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Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: ambient music

Three Point Circle: Layered Contingencies

Layered ContingenciesThree Point Circle: Layered Contingencies
Released: 4 September 2020
www.palaceoflights.com

Three Point Circle provides a place in the world where disquieting thoughts are fully honored. Pointing themselves in new directions K Leimer, Marc Barreca and Steve Peters slow down in a sonification of interior realms. Their Layered Contingencies (73’38”) is strategically restrained, as it offers a quiet specificity through a steady consideration of process, form and identity. The improvisation captures a fundamental flow that pulls the ear into its untold depths with music that remains very much in the shadows. Negotiating a delicate balance between the questioning and the consoling this album explores a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by less serious minded practitioners. A menagerie of muted sonics and slow-motion flourishes Layered Contingencies knowingly meanders, yet produces an exacting chill. Disarming and elusive the five tracks effectively capture the melancholy of limbo. Reverb heavy synths slowly surge in poetic search for meaning. An idea develops, a scene is suggested – nearly uncovering the secret of their own operation. Chords shift gradually, building a wall of tone and texture, then fall quietly into a gorgeous, ghostly translucence. Its art-minded dissonance resolves in electrical jewel notes and thick impasto drones. These quiet, humanizing moments seem eerily perfect – like the resigned feeling of things eroding beneath you. Layered Contingencies spends its force searching. Without any obvious mile markers or signposts this endeavor is meant less to move, and more to mingle with the spirit. Gesturing at New Age or Ambient Music, it then gives way to eccentricities, and the sober musings of three minds – well attuned to what is just beneath the surface of the sound.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 September 2020

Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence

ConvergenceErik Wøllo & Michael Stearns: Convergence
Released: 28 August 2020
www.projekt.com
www.wollo.com
www.michaelstearns.com

Spacemusic is equally complex at all scales. The majestic arrangement of sounds, notes and forms, even the silences become evident only when the music is surveyed over its largest extent. Yet, on a smaller scale the tones and timbres also impress – as it is through the manipulation of this sonic material that this genre enables its practitioners to make their most profound expressions. The music of Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns flows across spatial scales. As might be expected from these notable names, their collaboration Convergence is a harmonic match for all the enigmas of the Universe. Playing beyond you the listener, beyond now, this duo freely roams through the colorful depths of their imaginations. Achieving a beautiful dramatic cohesion Convergence shows how firmly each musician has grown into his own identity – which has been admirably interweaved into each composition. This album comes at us with the force and sophistication of high art, provoking questions, yet still works to shore up the spirit. Chords shift surely, gradually craving that which is just out of reach. Charmed melodies and delicate choirs signal vastness, as limber, lucid leads exalt through incandescent voices and strings. Between Stearns’ high-sheen synth-craft and Wøllo’s striking guitar artistry their ten well-honed tracks aim for smart production and continuity, for a sound that feels effortlessly theirs. Profoundly otherworldly, but always reassuringly human, Convergence occasionally gestures at the New Age, but then quickly reasserts the dreamy brilliance of its cosmic music credentials. Traversing a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by the more technology-minded acts, Wøllo & Stearns present their atmospheric constructs in swaths of electronics and floating mists of harmony – in hopes of enlivening the awesome potential of the individual mind-space. By bringing something of their cosmos into our listening area, we may feel their message, and some measure of peace.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END27 August 2020

Tim Motzer: Inside

Inside

Inside

Tim Motzer: Inside
Released: 5 June 2020
www.1krecordings.com
www.timmotzer.com

In his younger years innovative guitarist Tim Motzer may well have been influenced by the classics No Pussyfooting, Evening Star or Discrete Music, but his many releases in the soundscape vein have always shied-away-from reproducing exactly the sound of these pioneering artists. If Motzer is channeling anything from the 1970s it is the forward-thinking spirit of innovation and the freedom to try new things that arose uniquely out of this period. His album Inside (61’01”) arrives in another, different era of transformation, one in which we have all been asked to re-think our lives. While Motzer admits that these days, many of us are spending more time indoors, his five tracks were realized for play, not really in our living rooms, but in a deeper interior space – a head-space.

It is the endless potential of live improvisation that puts this whole enterprise in motion. Under these conditions Motzer is arranger, performer, and accompanist all at once. In his rare world of spontaneous composition he achieves a beautiful, often dramatic cohesion. Does he make a plan beforehand? Yes, he plans to start playing and hear what happens. Initially made as a gift to individual friends and colleagues, it was soon discovered that others outside this circle were also moved by these works. Their fanciful wisps and sustaining mists ease the mind, as well as does the slow dance of dreamy, breathing tones fortifies the heart. These pieces should not unsettle the listener with difficult questions – rather, they are offering the certainty that their notes go good together, and, once the journey is complete, resolve in a soft, sure landing.

Traveling on drifts of shimmering steel strings, reverb laden phrases softly emerge into the sound-space, then recede. Where electric guitar solos rise in ever strengthening leads, a rolling slow flow of calm and color radiates below. The expressive array of sonic shades and whispering washes clings willingly to the ears – eventually sending listeners back to themselves anew.

The current consciousness of mortality has provided Inside with a soulful heft. This creative act of contemplative companionship, of listening and thinking together through music provides a refreshing edge that favors life. While the world outside erodes, Tim Motzer restores the space inside. But his arc of melancholy bends toward an awareness… something that is invisible, but palpable – which accompanies us spectrally, in the back of our minds, well Inside.

-Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END20 August 2020

Johnny Woods: Pavilions

Pavilions

Pavilions

Johnny Woods: Pavilions
Released: 28 August 2020
www.behindtheskymusic.com
www.johnnywoods-music.com

Johnny Woods has a way with synths. A noted purveyor of the modular style he has released Pavilions (38’36”), an album of live-wire improvisations and a warm, welcoming, wide-open air. Allowing the listener space to wander in wonder, and to feel every feeling, its free flowing ribbon of melody ripples and twists in seven polite, coolly glowing sequencer-scapes. His sureness resounds in layers of tones cresting and trailing in tune with the music of electricity – and exerts a tender touch over anyone entering its domain. Upon stepping into these stories we find a song cycle faithful to its own unique rules of proportion and perspective. In mechanized cycling patterns notes rise, expand and contract in roundelays of creative inspiration on the wing. Woods’ prestige arrangements wind their way confidently from the charged and energized, down to swift shifts in texture, and then again into rising moments of synthetic verve. The organized electronic blips and bleeps that propel Pavilions are honed, but not overworked – rousing, yet never hurried. The spirited realizations foreground an artistic mindfulness that affirms the simple possibility of sound as sensation. Such heated circuitry should yield an intrigue. The here and now provides too few answers for Woods – a musician always seeking the next day’s beauty. When we engage with this music we are encountering someone else’s mind, and all the colors of its intuition and imagination. It is in the slipstream of sound and mood that minds are moved and secrets are passed between those who care.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 August 2020

Scanner: An Ascent

An Ascent

An Ascent

Scanner: An Ascent
Released: 17 July 2020
www.din.org.uk
www.scannerdot.com

Sleeping too close to an electrical outlet may cause one to dream about the music of Scanner, Robin Rimbaud‘s long-lived project of ambitious sonic messaging. His An Ascent (49’37”) is a mood album, although what exact mood has yet to be determined. From out of some distant district its low-key intensity lingers in our bloodstream, forcing a reassessment of the familiar. Using established EM technology he reveals a music both strange and new. Producing an alternating variety of grainy, cloudy, synthesized and digital sounds Rimbaud has no trouble in manufacturing the vividly breathing and softly pulsing notes that inhabit this release. It is the excellent assembly of these elements into semi-abstract, fuzzy edged forms that so distinguishes him. Giving voice to silenced states of mind An Ascent combines an economy of form and smart surface calculations, and exerts such control over color so as to bare the fullness of a truly eccentric imagination. This collection of varied, curious pieces moves between tightly bound frozen gestures and a slow burning contained emptiness, to the coiled strength and mutable texture of fractured waveforms and dense clouds of sounds. Samples, fragments and loops produce a restless energy – wired from the raw voltage of the imagination. At times his synths show their teeth, as timbre proceeds inexorably from hush to maelstrom – yet, as daunting as this may read, not one of us will hesitate to step inside Rimbaud’s story. From the placid lull of beating oscillators to a stark exposure and dissipation, these nine tracks each have an epic span that belies the few minutes of their duration. As landscapes and machines materialize in our minds this unvarnished minimalism slides into abstraction, then gently recedes into the firmament of night. The result is an album of Ambient Music – but only just. An individualist who finds his place in so many musical situations, Scanner is a creature of the vast aural plane in which he plays. His electronic agency allows him to address the human condition in a way that no other musician can. Probing the quiet recesses of where we dwell, An Ascent captures the spirit of our era. So long as ideas persist in his head, Rimbaud will keep exploring – and continue to give us much to listen to and think about.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 July 2020

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends
Released: 10 July 2020
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

With fluctuating designs and feelings Steve Roach tenderly explores questions of connection and loss. His A Soul Ascends (73’57”) follows traditional Spacemusic markers first laid down on Structures From Silence, and achieves even more expressiveness and soul searching than his 1984 classic. In this chilled slow spark Roach finds his way to the serene center – going deep down dark, then into otherworldly calm. The long melodic lines of A Soul Ascends extends the sound-field with beautiful synthesizer tones and a slowly building ethereal energy. Inside arrangements of circulating electronic forms and rightly crafted timbres, unforced tones exert their own meaning. Shimmering sounds combine into a sweeping resonant unity, then fade out – replaced by an equally rare airy tone zone. As the music becomes dense we sense the emergence of a slow sequencer pattern. The interplay of staggered notes and breathing synthesizers reinforce the air of discovery. But this building ethereal energy provides a setting for contemplation – which we must make our own way to. While a chorus of oscillators swell from a sombre murmur to pealing resolve, we find colliding chords can coexist – as this work is dissolving and becoming all at once. At times luxurious and silvery, then turbulent and moody, the three gently shifting ambient realizations open up space and fill it with sound. Listeners will need to align with these sonic pleasures before finding a reassuring calm. In its succession of colors, atmosphere and feelings we may feel the past, trembling in the present – and should not worry about some unreachable spiritual world, we are already in our own. Above a gently broken silence A Soul Ascends.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 July 2020

Noveller: Arrow

Arrow

Arrow

Noveller: Arrow
Released: 12 June 2020
www.badabingrecords.com
www.sarahlipstate.com

The late solo sets by Noveller have been before amped up crowds waiting for St Vincent or Iggy Pop to take the stage. Producing music in a register much different from that of the more contemporary main acts, her performances effectively had those assembled abandon their inner sense of chaos and surrender to engulfment. Rallying and renewing this live work mixed sonic invention with an air of familiarity – so that the audience’s interior world would, for a time, slow, still and supplant the reality outside of it. On her studio album Arrow (40’30”) Noveller (Sarah Lipstate) embodies the stern principles of the rock guitarist as immediately as she does the innovative spirit of Spacemusic. The combination of steel strings, slides, picks, pedals and miscellaneous boxes and gizmos blossoms into euphoric arrangements of glowing ghostly ambience and withdrawn textural states. Asking the imagination to enlarge, so as to approach the scale of Arrow, its breathing atmospheres and otherworldly vistas reflect on this musician’s creative force. To realize these eight sonic vignettes the music required an intensity of concentration, and yielded no wasted space. With more neurons firing in the brain, more ideas will rise in the mind – storms quiet, centuries blur, an undertow tugs. Loaded with lush looped and layered guitar orchestrations this release possesses an endless energy. Lamentation and rage resolve into consolation and redemption – artfully refracted by Lipstate’s shivery strumming, and the delicate wash of rounded metallic timbres and murmuring drones. While Ambient Music is only abstractly a genre, Arrow proceeds with all the weight of a symphonic statement. In shades of slow melodic gestures and recurring chords we hear the beauty of our fading future. But her music resists oblivion and conveys resonant questions – as certainly as sound in the air can be an expression of the soul. Lipstate is fixing a broken world …one soundscape at a time.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 July 2020

Robert Rich: Offering to the Morning Fog

Offering to the Morning Fog

Offering to the Morning Fog

Robert Rich: Offering to the Morning Fog
Released: 24 May 2020
www.robertrich.com

Propelled by a striking new inspiration Robert Rich heads for the dreamlands. Sailing in the direction of dawn he realizes an Offering to the Morning Fog (67’52”). Content are those who tour this realm. A lavish aural voyage this album unfolds at a right roaming pace. Progressing along a slow-moving arc it builds a sense of tonal otherness that is enticing, inviting and subtle. As this release has been composed within an alternate system of tuning, one might expect the effect to be disquieting. To his credit, here Rich uses this unique technique to conjure six works of wonder – sometimes curious and questioning, but always meant to ease, not challenge his advanced listeners. Offering to the Morning Fog invites us to dream. With breathing drones and undulating tones the ebb and flow of Rich’s slow flute lines circulate through cavernous reverb. The measured use of glissando guitar adds a sinuous shimmering shine wherever it arises. But beneath this lightening plain electronic sound sources materialize in a lingering portent. It is these brief heartless voids and unsettled regions that so fix and fascinate Rich. Declaring a twilight sound space he summons a daybreak where infinity is nothingness and the unknown impels his craft. Offering to the Morning Fog is the perfect balm for an age that demands art and music penetrate surfaces and depict a more complex truth. So although your heart and mind will be unfolding in a thousand different directions, please do not forget to look for yourself inside this beautiful landscape. And please know that, as the long night passes with the cleansing sunrise always comes the promise of a new and better day – at which time there is no better moment to concede that it is the contrast of light and dark that give each other their meaning.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END25 June 2020

Miles Richmond& Peter Grenadr w/Steve Roach

POV2

POV2

Miles Richmond & Peter Grenader w/Steve Roach: POV2
Released: 19 June 2020
www.pov-music.com

When the accumulated trauma of modern life gets to be too much, there is POV2 (51’14”). The absorbing take-me-away release so many of us need right now, its effect is dreamy and disorienting in the best way possible. The true force behind this project is the chemistry between Miles Richmond (guitars) and Peter Grenader (various electronics). This duo directs the talents of sonic identities Thighpaulsandra (piano), Theo Travis (alto flute), Martin Shellard (guitar) and Steve Roach (synthesizers) to realize another sonically shapely inventive album. Atmospheric, bracing and effortlessly cool POV2 maintains an impressive focus and momentum through its five tracks. Gently swirling outward the playing is fluent and gorgeous. The designs of the compositions are elegant and gripping – moving as easily through the air as they do into your heart and your mind. Here and there we can make out a reverberant piano, an acoustic guitar, or a chord played on a synthesizer. But these works are so exquisitely balanced in their manipulation of the sound space that one scarcely notices their separate elements. Inside even its lowest midnight is a sincere interiority. Primary structures of minimalism become vivid, then darken into a quiet suspense. Where tensile electric guitar solos reoccur in ever strengthening cycles, rolling ambient loops and washes flow slow in the infinite permutations of theme associated with this approach to music. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and extended sound generation, fragments of flute melodies travel on currents of shimmering steel strings, while reverb laden notes softly emerge and recede. Aligning with the values of good Spacemusic POV2 enables a mental state that runs counter to that of the domain outside of the self. The promise of escape from the sad, the bad and the ordinary is central to the restorative concepts of this manner of music. Lovers of this style know well that Ambient musicians are world-builders of the mind. But just imagine that their principles were also used by the builders of the physical world. With movement being made towards the betterment of humankind, all of us could feel content in the thought that what was possible might still be done.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END18 June 2020

Hèléne Vogelsinger: Contemplation

Contemplation

Contemplation

Hèléne Vogelsinger: Contemplation
Released: 12 June 2020
www.modularfield.io

Although it seems that most musicians spend their time in the pursuit of being heard, Hèléne Vogelsinger seems to have taken some preliminary steps in pursuit of hearing her audience. Expressing herself in a way aficionados will appreciate, Contemplation (42’09”) is a release perfect for our time. Providing seven nimble synthesizer escapades, as well as a rival vision of what Electronic Music should sound like, this album lights up the dark space in a winsome way. Finding ongoing inspiration from her instrument the pieces on this album come about in the act of playing them. Vogelsinger takes notice of the sound output of her modular synthesizer system and shapes it into a captivating poem of electricity. Conjuring kinetic joy sequencer patterns echo, expand, and gently recoil through the sound space. As the warm circuits of technology emit layers of easy harmony, the tones of a clarinet or human voice stabilize consonance along a sensitive musical arc. While most resolving notes land softly, some are left marooned in the ether – floating lost in reverberation, eventually fading into velvet night. Each of the many parts of this innovative machine music interweave and meld into the fully and effectively imagined realizations found throughout Contemplation. Vogelsinger’s sonic identity deals with the ideas of light and dark, hard and soft, vastness and intimacy, all balanced by a musical intent touched by a profound cosmic yearning. Electronic Musicians do not write their music, they live it… and so Vogelsinger gets it right… and gets it right on behalf of the listener too. Her music gives us an experience of certainty, a structure we trust, a way things should go – and brings us to a realm outside of everything else. This facility is such a very powerful thing in a world where most of us do not have the tools to express the fullness of who we are. With her Contemplation, Vogelsinger shows us her self, and gives us the world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 June 2020