05 May 96
Several other obligations prevented me from attending to the music reviews for a few months. I'm back, you may rest assured, and the music keeps playing. Stick around, there's more music coming. -- ~Dbs
AMBIENT EXTRACTIONS VOL. 2, various artists (C & S Records CS8528-2; 71:56), 1996. Following up on an innovative first outing, coordinator Craig Roseberry and producer Scott Schlachter here take the idea of ambient music down a more danceable path, ending up in the blue room. Opening with hip tracks by Opik and His Name Is Alive, the disc digs into a strange, atmospheric groove with pieces by Poppyseed, Iso Ambient Orchestra and (really, truly excellent) Single Cell Orchestra. Like its predecessor, this one's worth looking for.
ANECHOIC, Heavenly Music Corporation (Silent SR9599; 61:22), 1995. Recorded in the carcass of a gutted mainframe computer, Kim Cascone's latest work as HMC is a gritty, edgy new collection of background process musings. Following upon LUNAR PHASE (an ethereal trip to electric heavens), this work dives down deep into a buried realm of raving circuits. "Designed to be listened to at a low level in a set of headphones," ANECHOIC is virtual loop music that seems to go on in a session of impending, cyclical regeneration. The stages are alive with cascades of scintillating sounds, as if the current were yearning to run beyond limits of memory, leading to some form of synergistic release. ... Pretty poetic stuff, but so is ANECHOIC -- an album of patient, throbbing mystery. You don't listen TO it, you listen IN it.
BORN OF EARTH'S TORMENTS, 23 Degrees (Silent SR9597; 59:15), 1995. Silent Records is consistently stretching the boundaries of its space and ambient heritage with unusual trance music; this release is another fine example. 23 Degrees lays down some cool and unhurried dance music, peppered with reserved moments of serenity. The title song, particularly, is really hypnotic; I also liked "Beyond Oahu" and "Going Fast."
CLASSIC MUSIC FOR CONTEMPLATION, Various Artists (Celestial Harmonies 13123-2; 77:05), 1994. This CD couldn't be any longer, nor could it be more entrancing. Before there was space music, before there was ambient music,... there was the contemplative element of conventional music, what we now call "classical." In the Adagio series, producers have been assembling the hypnotic, soulful strains of the past and renewed our acquaintanceship with them. This album features the finest I know of, including Vivaldi's eerie "Et in Terra" from his Gloria, and the adagio from W.A. Mozart's "Clarinet Concerto in A Major," which Giorgio Moroder used so skillfully in his AMERICAN GIGOLO soundtrack. Also recognizable is Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," which Oliver Stone burned in the mass media's consciousness in PLATOON. Originally written as part of an uncompleted string concerto, Barber's adagio has never been done better than the treatment that the Kronos Quartet gave it on the excellent WINTER WAS HARD (Nonesuch 79181; 1988). Like these, many of the selections here may be familiar, and the album may achieve the reminiscent appeal of tuning in your favorite classical radio station. This collection goes deeper, though, focusing on music that avails a reflective mood. Delving deeper into the intimate side of symphonic music, this release is ideal for the fast-approaching holiday season, both as gift ... and inspirational accompaniment.
DEEPER THAN SPACE, Current (Flask/Silent SR9594; 75:38), 1995. The blurry line between the music form and their progenitors, ambient (space, minimalist, musique concrete) and trance (dub, rave, disco), get really fuzzy when listening to a trippy album like DEEPER THAN SPACE. The track "Uncomfortable To Be Alone" keeps the beat, and keeps it strong, through twelve minutes of slowly developing anxiety that seems to leak from a radio telescope.
DUNIYA (the intrinsic passion of mysterious joy), Loop Guru (Waveform 85103-2; 68:49), 1995. Inhabiting that netherworld between spacey dance music and world music sampling across borders, Loop Guru (collaborators Salman Gita and Jamuud) irradiates this CD with a selection of tracks by turn sleepy and womb-throbbing. On tracks like "Through Cinemas" and "Under Influence," the group lays down strong backbeats, adds unusual melodic strains and colors, and blends the songs into a lush setting of multilayered instrumentation. On some tracks, I'll hear sitar and opera, coinciding in a warp of musical kinship; each hybrid song is eclectic and smooth-running. The result is provocative and sweet. Ending the CD is a long-long ambient piece that gets into the soul of DUNIYA, "The Third Chamber (Part 4)." This US debut release is strange and beautiful ... and inspirationally original.
EMIT ECAPS, Spacetime Continuum (Astralwerks ASW-6147-2; 63:36), 1996. Previously this Northern California group collaborated with Terrence McKenna on ALIEN DREAMTIME, a spicy recording of a live performance that must've been phenomenal to attend. This time out, they're bringing a more fast-paced urge to disc, polishing the groovy synths and floating spaces to a metallic sheen. A nice little intro to trance/techno alloys, very well mixed, too.
ENDLESS 2, various artists (Manifold MANCD04; 79:59), 1995. Following up on the first volume, Producer Vince Harrigan here brings together an electric ensemble of dark, disturbing ambient music. Featured artists include Controlled Bleeding, Thomas Köner, Mandible Chatter (whose gothic GRACE is also out on Manifold), Null, Robert Rich, Steve Roach and Voice of Eye, all of whose music comes together in an assortment of rather stark, industrial space music. The effect is chilling. This is some of the finest of the finest.
ESCAPE TANK, (Instinct Ambient AMB:008-2; 59:18), 1995. ... TO ABORT TRANSMISSION, control-X (Matt Haines) (Instinct Ambient AMB:009-2; 67:18), 1995. Two great albums from the Ambient Central Casting department at Instinct. ESCAPE TANK is one of the best ambient albums I've heard all year -- smooth, eerie, and stately like a glacier. The opening track is an epic: it begins with a ominous beat and exhilarating urgency, then slips into a hypnotic pulse that seems to last forever. The entire album contains only three, extended tracks; it's a dreamlike adagio, one that's haunted me long after I've played it. CONTROL X TO ABORT TRANSMISSION is a more lively suite of cosmic ramblings, short and sweet. I particularly liked "Tango Uniform," which is startlingly like the final "growth" theme from THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN; Matt assures me he'd never thought of the film while recording it, but we established that he HAD seen it long, long ago. It probably stuck in his subconscious. The album has that feeling, actually ... music dredged up from a vivid imagination.
EVENT HORIZON, various artists (City of Tribes COTCD-009; 45:43), 1995. A splendid riff of ethno-ambient music from the San Francisco-based City of Tribes label. This compilation brings together a wide array of world music, trip-hop, rock-influenced folk and such, into a mellow excursion of late-night music that can be sipped ... or danced to. The music reflects influences from New York ghettoes, Middle Eastern rifts, and beyond, with pieces featuring Beth Custer, Robin Guthrie, Stephen Kent and Kenneth Newby (whose ECOLOGY OF SOULS can be found on the Fathom/Hearts of Space label). Another reason why the Northern California community is one of the world's music hot spots ... and City of Tribes one of its best kept secrets. EVENT HORIZON is the place where all times and dialects intersect into one soulful, ambient panoply.
FRONTIER, Frontier (Humboldt Pie ; 73:19), 1995. This independent release is a sly CD. Based on subtle, gradually- developing guitar feedback, it launches a slow soliloquy into an industrial void. Oscillations and mechanical hums dance and overlap on the CD's single track. It's filled with late night ringing of metallic chords, solemn and lonely. Spirits of steel and electricity chirp and thrum from within the spare, cardboard packing. This isn't tame stuff to accompany dinner.
HEARTSONGS, Zach Davids (Ivory Moon Recordings IMRD6800; 60:42), 1995. This young man's last recording, IVORY WINGS (his debut on Ivory Moon), was a stunning example of talent enveloping and guiding the execution. This sophomore effort, written as part of a major exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, lives up to the promise I sensed in IVORY WINGS: a poetic, understated style of contemporary piano interlude. Each piece is a gem ... and the album is a crisp, original recital of intimate music. Highly recommended.
A HOLE OF UNKNOWN DEPTH, PGR (Silent SR9602; 36:28), 1996. A collection of dark, minimalist sketches from ambient maven Kim Cascone. These suites are a perfect complement to his more aggressive ANECHOIC (recorded as the Heavenly Music Corporation, also on Silent), though more reclusive. It's a soft, metallic work, well-oiled and humming, beckoning the user into a grotto of half-sleeping entities. Music like this should've been around when Kubrick filmed 2001.
INNER RUNES, The Tunnel Singer (Self-released LES-0001; 54:59), 1995. Northern Californian singer Lee Ellen Shoemaker has been performing improvisational songs of ambient voice in and around the resonant spaces of San Francisco and Marin County, particularly some acoustically "live" tunnels. Recorded by Hearts of Space collaborator Bob Ohlsson in the Exploratorium's Sound Column exhibit, this CD has a clear, penetrating presence, and Lee's vocal sensitivity is at times miraculous. Though the idea wears thin on some tracks, there's plenty of indication here of interesting work to come.
IXLANDIA, Jonn Serrie (Miramar 09006-23067-2; 53:00), 1995. Space music pioneer Jonn Serrie deftly balances the juxtaposed realms of electronic romantic music and space music. His albums have been huge successes, and his name is almost synonymous with space music. In his PLANETARY CHRONICLES albums, the depth and mystery of space and dangers lurking there are ever so lightly inferred, just out of reach, allowing our awe to keep disbelief suspended. And once again, in this "sister album" to MIDSUMMER CENTURY, Serrie summons a mellow vision of a near parallel, fantastic world that feels like our own. (Both feature evocative cover paintings by artist Michael Whelan.) The opening, lyrical introduction to IXLANDIA reminds me of pristine sci-fi stories, wherein characters didn't really have too many troubles to distract them from the essential questions of the human soul. A dream of the future that reached a pinnacle at the 1939 World's Fair, in a startling prescient vision of "the future." Technology and spirituality coexist in the future of Serrie's music. But as the night sky descends from the heavens, the unswept attic of the imagination beckons, and the album becomes more introspective, more enigmatic. Extended cuts like "Starport Indra" and "The Tachyon Directive" will please old fans of classic space music ... and those who like their ambient music unfettered by ornamentation ... or melodrama.
MAGIC OF HEALING MUSIC: VATA (relaxing), PITTA (calming), KAPHA (invigorating), Bruce BecVar and Brian BecVar (Shining Star Productions SSP 122, 123, 124; 39:54, 37:25, 37:35), 1995. Working with Deepak Chopra, Bruce BecVar composed these three albums to aid in the healing process, but they attain their resonance on a spiritual plain. Recording with his brother Brian, BecVar has composed three albums that aid in physical healing as envisioned by Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda prescribes that patients spend time each day enjoying Vedic music; the tradition is alive and well in the improvised ragas of classical Indian music. These CDs each focus on a single dosha.
THE MAGNIFICENT VOID, Steve Roach (Hearts of Space/Fathom HS11062-2; 69:35), 1996. With this release on the Fathom label, Steve Roach is perfectly complementing last fall's Robert Rich/B. Lustmord album STALKER. Where STALKER was hard, THE MAGNIFICENT VOID is yielding; where STALKER has a presence, THE MAGNIFICENT VOID is a vacuum. It's dark, with a airy quality; as the CD progresses, the album drifts deeper into a center without substance -- a void. In his Projekt release, WELL OF SOULS (with Vidna Obmana; Projekt PRO60), Roach developed an extended exploration of an subterranean purgatory; in KIVA (with Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger; Hearts of Space HS11056-2), he opened up the secret songs of Earthly passion to thundering skies. In THE MAGNIFICENT VOID, he takes us higher still, into a unseen space, feeling the power of an presence that neither inhabits space nor disturbs it. As Roach continues developing his own brand of ambient music, his leitmotifs become more distince, and yet harder to describe. (When I review his music, I'm overcome by a strong desire to just write, "Oh, go get it, it's great stuff.")
NUMINOUS ISLAND, Mantaray (Silent SR9592; 64:14), 1995. This is a fascinating and gleaming album: instrumental sounds from around the globe are morphed and folded into this rapturous suite. The ambient tableau serves as a backdrop for dreamlike melodies and indistinct vocals, conjuring up a retreat to a mysterious, remote tabernacle. Like Michael Stearns' THE LOST WORLD, this suite sweeps the listener away to a remote site wherein mystical passions run deep. The flow of the album is almost episodic, taking you through a series of audio vignettes, higher into a point of penultimate peace. Some moments, like "Anima Mundi" and "Enlightenment," reverberate in my imagination long after the disc has stopped spinning. This is one of the best to come out of Silent records in a long time.
PARADIGM SHIFT, Mark Dwane (Trondant/Orbian Music MD0120; 39:03), 1995. Mark Dwayne has a real touch for romantic space music with killer backbeats. His previous release, THE ATLANTIS FACTOR, was a mainstay on my carousel for I don't know how long. This CD delivers more of the same relaxed, cool space music that drifts out of the hi-fi with all the assurance of a finely tuned sports car. Mark's name can be spoken in the same breath with established masters like Jonn Serrie, and Tangerine Dream.
SALOME, Michael Uyttebroek (Mjjkael Music MMCD 110; 51:37), 1995. Years after I was astounded by his percussion- based releases, DISTANT DRUMS APPROACH (1991) and CIRCLE (with Spirit Drummers)(1993), Michael Uyttebroek returns with SALOME, a somber work of art that enveloped me in a shroud of contemplation and subtlety. Taking a respected place alongside other modern chamber composers who feature piano, like Tim Story (BEGUILED, THE PERFECT FLAW, Hearts of Space), Mychael Danna (SKYS, Hearts of Space), Roedelius and even Brian Eno, SALOME is a quiet whisper, a hushed soliloquy that eases off the digital platter with startling grace. Even more remarkable ... the album was improvised live, in an hour and a half recording session. SALOME is a captured moment of delicate reverie.
SWARM OF DRONES, Various artists (Sombient/Asphodel 0953; 144:39), 1995. This follow-up release to Sombient's magnificent THRONE OF DRONES is just as appealing, with twice as much great music. The approach is a quirky, iconoclastic introduction to music as noise and static, with each contributor adding a different spice into the stew of an unusual audio experience. Vidna Obmana, Steve Roach and Robert Rich all open the album with characteristic resonance, but the two-CD set features some unfamiliar names, and some really unique music. Of particular value are tracks by Insect Funeral ("Calming Sorrow") and Aloof Proof ("The Ghost Ship"); these are some of the best new voices I've heard in quite some time. Also worth listening to is another dark piece by Jeff Greinke ("Below"), following up on his "Low Ceiling" track on THRONE; other contributors include Robert Fripp, Lull, Iso Ambient Orchestra and Gregory Lenszycki. The variety of music runs from the deep, dark ambient to skittering, anarchic music reminiscent of John Corigliano's score for ALTERED STATES. In all, this set (and the three-CD set expected in Spring 1996) is a prize collection of contemporary music.
SYNAESTHETIC, A Positive Life (Waveform 85104-2; 69:48), 1995. Another driving, moving collection of music well- suited for the wetwired jockeys of the 'Net of the future. The disc launched rather mellow and calm, but insidiously built to a mesmerizing rush of side-slipping trance, ornamented with didjeridu, bamboo flute and other far-flung influences. Jacking in to this music would make any toil a little more to my liking. After a hard day on the modem, though, comes hang time, and this is complemented by the dreamy cut "Aquasonic." "Dedicated to the children and ancestors of dub," this is the album for a dance party or workaholic burn session.
THREE A.D., various artists (Waveform 86101-2; 73:02), 1996. This third compilation of ambient/dub artists has a decidedly danceable quality to it. Some tracks even skip into the trip-hop scheme of things, without losing the spacey heritage that Waveform is rooted in. This is a nice little party album, perky and appealing.
TRISTESSE, Paul Sauvanet (Hearts of Space HS11057-2; 52:20), 1995. Sauvanet's previous album on the Rubicon label, ELEUSIS, was a gentle masterpiece of ambience. This new release on HOS takes a more classical approach, a chamber piece for contemporary space music fans yearning for something classical. Similar in vein to other recent HOS CDs by Tim Story (THE PERFECT FLAW) and Danna and Clement (NIAGARA), TRISTESSE is an admirable addition to a growing library of contemporary suites for those hooked on the adagio.
THE WAY OUT IS THE WAY IN, Audio Active and Laraaji (Gyroscope/Caroline GYR 6615-2; 55:17), 1995. An interesting diversion: Japanese ambient dub group Audio Active remixes Laraaji's unique, meditational ambient music into a new trance album. Sometimes effective, otherwise too cute, the effect is a hip-moving dance album with a underbelly of mythic daydreaming, a mixture of Trip-hop, trance, Acid jazz, and ambient dub. Drawing from material from FLOW GOES THE UNIVERSE and DAY OF RADIANCE, plus unreleased tapes and material, it features Laraaji's signature sounds: electro-zither, kalimba, and his unmistakable (and contagious) laugh.
-- D.B. Spalding
D.B. Spalding is a cross-media “infopreneur”: columnist, reviewer, producer, consultant and online content developer. He writes frequently about music, film, computing and the mass- and multimedia. Many of his articles can be found on the World Wide Web at www.korova.com.
Astralwerks c/o Caroline, 114 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001 e-mail: email@example.com
C&S Records, 166 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010 fax: 212-675-4826
Celestial Harmonies, PO Box 30122 Tucson, Arizona 85751 fax: 602-326-3333 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Tribes, 3025 - 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 Web: http://www.cot.com
Caroline, 114 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001
Hearts of Space, PO Box 31321, San Francisco, CA 94131 fax: 415-759-1166 e-mail: email@example.com Web: http://www.hos.com/
Humboldt Pie, 1236 N. Campbell, Chicago, IL 60622 e-mail: U13908@uicvm.cc.uic.edu
Instinct, 26 West 17th St., Suite 502, New York, NY 10011 212-727-1360 fax 212-366-5979, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ivory Moon Recordings, 22 Rutgers Road, Wellesley, MA 02181 617-237-6686, fax 617-235-6789
Manifold, PO Box 12266, Memphis, TN 38182 e-mail: Soundcube@aol.com
Miramar, 200 Second Avenue West, Seattle, WA 98119-4204 Web: http://www.uspan.com/miramar
Mjjkael Music, PO Box 703, Station P, Toronto, ON Canada M5S 2Y4 fax: 416-925-9461
Shining Star Productions, c/o Gus Swigert Management, 1537 Fourth Street, Suite 197, San Rafael, CA 94901 e- mail: GSMGus@aol.com
Silent Records, 340 Bryant Street 3rd Floor East, San Francisco, CA 94107; e-mail: email@example.com; Web: http://www.iuma.com/silent
Orbian Music, PO Box 45131, Westlake, OH 44145-0131; available from Backroads Distributors, 1-800-767-4748.
Sombient / Asphodel, PO Box 51, Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113 fax 212-463-9423 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tunnel Singer (Lee Ellen Shoemaker), 236 West Portal Avenue #248, San Francisco, CA 94127
Waveform, PO Box 1905, Sedona, AZ 86339 USA fax: 520-204-1990 e-mail: email@example.com; To order, call Navarre Corp. 800-728-4000
Contact information for record labels whose material we've reviewed. (Updated periodically.)