Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: Experimental

Various Artists: Cosines and Tangents

Cosines and Tangents

Cosines and Tangents

Various Artists: Cosines and Tangents
Released: 18 October 2019

For those contributing tracks to Cosines and Tangents, music is a more precise way to communicate. This volume, the third in the Tone Science series, presents nine works – every one made using a unique modular synthesizer system. Each component within these cases and cabinets is a discrete part chosen and arranged according to the taste and direction of the individual artist. Filters, oscillators, mixers, ring modulators, envelopes, and other even more esoteric pieces provide an unprecedented flexibility in sound design and music making. They are systems that are not fixed in the way conventional instruments are, and attract an interesting mix of musicians and engineers. Represented on Cosines and Tangents are a compelling cross-section of talented people from out of this body. From the raw power of Berserker by Redshift, to the intellectual vigor of Cyclosporum by Robert Rich, then down to the unpeople space of En-Edge by Radek Rudnicki, on up to the gentle mental popping pulse of Round #2 by Benge, this collection, in turns, offers the feeling of coming home, followed by the sense of leaving Earth. Overtly synthetic, these realizations all confer a particular electrical power – in hopes of awakening possibility in listeners. As there is no one perfect way to perform this music, we are well served by the select imaginations uplifting this group. Threading between the forces of chaos and order Cosines and Tangents produces a fascinating energy – a trait which has yet to be fully explained. However, what may be explained is why the field of Electronic Music has over these many years remained so innovative, so ahead of its time. This is plainly so because its practitioners have not forgotten the first principle of their work… the expressive manipulation of timbre – and remained true to a faith… that just as the soul animates a person, so timbre animates a sound.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END10 October 2019

Bart Hawkins: 21 Pulse Eclipse

21 Pulse Eclipse

21 Pulse Eclipse

Bart Hawkins: 21 Pulse Eclipse
Released: 27 September 2019

21 Pulse Eclipse (73’30”) unsettles the digital dust. This debut by Bart Hawkins unwinds our minds with eight tracks of gray matter vibrating tones, textures and experiments. His is an unusual realm of different musical laws, and music from this zone will reveal as much about the composer as it does about the listener. 21 Pulse Eclipse resounds in the abyss between dreams. Its lack of reference points may bother some, while in others this feature will be welcomed – for all the questions it will provoke. In its provision of a great many forbidding, fugitive sounds, this work may seem to offer an overfull emptiness. Its stacked layers of oscillations and modulations produce an undulating audio field. The denser areas of sound may be perceived as disjunct, non-directional and dissonant, while just across the landscape a cloud-like mass of harmony slowly drifts closer. With little in the way of a tonal center, a consonance may arise out of the random pulsing of two oscillators – an exercise which offers insight into the relationship between sound and the psyche. With no frame of reference to anything in the natural world, Hawkins’ realizations remind us of a more complicated existence. Hair raises from the skin as electrical charges build up. When uncertainty becomes the effective state, time disconnects, and an unexpected beauty emerges. For all the emphasis on the machinery of Modular Synthesis truly 21 Pulse Eclipse comes from the tradition of music as a product of human thought. Whether considering composition, performance, listening, or appreciation the constraints and capabilities of consciousness play the greatest formative role. Our response is completely internal. Upon its absorption this release shows signs of deepening the mystery of our condition – and so renew one’s sense of wonder.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END3 October 2019

Various Artists: Krell Music

Krell Music

Krell Music

Various Artists: Krell Music
Released: 29 October 2018

The cheapest high in Electronic Music may be had by making unstructured noise. Typically, composers who partake in this kind of exercise are asking of the listener nothing more than, “I dare you to like this” – as only the author alone can appreciate their own impenetrable musical acts. While the works found on Krell Music (119’49”) may indeed pose challenges to the average music consumer, the concept enlivening this collection is of the first order – and excellently informs each and every piece with its mission.

The Krell referred to in the title of this anthology will be well-known to fans of Forbidden Planet, the beloved 1956 cult-classic of Sci-Fi cinema. As the story unfolds, we discover that The Krell were the once thriving alien race inhabiting the distant planet Altair IV – the only remaining evidence of their existence being their abandoned, monumental engineering achievements and equally impressive examples of art, culture, and music.

Krell Music features imaginative extrapolations of the brief example “Ancient Krell Music” presented in the film’s soundtrack – which was realized by EM pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron. Their music, which is heard throughout Forbidden Planet, lacks real-world references, so as to sonically represent the fantastic objects and beings discovered in the movie – yet still managed to serve conventional narrative demands. It is also credited as the first all-electronic score ever to be employed in a Hollywood film.

The reverence shown to the Barron’s by generations of Electronic Musicians borders on the religious, as their amazing efforts are often thought of as the starting point of a continuing, decades-long, amazing experiment. Their early “electronic tonalities” envisioned how EM evokes notions of the exotic Other, and reset every fundamental aspect in scoring a film. This is what outer space sounded like, and still sounds like over 60 years on.

Krell Music will confound anyone with an expectation of continuity. Each track, whether imagined out of the reference scene, or absorbed in the energy of the soundtrack as a whole, is missing any conventional access point. Without discernible rhythm, consonant melody, or even a tonal base, these realizations touch something deeply primitive that lives within us all. Telling their story simply through the manipulation of sound, the contributors have come up with compositions closer to the ideals of modern abstract painting than of music. Arranging sounds without any terrestrial reference, each track transpires into a surreal, unknowable atmosphere.

The instruments used to produce this music must gave gotten a real workout – as the sounds they emit cover a wide range of imaginative sonorities. From the nightmare texture of tensile sonics and arcane modulations, to gentle lullabies and the quiet humming of The Great Machine, the 26 musicians represented here all have their own individual idea as to what the music of the Krell meant and sounded like. This group has absorbed well the film’s meaning and place in history, and even more so the aesthetics of its music.

The collection of music presented here should be considered masterful. Krell Music works both as a stunning document of a fictitious lost alien civilization, and a 26 track soundtrack of unlovely, but not unloved music (for which your attention to all will be rewarded). Yet within all the clatter may be found a questing optimism. Because, as old as it is, the genre of Electronic Music is not yet done teaching us what it can do.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 November 2018

Tony Masiello: Euphonic Interference

Euphonic Interference

Euphonic Interference

Tony Masiello: Euphonic Interference
Released: 20 July 2018

The problem of Electronic Music has been left unsolved by the mainstream, and so – since it was never commercialized or domesticated – Electronic Music has followed its own path. Taking risks less adventurous others would not, Tony Masiello makes music so as to experience the shear pleasure of creation. His release Euphonic Interference (71’50”) favors the topical over the universal, with the main point of this invention being the method by which it was made. Fans of modular synthesizers and the skillful coaxing of these music systems will find much to savor throughout this album. Euphonic Interference is not a song you listen to, but rather a network you enter. Sounds invade the listener’s space in a line of continuing well ordered events. Masiello’s deliberate pacing establishes this work as more of a cold intellectual puzzle than a poem made of sound. Pulling us along with him on the studio performance odyssey, he wanders, looking for routes. This music is not about epiphanies; it is about discovery and potential. In a full examination of minute changes in timbre over time, we humans may hear the soul of a machine – in the care of a promising artist. Well into this long form piece of process dissolves into environment – an electrical formation of freestanding reality. At every moment popular music is explaining itself, while most of EM exists for the purpose of pure discovery. Is Masiello creating music? or just minding/overseeing an array of equipment? Euphonic Interference will never explain itself, unless the listener has the intellect of a technician, and the mental apparatus to interpret what is being heard. The rest of us will feel its volumes, vectors and densities – and austere lucidity.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END   23 August 2018

Scanner: The Great Crater

The Great Crater

The Great Crater

Scanner: The Great Crater
Released: 29 September 2017

The work of Scanner has always been an uncommon counter-argument to conventional studio Electronic Music. Robin Rimbaud, and the formidable power of his ideas, continues to take us to new places – using things that exist freely all around us. His album The Great Crater (48’36”) goes deep and dark, unsettling the world into which it intercedes. Even brief exposure to this music may make the listener feel vulnerable, so much so that merely giving ear to it becomes a symbolic act. A departure from earlier outright aggressive experimentation, this work is based throughout on various permutations of its title. Across ten tracks suggestive of the unprotected region of the South Pole, The Great Crater whirls and undulates in the way snow drifts, and contracts as do the icecaps now melt. Its consuming dark moods, and a quiet sense of mystery, rise out of a tension within the fabric of the music. In a mysterious unfolding of spatial complexity grinding ice seems to flow. A textural interplay between synthesized tones and stringed chamber instruments provide delicately haunted passages – a remarkable somewhere in which a powerful quiet has washed over us. We find any rhythmic energy on The Great Crater to reside in the periphery. Lilting music box patterns gently surface out of a rumbling frost, as forlorn harmonies issue from overcast fields. In frigid, fragile understated constructs, bitter tones creak and scrape – as an environmental message is sent through. The one missing piece in most EM is ideology, so beyond its excellent concept and production The Great Crater offers a psychological depth not present in other Electronic work. Listening to Scanner, we find that he is not like other musicians. As he reaffirms the resiliency of the artistic imagination, we feel the growing impermanence of the permafrost, and that The Earth’s silence may be its one remark.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END9 November 2017

Robert Davies: Afterlight



Robert Davies: Afterlight
Released: 26 October 2016

With a deliberate simplicity Robert Davies produces music that welcomes the listener’s thinking. His album Afterlight (62’20”) is a work that transports us from the perception of our physical reality to an imaginary realm of open, luminous, harmonious space. For the ten minute duration of each soundway, we are in Robert Davies’ world. His six delicately shaded sonic studies explore stable terrain. With no linear configuration, stark tones and strong textures present a featureless plain stretching in all directions – the perfect nowhere, beyond the literal directions of music. But once we align our thoughts to the stillness of its slowed down thought zones, we find Afterlight to be quite active. Sustaining organ tones present as naturally as the summer field insects gently buzzing nearby. Softly breathing drones hold deep support for the slow notes of a muted electric piano, and the gradual motion of electronic ornamentation through upper regions. As sonic values gradually progress in slow spiral recessions, a low churning draws our attention to something making its way on to our plane. Another interesting feature, Afterlight easily assimilates the sounds of outside the listening space. The rain drops on the roof, the rumbling delivery truck out front, the kids next door, the dog across the street; in a true Ambient Music sense this music accepts and incorporates whatever is happening around us. Within its timbral modeling of contours and volumes Davies’ has found this area to be unmapped, and open for exploration. Should one listen to his minimal music? Is it even possible? We should encounter Afterlight as we do the beautiful sounds of crickets on a solo night walk in the woods, or the surf at the edge of the ocean at sunrise. Afterlight conveys depth, volumes and contours within the sphere of a consciousness – as a respite from the cacophony of the modern world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END20 April 2017

Paul Ellis: Ancient Light Having Reached Us

Ancient Light Having Reached Us

Ancient Light Having Reached Us

Paul Ellis: Ancient Light Having Reached Us
Released: 4 February 2016

In the beginning, usually no one knows it is the beginning. At the outset of Ancient Light Having Reached Us (68’57”) synthesist Paul Ellis must have pondered this thought… as he began tracing an arched void. If this album prompts the listener to probe for meaning, then it has done its job. Providing spectacular twists, spatial distortions and a heroic resistance to convention, Ellis appreciates the qualities of simplicity, directness and raw energy. Stark tones and strong atmospheres provide stability, but not structure. An energizing brightness, followed by tumultuous, tortured, towering masses of tone, find sounds shifting out of their proper place and scale. We can hear individual notes, and the disparate pockets of space that they occupy. A procession of foreboding strings plays an electronic elegy, against swelling, trembling effects. A penetrating bass underscores a dancing arpeggio down from the upper register. Sustaining fields expand and recede beneath surreal modulations. These are not random events. The use of off-kilter arrangements and subtle contrasts of tone and texture show Ellis to be quite meticulous and precise. The four tracks contained on this album take the way of the thinker, for someone seeking a quieter action. It may seem like Paul Ellis is playing with ambiguity, but it could also be that Ancient Light Having Reached Us is a true and proper expression – given by the precise organization of forms and symbols. This music is of a higher and more creative order, one meant to explore expressive possibilities, and the regeneration of the person.

– Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END   22 December 2016