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Spacemusic Reviews

The Nightcrawlers: The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings

The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings

The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings

The Nightcrawlers: The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings
Released: 23 February 2018
www.mexicansummer.com

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 Biomorphic 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 Biomorphic 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 Biomorphic 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 Biomorphic 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

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Jeffrey Koepper: Transmitter

Transmitter

Transmitter

Jeffrey Koepper: Transmitter
Released: 20 October 2017
www.projekt.com
www.jeffreykoepper.com

A performance of music usually includes many sets of eyes on the musician – who (to do their work) must block them all out. This is not so with those coming in to the WXPN/STAR’S END studio. This select group may do their music before a relaxed, remote audience – but however heavily lidded, the sleepy being transmitted to definitely have their ears intently open. Jeffrey Koepper came into the relative calm of the 18 June 2017 radio broadcast of STAR’S END to draw on the limitless freedom of the Spacemusic genre. Before thousands of distant listeners his music roamed over the airwaves and beyond the studio – to eventually become the album Transmitter (58’18”). The realm of space resists attempts to reduce its music to a sentence or two, so describing this kind of work will be difficult. In a mastery of detail we journey across seven tracks and textures – traveling through realms clotted with stars and pulsing with energy. Activating constellations of brain cells as wondrous as anything imagined by astronomers, we are guided simply by our own lush thoughts. The mood encountered on Transmitter is quite inward. To fall into the rhythms of this trek, one must lose all sense of time. Softened atmospherics provide areas of gently meditative repose, transformed as sequencer loops rise through still tones. While coiled patterns circle burnished synth strings, we find every flash to be offset by a cool, radiant stillness – as its gorgeous dream sequence expands and contracts along an easy arc. Affably energetic, the potent, revved-up sections offer dramatic momentum. Doubled in echo, electronic blips run through the night – eventually tugging the minor-key chords back into the shadows. Eliciting plush, pliant harmony from his synthesizers, Koepper finds the gorgeous hidden universe STAR’S END travels through every week. Spacemusic is the perfect term to use when describing Transmitter – as the scale of this music offers no shortage of possibilities. Drawn into a musical experience of larger proportions the play and shade of our interior becomes an enthralling space of imagination. Most Electronic Musicians use electricity as raw material. Possessing a unique human-synthesizer connection, Jeffrey Koepper may possibly be extracting energy from the same current powering his instruments. Thanks to the commercial release of this CD, we may feel the charge too, and return to this singular wireless emanation whenever we so desire.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END15 February 2017

Hollan Holmes: Prayer to the Energy

Prayer to the Energy

Prayer to the Energy

Hollan Holmes: Prayer to the Energy
Released: 1 February 2018
www.hollanholmesmusic.com

Beyond mainstream contemporary music we know well that there are worlds both surprising and fascinating – yet it is still quite difficult to get people to visit them. Encountering the music of Hollan Holmes would surely leave the first time traveler wondering what took them so long? Prayer to the Energy is his sixth release. A double CD of high principles, it is yet another opportunity for Holmes to share his excitement for his highly personal style of EM with others. Much more than a collection of mechanical signals, Prayer to the Energy is an interpretation of the self – his and ours. Felt like a spark of warmth through the icy Universe, the astute listener will enjoy the details and geometry in its texture (that is if you are not first lulled into a blissed-out state of repose). Sound waves propagate and exhibit colors, textures and opacities both intricate and alluring. Confident melodic lines lead into near digital black, while further in an Escherian lattice of cycling notes echo out like the furies at work. Here the sequencer patterns act like a force accelerator – as swooning dabs of sound achieve a strong, contrasty, multi-tonal soundfield. Variegated in tone and atmosphere, Prayer to the Energy moves from densely packed benighted soundscape to the brightfield sound of layered analogue synthesizers. Presented with shimmer and gleam, brilliant chords build and haunt. Holmes regards his gear as a rich sphere of aesthetic possibilities – always applying his instruments in an imaginative and individual way. The 14 tracks found on Prayer to the Energy (the two most lengthy works were commissioned for STAR’S END) lead us through a delicate realm. We the people of this community have the unique ability to hear things in a way others cannot. It is important to share this privilege. In realizing his work Holmes has made a journey that few can understand – yet through the simple act of listening, of traveling through this music, it may be fully comprehended… and Holmes always makes this destination worth the trip.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 February 2017

Live on Star’s End by Fhloston Paradigm

Fhloston Paradigm: Live on Star's End

Fhloston Paradigm: Live on Star’s End

Fhloston Paradigm: Live on Star’s End
Released: 23 January 2018
www.kingbritt.com

Light is the language of the cosmos. Sound is the language of the mind. With his album Fhloston Paradigm: Live on Star’s End Philadelphia DJ/producer/musician King Britt contemplates non-narrative forms of thought in a true focus of all things sonic. His 60 minutes of discovery during the 30 July 2017 broadcast of STAR’S END was more a mental process than a performance – a set of choices which turned abstraction into feeling. During his live-to-air radio concert, synthesizers became tuned, ideas were conjured and space was explored – with the music unfolding in a continuous stream. Operating without any “adult supervision”, Britt was free to build an electronic environment based on the interplay of sounds and the whim of his mood. Listening in every possible way, listening without hierarchies, he settled into a purely intuitive live undertaking. It is impossible to rehearse for this type of event. One needs the immediacy of an audience, or at least the intimacy of a late night radio show, in order to realize anything substantial. Cast adrift from conventional analytical perceptions, we enter the cerebral realm. Fans from the mainstream may find their more typical listening skills useless. With no external framing (but for the occasional reference to his previous excellent studio album After…) Britt makes the experimental accessible. In an irreducible sonic concision sounds disperse along a diagonal. Encountering the different planes, and the forever oscillating patterns and cycles of themes, this work moves under jittery textures, above a softly rumbling backdrop. Swarming glittering points feed the churn of notes rising along oblique angles. One timbre blends into the next, as other figurations drift in from nowhere and fade out without warning. The modulations of tones, the constant adjustment to the fabric and character of sounds, the rise and fall of phonic forms, through it all we are guided by Britt – spontaneously in the moment. Fhloston Paradigm: Live on Star’s End is the result of a musician quietly and intelligently investigating space. With its reduced narrative content, and emphasis on texture and atmosphere, it possesses aesthetics no different from those found among all orders of electronic musicians. But Britt brings to this adventure a musicality and knowing that few others posses – and, to his credit, allows all this knowledge to serve his improvisations on a subliminal level. Clearly not content to rely on past glories, Live on Star’s End is indeed quite different from the more contemporary efforts by King Britt and his Fhloston Paradigm venture. This kind of sonic encounter encourages a deeper understanding of our self – for musician and audience alike. King Britt found a fuller expression in this studio, over these airwaves, into that night. In the heat of live improvisation a good musician does not melt, we become tempered – the devotional quality of the rite rendering the space sacred. Sound can convey a wide range of expression, indicating the musician’s restraint, vigor or willful abandon. In his STAR’S END session, King Britt delivers, with little fuss, a sprawling one-hour jam that will foretell the future no matter when it is heard.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END23 January 2018

Various Artists: Polarity

Polarity

Polarity

Various Artists: Polarity
Released: 31 May 2017
www.ultimae.com

Somewhere sacred between the musician and the audience is the DJ. Deciphering the secrets of a unique treasury, these types often vanish within our listening experience. Anyone can simply string together a number of decent songs, but a higher meaning may come from the expert pacing and placing of each track in just the right spot (with those of this craft finding the rush of mixing their first time every time). The anthology Polarity includes 26 tracks by a considered range of various artists across two compact discs. Arnaud Galoppe (also known as Focal) has been commissioned with blending these works into two distinctive extended moods. While Polarity is an excellently produced album throughout, fans of STAR’S END may be attracted to the disc labeled “Ambient Side” (a bit more than the equally well produced “Techno Side” CD). Galoppe, our sonic celebrant, excellently intertwines the stories of each of the two discs’ 13 artists and tracks. Spacing is the very groundwork of design, and this producer demonstrates his ability to build interesting environments – by bridging and binding opposing energies in the magical interplay between time, memory and imagination. A reduced narrative content simulates arrested motion, as a mystical dark light seems to hover over certain passages. In the surrounding zones where shadows become an essential part of the plan, Polarity further subverts dominant codes of music. Like underground explosions, distant rumbling foretells of a pulsing activity within. Hair-raising bass drops seem to harness the energy of electricity, as the mood changes just when we want it to. When synthesized modulations thicken the air, an easing harmony soon emerges out of the density. The methodical movement between light and dark, hot and cool terrain is impressive and effective. From the power of empty space, to energized riffs moving the body, Polarity provides an intriguing journey into electronic texture and sound – expanding and contracting continually under an atmosphere suggestive of all things cerebral. Even the recurring drum zones loop at the speed of dreams, and beckon thought. Anthologies are a good way to learn about new artists, but sometimes it is not necessarily the individual tracks the audience wants, but their mixture, and the more complex experience which may arise from a well-produced set. The DJ is that complexity. Making something bigger than the sum of its parts, Galoppe so enjoys the act of connecting two different songs through smooth transitions. Raising and lowering the energy level, from drifting gray calm to sparked beats and grooves (and many levels in between) the many musicians presented throughout Polarity play a significant role – one more that of source material than of author. But each are equally valuable, none better than the other, as taken together in this assemblage their individual meanings are amplified, and they each reach a place where none could go alone.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END18 January 2018

Saul Stokes: Local Crowd

Local Crowd

Local Crowd

Saul Stokes: Local Crowd
Released: 16 December 2017
www.databloem.com
www.saulstokes.com

The work of Saul Stokes is always somewhat of an identity statement. His many substantial releases never fail to relate how he is feeling, in both heart and mind. Appealing to our intelligence instead of insulting it, their best moments have a delicate beauty that stays with you. Stokes’ whirring intellect again finds focus in the eight tracks of Local Crowd (62’45”). This wonderful album bridges and bounds the opposing energies of crude electricity and accomplished art, and aligns perfectly with the beat and pulse beneath and behind everything. The sensitive ear of the sincere listener will acknowledge the live, vibrant timbres present at every level of Local Crowd. Using the studio platform, Stokes is not arranging for the dance floor, but for the place in the mind where sensory detail becomes thought. Listening consciously to the sound we find that there are two moods, with drums and without. While the precious pastels of divided oscillators enrich the arrangements in several sonic specifics, they also dissipate the force of well-timed snare hits. Unexpected bass progressions, and other devices of drive, refine and soften the throb of rhythm. In a harnessing of the mind of the composer, the most imaginative and productive of arrangements are still to be used for the delicate, more tender moments found on Local Crowd. Blooming synth notes sustain just beneath the lead line in expressive tone colors and flights of imagination. Stokes’ high vibrant main synth voice becomes fairly sparked with melody – as a harmless counter voice enhances the general mood of enjoyment. If we think of this music as electrical, a thing made of electricity, then we find it to be always remaking itself, changing in every instant, yet never changing at all. The limit of effect is merely the limit of the musician’s imagination. Versatile, alluring and inventive, with a fine ear for every novel discharge of the great modulators, Saul Stokes makes music for our time – and for all time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 January 2018

Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

The Swiss Illness

Lowercase Noises: The Swiss Illness
Released: 19 May 2017
www.lowercasenoises.com

Through his instruments, Andy Othling speaks as much to himself as he does to his listeners. Performing and recording as Lowercase Noises Othling’s music is shaped by the pressure of ideas and emotions. The Swiss Illness (42’03”) offers eight profound and personal wonderings. Each rich with detail, these tracks reward close and repeated listening. While this album’s dramatic power is inseparable from its hushed, sensuous spender, the quieter this work becomes the deeper we may to go into it. Using electric and acoustic guitars, as well as pianos (well-tuned and otherwise), basic tones are fed through layers of echo and reverberation effects – emerging on the other side completely transformed, or at least slightly sweetened. From small moments of grace to grand sonic flowering The Swiss Illness alternately calms the interior monologue and charges the imagination. The unifying power of simply arranged chords enhances the sections of cerebral complexity. Slowly strummed steel strings are sent vibrating through processors, which yields varying new colors of sound. Othling’s arrangements project a rare combination of divinity and discipline, instinct and intelligence. His work benefits from a mode of attentiveness closer to that of browsing an art gallery than feeding a jukebox. Listening to this album, which is perpetually changing shape, we move with the shifting soundscape. Spare and diminutive one moment, thick and dense the next, we admire its ability to clear our minds of everything other than the music itself – as what appears to be just a few spare notes and chords conjure an entire world inside our heads. We will eventually leave this realm, and return to the plane of reality – however thick with gloom – with a sense of clarity and composure. The Swiss Illness is so perfectly tuned to our sense of sonic desires that it is beautiful – a thing of beauty moving through the air, and to our ears, and then with our brain’s neurons in an eerie synchronicity. But it does not push anything in the real world forward. That task lies with its listeners – as we try to live up to the ideal of this music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 January 2018