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Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: ambient music

James Murray: Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards

James Murray: Falling Backwards
Released: 14 September 2018
www.homenormal.com
www.jamesmurray.info

Real life is enough for most people. Thanks goodness that James Murray is not like most people. His album Falling Backwards (47’05”) edges into our awareness, and warms us up in a most welcome way. His instruments, an extension of his consciousness, do not just make sound – they are part of the spirit of this musician. Realized with a kind of cursive grace, the seven tracks show strength in their stillness. As parts of the mind are held back by language, so it may be that in his organization of sound we find Murray’s conceptions and emotions becoming concrete and communicable. From a palpable unease and the whisper of spirits, to electronic shadows and magnetized clouds, Falling Backwards provides a better expression in the harmony of tones. Each piece begins as an impression within the composer’s head. As vivid aural tints form a handsome contrast, the movement of sonic forms becomes active and charged with electricity. Working with the understanding that sound expresses something in itself, Murray indulges his arrangements with lush ornamental pads and sterling, swirling lines of vaporous, recurring notes. Everything in his turbulent sonic landscapes is in motion, yet we never seem to move very far from the dreamy dark holler from where Murray remains in repose. To some Falling Backwards may remain a blur, but to others of us – who hear the interior hum of drama in each and every moment – we cannot help but imagine the futures we will dream about while under its influence.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END4 October 2018

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K Leimer: Threnody

Threnody

Threnody

K Leimer: Threnody
Released: 20 July 2018
www.palaceoflights.com

When K Leimer is unable to find refuge in his own long thoughts, he makes music. Of continuous interest to the ear is Threnody (71’14”), which presents nine innovative works for everywhere and everything that lies ahead. At times psychologically loaded, the people-less, imaginary worlds Leimer creates have an entrancing effect. From the nakedly vacant, to passages of off-kilter rhythms and rhymes, this release moves through the smoky and textured to regal conclusions. Slowly bowing thick strings and spare open piano notes hover above the comings and goings of a crawling bass. Faint sounds surface into a distant mist of gentle distortion, while ensemble chords hang and sweeten the air around us. From out of another mental corridor, a gritty, scratchy clicking, followed by random rumbles, which seem to imitate the workings of a singular mind. Each piece on Threnody provides a gradual mental groove – the ideal basis for our technologically assisted dreams. When the tolling of soft struck metal sounds cold through reverberant space – it is as an announcement of the history of one track entering into the next. As humans we find it impossible to escape the past, yet with Threnody we are guided to look to the future. Resisting the intrusion of interpretation, taken as a whole this album is an enchanted excess of smart atmospheres and ambient production. Threnody places the burden of meaning on the listener. Any intelligent person will understand these compositions, but find them impossible to explain to another in a meaningful way. K Leimer makes this achievement seem effortless, as if the undercurrent of each song is a whispered confidence shared with a friend. He approaches his work with a point of view all his own. Whenever he does everything right, controls the chaos of electricity, moves sound in the right direction and place, Leimer can make something perfect. Just as fate whispers to the warrior, creativity will speak to those who pay attention.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 August 2018

Jeff Greinke: Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Jeff Greinke: Before Sunrise
Released: 6 April 2018
www.spottedpeccary.com
www.jeffgreinke.com

An artist cannot really be represented by a single release, but rather is suggested through an accumulation of work. Throughout his lengthy and varied career Jeff Greinke has gone through an evolution – or maybe, because of its length and so many interesting twists and turns, this aspect of his life may be better described as a convolution. While his earlier albums searched through the rubble of the unconscious, Before Sunrise (57’20”) switches from the cerebral to the specific. With the rigorous organization of the interplay of texture, melody and harmony, and stemming from a developed instinct, he organizes Ambient forms to give his creativity a lucid expression. As usual, Greinke approached the task of producing Before Sunrise with a point of view all his own. Due to the presence of cello, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, flute, French horn, violin and viola this release may be thought to fall in the category of Ambient Chamber Music – and certainly, if you like this sort of thing, then you will not be disappointed. But Greinke has always been a musical outsider – not even faintly trying to get inside – and so these eight tracks do retain that feel and integrity to one degree or another. Some sections of Before Sunrise flow like a spiritual quest for life’s meaning, while others celebrate the outlaw life this remote genre of music may support. As the unwinding ribbon of notes from a violin bend plaintively, droning strings support a melodious narration. Further in a wooded wild place materializes, where we wait, under stars, in the cool of night, well in advance of the first sign of dawn. Thickening under a solemn atmosphere, we may feel a nocturnal presence – like something impending. Possessing the capacity to inspire contradictory responses, it is often very gorgeous – this strange and beautiful wayward place of sound. After all these years, decades of making records, Greinke still asks for nothing more than our quiet attention. There is something radical about that, and about such stubborn faith in one’s work – and in us.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 August 2018

Meg Bowles: Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Evensong: Canticles for the Earth

Meg Bowles: Evensong: Canticles for the Earth
Released: 22 June 2018
www.megbowlesmusic.com

Meg Bowles makes us vulnerable to the beauty of our planet. In doing so, she shares something of herself with us. With each album release she is becoming new herself – in ways that matter. Evensong: Canticles for the Earth (63’13”) is a beautiful original, with echoes of the greats. It is rapturous music that grants us passage into a fair land where worry follows us no more. The seven soundscapes afford space for both melodic pleasure and probing reflection. Verdant harmonies, spacey modulations and lustrous tones float through these tracks, but what lingers is the overall aura. While beautiful synthesized chords and effects drift randomly between tones and textures, rounded string pads extend above a dramatic rumbling darkening realm. Along with its ethereal choirs, murmuring bass and delicate atmospheres, Evensong: Canticles for the Earth also offers glowing bursts of energy – yet it still feels like a refuge. In an engaging, converging arrangement of sounds Bowles exerts a force on our imagination. Blurry chords of keyboard tones and the occasional gently pulsating sequencer pattern provide sleek propulsion across shimmering sonic terrain, the musical equivalent of crossing a majestic landscape, over the earth and beneath the stars. Playing with an unforced tenderness and warmth, Bowles tries to help connect the listener with terrestrial currents. But as reassuring as this work is it does remind us that we live with many questions. People seek certainty and meaning, but all the world seems to give us is ambiguity. That is because the Earth lives in its own kind of deep time, moving at a rate we cannot comprehend. So better we embrace the beauty and impermanence of the human condition, celebrate the mystery and the unknowing of life, and add our voice to the chorus of humanity.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 July 2018

Hotel Neon: Means of Knowing

Means of Knowing

Means of Knowing

Hotel Neon: Means of Knowing
Released: 14 May 2018
archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com
www.hotelneonmusic.com

Hotel Neon decorates our condition with music. They draw on old photos, crumbling landscapes, mythic archetypes and their own restless sonic imaginations to realize albums that seem less made than discovered. As if plucked from the cultural ether and given color, voice and form, Means of Knowing is a work for large forces. Offering the audience relief from the plight of Mankind, if this release suffers from anything, it is that, in delivering that ease, it is, at times, almost too gorgeous for its own good. Their work moves, not at the rate you would expect for Ambient Music, but at a speed determined by the motion of atmospheric eddies – like the turbulence of refracted effects on unresolved distant sources. Thanks to the players’ subtly heightened, fiercely focused energies, Means of Knowing resounds with emotional and intellectual acuity. Using primarily electric guitars and a synthesizer, the occasional addition of field recordings or room noise adds a dimension of place. With pure harmonics spiraling around us, sound seems to hang in the air, at once diffused and enriched. Routed through various levels and kinds of processing, the vibrating steel strings of their instruments blur into interference fringes, the result of unique sonic diffraction or subtle distortion. Below this vague churning mass, electronic emanations hold forth in a foundation of low-lying drones. Across 12 waking prayers Hotel Neon’s studied imaginings have a tug of an inescapable gravity. Evoking a feeling of somber introspection, some pieces are as still as death, in a representation of the eternally forlorn. Black as winter branches, these passages deepen quietly, with a ghostly flourish and the rush of darkness. Here a frost wrought stillness mingles with the void. Later, the sound of a rough edge on a surface tugs from the edges, echoing and pulling attention away from the center. Further in, tracks gradually evolve into an intense aural field. Finally stretching across all instrument ranges, the expanse of notes becomes so large that the collective layering of instruments are treated as one single entity – just texture, loudness and tension. As the spell unravels, we shield our eyes – with the night yielding once more to day. As warm as sunlight on your face, a winged spirit does rise in day glow tones. This taming is a quieter action that calls upon us to grow. In addition to being masterfully made, Means of Knowing is an honest exploration of human qualities. Some will find it a balm for the troubles and griefs that pull people together, while others will use it simply to still the wheels of an over-worked mind. Hotel Neon lends enduring form to the stuff of their lives. You sense their sound on the skin, but feel it in your gut.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END28 June 2018

Steve Roach: Molecules of Motion

Molecules of Motion

Molecules of Motion

Steve Roach: Molecules of Motion
Released: 1 June 2018
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

Those who have traveled the farthest have gained the most perspective. Steve Roach invites us to listen with him, granting us privileged access to a hopeful view. His work exerts a force on the imagination, and brings much news from a distant corner of life. The album Molecules of Motion (73’18”) feels new and electric. Excitingly alive, this CD finds its dramatic momentum and action situated in Roach’s sequencers. Focused with full-beam intensity he lends musical energy to the language of ideas. Like many armed sparks sequencers issue tones and tumbling grooves break out of the controlled voltages. In an appreciation of complexity wordless structures explore forces – as the circulating fractals of tone patterns embody greater themes: the speed of life passing, the burden of memory. In an apt blend of vigor and momentum we become bedazzled by the sound of echoing synthesized riffs running on beneath swirling textures of atmosphere. Molecules of Motion has its soft spots too. As Roach occasionally idles the engine, late scenes are filled with serene sonic beauty. This taming is a quieter action, a simpler transaction of sound. Falling into infinity, we are unable to name the upper realm. This release rewards the deep diver – as we find the undercurrent of each track includes a whispered confidence shared with every listener. In streaks, flares, and charges in the open air, each of the four tracks transport our thoughts through space and time – just as easily as they may guide our attention down to territory more microscopic. The imaginary soundworlds Roach creates have an entrancing effect – enfolding such optimism in an era of blank desolation. He never loses sight of the natural wonders he is trying to capture, or of the nebulous mysteries he is attempting to fathom. Molecules of Motion reaffirms our sonic joy as the sustaining life force that it is.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 June 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