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Spacemusic Reviews

Various Artists: Structure and Forces

Structure and Forces

Structure and Forces

Various Artists: Structure and Forces
Released: 16 March 2018
www.din.org.uk

It can be hard to explain the appeal of modular synthesizer systems to outsiders. Magnificent in its potential, the work being generated by this group and their gear is far too big to be just one thing (and to easily explain to the commoner). Expansive in its range, the proud topic of the anthology Structure and Forces (66’59”) is sound. Its nine tracks were chosen and ordered by Ian Boddy. While averse to boundaries, Boddy has chosen artists from a select cadre of friends and colleagues – which gives this CD the feel of an album despite the differences in approach and ambition of each contributor. The experience of listening to Structure and Forces will be as equally wondrous to the techno-file as it is the stationary traveler. With no shared system of notation, these pieces are passed to one another by playing and listening… and just as these artists are enraptured by the making of this music, so are we in giving ear. From soul-deep vignette to sonic invective, each musician translates, transforms and wanders through a realm rooted in electrical current. Even passages where little is happening seem suspenseful. Idiosyncratic phrasing and articulation result in further steps toward abstraction, yet the flow of this release may just as easily land us in the comfort of blissful tone and reassuring harmony. At about the midway point the music becomes grounded in rhythm, and we are roused from our synaptic free-form yawn zone with a thought aligning pulsating groove. Mounting percussion echoes into a brave chord progression, drops, then resumes in a regular time signature. But however engaging, this is just a different kind of story of sound. Dedicated to the humanity behind this music Ian Boddy has decades of chapters behind and ahead of him. Structure and Forces (his Tone Science project) reminds us that Electronic Music has never been tied to a single identity, and that neither is it temporary. With its streams of potentially endless variations this genre seems to attract people with an internal clock out of sync with that of society – which these days slips so easily into bored indifference. While its unifying theme is the contemporary modular synthesizer, this machinery is of little importance – when we compare these systems to the works they are used to create.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 May 2018

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[‘ramp]: no sleep ’til wilmersdorf

no sleep 'til wilmersdorf

no sleep ’til wilmersdorf

[‘ramp]: no sleep ’til wilmersdorf
Released: 3 April 2018
www.parsick.com

In the digital-world, it is possible to achieve perfection – and Stephen Parsick is quite grateful that he is not at all part of this endeavor. The common musician must cede the realm he explores as [‘ramp] and his decades long reckless ride into the unknown. His album no sleep ’til wilmersdorf (75’57”) excites the highest imagination. A thing of beauty, with darkness at its center, this work opens a wide sonic space, invites you in, but remains indifferent. In eight instrumental space fables, conjuring beasts as easily as they do flowers, the music matches its creator’s ambitions quite well. Just because this genre is referred to as Spacemusic, we need not contemplate the meaning of the cosmos to enjoy it. Once you are in step with the spiraling sequencer patterns, ratcheting accents and echoing syncopation of electronic tones, the search for meaning slips away – as we find consolation in all sonic imaginings flowing from out of our speakers. Carrying an undercurrent of doom, uncertain welcomes and wayward spirits, no sleep ’til wilmersdorf is a reflection of our deep disquiet about the world we are building. Human and muscular, mesmerizing patterns and furious colors emerge from a realm of their own – defying comfortable categorization. Everything shimmers in starlight, as ghostly assemblages of drifting electronics, as if fighting gravity, move through sections of stillness. In tempestuous upheavals of sound, then with painterly restraint, prowling bass notes beneath the restless surge of tumbling upper register notes forward march in a study of formal relationships at their most primal. While our attention may leap from synthesizer, to Mellotron, to electric piano, to field recording, the music always showcases Parsick’s masterful understanding of arrangement and navigation. An interconnected mess of components, his music machinery heats up (and maybe even vibrates slightly), producing ethereal tones, full-bodied lead lines, and an entrancing futurism like something out of a dream. It takes a certain kind of individual to appreciate this experience, one of being the only person in this musical space – and liking it… the feeling of solitude, the absence of noise, the possibility of encountering something elemental, or something bigger outside of ourselves. It is the feel of an extraordinary enchantment, as magical as you would expect. So works by [‘ramp] (and other things like it) patiently wait – for our senses to grow sharper. This music has always been thought of as forward thinking – a premonition of the future. But somewhere our world stopped caring about what will come, about the potential of humanity, and more about chasing easy contentment. Although Parsick acknowledges the pitiful sight of a people with a past, but no present, he would not have released no sleep ’til wilmersdorf were it not for a galactic sized optimism. In works of intriguing musings on the intersection of technology and art – Stephen Parsick gives life to the breadth and width of his imagination.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 26 April 2018

Stratosphere: Collaborations I

Collaborations I

Collaborations I

Stratosphere: Collaborations I
Released: 21 April 2018
www.industryeight.com
www.stratosphere.be

In his music project Stratosphere, guitarist Ronald Mariën, creates loop and effect heavy music that drones and burbles, tinkles and undulates, as if acknowledging the fragility of the state it offers. With his album Collaborations I (72’28”) he pairs off with nine other musicians to produce as many tracks in a distinctive range of new music. Mariën provides each collaborator with an atmosphere over which they may lay their signature sounds – each adding something to the effort that Mariën cannot conjure on his own. As ghostly assemblages of drifting guitar textures meet muted synthetic harmonies, we might zone out through whole songs at a time – only to become startled by some pristine sonic detail buried in the mix. In the restless surge of advancing tones the listener may find strength in the stillness – just as easily as the next track unleashes a lava-hot guitar drone “deal-with-it” drum jam. While some efforts do take the ear strangely, Collaborations I also provides enough reassuring ambient thought zones to color the listening space with familiar tones and warm temperatures. In the movement of these masses of sound, and the resulting radiant, translucent conditions, we find a certain comfort in all the openness, space, possibility and even the danger – as each track struggles for its own unity and cohesion.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END   19 April 2018

Skoulaman: Next Step in Evolution

Next Step in Evolution

Next Step in Evolution

Skoulaman: Next Step in Evolution
Released: 31 March 2018
www.groove.nl
www.skoulaman.nl

Whether you came to know the music of Skoulaman by watching the impressive collection of jam sessions and demonstrations on his Youtube channel, or through attending a live show, in the music of Hans van Kroonenburg we will find a pleasing outward motion. His album Next Step in Evolution (77’56”) contains six slow-paced sequencer improvisations that will hold our interest in melody as much as they do our intrigue with the mechanized pulse. That these excellent works were realized in real time live in the studio exhibits van Kroonenburg’s ability (and ear) for working in the heat of a fleeting moment. By concentrating on live concerts he perfected his skills in performance techniques and the musical journey. With its arching melodies and well-developed narrative element, Next Step in Evolution provides a pleasurable, low-wattage drift through an electronic sensory consonance. Setting airy strings next to rapid daubs of echoing arpeggio notes, each track develops and builds variably. Repeating synchronized tone patterns enter, once introduced by reverberant electric piano and luxuriant solo synth leads. By using a range of vintage and modern analog style synthesizers, van Kroonenburg has access to and immediate command over all layers and aspects of the music – as it is happening – yet, has the good artistic sense to occasionally simply stand back and savor an especially interesting pattern or pad that shimmers in the sound space. Next Step in Evolution may be admired for its originality, nevertheless it is still a recognizable continuation of the illustrious tradition of spontaneous composition. As much as he can hold forth in the live setting, it may be that van Kroonenburg’s greatest gift is in just waiting for the sounds to tell him what to do. However, no matter how deeply Skoulaman may become fully absorbed in realizing and conducting this music, were we able to look into his realm, we would find that the only person truly, fully in the magical space he creates are you and I – the listeners.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 April 2018

Free System Projekt & Terje Winther: Spoon Forest

Spoon Forest

Spoon Forest

Free System Projekt & Terje Winther: Spoon Forest
Released: 31 March 2018
www.freesystemprojekt.nl

Free System Projekt believes that sound expresses something in itself, and each new production is an opportunity to further explore atmospheric relationships. Along with Marcel Engels and Ruud Heij, their album Spoon Forest (69’59”) features the sonic interest of Terje Winther. This collaboration does lead the group into regions they may not have visited on their own. Charged with electricity, every aspect of their three sonic landscapes is in motion. From pastoral simplicity to overloaded modulations, vivid aural tints form a handsome contrast. These contemporary colors of tone reinforce each others power and significance, while alien oscillations bloom and blossom into questions for the listener’s mind. As a synthesizer hymn winds its further course, glittering effects entwine about the harmonies – all against a rapid path of echoing lead lines and a growing height of celestial choirs. Over the hushed motion of the ordered array of sequencer notes, a plaintive Mellotron flute grows to full melodic statement. In one long gathering of speed and power, a charge of strings command cosmic forces – only to be brought down to the speed of thought by a few expressive Rhodes electric piano notes. While Spoon Forest may stir deeply an intelligent few, its overt experimentation will leave the weaker among us grasping for meaning. Throughout this work of energy and emptiness we are asked to think for ourselves or (at the very least) just sit quietly and feel the scale of the music working on us. This release takes the listener on a journey with (and within) the three musicians. Spoon Forest conveys how deeply this outfit feels the essence of Spacemusic – harmonious and dissonant alike – and takes the music to a place where machines cannot go.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 April 2018

Robert Rich: The Biode

The Biode

The Biode

Robert Rich: The Biode
Released: 25 February 2018
www.robertrich.com

What will we be thinking about while we listen to The Biode (57’37”) by Robert Rich? Is existence a property? Or a state? How do we measure the modern world? What constitutes the self? A talent on a free course, Rich progresses, not in a straight line, but in alternate divergences from one side of creativity to the other. His work on The Biode re-awakens the discussion of music and the surreal. To the ear accustomed to soothing atmospheres, this album is a risk – as it deviates quite seriously from better known traditions. A great deal of its charm lies in its ability to confound and perplex. An exploration of new aims and tendencies, the ten tracks found on The Biode are each an exploitation of carefully chosen and contrasted tonal qualities. Rich’s harmonic lubrications are subtle, revealing the dim light of mystic musing. Instrumental tone colors are combined, yet each stands clear of the other – asserting a mutual independence. As a gathering of rhythmic threads arise and resolve in unconventional sequencer patterns and percussive structures, tiny snatches of melody pass like vain dreams – heedlessly into some other chord. From sweet, to pungent, to the primordial, a slow progression of pale hues test permitted concords and discords. Throughout this release Rich features his notable research into the qualities of timbre, into the effects of new combinations of tones. These imaginative modulations are highlighted as prominently as the more familiar reverberant flute solos, steel guitar leads and synthesized pads. The result is a wonderful zone of beautiful melodies and sonic grandeur, accented by glurping electronic utterances and an unsettling intonation. However scientific its conception may have been, The Biode proves very expressive. As faithful in detail as any of Rich’s best work, it represents the furthest progress yet in acknowledging the human subconscious, and the emotional and intellectual attitudes of the mind.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 March 2018

Forrest Fang: Scenes From a Ghost Train

Scenes From A Ghost Train

Scenes From A Ghost Train

Forrest Fang: Scenes From a Ghost Train
Released: 30 January 2018
www.projekt.com
www.forrestfang.com

If what you are witnessing in the waking world leaves something to be desired, then why not leave for a while to visit with innovative musician Forrest Fang? His album Scenes From a Ghost Train (69’16”) moves our minds as well as it caresses our ears. Entering a higher sanctuary, an enchanting subtlety carries us into idyll. The vast designs found within Scenes From a Ghost Train imagine a realm where both forces of dark and light exist equally. In an awesome quiet of soothing sounds, trembling tones whisper in the dim hue of a minor key. Plunging into languorous chords, Fang carefully resolves their further course. As the late rush of rhythm breaks out we feel a strange power of motion. A primal force, tumbling in headlong descent, the sounds of percussion measure the expanse – and access the pulse living within us all. Becoming lost in the clouds, or bathed in moonlight, synthesized notes slowly progress – around and through those of acoustic origin. Then, with the onset of an ominous dirge, chilling shadows return. Wherever harmony seeks a lower foundation, a subtle, insinuating dissonance sets in. As a mystic air rises slowly in hollow intervals, within the theatre of the mind chronology becomes hazy. Again locating our place, piano notes resound through cavernous reverberation, only to be consumed by dense metallic clouds. A significant attribute of Fang’s music may be found in its combination and resolution of integral themes. So constant is the derivation of ideas on Scenes From a Ghost Train that we must imagine them all to be related. This master should feel the full worth of what has been achieved. The ultimate goal of the endeavor is not the strikingly new, but rather the eternally true… a musician’s journey that may help you to understand your own.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END15 March 2018