Spacemusic Reviews

Tag: The Gatherings Concert Series

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

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

Ian Boddy: Altair



Ian Boddy: Altair
Released: 17 May 2019

Following his 2018 visit to Philadelphia, we find that there is still plenty of fight left in Ian Boddy. Altair presents concert music from this trip. Dazzling and engaging, the first disc of this double album unfolds in the fast-moving, unerring style Boddy has become known for at The Gatherings Concert Series. Providing a comfortable feel, amidst neat beats and pulsing sequencer patterns, Altair veers between fearsome acceleration and a breathtaking stillness. Boddy’s talent for harmonizing aural pleasure and vanguard ideas is in full play here. The rapturous strings, expressive solos and machine tone patterns ask us to feel something, while atonal clusters and metallic rumblings challenge the listener to ponder deeper mysteries. Synth leads edged in platinum bring melodies played with poetic sincerity, and pleasure the ear with caressing phrases. Riding above an insistent bassline, interlocking sonic structures wind around each other in fragile synchronization. The potent effect of the seven tracks on the audience (and the musician) was intensified within the reverential performance space, and may be felt again at each listening session. The second disc in this two-CD set matches the celestial scale of the STAR’S END radio program – where it was recorded. An elaborate musicalized dreamland the five tracks of this volume finds consonance retreating into a separate territory – as modulated effects wear down harmonies with deliberate pressure and howling electronics bellow through cavernous reverberation. These portentous soundscapes, rendered in dark gauzy layers, are offset by passages of focused energy and a sense of rocketing between star systems. This fifth such transmission by Boddy creatively uses well the dynamic range available to artists invited to these sessions. Sonic fragments were mixed and matched and layered one upon another. A glassy calm begets a serene interiority, until an enchanting discord clouds our heads. Whenever a scalding, raspy roar wails in caustic disquiet, the negative space enlarges – straight on to nowhere. Boddy, like all other Electronic Musicians, makes music out of electricity – but his true material is time and space. Altair exists so that others outside the moments of these recitals may hear the truth of his work, and know the magic of traveling in place.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END23 May 2019

Saul Stokes: The Gatherings 16 November 2013

The Gatherings 16 November 2013

The Gatherings 16 November 2013

Saul Stokes: The Gatherings 16 November 2013
Released: 17 November 2018

A sonic world is waiting for you. A place where the wild past meets the power and the beauty of the future, and is accessed simply with a ticket to The Gatherings Concert Series. Among the finest examples of this phenomenon are the inspiring concerts made by Saul Stokes. Often referred to as a “sonic innovator”, Stokes bridges and bounds the opposing energies of crude electricity and accomplished art – to realize music that aligns perfectly with the beat and pulse beneath and behind everything.

His album The Gatherings 16 November 2013 (86’37”) features the unedited entirety of his performance. The sensitive ear will acknowledge the live, vibrant timbres present at every level of his numerous live performances. Using the altar at St Mary’s Hamilton Village, Stokes is not arranging for the dance floor, but for the place in the mind where sensory detail becomes thought.

If we think of this music as electrical, a thing made of electricity, then we find it to be always remaking itself – transforming in every instant, yet continually preserving its conception. The limit of effect is merely the limit of the musician’s imagination. From moody and psychological to juicy and exuberant, Stokes revels equally in tightly arranged progressions and timeless amorphous drones. Buzzing lead melodies provide a lovely voice in which to deliver a renewing message, while gentle beats and grooves speed up, then slow down – moving these compositions beyond squishy IDM and into the realm of intriguing thought experiment. Unique tones, novel arrangements, comprehensive synthesis and Stokes’ joyful intensity provide fuel for the listener’s mental adventures.

This work could not have been realized outside the intimacy of the live environment. The immediacy of the moment, the consistent pattern of change and the spark of inspiration all act upon Stokes, as he produces continuous currents of sound for his spellbound audience. This venue, and its patrons, have become known for revealing to musicians what they are capable of – and believe that a new idea in music is worth the challenge to make it. The music Saul Stokes made at The Gatherings now has a second life as an album release. The Gatherings 16 November 2013 was made live, in the heat of the moment, before an enthusiastic, informed community. As these conditions are known for revealing the creative spark, we find both the musician and his listeners experiencing this extraordinary music together in the act of being made.

Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END15 November 2018

Proceeds from the sale of The Gatherings 16 November 2013 by Saul Stokes go to support the efforts of CIMA of PA, the IRS recognized, non-profit, all-volunteer organization which oversees The Gatherings Concert Series in Philadelphia.

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 20 May 2017

The Gatherings 20 May 2017

The Gatherings 20 May 2017

Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl: The Gatherings 20 May 2017
Released: 20 October 2017

The album The Gatherings 20 May 2017 (58’55”) presents the complete live performance by Ombient (Mike Hunter) and Chuck van Zyl during the 25th Anniversary Season of this most venerable innovative music series. Their realization KL-93 was made live, in the heat of the moment, before an enthusiastic, informed audience. As these conditions are known for revealing the creative spark, we find both musicians and their listeners experiencing this extraordinary music together in the act of being made.Without laptops or pre-set software this duo endeavors out into a realm made up of hardware electronics and mental reverie. Minor key Mellotron chords slowly sweep across the sound field. Synthetic drones hold, dim, then lighten. In an ascending rush, then a descending calm, with our imaginative sonic aviators we depart our more common thoughts… for mysterious regions. Bass laden drones soon swallow a melodious Mellotron flute solo, which lilts blessedly above a maelstrom of writhing timbres. Wrapped in a luminous halo of reverberation a string section rises from the rumbling tempest, before the introduction of Hunter’s signature breathless tone patterns – which mount, repeat, and seem to echo out across eternity. A demon behind the sequencer he forgoes the white heat of computer technology – for realizations of mechanical, electrical and analog origin. Utilizing several cases worth of sacramental modular synthesizers, in a secret ministry of sound he performs a most welcome digital detox on the audience.

In propulsive bristling fervor, tumbling sequencer patterns motor on in echoing perfection. The notes brighten, darken, modulate, add and subtract, in a futuristic syncopated minimalism Spacemusic fans have been fascinated with for decades. In a withheld energy these echoing interlocking runs of notes produce a mounting compositional tension, released in our minds as impressionistic cerebration. Every new ascent presents the classic sound of one or another vintage synthesizer, and a shivery reverence that defies explanation. With each turn, these Spacemusic mystics manage to conjure a stimulating atmosphere of mystery, adventure and motion. From its plutonium dense gray desolation and battles with extreme silence, to twinkling modulations and multiple rows of rolling sequencer patterns, we move – west with the night. Arranged under an atmosphere of netherworld sonics, the composition KL-93 throbs powerfully and bounds outward along an electrified musical current.

This work, and that of contemporaries such as Arc, Cosmic Ground, Free System Projekt, Node and Redshift, draws on higher-order capacities. Theirs is a minimalism that speaks volumes. By carefully exploiting the intrinsic technological limits of 1970s Electronic Music Mike Hunter & Chuck van Zyl enlarge the medium’s expressive range and prove this genre is an organism that continues to grow and change with each new manifestation. Today’s artists hope to elevate the Spacemusic experience to one of mystical proportions – as they continue to push this sound as far as it can go.

STAR’S END20 October 2017

Proceeds from the sale of The Gatherings 20 May 2017 by Ombient w/Chuck van Zyl go to support the efforts of CIMA of PA, the IRS recognized, non-profit, all-volunteer organization which oversees The Gatherings Concert Series in Philadelphia