Spacemusic Reviews

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Nils Frahm: Music for Animals

Music for Animals Nils Frahm

Nils Frahm: Music for Animals
Released: 23 September 2022

Works by Nils Frahm always feel more from the heart than from the wall outlet. In a transformative encounter with electricity his three CD/four LP set Music for Animals (186:43) presents ten remarkable tracks of Ambient Spacemusic. Building wonder and suspense within an atmospheric system of minimalism, the air of this release is serious, but not dispiriting. Below its subdued sense, punctuated by passages of radiance and light, the meaning behind Music for Animals steals into the audience through the sides of the head. Subtly propulsive, then still, beautiful and strange, in translating electronic currents into sonic textures Frahm’s chords move from deep-toned to light and radiant – melting an experimental mood under a sudden gravity. Underpowered sequencer lines hold space and reduce the mechanical-motor pulse into something more secret, lean and potent. Above the rounded machine patterns floats an ethereal glow of quietly yearning synths. Transported from another purer realm these arrangements counter the shallowness of the mainstream – and pose that life is nothing if not electrical. Every zone is mood chilling, yet heart warming. Such is the beauty of Frahm’s music that each moment is an enigmatic delight. The tone that comes so naturally to him floats somewhere between dreams, memories and the fragments of a time yet to come. Music for Animals does everything we ask of great music: it enlarges our world, expands our attention outward, and opens up our hearts and minds. For musicians like Nils Frahm EM is about mobility, mobility of expression. In its many meetings in recognition, along dimensions that cannot be articulated with mere words, the realizations illuminate an inner reality, but long for real life.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 November 2022


Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit

Spirit Exit Caterina Barbieri

Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit
Released: 8 July 2022

Electronic Musicians are as different from each other as they are from the dominant styles of their day. In keeping with this belief on Spirit Exit (55:53) synthesist Caterina Barbieri locates the action in her synthesizers and brings to bear an unmistakable and true personal voice. Unfolding in an atmosphere of charged equilibrium its eight tracks prowl each their own musically distinctive surround. As one idea takes off in an unpredictable, unstoppable play of innovation, the next fuses into a seamless, dreamlike texture of ingenuity. Disciplined, machine-like galloping notes wind outward, emerging in a sprawling upward, downward theme. Extending the rapt mood spacey singsong vocalizations rise in contours shapley and measured. Barbieri intones with force, then finesse – her coolness prophetic of another kind of power. As branching sequencer structures cycle through light and dark designs, intriguing pulsing patterns echo, expand and conspire throughout our sound space. In a soaring clockwork precision of restless exploration Spirit Exit unfolds under Barbieri’s practiced naturalism. Synth chords seethe beneath deliberate changes in meter – the intention of the invention in support of rhythmic energy. With its imaginative sudden swerves and diverse sonic designs, those following closely may behold the sublime character of this work. Here is a musical world brimming with rhythmic complexity and dynamic variability, yet is supple and approachable from every perspective. One could imagine spending years with this album – light years of discovering new meaning and beauty as its maker is continually revealed.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 October 2022

Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron

Elemental Temple Pt 1 Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron

Kwali Kumara/Pete Ardron: Elemental Temple Part 1
Released: 21 January 2022

Elemental Temple Part 1 (125:46) possesses a rare and cherished quality. The four lengthy tracks realized by Kwali Kumara & Pete Ardron open up and out into a blissful realm of gentle melodies, drifting ambience and reassuring consonance. An enigmatic, deep release of methodical pacing and ceremonial intensity Elemental Temple Part 1 does not lead the listener, but stays right with us well into its deeper dream. Electronic textures grow, thicken and gently shift, as harmonics become dense, then fall away into a smooth surface of sound. Expanding drones slow the plane of daily existence – their outward-reaching arc adrift on the stillness of thought. Taken together these elements convey the enigmatic yet simple essence of a world apart, and may even evoke the meditative vistas at the center of each player. Entering their weightless domain we feel received, accepted. Each composition has its own unique sense of weightlessness – as within these vivid soundfields every listener feels at the center of their own eternal circle. In a near constant state of gradual expansion, contrasting ambient landscapes blend and morph beautifully across a subtle cosmic backdrop. Utilizing a diverse electronic palette unique timbres arise, hang in space, brighten, then darken, then morph into something new. This atmosphere of flourishing synthesizers notably includes playful, graceful wordless singing. Intriguing treatments transform lilting vocalizations, slightly – into an even more ethereal encounter with the infinite. Late in this long-player the listener is summoned into focus with intuitive beats and rhythmic flow. As viridescent hums and buzzes give way to riffs, grooves and celebratory chanting, these heated moments seem taken from life itself – passing pleasingly at a human degree. Whether the mood is slow-burning bright and hot, or more of a nocturnal still chill zone, this duo’s sonic sense is beguiling – taking its lines from life itself. A mesmerizing combination of technology and tradition, aether and earth, sensuality and reason, this music, with its incense like dynamics, lingers on well after the ember’s glow has cooled. The mind, the soul, the heart… this work touches all three. Kwali Kumara and Pete Ardron have provided us with an aural expression intent on restoring contemplation over mere mainstream diversion. Their Elemental Temple Part 1 ennobles us with the resolve to carry out whatever realizations this journey has fostered – leaving we listeners hoping that we will always be as open and as honest as this album has asked us to be.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 11 August 2022

David Parsons: Atmanaut


David Parsons: Atmanaut
Released: 21 March 2022

David Parsons beckons to us again with the promise of far-flung fantastic escape. His 13 track double CD Atmanaut speaks anew to the dreamer inside all of us. Upon entering the Edenic atmosphere of this substantial release we set out to new places within ourselves. A journey at once vibrant and soothing, then crackling with live-wire energy, Atmanaut is more interested in reveling in the myths of World Music than in piercing them. A remarkable achievement of the imagination it offers paths of inquiry limited only by the mind’s ability to become aroused. Conjuring translucent textures, from an ethereal simplicity to a riotously rare intensity Parsons pulls from different emotional poles. To satisfy the craving for faster tempo and weightier percussion we encounter propulsive rhythmic patterns. Through enlivening pulsations the listener synchronizes with the music, only to untether during zones of night-black synth textures – places where Parsons just allows himself to vibe out. The closer one listens the more one hears this album’s glistening dark-edge fade into a ceremony of the spirit. Even in our broken and diminished realm it is possible – even necessary – to exult the mystical. Atmanaut offers otherworldly consolation – as we, like Parsons, take refuge in the beautiful mysteries that remain in our people and planet.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 July 2022

Martin Sturtzer: Epsilon Eridani

Epsilon Eridani Martin Sturtzer

Martin Sturtzer: Epsilon Eridani
Released: 20 July 2022

With Epsilon Eridani (40:55) Martin Sturtzer shares his LP length window on the cosmos. Charged with a brain chilling energy this most majestic machine music involves all sorts of human choices and interventions. Across its three tracks the pitch-dark universe seems to become lit by a flicker of electronic grace. From dense sounds carrying an air of displacement to undulating fields of synthesized chords, Epsilon Eridani expands and contracts in a slow motion of round sounds and tamed timbre. We may imagine a set of concentric spheres – echoing sequencer patterns progressively revealed – as we move further along this sonic detour from linear thinking. Delving deeper into the the second half of this release we find tonal differences dominating the realm. Through the placement of contrasting harmonies this piece expresses texture, atmosphere, and all else that eludes the spoken word. Throughout all his substantial spacey interludes Sturtzer encourages the listener to follow the music in all its unfolding detail. In his idea of what may exist between the stars we should experience an unfamiliar feeling of lightness, like being on another planet where the force of gravity is only a fraction of the earth’s – a world where the low hum of possibility is constantly reverberating.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END21 July 2022

K Leimer: The Starting Errors

The Starting ErrorsK Leimer

K Leimer: The Starting Errors
Released: 1 July 2022

Throughout his long-established career, K Leimer has always told a good story – something which we look forward to hearing with each new outing. In one more self-scrutiny The Starting Errors (72:16) wonders about what we have created, and when it will end. Yet another remarkable achievement of the imagination it hopes to provide something moving and true. Possible categories include Modern Chamber, Ambient Electronic or Neoteric, but there really is no name for this kind of music. Original, genre bending, thought-provoking, emotionally resonant and above all a consistent pleasure, the vibe of The Starting Errors is as undeniable as it is undefinable. Perhaps realized under a darkling sky, its eleven tracks, one more poetic and intriguing than the next, move from reasoned sonic blurs and fragmented digital currents, to a junction of prowling ghosts and crackling live wires. In one existential moment after another we can experience interludes of lightness and insistence awash in quiet and subtle details, followed by the unnervingly open-ended loaded with philosophical possibility. A tonally delicate midway point stands out as an exceptional location where nothing disrupts the essential harmony and loveliness of this beguiling composition of piano and string ambiance. Further in, neo-classical orchestrations supporting repeatedly recited spoken words offers a more direct message. The subdued journey of The Starting Errors takes plenty of detours into unexpected zones, tones, textures and states – which in fact may be the entire point of this effort. An artist of Ambient eloquence Leimer’s informed listeners will find themselves again engrossed in his skillful sonic designs and imaginative atmospheres, as surely as they will his artistic spirit. Always reaching for perfection, music seems to be the best way for Leimer to capture what he is living in, and share these feelings and emotions with receivers of like-mind. In this dusky present, lulled listeners will know their own brilliance by recognizing his.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 June 2022

John Luther Adams: Houses of the Wind

Houses of the Wind

John Luther Adams: Houses of the Wind
Released: 17 June 2022

Constantly testing his powers John Luther Adams leans into the raw energy of a decades old recording of Aeolian Harp. The sound emanating from this dawn spacemusic instrument and its wind animated strings seems a perfect soundtrack to unsettled realms. His Houses of the Wind (52:46) – an album in five parts, each about ten minutes, each perceived so elementaly – makes it easy to imagine our planet before it was inhabited, or at such time it is returned to that state. Transformed into a migrating, subtly colored timbral field, the basic recording of this instrument gains depth, acquires radiance, and further comes to life through untold audio manipulations. Requiring multiple facets of listening, thinking and feeling Houses of the Wind may seem the result of a strange new art. Lacking familiar reference points, it should lead us to consider unseen things around us.

The fluvial action of wind on strings produces a gradual purring drone, which is reimagined by Adams’ action on the recording – which provides even further transformations between mood, tone color and hue. Further in, darkness descends in rumbling drones and primitive spaces. The shifting shapes and shades of sound hum in a tremor of floating textures – emanating from the simple vibrating overtones of taut susurrating strands activated by random currents of air.

With Houses of the Wind Adams adds to an impressive oeuvre and proves himself a far more adventurous composer than previously suspected. His relentless curiosity and receptiveness to all things audible and a fascination with the effect of sound tells us about his values – that his work is as equally about music as it is about attitude. Whether an unnavigable experiment in indefinite pitch, or a quiescent tone zone, the haunting nature of these five realizations will be felt long after the recording has completed its play. In a world that cannot be made sense of Adams offers the listener music for dreaming bigger than one’s own self – of something bigger than what we know in this world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END23 June 2022

Private Sea: Private Sea

Private Sea Private Sea

Private Sea: Private Sea
Released: 10 June 2022

Attention all Owlish Ambient types! Fellow travelers Alex Mitchell and Ryan Todd should be arriving in your listening space with Private Sea (50:26) – their excellent self-titled debut. While Private Sea expresses and experiments in ways built on previous entries in this field, they are far more focussed on the wonders of the psyche than the machinery used to make this release. Their optimism and artistry are fully present throughout every well-crafted musical moment. Driven by openness and compassion, vision and vibe, the assured pacing of its six tracks leads us into this duo’s remarkable euphonic, electronic, stereophonic state. In their interrogation of atmosphere, Private Sea commands the sound, the weight, taste and texture of synthesized tones. From fuming, vigorous and urging, down to the softest susurration of truthful timbral rumination, they navigate between Spacemusic’s tidal drone zones and ethereal washes, on up to a lively braindance of melody, rhythm and pulse. Although geared toward tranquility and quietude, nothing about this album seems confined. Testing the waters on this their first outing, Mitchell & Todd believe in the promise of new coastlines – and that the mind is its own place, its oceans vast and to be explored. In daily life feelings ebb and flow like waves upon the shore, but it is in the Private Sea of individuality that the sheer sensation of accomplished works like this one will endure.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 June 2022

Carlos Dengler: Aqueduct

Aqueduct Carlos Dengler

Carlos Dengler: Aqueduct
Released: 15 April 2022

Multi-instrumentalist Carlos Dengler rests easy at the outer reaches of Ambient Music. His Aqueduct (60:40) is brimming with ideas, but never tells us what to think. As self-assured as it is exploratory this is not a flashy album. It possesses a warmth and excitement (seemingly from the process of creation) that is satisfying, even joyous to the listener. Under the pervading, probing nature of Spacemusic, the drifting quality of Ambient and the caressing comfort of New Age, Aqueduct maintains the unique connection between sound and spirit. A vibe will carry you further than solid ideas can, and Dengler’s polished performances reveal genuine emotional content. Flowing between a number of sincere moods, from somber elegance to playful luxuriousness and daydream dramatics, mystical melodies move the music into illuminated space – while elsewhere gray atmospheres direct us toward decidedly subdued sonic hues. Agile arrangements and meticulous timing indicate great abilities and technique, yet this work for the quiet mind glows softly. With guitar, flute, bass, piano, voice, light percussion and synthesizers, most listeners will slip through states of awareness, enjoying the wonderful journey between their internal life and the resonating listening space. Heightened by hints of the otherworldly the seven tracks are easy to listen to, yet are still capable of provoking thought. With its subtle intricacies, clear beginnings and dramatic resolutions, we leave this realm feeling better for having had experienced this music. Even as Aqueduct plays out in fluid sensitivity to detail and tone, it withholds secrets. It is wonderful company – even more so with the familiarity brought by additional listening.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 June 2022

Skoulaman: Mundus in Motu

Mundus in Motu

Skoulaman: Mundus in Motu
Released: 24 April 2022

Who does not love being transported while listening to music? …especially when the journey takes you across a diverse terrain and through many intriguing moods. On Mundus in Motu (74:46) Skoulaman (Dutch Electronic Musician Hans van Kroonenburg) applies his creative spirit to this end. Its seven tracks, studiously varied, allows our mind to unwind. Leading us to a place outside ourselves, the music seems to be emanating directly from this musician’s being. A jewell box of a release Mundus in Motu takes on a certain shape in our memory. On his quest for momentum, van Kroonenburg deliberately dwells in the assured pace of his superbly syncopated sequencer patterns. As harmonic forms advance and recede, the free movement of drama widens and expands. Subtle contrasts of cool melodic hues push and pull at the listener’s attention, while the warm currents coursing through this music hits our ears all at once – as if everything gathered in the head and heart of the artist has emerged in a totality of sound. Arranged in exciting, inviting ways this music takes place in a smarter, gentler world than the one in which we live. Though polished and sure Mundus in Motu is also full of heart and wild touches. Coming from someplace beyond the spoken word, in generous stretches of charged synthetic zones, down to its soft, easeful spheres, this release is fully and effectively imagined. Listen to it straight through, because you would not want to miss the surprises or the pleasure of discovering this work. Please close your eyes, and open your ears, and dream bigger than you are.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END2 June 2022