Spacemusic Reviews

Serena Gabriel w/Steve Roach: Inanna’s Dream

Inanna's DreamSerena Gabriel

Serena Gabriel: Inanna’s Dream
Released: 28 August 2020

Music can be many things. It can be harsh and subterranean just as readily as it can be starlit and soft. So, for anyone with any poetry in their heart, the shimmering soundscapes and exploratory pleasures of multi-instrumentalist Serena Gabriel should feel as if from a loftier realm. Her album Inanna’s Dream (70:27) manifests an affectionate attunement to a calm, controlled and detailed aural artistry. Its six tracks (#5 & #6 w/Steve Roach) present ideas about ambient space, and how sound may intersect with mood – transforming the two in the process. Peacefully paced, as if part of a devotional ritual, Inanna’s Dream produces a reserved resonant energy. Within its meticulously designed arrangements we journey from one region to the next in an easy onward motion. Constructed from shades of rounded electronics, distant voices, and a soothing drifting consonance, this album emphasizes this genre’s capacity for elemental beauty. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and extended sound generation, tones swell and resound sweetly through an infinite distance. Tranquil notes hold and intertwine, then ripple and decay. Sustaining warm chords gently gather and build – to later recede into a lulling infinite moment. Elsewhere Gabriel’s signature phonetic textures roam, hover, then settle together in a beautiful vocalise. As ethereal “oohs” and breathy “aahs” transform under a mysterious undulant atmosphere, a stirring warmth comes to us – as if Gabriel’s heart were trying to reach out, concealed in one of those extended sighs. She has the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each benevolent breath will be released just the one time. Along with the echoing calls and chants, here and there we can make out a harmonium, didgeridoo, lyre, or wooden flute among the subtly shifting synthesizer keys. But these works are so exquisitely balanced in their manipulation of the sound space that one scarcely notices the separate elements. Throughout these passages of beaming reverie and lustrous stasis Gabriel’s music casts a mesmerizing spell. Inanna’s Dream is so beautiful that its existence might suggest a higher plane. Therefore, this music could be a bit beyond the level of comprehension of the average Spacemusic fan – in a world as compromised as ours a soul such as Gabriel’s may be comprehended not. Her work is the end point in a long process of seeking and of thought – a point where time becomes space, and something of the human spirit has come to bear.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 January 2021

The Soviet Space Dog Project: Experiments in Sound

Experiments in Sound

The Soviet Space Dog Project:
Experiments in Sound Released: 22 November 2020
Further Experiments in Sound Released: 19 December 2020
Advanced Experimentation Released: 22 December 2020

Andy Bloyce practices Electronic Music under several aliases. As The Soviet Space Dog Project he produces works pursuing the Berlin-School tradition first established by Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream in the 1970s. His trilogy of releases Experiments in Sound (66:28), Further Experiments in Sound (65:38) and Advanced Experimentation (22:48) showcase the incessant activity of a person who is constantly working – reimagining the sense and sensations of a boldly imaginative age. Pursuing meaning in nuances of format, color, texture, and the other aesthetic givens of his medium Bloyce’s dreamy abstracted landscapes turn more absorbing and exciting when actively contemplated by the listener. Using the specific vocabulary of the Kosmische Musik era the “Experiments” triplex presents inventive works of a far-reaching atmosphere. The music opens up space and then travels through it – to sonic realms of new depth and intimacy. Expressing his compositional precision TSSDP shows a striking agility to conjure elaborate synthetic forms, and, once positioned above mechanized patterning, really letting it rip. Subtle and syncopated the flickering echo of sequencer notes propels us along the tack of a quietly turning galaxy. Generating charges of rhythmic snap and chromatic consonance the wheezing, whirring and winding of modulated sounds yield broad planes of alternating density. From the rush and roar of these dense undercurrents striding lead lines estrange and enchant, emotionally spark, then soon become soothing and lilting – as if beamed in from some distant district of the sky. As raw waveforms blend with other rounded tones, underlying structures soften in relation to variations in opacity. In a reverent engagement with craft, entwined with the inherited yearning to open up new vistas, this “Space Dog” evokes his inner world, to say something about himself that cannot be stated in words. We may never know the precise idea or feeling that carried him through the creation of this series. It may be a way of hearing, understanding and metabolizing an innermost meaning, or maybe just a fascination with technology and systems. But artists such as this have pushed the genre forward, further into the creative zone, opening it out wider, with new timbres, from new instruments, manifesting new moods of mystery and discovery – along a path found one sound at a time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END7 January 2021

K Markov: Ancient Light

Ancient Light

K Markov: Ancient Light
Released: 23 December 2020

In an outward expression of his inner journey the Croatian Electronic Musician K Markov offers us Ancient Light (67’45”). An album featuring five galaxy strength synthesizer fantasies it probes a sprawling expanse of tone and texture. At times brooding and forlorn, or experimental and primitive, along the compositional arc of each track the atmosphere does become lighter and brighter – with winks and blinks of rays and beams amidst consonant keys in gorgeous synthetic sound. Brimming with star shine and spark Ancient Light remains at all times a captivating listen. While its glitter and glimmer dizzily distract, calm sequencer notes trek from the gathering shadows, rising and recurring steadily – leaving in their wake a slipstream of echoing blips. Perfectly placed within this gentle surge reverb laden lead lines gracefully play with space. When the churning winds down the spacey fields scale up. As a mass of roiling drones absorbs and stills the pattern energy we feel the tender complexity of the inner realm… by way of outer space. Spanning planets and suns, lunar landscapes and empty spaces, Ancient Light is another one of Markov’s attempts at interpreting cosmic beauty – and reveals an artist in ascendancy. This sort of music provides a kind of emotional charge, rather than a mere place of hiding, and hopes to transform the listener from the inside out. This kind of thinking is where we come closest to realizing the bold possibilities of Spacemusic – where we see beyond the scope of our present selves, to an assured time yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END31 December 2020

Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon: Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come

Ghosts of Christmas Yet to ComeJohnny WoodsJosh Ascalon

Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon: Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come
Released: 19 November 2020

Lingering at the outer limits of the holiday music section, Johnny Woods & Josh Ascalon have this Noel deployed down our chimney their Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come (34:17), an irresistibly listenable electronic release of eight bright Yuletide tracks. Rolling out one musical confection after another this duo does know when to cut the sugar – enough to render their quiet subversiveness into something politely experimental. Extremely serious about their craft here Woods & Ascalon interpret for us an ogdoad of time-honored Christmas classics. With their modular synthesizer system delivering sounds, notes and tones fully animated, if not completely by the spirit of Christmas, then utterly by the principal of electricity, these crossed-wired quintessential carols light up the listening mind like strings of twinkling fairy lights. Set against distant chimes a familiar strain reaches us, from perhaps a place of childhood memory. The confidently cold crystaline timbres heard on The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come climb through the canon of holiday music, then soon tune down to the quieter frequencies – inside songs where we may feel fully a heart-swelling comfort. Whenever the airy softness gets to be too much, the muted luster of rumbling oscillations drifts in under the frosty layers, dimming the mood beneath the weakening eye of day. Ringing across this frozen panorama melodies, murmurous and uninflected, run together in a soothing texture, yet we sense the atmosphere casting a darker hue. Most Electronic Music is about sound seeking and exploratory pursuit, but this album seems to be mainly about Christmas and one of its most ominous characters. In the scattering gloom this unknowable figure provides, like the future itself, nothing but foreboding silence. Yet, to this spectre we ask if fate can be changed? Can we overcome the gravitational pull of this story’s dark subject? If not, if we are past all hope, why then play this warmhearted music for us? …It is because the tale from which the title The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come is taken is ultimately about conversion and transformation. In simplicity of heart its carols hope to bring people together each end-of-year season. In a quality of eternal reassurance this feeling will hold us – when we are once again alone in the quiet night.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 24 December 2020

Robert Rich: Neurogenesis

NeurogenesisRobert Rich

Robert Rich: Neurogenesis
Released: 1 December 2020

With an advancing career propelling itself forward in a series of bold fresh starts Robert Rich brings us the forward facing fire of Neurogenesis (48’04”). Rousing and artfully constructed it evokes the passions of a free-roaming mind. As is the case with Rich releases, this mighty outpouring abides by its own rules. The sounds exhibit a force of their own, and lend the seven tracks each a unique depth. Retreating into thought, after a proper listening the music on Neurogenesis lingers and coalesces in the mind. Choosing the beauty of a less familiar harmony this album’s somatic timbres swell to brief brilliance, flicker, then recede into a somewhere far away. About space and the act of listening these undulant environments produce dizzying impressions of infinite distance – all the while in tension with its dense encephalic locale. The bright feathery textures form featureless realms – though a restless sonority traverses the orbital night. But the resulting reverie yields to underlying energy fields, as moody rambles merge with crisply shattered geometries in tightly ratcheting tone patterns. The cycling sequencer notes wind in spark plug rotation – emitting power, declaring stability, summoning the future. Drifting from a vague dreaminess to dramatically directed momentum Rich’s steel guitar lines snake and writhe beneath arrangements of amplified scale. The tight concentration and vigor of his liquid leads provide contrast to wondrously expressive flute solos. Conjuring huge forces while constantly tuning our minds these notes last only as long as the player’s breath – which enables these pieces to touch at a human level. In translating electronic currents into sonic textures chords move from the deep-toned to the light and radiant – melting the experimental mood under a sudden gravity. In his self-revealing expressions Rich understands the spell he continues to cast on us. From its stirrings of disquiet and subtly graduated dynamics, to regions where the score is applied like a balm, Neurogenesis locates the quietly burning point of a single soul. Many of us are feeling the punishing isolation of our era. Yet for creative types dispossession is part of their natural state – as they need a substantial amount of alone time in which to ply and advance their craft. So now is the time to experiment and be creative, to work – not as a distraction, but rather as a prayer, a hope… for a time yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END17 December 2020

Cosmic Ground: 0110

Cosmic Ground 0110 Dirk Jan Muller

Cosmic Ground: 0110
Released: 26 November 2020

From the smoldering intensity of Dirk Jan Müller comes another exuberantly imagined release by his Cosmic Ground Spacemusic project. Focusing on the practice and beliefs of this most cosmic of all genres he ventures through another chimerical dream of attaining the feeling and atmosphere of the original Berlin-School. With a strange beauty that borders on the forbidding his sixth studio album 0110 (68:04) blooms with heat and depth, and then portends doom – ultimately leaving us to search in imaginative absorption. Propulsive in the way a motor winds or a machine cycles, the first four tracks deploy minimalist sequencer patterns that build into dense harmonic forms. The interlocking spell of notes turn in a helix of echoing blips. The tension escalates, and releases in our minds as a cerebral forward motion. Spare and haunted, with electronic sputters that ominously circle in the upper regions, 0110 evokes a closed world – confined, anxious, yet, in its darker moments, thrilling. As we all struggle to keep pace with the machinations of fate, the fifth and final track descends into a sepulchral thrall. Instantly scene-setting, as this low dive reaches our ears and enters our head, the waking mind tries to make sense of a thing designed better for sub-conscious intake. Here Cosmic Ground renders the deadened emotions of 2020 down to a thoughtful stillness – a zone from where we may begin seeking renewal. A penetrating work, at its heedless heights 0110 wants to disconnect us from the plane of this planet. Along a spacey sonic rapture the story finds room to breathe. In its intimate mood of late-night conversations we find music that keeps us up past our bedtime. With its endless starscapes, empty fields and cold wastes reflecting human loneliness, Cosmic Ground shows how this music can take listeners that extra step into the composer’s experience. An heir to the Kosmische Musik movement of the 1970s, releases by Cosmic Ground are a frontline chronicle of the interstellar mind. Only when we become acquainted with its vacant zones and sonic abandon, its hopes, secrets and prophesies, and hear its tender complexities in the sideways drift of thought, will we finally find the face of night – the heart of the dark.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 December 2020

Ian Boddy: Axiom

Axiom Ian Boddy

Ian Boddy: Axiom (41’06”)
Released: 20 November 2020

With his Axiom (41’06”), UK synthesist Ian Boddy travels a different stylistic lane than he has of late. His first studio work in four years comes after a string of live releases, and this gestation period has yielded a heartfelt work. Its six precisely noted musical interludes of beautifully ordered compositions range in scale from quietly minute to larger than life. Throughout we follow Boddy’s outward gaze, endlessly craving the next horizon, expressing himself through a reverential engagement with synthesizer technology, and the application of craft. Blending electronic beats and grooves with the softened textures of Spacemusic, he realizes a glossy, upbeat feel. A striking agility allows Boddy to shape his elaborate synth anthems from the passions of a mind rushing full-tilt into the future. Emitting pure tones, then raw noise, baritone sonic shades compliment chrome plated timbres of dreamy abstracted landscapes. Throughout Axiom these stylized ambient vistas quickly submit to the geometric patterning of echoing sequencer notes and the subtle synchronization of electronic drumming – the point of each statement commended with a heated, tight concentration. While loaded with bulbous bass lines and flickering effects it is Axiom‘s engaging, lyrical melodies which most shape the swirl of material. Each inventive work glides, pivots and plunges, and pursues the action to a far-reaching resolution. For the penultimate track the tenor turns solemn – in a quiet reserve of feeling and poetic directness. It is in thought zones such as this one that the entangled destiny of man and machine may be most easily felt. There is serious intent behind Axiom. Rousing and artfully constructed it propels itself forward with a future-facing excitement. A hallmark of Boddy’s style, this album is gorgeous to behold. With bright textures and a delicate spectrum of tones its revelation of urgency leads the listener into labyrinths of sound – giving us the exhilaration of discovering new realms from the intimacy of our own safe listening space… and some respite from the howling furies of the world outside.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END26 November 2020

Brendan Pollard: Prologue

Brendan Pollard 2020Brendan Pollard: Prologue
Released: 5 June 2020

It takes a musician of rare talent to make a 45 year old tradition sound urgent in this day and age. Yet, releases by UK synthesist Brendan Pollard are telling a story only time could fully reveal. His album Prologue (65’49”) is indebted to the core five LPs cited as establishing the 1970s Berlin-School: Phaedra (1974), Rubycon (1975), Ricochet (1975), Stratosfear (1976) and Encore (1977). Clear and direct, it is a beautiful meditation on the dawn of a bygone era – and adds to electronic fables still being told today.

From his monastery of modular synths Pollard realizes three substantial tracks on this his first studio album in 13 years. As expected, each piece generates a unique atmosphere through which the listener travels. But while advances in music technology have miraculously re-established the sound palette of this decade, it is this artist’s continued investigation into the mechanics of the mind and the depth of the spirit that enlivens the sound seekers among us.

Solo synthesizer notes circulate in runs of melody atop the mechanical thrall of pulsing, echoing tone patterns. As the sequencer drives outward, flights of strings lightly interact with the underlying motor of sound. Sometimes soft, always assuring, Prologue is suffused with a stark tenderness. The darker passages are deep, yet gentle, and use controlled dissonance to open up negative space. Drifting between moods the rush, hover and fade of Pollard’s ever-present Mellotron M400 tones and chords moves our thoughts, as does the powerful experience of being in close proximity to an instrument weighted by so much history. In a grand edifice of texture Pollard elevates familiar themes. Cosmic yearning… A curvature of space… The Universe and its warp toward disintegration… Anyone inspired by the era of Kosmische Musik will want to have this release.

Listening to Prologue [along with the four other 2020 releases: Isolated Passages (77:21), Diffuser (44:37), Live and More (63:28), Isolated Passages Two (63:53)] it becomes apparent that a person made this music, not a computer or software, nor a digital device. While the hands-on confidence of this output may be intimidating to mid-level musicians, its expeditionary feel, lack of irony, and the overwhelming presence of optimism and hope will surely move those open to such promises.

The five Tangerine Dream classics cited previously provide a standard Pollard (and his contemporaries) will never meet with his own work… His true success lies in moving the field on to the next moment, and monument. Expressing his truth, Pollard is playing music directly to the people for whom it is meant – the few of us still maintaining a faith in tomorrow.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 November 2020

Arjen Schat: Cosmic Reef

Arjen Schat

Arjen Schat: Cosmic Reef
Released: 1 November 2020

Relief will come to those feeling lost and alone amid the air-lanes and space-ways by listening to Cosmic Reef (102:35). With its enveloping mood of confidence and certainty the grandly imaginative and sprawling sonic artistry of Dutch synthesist Arjen Schat feels like it is opening new strands of possibility. As interesting and enjoyable as anything Schat has previously realized, its lush and verdant chords billow out in a drift of cloud-motion – their minor-key tonality setting the atmosphere through which we are meant to travel. Simultaneously detailed and expansive, like maps of neural networks, or constellations of distant stars, lines of echoing notes interweave and tighten in advancing onward motion. From tenebrous beginnings, each track unfolds in the gradually blooming reiteration of the pulse quickening, momentum building hallowed sequencer rite Schat has perfected. Propulsive and captivating, the virtuosity and deliberate pace of his secret synthesizer ceremonies are impressive. Listeners cannot help but be dazzled by the complexity of the patterns, the way the layers interact with one another, and how each track holds fast – coursing fresh, new angles in cascading complexity. The effect is transfixing. Cosmic Reef as a whole is as innovative, ardent and masterly as any of Schat’s earlier releases, or (for that matter) those of his contemporaries. A model of the form, and a deep exploration of it, this work possesses the force and insight of Schat at his best. Never less than fascinating, albums by Arjen Schat operate between and beyond the hallowed halls of the Berlin-School – as we find in his music the spirit of this 1970s aesthetic alive with the inflamed spirit of 2020. The future will be got to through the mind and the body – through thinking, feeling and doing. As fans of Spacemusic will listen to and keep pace with Cosmic Reef in a way their more mainstream counterparts will not, those few will find it rising above the darker currents of our world – and may feel heartened, by the best possible accompaniment on our journey into the brighter era yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 November 2020

Kevin Kendle: Laniakea

LaniakeaKevin Kendle

Kevin Kendle: Laniakea
Released: 20 October 2020

On Laniakea (60:34) the fuel propelling us to the furthest reaches is the glorious music of Kevin Kendle. This album probes space and scale, rendering the cosmos in sound. Composing beautifully and precisely his seven wondrous tracks together provide an exhilarating cosmic scene. Each realization soars through an interstellar dreamworld of heady textures and soothing ambiance. In a contemplative cool Kendle and long-time collaborators Brian Abbott (electric guitar) and Nigel Shaw (synthesizers and flutes) imagine different skies, different stars and different systems. Building on the glowing energy of the five previous releases in the Deep Skies series Laniakea rises to past peaks. For anyone who has stayed with this ongoing endeavor this far it is well worth following the music again on another voyage into the heavens. Projecting outward to a galaxy supercluster far far away the listener is invited along on a journey of wonder. Sustaining strings extend their lengthy lines along the sweeping arc of starlight and tone. Shimmering notes combine in a sweeping resonant unity as breathing synthesizers reinforce the air of discovery. While strong bass tones roll beneath slow motion chords, resonant harmonies rise from vaporous spheres of sound. In a glimmer of synth magic Kendle finds himself again in his sweet spot. How silvery and swiftly this album proceeds – and yet how exquisitely it stills and lulls. Laniakea deals more with the inspirational grandeur of the heavens than it does with their challenging mysteries and unknowns – and reveals how music about The Universe can take us on a journey through our own inner infinities. This frontier will never cease to intrigue, so long as we occasionally take a break from the ever-present hum of everyday life to become present with ourselves – to better receive transmissions from the most remote reaches of our minds.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 November 2020