Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: Modular Synthesizer

Ian Boddy: Coil


Ian Boddy: Coil
Released: 14 October 2022

Contemporary EM is rife with the rapid and the vapid. The work of Ian Boddy has always risen above such wreckage by taking on poignant extra dimensions. The studio release Coil (39:19) is a partnership of ear, mind and hand – of listening, conception and touch – qualities that distinguishes all of his work. An album of six electrical episodes, a hexad of dreamy brain games, it ventures along interior frontiers in an involved tangle of instrumental polyphony. Adorned with grace notes of murderous intent as well as tender timbres of splendor the listener bears the paradox of mutability. Yet further in, supple tracks cool this flame and help harmonize the systems-based rigor of minimalism with the impulsive beauty of sonic invention. In the reflections and refractions of sound this stylistically restless release exudes both technical prowess and artistic vision. Eruptive and exacting, then spare and starry-eyed, Coil holds us in a particular awed fascination. On a few compositions Boddy seems more interested in the heat of the beat than in its meaning. These passages rumble and rattle their way forward beneath echoing pulse patterns. Sonics gradually rise in intensity before discharging in a deluge of dancing arpeggios. Sweeping, swelling, pumping bass and synth themes wind out in the deep dark of blackening space. Shifting sequencer patterns escalate the mood through a series of heroic progressions. Jumping from one key to another the pace careens and beckons the listener to follow the reeling transfers. As night falls the music wanes in transparency. Shadows hold their breath. In a display of tones, textures and skills Boddy’s effort here becomes a mirror – as Coil revels in the flawed, fleeting beauty of the present moment. Remembering yesterday, while writing the story of tomorrow, this interweaving of atmosphere, texture, mood and feeling has been overseen by a rouge spirit – heard glowing and growing within his superb gift to the world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 October 2022


Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit

Spirit Exit Caterina Barbieri

Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit
Released: 8 July 2022

Electronic Musicians are as different from each other as they are from the dominant styles of their day. In keeping with this belief on Spirit Exit (55:53) synthesist Caterina Barbieri locates the action in her synthesizers and brings to bear an unmistakable and true personal voice. Unfolding in an atmosphere of charged equilibrium its eight tracks prowl each their own musically distinctive surround. As one idea takes off in an unpredictable, unstoppable play of innovation, the next fuses into a seamless, dreamlike texture of ingenuity. Disciplined, machine-like galloping notes wind outward, emerging in a sprawling upward, downward theme. Extending the rapt mood spacey singsong vocalizations rise in contours shapley and measured. Barbieri intones with force, then finesse – her coolness prophetic of another kind of power. As branching sequencer structures cycle through light and dark designs, intriguing pulsing patterns echo, expand and conspire throughout our sound space. In a soaring clockwork precision of restless exploration Spirit Exit unfolds under Barbieri’s practiced naturalism. Synth chords seethe beneath deliberate changes in meter – the intention of the invention in support of rhythmic energy. With its imaginative sudden swerves and diverse sonic designs, those following closely may behold the sublime character of this work. Here is a musical world brimming with rhythmic complexity and dynamic variability, yet is supple and approachable from every perspective. One could imagine spending years with this album – light years of discovering new meaning and beauty as its maker is continually revealed.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 October 2022

Steve Roach: What Remains

What Remains Steve Roach

Steve Roach: What Remains
Released: 5 August 2022

Steve Roach beckons with the promise of fantastic escape. A meditation on fugitive beauty his What Remains (70:22) glows with an air of cosmic yearning. Subtlety has always been one of Roach’s strengths, and the four tracks here are so well-stated and precise that their complexity seems to come quite easily.

This music, while made with machines, has been made for humans. Succinct and eminently re-playable What Remains drifts from moods of exuberance and wonder, to nocturnal befogged views and synth soft poetic power. Breathing his tetrad of realizations into our imagination, one by one Roach engulfs the listener in a sonorous minor-key semblance of ambience.

Shifting to a spectral plane handsome and imposing drones give way to a simmering groove. As electronic percussion moves under, over and through adjacent sounds the mind may sense a polyrhythmic texture. Only hinting at its ethno-origins this energy feels forged deep beneath some indefinite surface.

Slightly cloudy, reverberant synthesizer chords give way to echoing sequencer patterns. As the resulting restless energy, space and time are strikingly transformed, Roach is found to be pulling from different emotional poles. In the gathering gloom a collage of sounds – free-floating, rounded metal edged, linked within cavernous reverb – emerge from roiling digital effects. The slow burning closing piece erases all bearings, leading us back into the silent now.

Throughout What Remains Roach’s quiet compositions of connection and reflection gently articulate an intense well of feelings behind even the simplest gesture. United by the sense of discovery which may be felt by informed listeners he continues to re-imagine the potential of his music. Yet, no matter how far it is pushed, or how hard it is played, it never forgets the abiding creative energy that first put it into motion.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 4 August 2022

Polypores: Hyperincandescent


Polypores: Hyperincandescent
Released: 20 May 2022

The electronic instruments in the studio belonging to Polypores are just waiting for Stephen James Buckley to tell his story. Realizing music of the imagination, the laboratory conditions of this art have produced Hyperincandescent (43:54). While thoroughly modern, the making of and listening to this marvelous music does still allow for an old-fashioned charm and wonderment. Its reverence for thinking, or because it is undertaken by a musician whose mind is so settled and fixed upon their work, Hyperincandescent will be heard as a unique form of expression – one where the mind has created something that it did not already know of. Pursued in multiple parts, each of this album’s suites connect continuously across the span of an LP side. From drifting weightlessness to roiling tempest, this music feels like a journey through time, darkness and light. Discovering properties of sound, Buckley expresses well the play of atoms in the mind. Describing this work by its magnitude, volume, density, speed, energy, mass, duration and direction may help listeners recognize the intelligence at the other end of this musical message. But the truth of this release is found in its ability to magically transform our surroundings into an element to which we belong. In striking sonic swirls and upward scales the two tracks re-affirm the pleasures of Electronic Music – while further in chill currents descend downward past known forces. Notes combine as they collide. In such shades lush and tender their beauty feels electric. Sequencer patterns emerge amid machine modulations, and are soon swept toward a vista of synthesized chords. In bonding better to this voltage vision, the music gives full play to our fancy, and rises to new heights. There is a creative lifeblood circulating through Hyperincandescent. It is a music-to-think-about record – easier to enjoy when your mind is flexible and in a playful, pondering mood. In this open, neural neutral state we are most likely to find an order to these tones, and some meaning waiting for us within this most patient music.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END19 May 2022

Brendan Pollard: Cycles and Pulses

Cycles and Pulses

Brendan Pollard: Cycles and Pulses
Released: 6 May 2022

For his first album back after months off resetting his music studio Brendan Pollard delivers a release that is somewhat less than an all-out sequencer celebration than it is a carefully cultivated atmosphere of deliberation. Full of hidden connections and secret encounters, his Cycles and Pulses (65:08) is an epic in five-parts. Its ambitious scope is tender and reaching, then stormy and searing – the sound field reducing down to a lithe tensile thread, then expanding out into wider, wilder dimensions. Rising into the pleasures of pulse his Berlin-School inspired works gain momentum in cycles of note motifs echoing energy beneath hovering ambient shadows. As commanding melodies flee past shimmering sonic shapes, the structured delirium resolves into a solemn hymn to humanity. Converging in darkness Mellotron strings roll over corroded drones. While glittering accents and fluttering modulations swirl above a motoring pattern of tones, sustaining organ chords enter and chill the electronic current. Throughout over an hour of exploration Cycles and Pulses is in a constant state of motion. Its spare, controlled style unites intrinsic conflicts and vast landscapes in framings as haunted as the are provocative. Overcome by rolling swells and peels of sound, powerful patterns and hushed harmonies, the listener surrenders to Pollard’s spacey spell. In complete command of this style he communicates in code. From wildly impulsive, down to the more cerebral, encrypted messages grow abstract and questioning – easily delivering exhilarating, propulsive synth devotionals on a celestial scale. Our world is big, but the realm of space and sound is even bigger. Pollard’s form of expression is infinitely mutable, its structure open, yet orderly – allowing for innovation and variation. The mind is its own place, which is where Cycles and Pulses takes up residence. The re-birth of wonder, and the insistent reclamation of our humanity may be among its highest productions.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 May 2022

Lisa Bella Donna: American Watercolors

American Watercolors Lisa Bella Donna

Lisa Bella Donna: American Watercolors
Released: 1 April 2022

On American Watercolors (43:25) Lisa Bella Donna reconciles enthusiasm for music technology with a reverence for the creation of mood, texture and atmosphere. Delivering this work with all the eloquence and excellence of more prevalent, better known methods and forms of art, each of its two lengthy tracks put forth a gorgeous love song to electricity. Seeking the current moving across the ages, these pieces both begin by emanating a quiet magnetism. Inching toward profundity, nothing can break the transportive spell. Suggesting inroads to the unknown, American Watercolors extends dynamically from quiet synth whispers and venting drones, to echoing sequencer runs and a commanding keyboard croon. Beneath spiraling electronic accents patterns cycle in metronomic syncopation. Sustaining like an engine in its power zone, we are propelled onward. As raw waveforms blend with rounded tones, buzzing notes resound with immediacy. Vibrantly animated, the sounds and tones on this album are pushed, pulled, coaxed and commanded to shape an ethereal realm, while lead lines bring a focus to the story of the song. Drawn along by outsized electronic chords this etheric articulation of space seethes with the artist’s excitement. With its haunting and persistent tellurian undertones American Watercolors is tender, mystical and spacious, saturated in forest spirits and the broader dream of planetary consciousness – proof that music carried out seriously is its own undeniable action.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END14 April 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

Various Artists: Protons and Neutrons

Protons and Neutrons

Various Artists: Protons and Neutrons
Released: 18 March 2022

The DiN Records anthology series Tone Science submits its sixth volume with Protons and Neutrons (69:28) – an assemblage of stories connected by technology that when taken together has the power to extend and enrich our thoughts.

Wandering through a realm rooted in the electrical, Prisms by James Bernard flows in gentle brushstrokes of sound. Vanta by Elin Piel offers suspense, then the certain cycling of intermingling sequencer lines. Field Lines Cartographer (Mark Burford) provides an intriguing sonic collage with his Eddy Currents, which languidly drifts and flutters about the listening space. In a further step toward abstraction Contradictory Forecasts from Sarah Belle Reid tells its story of modulations and routings through a current of experimentation. Adrian Beasley gently restores consonance with Waving in Harmony, a sustaining transfer between resonant notes and dreaming modules. Elinch advances the energy level in the lively Upward, a building, strobing, pattern piece of voltic emanations. With Random Possibilities Steve Roach pursues the mystery pulse vibrating within his music system. In the Shadow of Giants by Ombient (Mike Hunter) references the 1970s Berlin-School in synchronized layers of mechanized patterns. Then, working all the dials, switches and patch cables Doug Lynner shapes and steers audio discharged from galvanic sources, and with his The Mutation Trio concludes this collection in a challenge to seek meaning in this conceptual work.

Protons and Neutrons presents another nine exemplary tracks based on the open architecture of modular synthesis, and is a must-have for those interested in adventurous Electronic Music. The realizations presented throughout the Tone Science series touch something essential within the informed listener. Making their statements through the manipulation of sound, this group forges electricity into music of no terrestrial reference. Each contribution in this run of albums is a commitment to the creative act itself – which transpires in a surreal, unknowable atmosphere – and asks nothing more than to ignite the gifts of the imagination.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END10 March 2022

Panic Girl: Washed Ashore

Washed AshoreMartha Bahr

Panic Girl: Washed Ashore
Released: 14 November 2021

On Washed Ashore (40:46) Panic Girl (the Electronic Musician Martha Bahr) invites us into a spacey, colorful dream world. Her showcase mindspace is carefully alien, as it devises secret, unseen realms for the bright, receptive listener. Across four harmonious abstractions Bahr transmits the tingle of gradual upward motion. While imaginative expressions intertwine, bracing fields of synthesized sound slip between rhythm and atmosphere. As voltage controlled considerations interlock in the logic of notes in repeated series, the layered patterns congeal into a kind of undulating texture. The advancing star showers modulate into blissed out ambience, with each track seeming to wonder and wander its own energy field. Embracing density and a kind of perpetual musical motion, Washed Ashore provides many meditative moments. These gently moving forms arise from Bahr’s pleasant performance passages. Her dedicated calm labor live sings the song of the synth. Both dreamer and builder, she conceives an expression, then sparks it into being – showing us that, if electricity is considered the source of all EM, then it is as much the kind from the wall socket as from the currents of the mind.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END13 January 2022

Ian Boddy: Modulations II

Modulations IIIan Boddy

Ian Boddy: Modulations II
Released: 5 November 2021

To reimagine a poetical, electrical experimentation for the modern era, Ian Boddy configures his modular synthesizer system to produce an artful interplay of raw and refined tones. A counterpoint to his more melodious work, albums like Modulations II (91:44) are meant for those in an experimental frame of mind. Moving stealthily through his music, Boddy instantly brings the listener in – fascinating us with a spectacle of sound, and leaving us to wonder what will be sprung upon us next. In six tracks of world building Boddy crafts his own sounds, and tells his own story. Close listening will be rewarded as this technique is so meticulous, and approach and perspective so unique, that a full and distinct abstract expression is achieved. Discharging audio from electricity, tenebrous particles swim in space. In this voltaic realm, where dragons growl low and ghost chants ring in the air above, hidden hierarchies do crackle. Whenever Modulations II beams with sunlight harmonies, soon follows a blurry mass of roiling questions and charged sparks. Long builds of a portentous timbre resolve and release in the darkness – groping toward a muted fissure in reality. The pulse and rhythm of the machine harnesses a circularity of notes – radiating with each tight turn of the wheel into widening arcs of mechanized regularity. The sequencer lines echo and motor strength, traveling this collection of tones and textures between sonic storm and soothing sigh. The tricky backdrop sputters, winds out, then whispers a song of circuits dreaming. The wonderment of music and modulations – which may be realized from a properly patched up system of warm wires, transistors and knobs – may arrive during Modulations II, but lasts only briefly… because once he gets where he is going, Ian Boddy quickly keeps moving – further out.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 January 2022