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Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: Modular Synthesizer

Cosmic Ground: Cosmic Ground 5

Cosmic Ground 5

Cosmic Ground 5

Cosmic Ground; Cosmic Ground 5
Released: 25 October 2019
www.cosmicground.de

Atmosphere is the intention of works by Cosmic Ground. While most music made with electronic instruments provides abstractions in sound (leaving the listener lost amidst unresolved questions of existence) this project by prog-rock keyboardist turned space explorer Dirk Jan Müller continues to engineer expressions useful to those embarking on their own intimate aural adventure. The CD Cosmic Ground 5 (75’23”) presents eight tracks of Müller’s excellent Berlin-School inventions – each building out from spare beginnings into cool textural proportions. With its chilled synth pads pulling our mood into dark realms, the sound assembly soon gives way to echoing sonic effects seething above urgent sequencer throbbing. Inside these pulsing machine poems the motoring patterns circle and crest dramatically – their interlocking rhythms shifting with each new design. Continually throughout Cosmic Ground 5 the abyss widens, and, as a vast planetary choir mysteriously descends, fills with drama. With its mechanical reiterating riffs the cascading notes shift and divide in a twisting double helix of charged electrical tones. Once these propulsive fabrications reach their fullest spark, a coursing synth work stills the journey – flaring and sending us off to probe other coordinates. For riders of the empty plain Cosmic Ground 5 is the perfect soundtrack. Between its palpable sense of alienation and our yearning for meaning in The Universe we may hear the real force that moves things.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END7 November 2019

Various Artists: Cosines and Tangents

Cosines and Tangents

Cosines and Tangents

Various Artists: Cosines and Tangents
Released: 18 October 2019
www.din.org.uk

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
www.spottedpeccary.com

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

GROBEK: GROBEK I

GROBECK I

GROBECK I

GROBEK: GROBEK I
Released: 22 July 2019
grobek.bandcamp.com

GROBAK is the duo of Jorg Erren and Christian Steffen, who take part in an annual off-season synthesizer jam in the village of Ouddorp on the North Sea. Each of their Wintertime rituals yields a wealth of new music, made proper after additional weeks or months of editing and re-imagining. The tone of their album GROBEK I veers from quietly electronic and textural, up to the kinetic and the reckless. Moving in the mad poetry of its energized, nodding notes, up through echoing, tumbling sequencer patterns, this album then again backs down – veering between the two realms in an easy flow. Calmly hypnotic, the pulse of this music tries to align the conflicting energies of the mind. Yet, within the overlapping mobility of circling and spiraling notes, the excitement, emotion and mystery of this work is expressed. As bold synth melodies search for accompaniment, the current of sound builds, recedes, then resolves into an adagio of synthesizer strings. Every minute of GROBEK I seems filled with something that demands our attention. With its interlinked shifting arpeggios the sound of a wildly spinning engine softens to that a more harnessed propulsion. The atmosphere is lean, transparent, surging – like currents journeying through a limitless expanse. Raw, dark and dreamy, we feel the potency of every note. GROBEK I is a studio album which vibrates with restrained intensity, yet remains fully energized by the free-form nature of the recording process. In its mix of anthemic melodies, harmonic landscapes and motorik rhythms the listener will find a steady sonic pleasure – as each of its nine tracks glitter with its own charm and electricity.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END5 September 2019

Steve Roach: Bloom Ascension

Bloom Ascension

Bloom Ascension

Steve Roach: Bloom Ascension
Released: 30 August 2019
www.projekt.com
www.steveroach.com

Bloom Ascension (41:25) is a most striking creation. Here we find Steve Roach as musically insatiable as ever – and working through a life-long commitment to a distinct creative impulse. This album exemplifies the spare patterns, unwinding energy and low-boil minimalist vibe which propelled his Grammy nominated Molecules of Motion (2018) and Spiral Revelation (2017). A robustly orchestrated work, Bloom Ascension very nearly allows us to hear the musician’s mind at work. Conducting ample instrumental forces Roach combines an innate feel for texture and gesture with his interest in the sonic intensity of Electronic Music and the sensual potential of modular synthesis. Each of the four tracks move high into the air, tracing graceful arcs of mechanical precision. With the rippling counterpoint of pinwheel dancing notes and skittering flows of sparked adventure we spin forward. As the whirling designs add additional mysteries, this work’s pulsing, generating minimalism portends a slow but relentless tide of change. In this subtle shift in perspective, a deep down dark descends – leaving behind a trail of echoing notes and quickening chords. Inspired by a dream, we wake to a prophetic mission – and a view of the world which belongs to us all. Exerting an emotional pull Bloom Ascension culminates with spirits revived. Building a world in volume and density, we are drawn in completely – held in a true electronic moment, and experiencing the invisible symbols of sound.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END29 August 2019

Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation

Ecstatic Computation

Ecstatic Computation

Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation
Released: 3 May 2019
www.editionsmego.com
www.caterinabarbieri.com

It sounds like synthesizers, it sounds like sequencers, it sounds like someone is alive. That person is Caterina Barbieri, who, with Ecstatic Computation (36’04”), has realized a substantial Electronic Music. In her poem of electricity an ecstasy of synthesizer modules, cables and cases are used to describe an imaginary place with imaginary sounds. Irresistible from first bleep to last bloop, this album illuminates corners of the mind which usually stay dark. Overflowing with effortlessly effective musical invention Ecstatic Computation is uniformly excellent. Interweaving multiple tone patterns in a simple, fluid elegance this release comes through refreshingly unlike much of modern music. Full of incident, drama and emotion the six world-warping tracks seem like the inside of a cosmic clock – intricate, labyrinthine, and working around us in a kind of harmony we cannot begin to comprehend… until the final note sounds. Melodies bound along with rhythmic freedom, harmonies shift from one color to another, with full-strength synthesizers bleating, dancing and popping before our ears. In a kind of bladed terrain the musical forms assemble themselves around her, rather than in a pre-figured trajectory. Honed but not overworked Barbieri’s style has found a productive partnership between music and technology. Sounds collide and combine amidst a pervasive air of cool. In a slow precision her perfectly placed transitions produce an expressive urgency. Through a fugue of the continuous she travels the abyss between dreams, to realize the mirage of a coming age. On the black waters of Modular Synthesis Caterina Barbieri casts an ideal shining timbre – the presence of which might still our thinking and allow us to truly sense what we are hearing. Every generation must discover EM for itself, and in her time Barbieri has not only acquired total technical command of her music system, but has also developed an unmistakable voice. Her starry future is fueled by imagining that something wholly unfamiliar might still be encountered somewhere in the distance. But we will always feel like strangers to her, as Barbieri has peered into another realm – and we cannot follow. By listening to her Ecstatic Computation, we encounter an expansive imagination, and take our first steps into a larger world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END22 August 2019

ST∆ER: Telemetry

Telemetry

Telemetry

ST∆ER: Telemetry (61:54)
Released: 3 September 2019
staer.bandcamp.com

The mind of Ian Staer is ever moving, through regions dark and light. Recording and playing concerts under the name ST∆ER his work communicates interiority, transmitting the composer’s interior landscape to the audience in very effective ways. The release Telemetry (61’54”) features recordings from live performances for WXPN/Star’s End on 12 May 2019 and WPRB/Music with Space on 21 June 2019. By listening to this album, you have taken your first steps onto a larger world – a realm where the human hand and eye has taken over from the computer. Utilizing conventional synthesizer keyboards alongside modular systems, Staer moves our bodies to the pulse of the galaxy while energizing our minds at the speed of sound. To realize the works found on Telemetry Staer set out with a unique organizational framework from which the fabric of his compositions are woven. Influencing the listener’s perception of discord, accord, tension and release, he tells his story – and we make our journey. Something urgent is running beneath the surface of this music. Harmonies breathe with the intricacies of proportion, consonance, dissonance and resonance. Chords rise and fall, then push and pull one another above mechanized sequencer energy. Consisting of live versions of two previously released arrangements, and two new pieces realized especially for the concert setting, the contour of this album traces a dynamic arc. From minimalist patterns meant to arouse the adventurous, and questioning interludes of metallic drones, to dramatic piano themes and wondrously modulated aural accents, the mounting tension resolves into a plane of possibility and wonder. Yet, although analyzing each movement may be an interesting occupation, taken on the whole Telemetry transcends its individual parts. The act of conceiving this music, learning how to play it live, overcoming doubt, then producing this CD has lead to Ian Staer declaring himself – in what will surely be thought of as a substantial milestone once he has traveled further along his path. But now, what sets this musician apart from his contemporaries is an enthusiasm, optimism and ambition found only in the beginner – one who knows that the only limit there is on the future are the doubts of today.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END8 August 2019