Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: New Age Music

Forrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers

The Book of WanderersForrest Fang: The Book of Wanderers
Released: 4 September 2020

Albums by Forrest Fang are for that rare breed of listener who, upon each outing, wishes to travel someplace new. In this and every way The Book of Wanderers (71’20”) is a great success, as each of its ten tracks takes us somewhere we did not know we wanted to go. Using an impressive range of percussive and stringed sounds, electronic tones and synthesized sighs to evoke the metaphysical dimensions within the player, he plays brisk and brilliant, then slow and steady – conjuring an inclusive space-laced, ethereal doorway into mind and mood. Forrest Fang has appeared on several works by Robert Rich, who returns the favor here by offering beautiful flute soloing throughout “Tale of the Egret”. Both are skillful musicians who can play for night owls as well as they can for morning larks, and know how to keep a musical story moving. Yet it is the soft harmonic auras and hovering melodies they realize which cling to the ears and whisper in the heart. As primitive states grow more organized we find certain arrangements on The Book of Wanderers rendered with a warm appreciation for their complexity. Further in we find Fang’s futuristic fusion sound combining features of world ethnic instruments with advanced Ambient Music techniques. Its pieces which are defined by subtle gradations of light and shadow are paralleled by compositions of hard line, high finish, and tight precision – works that bring back stardust, then resolve into the quiet grandeur of shores closer to home. Some evoke a feeling of melancholy, while further in muted palettes and a gauzy veil of atmosphere provide a poignant sense of repose. In our world where everything is known the music produced by Forrest Fang remains a mystery. A man of our time, or maybe somewhat ahead of it, he is in close touch with his imagination. This remarkable and evolving contemplation is an enterprise that is for all of us – as we struggle with a vague vision of a unified world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END10 September 2020

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: The Bodhi Mantra

The Bodhi Mantra

The Bodhi Mantra

Howard Givens & Craig Padilla: The Bodhi Mantra
Released: 26 June 2020

Howard Givens and Craig Padilla embrace a third collaboration with their The Bodhi Mantra (41’21”), a keenly spirited, heart-seizing work of celestial textures and higher atmospheres. At its core is the earnest emotion of two lovers of sound and space, which may stir our better angels if given a chance. Within their perfect electronic realm this duo conjure three thought zones through which to drift, contemplate possibilities, and imagine the better world this work wishes to call forth. Layers of warm notes slowly gather, build, sustain, and recede in the dreaming tones and lulling harmonies only the best Spacemusic may offer. Rounded tones of a sonorous timbre fluctuate in varying layers of charged synthesizer consonance. The underpinning chords brighten, climb and wane – then turn dark, swelling into a steadily sweeping soft mass. Out of the slow motion of cosmic ideas a roomy sequencer pattern emerges. Star chasing synths react. The accord of notes, so pleasing to the ear, answers to something permanent in our way of being. The Universe is made up mostly of space, how nice to find here some form. The Bodhi Mantra provides conditions in which to consider ideas as deep as the prospect of meaning in a fathomless void, or as vague as finding the infinite moment that this music proposes. What is life but to dream and do? Givens and Padilla summon the creative nerve, amid the gloom of dusk, to venture a passage through to dawn. The listener should use the light of this quiet glow to see better all the good that is around them, as well as the path ahead, and to peace.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 July 2020

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

A Soul Ascends

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends
Released: 10 July 2020

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

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

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



Miles Richmond & Peter Grenader w/Steve Roach: POV2
Released: 19 June 2020

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

Jarguna &Henrik Meierkord: Tapestry Flow

Tapestry Flow

Tapestry Flow

Jarguna/Henrik Meierkord: Tapestry Flow
Released: 29 May 2020

Whenever you are feeling homesick for the faraway, play Tapestry Flow (74’58”). This elegant collaboration between jarguna (multi-instrumentalist Marco Billi) and (contemporary cellist) Henrik Meierkord provides a journey well-worth joining. Rich and sometimes heaving with detail this album embraces a great spirit of openness, energy and exploration. Within its evocative and dark sound space minor-key melodies moan from Meierkord‘s strings – while, marooned in the ether, Billi‘s textures float in a bracing and effortlessly cool atmosphere. Made up of eight separate tracks, each its own unique expression, Tapestry Flow grows slower and more meditative as it slips ever deeper into dreaming. Lulling in a calm kindness this carefully arranged experience coaxes us along in a lovely current of languid cello leads and blooming synthetic flora. In a wild tide of sound full of vastness and intimacies the listener is constantly being invited inside. Utterly absorbed by its facility to transport we take well to these searching aural adventures on a darkening plain. But, being meditative does not mean Tapestry Flow has to be vague. With its easy cosmic intimations and renewing thought zones it guides the psyche to stillness. Yet, this duo still manages to imbue their work with enough drama to satisfy more experienced listeners. From its textures of desolation and still chill zones, to a charged musical charm, Tapestry Flow offers many profound musical moments; moments to strain against the pull of larger forces, and stand and reflect on our strength and solidarity. This truthful music, tinged by emotion and a beautiful yearning in its playing, seems to emanate from some other world. That it comes from somewhere in our present provides a much needed flicker of hope.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END – 4 June 2020

Jeff Pearce: Songs for The Gathering

Songs for The Gathering

Songs for The Gathering

Jeff Pearce: Songs for The Gathering
Released: 20 March 2020

The setting is a grand, although unrestored, church sanctuary in Philadelphia on Saturday 10 June 2000 where Jeff Pearce is set to perform a show. Along with his performance set he has on offer (produced especially for attendees) a limited edition six track CD called Songs for The Gathering. It was the perfect souvenir for The Gatherings Concert Series audience as it offered music from this formative era and remained out of print, becoming a collector’s item for a full two decades. Having now rediscovered (and remastered) this material, and added on two additional contemporaneous pieces, Songs for The Gathering (58’27”) has been given a proper re-issue – just in time to commemorate the porcelain anniversary of its first release, and also to remind us of the hope we all felt at the beginning of the 21st century.

Sending sound into space, each composition induces its own unique zone. Pearce’s six steel strings shiver under his light touch, with every tone challenging gravity’s pull. Each note builds on the promise of the one that came before, revealing a robust creative vision. Yet, in its inviting minimalism even the sparest of the tracks contain references to the cosmos. As sonic eddies form, slow yearning melodies reiterate at the rate and depth of a sleeper’s breath – and Songs for The Gathering deepens from the pleasant and consonant into the transcendent and moving. Arising from shorelines of unearthly radiance the mesmerizing impact of this music’s aural texture ventures to defeat space and time. Yet, when he commands it, this guitarist’s picking, looping and E-Bow echo techniques are exact and clear. In the dancing delicacy of arpeggio chords the spare procession of isolated notes articulate a soaring, confident energy – which settles down ultimately into a refuge of otherworldly beauty.

Songs for The Gathering is a lambent landmark from two decades ago, yet its bright message remains as meaningful as when it was first delivered. Written in a language and performed with a skill that has stayed with us across the 20 years since first hearing it, this music has been revived to help us through the times in which we now find ourselves. What can an artist expect to achieve in the shadow of disaster and doubt? For Jeff Pearce it has been quite a lot. In many a profound musical moment he has encountered glints of transcendence, and the hint of how things might have been in a less brutal world.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END30 April 2020

Amongst Myselves: The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Good Earth

Amongst Myselves: The Good Earth
Released: 24 March 2020

Steve Roberts continues the inclination to dream big. His works under the name Amongst Myselves are brilliantly crafted aural poems to all things telluric. Another precision built soundscape, The Good Earth (65’02”) has taken several years to fully realize. Its six tracks have a connection to the continent of Australia, which is where Roberts resides, but seems more a devotional work to the entire planet and the tender land which provides us with life. A curious mix of naturalist details and a fantastic sense of sound, this album may be admired as much for its simplicity as for its tangled sense of fury, solemnity and ambience. Granting the soothing that modern life does not, rather than merely suppressing symptoms, The Good Earth provides a lasting improvement in our countenance. Layers of sustaining warm notes slowly gather, build and recede in a lulling and harmonious infinite moment. In its swirling storm cloud chords and charged electronics we seem to hear this music in the same way we absorb sense data. Beneath the soft glow hovering above each composition, a varying layer of synthesizer consonance and imaginative modulations are grounded by detailed drones and plucked steel strings. In slow waves of sleep harmonizing neurons, bass notes writhe beneath breathing ambient spheres – re-ordering the mind in a restless meditation on atmosphere and texture. The collage of tones tunes the experience, from ground brown lows to clear blue high skies, and on into a sacred black. As vast as the soundscapes feel, we find that there are only two people in The Good Earth – the musician, and you the listener. Simultaneously beautiful and tragic, uplifting and haunting, Roberts hopes we will feel the weight and wonder of life, and the beautiful part we occupy in a much larger organism.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END26 March 2020

Juta Takahashi: Pleochroism



Juta Takahashi: Pleochroism
Released: 31 December 2019

Juta Takahashi is strong enough to dream. In his music we do not re-locate, but rather we de-locate. The CD Pleochroism (62’06”) strengthens our hearts, as it stills our minds. Its music resides outside worldly realms – allowing us to step easily into sustaining zones of cerebral contemplation. As whispering synthesizers drift into silence, we find each of this album’s four electronic hymns to be a study in harmonic contrasts. Under a cloud cover of digital reverberation string triads sound out in the way moonlight sometimes shimmers. Beams of music, refracted through the spirit of the player, swirl elegantly throughout the sound space. Weightless notes bloom across a range of color and mass – in a process understood only on their own terms. Chords drift, slip and lift in a sweet reverie – as softer sounds prevail and coax the night to stay a few moments longer. Fitting easily into the New Age or Ambient Music categories, Pleochroism is a lush counterpoint to the lesser works of these classes. Each track seems to expand continuously over its duration – flowing gently through a range of sculpted textures and sustained moods. Pastoral and silvery then dark and dense, these slowly shifting realizations open up space then fill it with sound – as deep sonic pleasures lead to reassuring calm. In a time most concerned with the mastery of the world out there, listeners to Pleochroism may transcend the day-to-day – and find contentment dwelling in the universe found in here – within ourselves.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END6 February 2020

Skoulaman: Fluxes in Philadelphia

Fluxes in Philadelphia

Fluxes in Philadelphia

Skoulaman: Fluxes in Philadelphia
Released: 26 October 2019

The Dutch Electronic Musician Hans van Kroonenburg chooses to make his life bigger through playing concerts as Skoulaman, and ours richer through the act of listening. His Fluxes in Philadelphia (71’45”) extends the fleeting connection of the concert venue through a live CD. Recorded on 18 May 2019 as part of The Gatherings Concert Series it reaches moods and emotions that a less adventurous contemporary instrumental music could ever possibly touch. Seated in the pews during this confident performance it was hard to recall the existential emptiness of modern life just beyond the reverberating sanctum. The seven tracks found on Fluxes in Philadelphia are examples of the Skoulaman live dynamic at its peak – living in the flow of the moment and simply playing to those assembled from the heart. With still sustaining synth pads supporting interlocked sequencer blips, rising keyboard lead lines converse with electric piano. In the ambient, more reflective zones the mind flows inward – with the focused, melodic, rhythmic sections leading us on a journey outward. When stirring up metallic glitter analogue synthesizers breathe ethereal tones. In an instant we hear the lyrical rush and rumbling of a coming time. With its celestial choirs, growling pads and delicate textures this work portrays a certain amount of drama – yet its delightful acceleration never disturbs the friendly and contemplative feel. With the sound expanded on two tracks by local electric guitarist Harrison McKay, the Skoulaman show took flight in midnight swirls and cloud nine bliss – and demonstrates the rare thing that may be felt when a unique talent, receptive audience and reverential air all converge in a unique sanctuary setting. This is a realization that could never be the mere distillation of several classics, as the unique and supportive atmosphere contributed so significantly. The conditions under which this music was made are of a factor that can never be replicated – a one-time-only moment for Skoulaman to hold forth and make his statement. Those at the performance could see the joy this man took in the act of playing music and creating something new. Through the release of Fluxes in Philadelphia everyone may now hear this joy. This event and album reminds us that the world is still full of beauty and kindness – and the musical realm Skoulaman creates is a place we should all aspire to live in.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END12 December 2019