegan.com

If the art of painting is seen as a window into the world, then can Spacemusic be thought of as a window into the self? Working from a sense of wonder instilled at birth, Vic Hennegan realizes works that escape the limitations of our human sized scale. His release Between the Spaces (57’08”) is yet another chapter in the life story of one who is fully alive, and fully human. Hennegan’s approach to the core Berlin-School repertory is informed by a profound knowledge of the traditions from which his compositions emerged. Yet, what this album remains most faithful to is its creator’s creative impulse. Throughout the seven tracks of vivid electronic poetry Between the Spaces arranges sounds against one another in a most imaginative and expressive way. In one region the colors and contrast appear amped up, while further in dulcet melodies glide gracefully atop the wild tumult of open sequencer patterns. Where intersecting aural planes seem solitary, fragile and tenuous against the might of the wild night surrounding us, the direction of Hennegan’s line of melody is ever forward – always into the future. Minor key harmonies slowly sweep through space. Dense drones hold, then darken, and move the music’s mood. In an ascending surge we are lifted into infinite realms. But upon our revival we find a lulling peace. Departing more common thoughts, the listener heads for the deeper districts of the mind. In a world determined to alienate us from the sources of our strength, Between the Spaces provides a compelling case for staying strong against such forces. This CD conjures an enigmatic zone where great and elemental things prevail. Pulsing with the light of the gods this music attracts the ear as perfectly as it triggers the spirit – and the magical release of our thoughts.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 18 March 2020