Spacemusic Reviews

Category: Uncategorized

Chuck van Zyl: Live on Star’s End 10.06.19

Live on Star's End 100619

Live on Star’s End 100619

Chuck van Zyl: Live on Star’s End 10.06.29
Released: 23 February 2020

Guiding listeners from the safe place of what they know to an active awareness of what can be is the job of a good DJ – and of a good musician too. During his ongoing 40 year tenure as host of the weekly radio program Star’s End, Chuck van Zyl has been commissioned with the task of leading an audience – the proficiency of which may also be found in his musical realizations. So inspired by the music he was spinning on-air, Chuck van Zyl began making his own Electronic Music works – with a synthesizer he still uses to this day. Live on Star’s End 10.06.19 is the second in a series of live-to-air radio concert releases, and features over 75 minutes of the live Spacemusic he made in the WXPN performance studio during the private Salon Concert and live-to-air broadcast of 5/6 October 2019.

In this music Chuck van Zyl gives voice to the character of his existence. It is a proclamation of his alive-ness, by way of an in-the-moment inventiveness. A complex multi-leveled album Live on Star’s End 10.06.19 utilizes the full dynamic range of sonic possibilities. Moving truly between an electric unrestrained intensity on down to shivering chill currents, the juxtaposition of the primitive and the delicate lends tension to the drama. Working the dials, searching out the sound, groping for the pulse – in whirlwinds of intertwining sequencer lines, and the gorgeous exploration of tone color, form and atmosphere – he coaxes magical moments into the sound space.

Chuck’s live concerts show the identity of his instruments as equally as they do the identity of the artist. Making music in an enormous present, his live improvisations find Chuck attempting to transcend, not an instrument, but a system of instruments – a constellation of synths, sequencers, echoes and reverbs all in service to a potent musical vision. An expressive power, the right situation of the venue and the heedful is capable of releasing unsuspected energies. With the body activated and central nervous system firing the joy of playing this music is unmatched.

If the moral track of the Universe arcs upward, then this music must be part of that eventuality. Just as the optimism of the weekly broadcasts of Star’s End (in contrast to the present moment) seem a notion leftover from the previous century, so will albums like Live on Star’s End 10.06.19 chip away at the inherent dissonance at the heart of modern life. Although the subject of this album may be specific, its implications are cosmic.

Press Notes/STAR’S END20 February 2020

LIsa Bella Donna: Tramontane



Lisa Bella Donna: Tramontane
Released: 26 October 2019

The first sonic impression of Tramontane (50’27”) arrives with a rumble of white noise. A deeply absorbing album, its listeners are completely taken over by a wondrous atmosphere. Wrapped in the skilled musical invention we have come to expect from our most innovative Electronic Musicians, Lisa Bella Donna breathes in a musical freedom that allows her to experiment without abandoning her strengths. The sounds found on Tramontane seethe and roil in a deep real cool – all in service to a skilled musical intent. Each of the two tracks, each a singular flowing thought, asks us to tune into our quieter frequencies. But being introspective does not mean that this work has to be vague. In its drift toward a soft-focus landscape many touching, quiet moments are indeed realized – but the ambient spell cast by this gemlike album is occasionally broken by an enlivening keyboard lead. These bewitching thought-zones arc through their magical moments in a beautifully transporting performance, both restful to the intellect and comforting to the spirit. By continually combining and recombining a vivid range of timbres into substantial sonic textures and cosmic aural colors, this artist leaves us dwelling in vivid states of wordless quietude and opalescent shine. Recordings of a natural wilderness environment mingle with synthesizer pads and detailed electronic modulations as the mood pushes into the far-flung reaches of thought. The deliberate pacing, the sense of consonance surrounded by space, the rush of warm rounded chords all make for a fascinating listening experience. Most competent musicians can easily produce heat. Lisa Bella Donna produces light. A work of sustained ambiance Tramontane conveys the enigmatic yet simple essence of her world apart.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 February 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

Marconi Union: Dead Air

Dead Air

Dead Air

Marconi Union: Dead Air
Released: 29 November 2019

Nobody goes there anymore, it’s just too crowded… According to Marconi Union, the principality of Ambient Music has ceased to be. After ten albums from a few miles west of this location the Manchester-based trio has declared the genre of ignorable music to be done in by over population. A well-known/popular band, yet always in possession of a real humanity, Marconi Union wonders about their own mystery. Their release Dead Air (55’40”), an album of seven wordless atmospheric tracks, creates its own wondrous soundscape as it goes. Behind these arrangements are Jamie Crossley, Richard Talbot and Duncan Meadows. With subdued rolling sonic waves and ethereal textures they conjure a beautiful and tender inward space. Softer sounds prevail, as the output of guitars, voices and keyboards are pushed into ever more thoughtful realms. Multi-layered and lulling the works found on Dead Air are deceptively simple. Accessible, and at the same time elegant and smart, they provide luxury even in the most spare moments – and co-exist peacefully with the life around them. Gently navigating through these thought zones with care breathing washes of warm chords are contrasted against well-placed electronics and subtle loops. The embracing sound of steel strings, electric piano and the human voice – delicately filtered, distorted and re-imagined – blur between their indistinct boundaries. Although each piece briefly forms its own distinctive condition, the overall effect is unifying. This music has always been considered by the mainstream as being “out there”, yet its true home is “in here”… inside us… deep within the listening mind. The rounded drones, reverberating notes and humming ambiance generates moods beyond the abilities of common Instrumental Music. In such a crowded field, listening to Dead Air feels like entering a secluded garden within a forest – where the dream we dream together may become reality.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 January 2020

Radio Massacre International: M21/The Rhodes Less Travelled



Radio Massacre International: M21/The Rhodes Less Travelled
Released: 14 October 2019

In a world in which everything may be known, Spacemusic does remain a mystery. This portion of the musical spectrum may be too vast for some, but not for the likes of Steve Dinsdale, Duncan Goddard and Gary Houghton. Their long-lived live band Radio Massacre International has executed a great number of successful experiments in this discipline. Drawn together more in cooperation than in competition, to achieve each of their concerts this collective of improvisers calls on personal resources none are certain they possess. The double CD sets M21 and The Rhodes Less Travelled present this trio in some of their finest moments – with M21 spotlighting the 7 May 2011 show at St Clement’s Church in Manchester, and The Rhodes Less Travelled featuring out-takes from this event’s luminous rehearsal sessions. Making works meant to move the mind from still chill to smoldering state, RMI‘s encounter with their audience sets up the possibility for transcendence. Where intertwined sequencer riffs mix, shift and divide in a twisting double helix of echoing synthetic tones, further in RMI confronts a dissolving world of perpetual gloom – and ascends to the sonic stasis of gentle twilight realms, then on to melodic and harmonic fog clearing clarity. With their synthesizers, sequencers, Mellotron, Rhodes piano and electric guitar RMI performs the Berlin-School form to realize an even remoter music. Dinsdale, Goddard and Houghton live in the flow of the moment. As their bodies become activated by what they are hearing, their central nervous systems fire and a mysterious drama is built. Spacemusic runs deep in the fabric of these three. Their music is spontaneously composed, and so the act of performing live is constantly evolving. As they attain this otherwise unreachable experience, the atmosphere generated remains mysteriously ever in the near future. Yet, the retreat into wordlessness, the struggle against inevitable decay, and its desolating states are no match for the calm and quiet of an old electric piano set against a background of electronic night spirits – giving hope that maybe one day the profound peace RMI knows out in space will also be found here on the Earth.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END23 January 2020

David Parsons: Chakra



David Parsons: Chakra
Released: 8 November 2019

From the calm center of David Parsons comes an expression above existence. Through the specific language of his music he shares with us a discipline, a devotion that most people usually keep private. Chakra (63’25”) provides seven tracks for the quieter, more inward pursuits – and gives the moments we pass listening to it greater significance. Entering its weightless realm we feel received, accepted. Throughout its primitive polish and coarse refinement the human self remains audible. An enigmatic, deep album of methodical pacing and ceremonial intensity Chakra does not lead the listener, but stays with us well into the deeper dream. Electronic textures grow, thicken and gently shift, as harmonics become dense, then fall away into a smooth ribbon of sound. Expanding drones slow the plane of daily existence, as failing hums and buzzes give way to riffs of percussion which carry through the linear path of time. Chiming metallic tones ring above the tapping of synths and clicking of keys. Where breathy sounds seep into one composition, the chant of sequestered monks is released in another. Taken all together these elements convey the enigmatic yet simple essence of this world apart, and may even evoke the metaphysical dimension at the center of the player. However pleasurably adrift in this state of continual expansion, the listener is held inside an intriguing sonic palette – an experience notable for its profound impenetrability. The mind, the soul, the heart, this work touches all three. Chakra is not situated in the past, nor in the future. Within this most vivid sound field every listener is at the center of an infinite circle – with David Parsons declaring himself throughout.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 January 2020

Rene de Bakker: Our Gift

Our Gift

Our Gift

Rene de Bakker: Our Gift
Released: 1 June 2019

Our Gift (76″04″) is the ambitious solo effort by Rene de Bakker. Part of the Dutch synthesizer ensemble Beyond Berlin, on this release both the musician and audience discover what he is capable of left to his own devices. Our Gift presents six tracks of brilliantly intricate sequencer patterning. Transpiring in an electrical heat this music will throw off sparks. In an effortless braiding of high-concept electronic music and echoing notes each realization conjures a distinctive spacey mood. Polymetric pulses yield complex interlocking, repetitive motifs – and deliver a potent sense of motion. From the beat of the heart to the tick of a clock, larger cycles build from smaller ones. Rene de Bakker commands a striking range of electronic color and texture. Some works maintain just enough keyboard notes to sketch a melody, but where ever tension is fully wound up the leads tower fast and true. Flowing across a fascinating range of textures and moods one may drift into this album. However, Our Gift is an excellent example of smart brain beat Spacemusic, and so requires our attention. Spending time with it is never less than intriguing, and will leave us with a lasting sense of possibility.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 January 2020