Spacemusic Reviews

Category: Synkronos Music

Chuck van Zyl: Recitals 3

Recitals 3

Recitals 3

Chuck van Zyl: Recitals 3
Released: 21 December 2019

Since 1986 Chuck van Zyl has been a man finding his moment, in any live space that will hold him. The double CD Recitals 3 presents music recorded at several 2018 performances. His shows were documented with an ordinary two-track recording device, and, after months of review, two 60+ minute sonic journeys were produced and released as Recitals 3.

In most live improvisations a player is trying to transcend their instrument – but live concerts for Chuck van Zyl are an attempt to transcend a system of instruments. Finding the truest version of himself on stage his wish is that, according to the musician, “the you inside you will know something about the me inside me”. Making the music happen in space, as if touching the notes, molding them and shaping them within time itself offers a great quality of expression. Recitals 3 arrives with high expectations and from the start it delights and transports. The live concert, the flickering shadow of the soul is where moment by moment this music was realized. Musicians know that it takes someone else to hear the truth in their work, and it is in the concert venue that Chuck van Zyl promises to uncover the secret of his own operation.

Disc 1 (71’39”) includes music from live performances for MUSIC WITH SPACE, Johnny Brenda’s and NEEM Fest 2018 and moves from the dolorous to the ecstatic in a balance of opposing tensions. As if upon the workings of some powerful engine the music moves deliberately in sequencer steps rather than abruptly in leaps. Entrancing cyclical motifs and subtly spun melodic fragments pivot in front of harmonies and phrases and so make the repetitions feel new and novel, yet confidently familiar. In his vast poem of electricity van Zyl threads reciprocal shades of soft-hued tones, dazed sonic introspection, icy reverie, and lunar lullaby into a kaleidoscopic suite of interstellar melody and electronic communion. In sputtering sparks this work sounded crisply on the mild air of the concert space – while further in, the rolling clicking-clock ticky-tock pulse will unwind your mind. A symphony of thought, The Weakening Eye of Day fascinates the mind, captivates the heart, and stimulates the imagination.

Disc 2 (76’05”) features extracts from the abstract passages of five performances, and hopes to bypass the conscious sensibilities for a direct connection to that which is elemental within the listener. Like a meteor seeking a lost sun this passage spends its force searching. Inside the lowest midnight a thousand dreams softly burn. Through shivering chill currents, we pass the control of known forces. Like something falling through darkness, this moonlight swirls in the color of night. Notes collide, collude and combine. Each movement comes at you in a ramble of melody, a search of harmony, a flight of timbre. With chords moving in contrary motion, and opposed by industrial sound effects, the listening ear is pulled through the shadows to light. Throughout To the Close and Holy Darkness Chuck van Zyl develops a poetic idea, suggests a scene, creates a mood. Even as its accord of sounds, so sweet and pleasing to the ear, is opposed by dissonance, we may hear a unity in the arrangement and the message it conveys.

Communing at these concerts the soundscape forms itself around us, and so we may feel human together – the bright tones communicating a sense of repose and clarity and capturing a wide range of deeply felt interior resonances. The music found on Recitals 3 displays the glimmer of imaginative energy that has graced van Zyl’s music for over 30 years. Conjoining disparate impulses it evokes cycles of collapse and renewal. Gorgeously colored, weighty in theme, style and construction this music reaches into the world of the surreal. As expected, this live album does feel newborn, yet ghosts are created on every track. In a culture where everything can be explained, the meaning of this music still eludes definition – because somewhere in its vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered, there is something moving, something profound – is waiting.

From the Press Release – 17 December 2019

Chuck van Zyl: Recitals 2

Recitals 2

Recitals 2

Chuck van Zyl: Recitals 2
Released: 31 March 2018

Chuck van Zyl has been a man finding his moment, in any live space that will hold him. The double CD Recitals 2 presents music recorded at two late 2017 performances. His shows for The 6th Floor and DIGITAL DREAMS were documented with an ordinary two-track recording device. After months of review, two 60+ minute sonic journeys were produced, and released as Recitals 2.

The possibilities of Electronic Music make it the perfect tool for exploring spontaneous composition. Recitals 2 is an example of two such events – both without a predetermined outcome – where the gathered and the musician experienced the music together. A receptive audience brings out van Zyl’s strengths, while the hushed space receives his work. The heat of this struggle melds into the music and spirit, softening and melting, then hardening and tempering the player. Each of this album’s two concerts moves powerfully and naturally, unsettling the world into which they intercede. A musician of the imagination van Zyl’s seeks the pure delight of providing an epic intimacy in the digital age. Determined to conjure kinetic joy an animating force tickles your mind and tugs on your heart – as agile sequencer antics thrill and the vulnerability of improvisation connects. In ever strengthening whirlpools of thought, rows of echoing tone patterns are deployed. Amidst the lines of echoing, dancing arpeggio notes a racing heart turns, runs and trills in melodic invention. Heroic keyboard leads and Mellotron harmonies peak over a pumping, commanding bassline – only later to be drawn down into shifting shadows of sustaining synthesized textures and a quiet sense of mystery. While cliff-high chords stall the dramatic momentum, an infinity of volumes provides a feeling of elation and abandon – only to descend to a skeletal negative space and a bewitching haze of free form randomness.

Recitals 2 takes each member of its audience on their own personal journey. With its deep space gateways and brilliant, skull crushing sequencer breakdowns, from the heights of its combustible, cut loose, superb heedlessness, on down to its quietly ominous consuming dark fields, this music invites wonder. Beginning with simple electronic devices and ending with the multi-dimensional world known only to the imaginative, Chuck van Zyl harnesses the machinery of night. Unblinking, completely in control, he performs in a cool constraint. It is remarkable that, after so many years, the creative flame still burns bright. His concerts are a probe of the calm facade, of the internal mystery – and reach towards the unseen depths within us all. Recitals 2 tells a powerful story of an exhilarated mind – a mind roaming well beyond the concert stage.

From the Press Release – 8 March 2018

The Nightcrawlers: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings

The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

The Nightcrawlers: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings
Released: 23 February 2018

What better breeding ground for Electronic Music than a detached garage in Merchantville, New Jersey? Both unworldly sonic visionaries and conscienceless musical innovators, decades ago The Nightcrawlers offered a new view across the release of three LPs and 35 homemade audiocassette albums. Most active during the decade of 1980 this group was more than just three isolated figures functioning in a mythic hinterland of technology and expression; underlying the wires, amplifiers, speakers and gear was their tale of a better tomorrow. The Biophonic Boombox Recordings attempts to chart their larger story with a pure invitation to listen.As studio standards did not matter much to The Nightcrawlers (Peter D Gulch, Tom Gulch and Dave Lunt), their raw, consumer grade, open-mic recordings contained a great number of extraneous sounds from the room (or even the surrounding neighborhood), a lack of fidelity, as well as a healthy helping of tape hiss. Thanks to the careful application of modern audio treatments, the experience of listening to the music selected for inclusion on this anthology has now become a bit more enjoyable.

Fueled by the illusion that an artist’s potential is limitless, The Nightcrawlers perfected live, improvised, real-time composition – the three musicians fully realizing their work in its commission. Possessing a brutish edge, they exerted a serene, secure authority and their numerous jams and live concerts became the learning ground for many emerging artists.

Beginning with a great number of interconnected music machinery, and ending in a vivid sphere of atmosphere, at every outing The Nightcrawlers managed to produce a fantastic netherworld of floating forms, bristling nodes and torrential electronic energies. Their quiet, smooth space interludes were more works of imagination than invention – and relied heavily on the chemistry between the three members, as opposed to conventional virtuosity or song structure. As they wind out in riotous pulsations, each piece gains power and depth. Guided along an arc of energy-devised on-the-fly and in-the-moment, each one of their numerous synthesizer ceremonies gave rise to a realm of eerie beauty. Alternating between sequencer bustle and space-age grandeur, their prolific performance sessions came out different at every new beginning. Through the generation of rich textures and hushed tones, nothing more than our own thoughts now guide these minimal movements. To see the stars we need a dark core, but with warp-drive we may touch them – and most of the tracks on The Biophonic Boombox Recordings exemplify these kinds of explorations. Energy builds as sequencer patterns deploy, and synth lead lines unfurl – all in service to the kinetic zone through which we are traveling. Granted, this music is a bit unusual, even by Spacemusic standards, and we will benefit from any adjustments made to our expectations. But this music is more than an assembly of minor-key notes and moody timbres. Whether augmented by the presence of a substantial audience, or just the three musicians together feeling their way through uncharted space, each track found on The Biophonic Boombox Recordings ranks among the most open and honest music ever played live.

While we may be better off not trying to fathom the inner mysteries of The Nightcrawlers, it is undeniable that they were responsible for music that captured moods, expressions and atmospheres in ways that still has us re-thinking our relationship with live performance. Free, unfettered and alive, their vitality, intimacy and courage carry their work on well past the time of its inception.

Listening to The Biophonic Boombox Recordings we may feel as though we have encountered the collective unconscious of a lost underground movement. The Nightcrawlers were not ever conventionally ambitious, and took an eccentric path through musical expression. A questing trio, they made forward-thinking Spacemusic that commanded our attention, music that asked to be listened to. That was how the future looked to us back then. And now today… we cannot help but wonder – how is it looking now?

– Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 February 2018

Chuck van Zyl: Recitals



Chuck van Zyl: Recitals Released: 12 November 2016

Meant to exhibit something of an untamed interior life, Chuck van Zyl hopes his concerts are part of an ongoing chain of innovation. His carefully realized designs are based on a consistent, timbral grammar developed through decades of work. As artists bring greater clarity to their vision over a lifetime, with further live experiences Chuck van Zyl has become more proficient at his craft, and more of who he is musically. Injecting emotion and expression into what would otherwise appear to be a formal exercise, his concerts are a manifestation of his urge to tell. The double CD Recitals presents music recorded at five May 2016 performances, and like contemporaneous works by Redshift, Node and Arc, draws on higher-order capacities. His shows for Event Horizon, MUSIC WITH SPACE, STAR’S END, DIGITAL DREAMS and Digital Underground were documented with an ordinary two-track recording device. After months of review, two 70+ minute sonic journeys were produced, and released as Recitals. Each event offered an essential setting, audience and atmosphere – as well as its own unique challenge. To better connect with his audience, van Zyl set up his equipment among them, explaining that they were welcome to observe him up close as he traversed the next hour’s worth of unrestricted sonic space (video documents of each concert have been posted for truer scrutiny of these performances). Through an impressive collection of vintage and modern synthesizers and keyboards, electricity was transformed into sound, and we were lifted into infinite spaces. Beckoning toward the eternal, reverberant Mellotron flutes and strings light out in expressive fanciful flights. In a brace of free improvisation van Zyl flaunts angelic harmonies, just as easily as he mines subterranean frequencies – all in keening consonant concord. Each movement finds portent sounds building dense harmonic forms, out of which emerges motoric sequencer patterns. These echoing interlocking runs of notes expand, contract and breakdown in ever heightening circles. The mounting compositional tension, released in our minds as impressionistic cerebration, feels energizing. Minor key chords slowly sweep across the sound field. Synthetic drones hold, darken, then lighten, informing the music’s mood. In an ascending rush, then a descending calm, we depart our more common thoughts… for mysterious regions. Eventually we find the end of this journey, as the music resolves, and settles the listener into the drifting dream of gently humming circuits and charged solid states. Recitals is a wonderful example of van Zyl’s talent for spontaneous composition within the context of an improvised live performance. It is a reflection, realized through action, intervened upon by spontaneity, which leads the listener into contemplation – and a wonderful reverie realm. Chuck van Zyl relentlessly seeks to identify the greater virtues of Electronic Music – yet enjoys the fact that his endeavors still hold some secrets. Recitals features works of passionate intensity, and is for anyone seeking a deeper examination of sound and mood. It pulls us through a spiraling cerebral cosmos – where a musician finds his moment.

From the Press Release – 10 November 2016

Guitar Pilots: Up and Out

Up and Out

Up and Out

Guitar Pilots: Up and Out
Released: 21 May 2016

Resisting the digital dark of the laptop set, Art Cohen and Scott Watkins get in touch with the currents of creativity by way of the currents of electricity running through their guitars. Their duo Guitar Pilots has realized a profound double CD showcasing a unique and singular vision. Up and Out demonstrates that the hand moves faster than the thought, as it celebrates the messy vitality of creative collaboration. Featuring seven tracks across two discs, this work hums with undercurrents and sings a heavy metalized message. Jaw-dropping virtuosity is substituted with mind-warping sounds, as heady-mental crosstalking leads give way to dense metal meditations and a woozy submerged feel. Driving and precise, then dreamy and rhythmic, this real-time performing pair use electric guitars, and the associated processing effects, to design a rich and varied palette of textures and tones – which makes for a constantly renewed sonic interest. Along with the looping riffs, sustaining e-bow leads and studies in glissando guitar, Guitar Pilots also include The Beam; a large amplified stringed instrument – meant for plucking, picking, rubbing and generally producing a range of unearthly sounds and tones. Whether resounding on its own, or joining the ferrous forces of echoing guitars, The Beam adds a distinctive, somewhat sub-sonic attribute to this album. These low notes murmur and vibrate like no known instrument, and often presage more kinetic passages. As riven lead lines spin out their cosmic protest at free-fall velocity, a foundry of melting sounds waits below. Once the atonal mass has hardened into a stronger alloy, the duo lights out to even further atmospheric realms. From a single point of charged spark, to an expanse of ethereal limbo, Up and Out is brilliant in its imaginative scope. It aligns with the values of good Spacemusic – and creates a mental state that runs counter to that of the outside world. Mastery of this kind of music is not found in its physical performance, but rather in its design and spiritual effects. After a good listen to Up and Out, it will be easy to regard Cohen and Watkins as among the most eloquent guitarists this side of the dark side of the moon. From bleeding distortion to clean strummed strings, GP moves us steadily between eerie darkness and the reassuring light, then back again – with their revelation from a dark star, to the third stone from the sun.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 12 May 2016

Ombient: Sectio Aurea

Sectio Aurea

Sectio Aurea

Ombient: Sectio Aurea
Released: 27 December 2015

The CD Sectio Aurea (78’01”) can hardly be contained by the room it is playing in. Mike Hunter (a.k.a. Ombient) finds inspiration in an almost mythical past of 1970s Berlin, while pursuing the present day’s desire for modernity. Sectio Aurea is in part Hunter’s own interpretation of the classic Departure From the Northern Wasteland – a further cultivation of Michael Hoenig’s imaginings by a musician who recognizes the value of this work. Working in a genre often thought of as too dependent on hardware, Hunter explores the ways this music may convey the truth of complex subject matter. With a whirlwind intelligence in its glowing prime, he connects to strategies central to Spacemusicians across the globe. We are swept away by an enveloping sense of magic, forgetting for an instant our critical spirit. Electricity is transformed into sound through an impressive collection of vintage and modern modular synthesizers and keyboards. Large sonic forms dominate the soundfield. The engaging locomotive power of Hunter’s sequencer manipulations and breakdowns bring a pumping pulse to Sectio Aurea. An ever-evolving rotating syncopation feels captivating to us – gained as the firing order of arpeggio notes spiral down into unpredictable slots. A highly specific set of possible chromatic symmetries support a range of confident synth lead lines. Declaring the musician’s narrative these full-bodied analog expressions sing in electric ribbons of sound. Echoing notes repeat and resound in synchronized layers of mechanized rhythms, until the concluding track resolves this journey, settling the listener into the drifting reverie of gently humming circuits and charged solid states. A blood member of the clan of electricity, Hunter makes a spark, in the night, in The Universe. Sectio Aurea is a work perfectly in tune with itself and its maker. This album is also about doing the work of music – as, when in pursuit with one’s heart and mind, all else fades away. It is a reflection, realized through action, intervened upon by spontaneity, which leads both listener and musician into contemplation – and that wonderful mental realm of unburdened temporal continuity.

– Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END24 December 2015

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: Space Patrol

Space Patrol

Space Patrol

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: Space Patrol
Released: 16 May 2015

Space Patrol (61’10”) is the product of a synergistic magic generated between Mike Hunter (a.k.a. Ombient) and Chuck van Zyl. Their four momentous, far-reaching concerts, held over a 48 hour period in December 2013, were realized in one weekend spent in high gear – on the brink of self-destruction. It was a time during which the duo seemed to have spent more attention on executing their music across four different venues than on maintaining any semblance of personal congruity. Space Patrol is the resulting live album. Taking the listener with it, into a realm without words, the music sustains your attention from the very first note. Held together by texture, melodic narratives and atmosphere, Space Patrol propels the listener through a trackless void. Its sonic surfaces are rich, complex and saturated with meaning, as resonant melodies hide in huge vaporous spheres of sound. In a vocabulary of repeating patterns the duo navigates their own tributary of the Berlin-School. Dancing arpeggio notes, resonant analogue tones and interlocking percussion accents surge out of breathing synthesizer swells – while soft percussive chiffs and royal electronic bleeps echo out across vividly imagined distances. As deeply breathing chords stack up and sustain, machine-like synchronized sequencer runs gain momentum – cycling in lock step against a trail of echoes and dreamy tonal interplay. Hunter’s analog style step sequencer, and its seemingly endless facility for composition, repetition and variation, drives this music’s motoric tick-tock timing. Amidst this kinetic kaleidoscope of rhythm, van Zyl releases a ribbon of heroic synth leads, as well as soft Mellotron flutes, strings and choirs. The beauty of this work comes from its many strands, heard individually and comprehended collectively. At the center of Space Patrol‘s three tracks is an area without form. Although possessing a shape, no one will ever completely explain the mysteries of this hot spot. The expanding soundfield has apparently left a gap in this region – for reasons that are not yet understood. The zone invites multiple interpretations, and while its meaning may be slippery, its power is unmistakable. In a compulsively detailed swirl of moods and impressions, this duo is pulled toward a hard chill – and the revivifying power of creativity. Mike Hunter and Chuck van Zyl create a realm so complete, the most difficult part of their Space Patrol will be the return to Earth.

(From the Press Release16 May 2015)

Chuck van Zyl: Rituals



Rituals by Chuck van Zyl
Released: 15 November 2014

As one who devotes so much time to delivering music to the world, it is good to see radio show host, reviewer and concert producer Chuck van Zyl also spending time at being an Electronic Musician. His release Rituals (57’01”) is one of Spacemusic’s sonic miracles. An album with incomparable penetration Rituals is so beautiful and ingenious that listeners will find its atmosphere of cosmic yearning on an equal level with that of its ceaseless sonic invention. The mood and message of this third volume extends the trajectory of his two previous CDs. While MemorySpace (2010) and Cenotaph (2012) took two years each to conceive, concertize, record and produce, Rituals took just two weeks. Using modular systems, a variety of modern analog synthesizers and sequencers and operating at an emotional and enthusiastic pitch, van Zyl has realized music that possesses as much the buzz and crackle of electricity as it does the frigid black of space. From his instrument’s storm force of sound comes delightful throbbing bass lines, echo-warping chimes and a mystery machine pulse against which van Zyl sways and plays synth strings, Mellotron choir and full-blooded melodies. Staccato synthesizer blips interlock and echo in mighty sequencer patterns, yet this mechanical rigidity is somehow softened – as lines of dancing arpeggios pump up against tuneful leads and ethereal harmonic progressions. Disarmingly quiet passages reduce the level of density and energy with insinuating modulations and vaporous aural forces. Rituals pushes and pulls itself, expands and contracts, and manages to establish an interesting contour through various scenarios and scenes… to attain a rare unity. Offering vivid synthesized sonorities the appeal lies in its minimalist values and in this musician’s ability to create an intimate and absorbing listening experience. As with albums by Arc and Redshift Rituals has an immediacy that can overwhelm – its cosmic beauty easily experienced over and over. The creative act is the one defense against the ruin of the world. Singing the mental electric with an inventive sonic flair Chuck van Zyl makes music that fills up the empty spaces and places of life. Embracing the early-day attitudes of the Kosmische Musik movement he transcends them – elevating the most familiar themes to another sphere. Anyone in love with Spacemusic and its very specific poetry will want to hear this recording.

(STAR’S END14 November 2014)