Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: Ambient

Ian Boddy & Erik Wollo: Revolve


Ian Boddy & Erik Wollo: Revolve
Released: 16 September 2022

Night occurs while our side of the planet is facing away from the sun. During the darkness it may be easier to view the moon above studying us here on the surface – and receive the potential and possibilities La Luna brings us. Also perfectly happy traveling their own orbits Ian Boddy and Erik Wollo have changed trajectory just long enough to make Revolve (51:38) – a studio set of climactic chords, bewitching themes and richly arrayed wonders of rhythm and pulse. In a compulsively detailed mix of moods and impressions this duo pulls toward a hard chill. Across eight tracks momentum rises and falls in measured motion. Swirling under a circulation of synthetic sound, harmonies play and progress in a concord of affecting chromatic steps. Passing through assorted effects, Wøllo’s lead lines are poignant, ethereal and elegant – conjuring zones and tones known to few of his guitar contemporaries. Supporting the swell and contraction of scale we find Boddy’s passagework underpinning the luxurious lyricism. While shifting sequencer patterns run through a series of imaginative progressions, heart-felt strains and refrains unfurl in a rising ribbon of silvery silk. The direction theses tunes take is ever upward, with each resolution redolent of the future this music promises. Their sonics feel less supplied than turned loose. In one place exuding an ambient melancholy, then further in hitting the listener hard with expertly marshalled beats and grooves, a rapt, expectant air of exuberance vents. As voluptuous melodies become embedded in spacey structures the energy level rises by scalar steps. The back and forth between Boddy and Wollo shows a reflective tenderness. This heart-first doubleton derives meaning from simple forms, vague vibrations, and the unknown energies collaboration may release. Their magnificent album has been so carefully constructed that by the time the concluding notes bring us back to ourselves we are ready and willing to truly listen. Revolve feels from outside our own time. It speaks to an era – an era that has yet to come.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 September 2022


Michael Stearns: Planetary Unfolding

Planetary UnfoldingMichael Stearns

Michael Stearns: Planetary Unfolding
Released 1 April 2022

Upon its issue on 1 May 1981 Michael StearnsPlanetary Unfolding (45:07) emerged as the clear standard for other such explorations. This release made history, and has retained its authority long after the flash of music technology that produced it. One reason why it has remained relevant for so many decades is because so many have tried to copy it. The deep Stearns sound and atmosphere established throughout Planetary Unfolding has been revived, recycled, reprocessed, re-interpreted and re-imagined continually in contemporaneous works ever since we first came in contact with it so many years ago. If studying the greats makes one greater, then we owe so much to this remarkable album. Its positive influence has catalyzed the generations that have followed it, which led to so much new and substantial music coming into our midst. Reflecting an interest in rendering sonically the unseen lines of The Universe, its two lengthy tracks, each in three movements, meditate on the mystery of the cosmos. Giving form to an expansive realm, Stearns offers us the use of his imagination to contemplate our place in the continuum of creation. Putting listeners on intimate terms with the present moment, its dreaminess and structural purity lends the music a kind of twilit mysticism. From stark, formless sensations to colorful whirlwinds of thunderous diversion, Planetary Unfolding is charged with inexplicable emotion, and once heard is apt to take up permanent residence within the listener. Over twinkling synth scales and heady string arrangements, we settle into a sense of hushed wonder. Soon, engulfed in ethereal voices, more vigorous feats extend to vertiginous heights, then branch off down unfamiliar paths. Where a quiet ambient march seems more instinctive than mechanical, rising symphonic electronic forms enthrall on their own. Further in, chord structures, amorphous and cool, present profound contrasts in harmony – in motifs which now anchor standard accounts of New Age music. Some music distracts, while other kinds numb, but the best moves the imagination. Here Stearns’ dramatic pressure provides an ingenious continuity – rising Planetary Unfolding to a realm above more rote EM realizations. Every moment of this album offers something marvelous and new. So what place does it have in our world? Something this wondrous might seem to be emanating from the future. Yet, 40 years after its release the values that Planetary Unfolding present still seem from a time yet to come. A time, hopefully for us, not out of our reach.

STAR’S END/Chuck van Zyl – 31 March 2022

AES Dana: (a) period.

(a) period.AES Dana

AES Dana: (a) period.
Released: 7 July 2021

(a) period. (71:33) offers ten tracks to fire the imagination. Deeply felt, with absolutely no threat of overheating, AES Dana delivers the listener to that rare real thing; a sweet spot balance of the sonic and the psychic. An uncanny talent for interiority, Vincent Villuis‘ cool music accommodates equally well a steady heart and a moving mind. Reaching for transcendence, these realizations expand or contract based on the imaginative capacities within each individual listener. Rising out of the engulfing sense of depth, here and there we encounter soft beats. These slow pulsing grooves add an occasional propulsive direction to the drifting nature of (a) period.. Further in, the sense of atmosphere is palpable, and keeps us searching. Smooth and untethered, piano notes ascend through reverb. Among the venting synth pads and sustaining harmonies clouds of chords escape into the air, dissipating into deepening, questioning drones. While roiling electronics and slow melodic rolls provide vague signposts of the distance we have traveled, it may be difficult for some to determine their whereabouts along this album’s gradual arc. From a place of dispossession and alien thought, to self-sustaining, deliberately designed structures, (a) period. portrays the artists emphasis on the more ephemeral states. With its occasional swerves into the surreal this enticing music feels like a response to the future. By inviting us into its spacey colorful dream realm, the creeping dread of modern existence may be stilled – in this work’s response to an impatient world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 September 2021

Lyonel Bauchet: The Diver

The DiverLyonel Bauchet

Lyonel Bauchet: The Diver
Released: 17 September 2021

Lyonel Bauchet‘s collection of electronic implements seem to carry the weight of ceremonial objects, that is until he starts operating them. Working off the energy of his imagination, he delves into a singular sonic cosmos of relentlessly synthetic sound. His The Diver (52:38) teems with weightless sonorities and blended timbres. Issuing from a well-managed system of modular synthesizer components and keyboards we might guess that this work belongs as much to the musician as it does to his instruments. But while this studiously constructed album exalts the modulation possibilities of the studio equipment, Bauchet’s music delivers a substantial revealing experience. From intense droning depths to lighter harmonic progressions, the five tracks on The Diver are continually contracting and expanding. Drifting in a cool blackness, then rising into orbit, the sound field shifts shape and scale – swinging gently between contemplation and dynamism. Further in rhythms rise in sonic celebration. A space motor spins out its sequence of notes. Echoing in unguarded patterns the aural energy expands, as we revel in how beautifully electricity may be rendered into music. Part of a genre with no limiting principles the wordless structures found here provide many inviting and reassuring textures – countered well by moments of experimental introversion and metaphysical mood. On this journey into the materiality of sound we may certainly notice the connection of imagination and creativity to technique and technology, but the most thrilling moment in listening to The Diver comes finally when we listeners claim what we are hearing as our own.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END16 September 2021

Lisa Bella Donna: Moogmentum

MoogmentumLisa Bella Donna

Lisa Bella Donna: Moogmentum
Released: 21 August 2021

Oh were it true that our times moved with musicians like Lisa Bella Donna. This unremitting expressive force has for decades been delivering substantial, forward-thinking work to our ears – for the betterment of the world. Moogmentum (42:19) presents yet another success in expressive power. Sounding fully invested in making its own kind of magic in its own time this album brings motivic vigor and formal control to an eclectic vision. Across 42 minutes of sonic expression this album remains so engaging, so pure in belief, that we cannot help but follow along on this irresistible electronic journey. A direct and unforced, thoughtful work Moogmentum feels like this performer has no limit – employing various playing styles and devices right up to the edge of the mainstream realm. Extroverted with prominent rhythms and melodic hooks, and occasional inklings of Prog-Rock and Jazz acuity, Moogmentum comes off sounding perfect and effortless. Tones float and contend for the front row. Numinous and changeable as clouds, night-blooming notes execute serpentine solos in vacant space. Building tension through the subtle heightening of texture the tightly patterned compositions burn with halogen-bright synth chords – a harmonic exposition at electrical speeds. From the densely composed and brilliantly colored to something more quietly ecstatic the 12 tracks are rendered with intense intimacy. Please listen closely, because there is a great deal of life contained within each.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 August 2021

Three Point Circle: Proximity Effects

Proximity Effects

Three Point Circle: Proximity Effects
Released: 28 May 2021

It has taken a good long while for K Leimer, Marc Barreca and Steve Peters to reunite. Nearly 40 years after their last performance (and the 2020 release of those sessions on Layered Contingencies) Three Point Circle has set out again, this time with Proximity Effects (74’15”). Capturing a rawness and directness distinct from their solo efforts, the trio reconvenes under a familiar framework of extended improvisations. Unfurling in shimmering slow motion, their journey never ceases to entrance. The five tracks, each of their own particular power and mood, conjure a sensual stillness. The resulting album comes across as a statement of purpose. Proximity Effects reads well from a distance, but the closer we listen the more layers of meaning are revealed. Embracing sonic diversity in shapely harmonies and crafty ambience, a textural analysis finds ornamentation and richness gradually accumulating. Amidst numbed melodies that seem to struggle for air the narrative sometimes idles, but the transfixing mood remains fully intact. As silvery fluttering sounds resound above a mumbled flow of drones, notes surge forth from the subconscious depths. Cohering in the imagination, rather than the ear of the listener, maybe it is the psyche itself that is the subject of these billowing, slow-building realizations. Leimer, Barreca and Peters are telling stories with sound. Communicating in a language without words it is the arrangement of tones of different weight, gravity and value, and their placement according to function and meaning which has produced such an expansive and elegantly crafted work. Less reliant on motion than on atmosphere we find this Ambient triplex still functioning in an uncharted higher dimension – providing us with a soft place in a hard world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END1 July 2021

Margot Blue: (re)currents

(re)currentsMargot Parker Elder

Margot Blue: (re)currents
Released: 4 June 2021

There is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness in its proportion. Responding vividly to a moment of hope, Margot Blue (a.k.a. Margot Parker-Elder) has produced (re)currents (31:39) – and captured well the wired euphoric feeling of electronic countenance. Alive with possibility, complexity and depth this album comes through the speakers sharp and bright. By turns stark and strange to the ear, then spacious and sombre, (re)currents presents seven unpredictable flowing designs. Cycling beneath an immaculate musical surface the music skillfully changes shape and character, yielding a work of brilliant variety. In a lucid interplay of timbres measured sighs of sonic luxuriance stir quietly. Cresting and subsiding waves of stately sonorities lead the listener into a state of sensuous transport, culminating calmly in the sense of having gone on an expansive cerebral jaunt. Plangent synth pads give way to delicate maneuvers of resolving recursive melodic lines. With dissonance controlled this tumbling momentum provides radiant dramatic action. As swirling aural activity rises above gorgeous cascading patterns, the feeling of unity becomes unconscious – and all the more potent. The texture thickens, as does the breadth and depth, and the music seems to become a room the listener may enter and roam through. With the hazy and gorgeous playing right up against keen crystalline constructions, (re)currents balances density and clarity. Within this liberated zone we may imagine our way into the experiences and feelings of the musician. Listening to this music makes travelers of us all, taking us away from home, but finding us shelter wherever we land. Yearning for a world that cannot exist, Electronic Musicians are taking a different approach through the 21st century. Their way realizes the sound of electricity singing its song – of clear and true freedom.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 24 June 2021

Loren Nerell: The Gong Prophet

Loren Nerell: The Gong Prophet
Released: 26 February 2021

The Gong ProphetLoren Nerell

Each release by Loren Nerell is good for listeners, and even better for dreamers. Spanning a range of sonic terrain, from minimal and dark, to powerful and enlivening, his The Gong Prophet (63’24”) is a deep cerebral journey to a place, suggested by the composer, but ultimately defined by the individual. In its torrent of reverberating electronics this tech-tinged hybrid work seems of a primordial past, somehow beamed to the present day. The most identifiable sound sources throughout its eight tracks may be that which is struck, blown or plucked, but it is more from murky synth textures and wildlife field recordings that Nerell achieves his signature mindspace. Sounding through dense digital reverberation tones heave against an atmospheric weight, as synthetic sonorities combine with acoustic instruments in a specific gravity. In a blend of ceremony and technology timbre, pitch, and rhythm are arranged to form the perfect nocturnal nowhere. With the note cycles of gamelan and other percussion instruments originating from specific areas of the globe, this music moves beyond the boundaries of any Western construct of time. In places shaded and subdued, The Gong Prophet exudes nuanced notes of reverence and ceremony rarely known in contemporary innovative music. While synthesizers seem to rub up against cold bronze, up-close listening reveals the sound elements to be beautiful; worn, rough and resonant in ways that invite contemplative scrutiny. Shifts between shadow and light, and stasis and change, carry us along a steadily expanding compositional arc. Passages heated by the urgent force of seething patterns declare Nerell’s grip – and are readily built-out by guest musicians: Patrick Bagacina, Forrest Fang, Markus Reuter, Steve Roach, Mark Seelig, Nyoman Wenten and Erik Wollo. Subtle and inexorable, each piece spins and moves ahead in metal-keyed meter. Emerging from this potency, a tenebrous mood clouds our thoughts, and conjures a land we can only visit while listening to The Gong Prophet. Loren Nerell realizes work for the world that surrounds him, by means of the world that is within him. For the listener, swathed in its suggestive shadows, we dwell knowingly within ourselves.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 June 2021

Peter Chilvers & Jon Durant: Always Golden Sands + Vista

Always Golden Sands + Vista

Peter Chilvers & Jon Durant:
Always Golden Sands + Vista
Released: 11 December 2020 + 15 January 2021

There is the kind of Ambient Music that you notice as you would notice the wallpaper or the furniture in a room, and then there is the kind that you notice because it is whispering something to you – something intimate, something only you can hear. Venturing into this alluring territory keyboardist Peter Chilvers and guitarist Jon Durant have realized two releases; first on the EP Always Golden Sands (19’14”), followed promptly by the album length Vista (50’44”). Meticulously improvised across separate solo studios the resulting music is tranquil, but never intends to lead the listener into sleep. As it grows dreamier its meaning sets. The ever-changing levels of atmosphere, melody and texture are a gift to the imagination. Vista presents five well-ordered impressions in an opulent tone. Wherever used, Durant’s guitar subtlety explores all of its registers and shadings, with Chilvers’ piano engaging in lovely melodic substance. In a slow-motion churn of harmony the two elicit strikingly beautiful sonorities sensitive to the flux between consonance and something a bit more disconcerting. The soft cosmos of the lengthier concluding track grants a deep interiority. However, this duo does not give over completely to the serene and sedate. Somehow, amidst all the reverb and digital processing on Always Golden Sands, Chilvers & Durant find room for a beat. A simple steady drum pattern enters, leaving room for picks and plucks of clean steel strings, as well as the drones and groans of tremulous synthesizer notes, and even some open space. In a command of gesture and color this duo reveals slowly changing perspectives. Each possesses an exquisite ear for composition. Reacting to the other’s piece of the story so gives their music warmth and a recognizable human character. While some may find these works staid, polished and composed – others will hear how uninhibited both Always Golden Sands and Vista truly are. Yes, Chilvers & Durant do play carefully, so that we may dream freely. Enchantment never tips over into stasis in their expressions of memory’s blur. The past may be dark, but this music soundly wins the future – and flows with the solemn and blissful insistence of life itself.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END11 February 2021

Three Point Circle: Layered Contingencies

Layered ContingenciesThree Point Circle: Layered Contingencies
Released: 4 September 2020

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