Posts Tagged ‘soundscapes’

I’ve wanted to review an album by the prolific Jack Hertz for a while, and the timing of his latest album, “Speleo” is just right. Jack runs the Sound for Good netlabel, where profits from sales of downloads and CDs go to charity. Eagle-eyed readers may recall me talking about Sound for Good on my earlier review of William Spivey and Aos Crowley’s “Absence of Matter“. It’s notable that, in just four months, already the label has reached its sixth release.

The album’s notes state that the recordings “are inspired by and dedicated to the amazing subterranean worlds of the underground.” There are four tracks, ranging from 10 to nearly 17 minutes long. “Mineral Dreams” starts with a thin, reedy pipe; a slow minor chord draws out, and vocal textures are laid over a pulsating drone. The music is exceedingly atmospheric, transporting the listener into a descriptive environment in an effective way. Around 4:30, soft synth notes percolate the air like the glint of crystals. The track shimmers along, an occasional repetitive motif fading in and out after 10 minutes or so. The second cut, “Dusk at Stalagmite Forest” is eerie; a high chord is pitchbent across the soundfield, to be overlaid by uncertain synth voices which hang suspended in the air; a distant bat/bird-like call can be heard from time to time. The track has a great air of loneliness.

“Endless Cavern” has a gorgeous opening, jagged synths tinkling and jangling over luscious thick pads. Long notes shoot off into the darkness, disappearing quickly into the cavern’s void. There’s fabulous use of the stereo soundfield here. Around 4:30, everything seems to tilt sideways and then rebalances itself again. Coils and springs dance around the periphery like sprites. A gentle rhythmic pattern is introduced just after 8:30, driving the listener further forward. This one’s my own favourite; the whole album will bear repeated listening, though, as there’s so much to discover here. “Cave Pearls”, the final track, has breathy pads drifting across a two-chord structure. It has a warmer sound than the previous three, with vast, dense notes layered thickly atop a soft rhythmic pattern. A multitude of different tones, some open, some closed, create a huge sonic tapestry. It’s absolutely superb.

“Speleo” is a complex and rewarding journey, and I’ll certainly be revisiting it many times.

Label: Sound for Good   Cat: –   Artist: Jack Hertz   Price: NYP

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The collaborators on “Epoch” are very well known in the ambient and experimental music fields. Shane Morris is fluent with many percussion and wind instruments, and hardware and software synths. In addition, he co-owns and operates Ethereal Live. Thomas Park (aka Mystified and Mister Vapor) is a prolific musician in the ambient and atmospheric genres, and he also owns Treetrunk Records and its spinoff, Complex Silence.

Aside from this release, the artists have a huge wealth of back catalogue and experience in a number of genres, and are both gifted innovators. “Epoch” is described in the CD’s sleevenotes as being the first part of an epic trilogy entitled “Inspired Evolution”. Only acoustic instruments and sounds were used in the album’s production.

“Epoch” takes us across four geological time periods, initially to the “Cambrian Explosion”. Here, the listener is immersed in almost tangible primordial dampness and heat, with deep bass and long minor shifting drones. Uncertain shapes slither off at the sides; there is a sense of breath being taken for the first time. It’s extremely compelling listening, and a lovely taste of what’s to come. “Devonia”, the album’s longest cut, lays small seeds down under long, ominous notes which furl and unfurl like sonic rope. The soundscape beguiles the listener with a keening, hypnotic repeated motif hanging in the ether above rock-solid didgeridoo drones. Organic splashes and burbles signify the changes in the forms of terrestrial life. This music is incredibly visual; it’s almost as if we are watching a film. It’s a stunning track, and one which I’ve played again and again.

The shortest offering here, at just under nine minutes long, “Triassic Extinction” represents the end of the period of the same name, where at least half of the species on the planet became extinct. The music is sad and sorrowful, with metallic rings spinning to the left and right of empty, thin drones. Tiny organic sounds flounder in a huge, welling space. When the listener considers the events the music attempts to describe, it becomes a moving piece which seems to reflect the frailty of life against gargantuan forces. It’s very thoughtfully done, and extremely evocative.

The final cut, “Jurassic Dawn”, heralds a time of positive change for the earth; we are now in the age of reptiles, which of course includes the dinosaurs. Vast changes take place in the music compared with the previous tracks. Sounds representative of birds and small mammals are here, but it’s impossible to ignore the presence of large, lumbering creatures, their heavy footsteps thudding as they roam across the ground. Open major drones hint at the potential ahead as this period dawns. There is no stasis here; the music morphs and evolves, widening out descriptively as new forms of life are introduced. The percussive footsteps of the dinosaurs provide percussion, but with no rhythm. A didgeridoo raises uncertain calls as it explores its new world of activity amongst the changing shapes of nature’s novel creations.

I have to confess I’ve never experienced music quite like this before. It would be very easy to use the word cinematic, but that simply would not do justice to what is effectively film drawn in sound. It’s an utterly stunning album, and I cannot wait to hear what the duo conjures up next.

Many thanks to Thomas for supplying me with a promo copy of the album.

Label: Lotuspike   Cat: LSM23   Artist: Shane Morris & Mystified   Price: $$

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I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Encomiast before. The collective’s membership varies; they have released over a dozen albums, and have also been involved in film music and occasional live performances. “Gravity Is Very Compelling” was created out of incidental music and sounds created for a production of Sarah Ruhl’s play “Eurydice“. It’s a single piece of music, just over half-an-hour long, which the artist states “attempts to roughly parallel the play’s 3-movement plot structure, moving from our world, to the underworld, and finally to the tragic meeting of [Orpheus and Eurydice]”.

Our story begins with gently lapping waves, which are joined by a subtle chord progression of pads that open the track out into an almost angelic beginning. The pads thicken and swell, and a muted choir adds to the density, creating giant slabs of sustained, languorous beauty. The pads and voices move in and out of step, and the pattern repeats itself slowly, building and ever-shifting in an expectation of what’s to come.

We progress to a change: a shift from our world to the underworld. Discordant, distressed voices begin to appear above the shimmering sound of the pads and choir. Minor chords begin to appear mirrored with what sounds like filtered white noise. Rain, perhaps. A distant thunderclap, and rumbling. The constant noise is louder, drowning out the opening sequence. Occasional quiet clicks accompanied by static echo across the soundfield, like valves opening and closing; almost intakes of breath. Around the halfway mark, everything moves off-kilter, as though we’re physically sliding downwards. Long, dark ambient chords transfix us in a fearful place.

Some resistance is met again by the influx of the brighter voices from the first part. A whirling sound speeds up and slows down again, and the darkness has almost gone. The listener is placed in a vantage point to prepare to witness the couple’s tragic end. A bell strikes, while distant string plucks begin behind the sound of water droplets. The sounds start a slow fade, punctuated by a chime and bowls. We’re in a desolate space. There is no music, only sound. Very slowly, luscious chords are introduced. The waves are lapping again, as we fade towards the play’s conclusion.

Gravity is, indeed, very compelling, as is Encomiast’s elegant, descriptive soundtrack.

Label: Vuzh Music   Cat: VUZH035   Artist: Encomiast   Price: Free

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The netlabel We Are All Ghosts, based in Motherwell, Scotland, launched in April 2012. They’ve released two albums to date; this was their first.

Cousin Silas’s “The Path Between the Trees” opens with “In One Corner of the Sky (Jupiter Sings)”, which has some lovely stereo cracks and glitches overlaid on peaceful piano, and immediately gives feelings of innocence and fresh, icy air. “Of Ancient Ways” has electric guitar and piano, set in a wide space, occasionally overlaid with children’s voices; again, some nice stereo delay washes across the soundfield. The two opening tracks are both soundscapes rather than ambient music. “Beneath the Foundations” definitely is the latter, though, and it’s dark, too; dense, and probably best not listened to alone in the dark. Prepare to be startled a couple of times during this one.

The title track leads us on something of an ambient journey, and evokes its name well. “Rediscovered” is the first music on the album that has a percussive rhythm, and it carries a lopsided, almost cinematic feel to it, with clear guitar over a muffled piano. “Strange Qualities” spans across the album’s half-way point, and is eerie, claustrophobic, and once again very dark, with snatches of grim, almost demonic processed speech. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling, which is just how it should be. In contrast, “Lost Images” starts with a clear, almost hymn-like piano, overlaid with relaxed electric guitar notes which seem to offer answers to the questions posed by the piano. It’s very easy on the ear, and very restful.

On “The Sealing of the Pothole”, we’re drawn back into territory similar to “Beneath the Foundations”. Deep bass rumbles of dark ambience drag the listener down with their gravity, while alien chatter heightens the experience of being dissociated from our everyday surroundings. The second of two rhythmic tracks, “Diversions”, is a moody, bluesy and almost conventional diversion. Finally, we close with “Lowland”, where comfortable electric guitar merges with some Fripp-ish overlay and little backwards sounds. Fascinating. It’s a very pretty end to an interesting mesh of light and darkness. I look forward to hearing what else the label has in store for us.

Label: We Are All Ghosts   Cat: WAAG_REL001   Artist: Cousin Silas   Price: Free

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