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Spacemusic Reviews

Category: STAR’S END

Forrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers

The Book of WanderersForrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers
Released: 4 September 2020
www.projekt.com
www.forrestfang.com

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

Three Point Circle: Layered Contingencies

Layered ContingenciesThree Point Circle: Layered Contingencies
Released: 4 September 2020
www.palaceoflights.com

Three Point Circle provides a place in the world where disquieting thoughts are fully honored. Pointing themselves in new directions K Leimer, Marc Barreca and Steve Peters slow down in a sonification of interior realms. Their Layered Contingencies (73’38”) is strategically restrained, as it offers a quiet specificity through a steady consideration of process, form and identity. The improvisation captures a fundamental flow that pulls the ear into its untold depths with music that remains very much in the shadows. Negotiating a delicate balance between the questioning and the consoling this album explores a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by less serious minded practitioners. A menagerie of muted sonics and slow-motion flourishes Layered Contingencies knowingly meanders, yet produces an exacting chill. Disarming and elusive the five tracks effectively capture the melancholy of limbo. Reverb heavy synths slowly surge in poetic search for meaning. An idea develops, a scene is suggested – nearly uncovering the secret of their own operation. Chords shift gradually, building a wall of tone and texture, then fall quietly into a gorgeous, ghostly translucence. Its art-minded dissonance resolves in electrical jewel notes and thick impasto drones. These quiet, humanizing moments seem eerily perfect – like the resigned feeling of things eroding beneath you. Layered Contingencies spends its force searching. Without any obvious mile markers or signposts this endeavor is meant less to move, and more to mingle with the spirit. Gesturing at New Age or Ambient Music, it then gives way to eccentricities, and the sober musings of three minds – well attuned to what is just beneath the surface of the sound.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 September 2020

Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence

ConvergenceErik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence
Released: 28 August 2020
www.projekt.com
www.wollo.com
www.michaelstearns.com

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

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

Scanner: An Ascent

An Ascent

An Ascent

Scanner: An Ascent
Released: 17 July 2020
www.din.org.uk
www.scannerdot.com

Sleeping too close to an electrical outlet may cause one to dream about the music of Scanner, Robin Rimbaud‘s long-lived project of ambitious sonic messaging. His An Ascent (49’37”) is a mood album, although what exact mood has yet to be determined. From out of some distant district its low-key intensity lingers in our bloodstream, forcing a reassessment of the familiar. Using established EM technology he reveals a music both strange and new. Producing an alternating variety of grainy, cloudy, synthesized and digital sounds Rimbaud has no trouble in manufacturing the vividly breathing and softly pulsing notes that inhabit this release. It is the excellent assembly of these elements into semi-abstract, fuzzy edged forms that so distinguishes him. Giving voice to silenced states of mind An Ascent combines an economy of form and smart surface calculations, and exerts such control over color so as to bare the fullness of a truly eccentric imagination. This collection of varied, curious pieces moves between tightly bound frozen gestures and a slow burning contained emptiness, to the coiled strength and mutable texture of fractured waveforms and dense clouds of sounds. Samples, fragments and loops produce a restless energy – wired from the raw voltage of the imagination. At times his synths show their teeth, as timbre proceeds inexorably from hush to maelstrom – yet, as daunting as this may read, not one of us will hesitate to step inside Rimbaud’s story. From the placid lull of beating oscillators to a stark exposure and dissipation, these nine tracks each have an epic span that belies the few minutes of their duration. As landscapes and machines materialize in our minds this unvarnished minimalism slides into abstraction, then gently recedes into the firmament of night. The result is an album of Ambient Music – but only just. An individualist who finds his place in so many musical situations, Scanner is a creature of the vast aural plane in which he plays. His electronic agency allows him to address the human condition in a way that no other musician can. Probing the quiet recesses of where we dwell, An Ascent captures the spirit of our era. So long as ideas persist in his head, Rimbaud will keep exploring – and continue to give us much to listen to and think about.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 July 2020

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends
Released: 10 July 2020
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

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

Noveller: Arrow

Arrow

Arrow

Noveller: Arrow
Released: 12 June 2020
www.badabingrecords.com
www.sarahlipstate.com

The late solo sets by Noveller have been before amped up crowds waiting for St Vincent or Iggy Pop to take the stage. Producing music in a register much different from that of the more contemporary main acts, her performances effectively had those assembled abandon their inner sense of chaos and surrender to engulfment. Rallying and renewing this live work mixed sonic invention with an air of familiarity – so that the audience’s interior world would, for a time, slow, still and supplant the reality outside of it. On her studio album Arrow (40’30”) Noveller (Sarah Lipstate) embodies the stern principles of the rock guitarist as immediately as she does the innovative spirit of Spacemusic. The combination of steel strings, slides, picks, pedals and miscellaneous boxes and gizmos blossoms into euphoric arrangements of glowing ghostly ambience and withdrawn textural states. Asking the imagination to enlarge, so as to approach the scale of Arrow, its breathing atmospheres and otherworldly vistas reflect on this musician’s creative force. To realize these eight sonic vignettes the music required an intensity of concentration, and yielded no wasted space. With more neurons firing in the brain, more ideas will rise in the mind – storms quiet, centuries blur, an undertow tugs. Loaded with lush looped and layered guitar orchestrations this release possesses an endless energy. Lamentation and rage resolve into consolation and redemption – artfully refracted by Lipstate’s shivery strumming, and the delicate wash of rounded metallic timbres and murmuring drones. While Ambient Music is only abstractly a genre, Arrow proceeds with all the weight of a symphonic statement. In shades of slow melodic gestures and recurring chords we hear the beauty of our fading future. But her music resists oblivion and conveys resonant questions – as certainly as sound in the air can be an expression of the soul. Lipstate is fixing a broken world …one soundscape at a time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 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