Music Reviews

Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen: Toward The Horizon

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 10 2019
Artist: Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen (@)
Title: Toward The Horizon
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
To anyone acquainted with the more ethereal side of electronic music, the name Craig Padilla should certainly be familiar. He has quite a large catalogue of releases going all the way back to 1990. The last thing I heard from him and reviewed here was his 2017 collaboration with Howard Givens, 'Being of Light,' an absolutely splendid ambient work. Padilla has been known to partner-up with some great collaborators over the years, and this one with guitarist Marvin Allen is no exception. If you could imagine Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour working with Tangerine Dream, that might give some clue to the music you could expect on 'Toward The Horizon'. It is expansive space music with some space rock overtones, soaring well above the stratosphere into regions you've only dreamed of visiting.

The album opens deceptively with some texturally rich languid chords from Allen's guitar echoing around, suffused with Padilla's synthmosphere, and you figure this is just going to be one floaty, placid trip. Then the sequencer sneaks in, and now we have a rhythm going. Allen's guitar takes flight and suddenly it's "whoa! I've got to crank this mother up!" Everything's cookin', everything's groovin', this is what I came here for. This is the rocket ride we’ve been longing to take! At over 17 minutes the title track of this album is still too brief. It could have gone on for 30. Hell of an opener though; got my attention. Padilla conjures some gentle but heady ethereal atmosphere in "Distant Waves," and Allen's guitar sonics are way more expansive than what you'd expect from a guitar. Things are comparatively more tempestuous on "Tidal Disruption" (another long track at 13 minutes) at first, until the rhythmic sequerncer kicks in, with Allen's guitar skirting the nether regions. Then it begins to rock, and I mean ROCK! This ain't no new age nonsense, this is SPACE ROCK baby and I'm all in! Once again, this track could have gone on for 30 minutes and I'd still be digging it. It does mellow out before it finally concludes, but that's as it should be.

Somehow Padilla and Allen's sounds work very well together, almost as if they've known each other for years and years, which they actually have. The depth of the environment of "Beneath The Surface" is simply breathtaking in its boundless cosmic vibrancy, where layer upon layers gives you the aura of the infinite. Seriously, this is beyond huge, and the changes over time are simply sublime. I wasn't so sure about "Hidden," which opens with an organy-harmonium like pad that didn't seem in keeping with what I had heard so far. That didn't last long though before giving way to burbling synths and galactic guitar. Man, that guitar sound is vast and humungous, like something conjured up from the primordial ooze. It's quite a contrast with Padilla's delicate synthwork, and that's what makes it fit together so well here.

The last track, "Liquid Heaven" lives up to its name but lacks the impact of anything that went before it. As it is the shortest track on the album at 4:35, you can just consider it a chiller to cushion your reentry to terra firma. I understand this is Marvin Allen's first foray into the world of ambient, but he acquits himself admirably on ‘Toward The Horizon’ as if he were a master in the genre. I'd be game for another team-up with this dynamic duo if they were so inclined; perhaps something even more space rock oriented and less ambient. (I know there's a market for it.) In the meantime this is a worthy and highly recommended effort.

Vidna Obmana: The Surreal Sanctuary / The Contemporary Nocturne

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 10 2019
Artist: Vidna Obmana
Title: The Surreal Sanctuary / The Contemporary Nocturne
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
After the release of "The Trilogy", Zoharum releases a new reissue of albums by Vidna Obmana and this time is from the mature, and almost final, part of his discography. This two album are both form 2000 and features the the guest appearance of Steve Roach, Jim Cole and Joris De Backer. It's not clear if they were recorded together or it's simply a coincidence that the same guests appeared on both release but it's certain that they are based on almost the same musical framework but with a slightly different form.
This two releases are presented as classical music as all tracks are identified by their name but also, in an unconventional way for this genre, by the instruments used as this particularly significative of the process behind "The Surreal Sanctuary" as it sounds as an opus in seven movements rather than a collection of tracks. The seven track of this release are not simply mixed to give the impression of an uninterrupted musical flux but are based on a concept of ambient music where drone is both a glue that tie together the musical elements and the scope of development; there's anything static in this release even when nothing except drone is used. "The Contemporary Nocturne" is instead a collection of eight tracks that spans from the short tune for fujara of "Duel" to the long multifaceted drone of "The Path Downwards" which explore many timbres and instruments to obtain a remarkable sound complexity as in this album the difference between the tracks are more emphasized.
It's not pointless, even if not original, to notice the importance of the work by Dirk Serries in the evolution of ambient music and how he evolved his music throughout time. This is rather different music than in "The Trilogy", it's more complex and even experimental in some moments when he search some escape routes from the canon of the genre. Highly recommended.

Yann Novak: Scalar Fields

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 06 2019
Artist: Yann Novak
Title: Scalar Fields
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Room40
These two almost-exactly-twenty-minute works are the sound elements from audiovisual installations, initiated in 2013, where both the picture and the sound are driven by an interest in stretching time to such an extent that any change is so gradual as to be barely perceptible. Everything appears static at first glance, and only by returning to it minutes later do you see that anything has shifted. Though it’s not made expressly clear in the notes I’ve got, it appears that the video is a supremely slow change in colour tone and gradient- hence the names “yellow, blue, yellow” and “orange, blue, orange”, which also appear to have titles where the colours are expressed hexidecimally. It appears to be a very digital and technical exercise.

And so it is with this detached sound. Supremely soft and mellow synthetic pads of sound, afforded no sense of origin either in the concept notes or the sound itself, where different elements of windy, hollow and hum tones meander forwards and backwards with a resolute slowness. Twenty minutes ends up feeling like an arbitrary extraction of sonic landscapes that could theoretically last hours or days, with no beginning or end, loops that never actually repeat, and so on.

There’s not a lot to distinguish the two pieces either, with the second piece “orange, blue, orange” perhaps marginally deeper and yet also slightly warmer, but the abstraction is so absolute that it becomes hard to differentiate between genuine sonic variation and the reflections of your own thoughts and moods occurring alongside.

Uneventful by design, this is a comforting and soporific sonic wallpaper of a kind of which I’m very fond.

raison d'être & Troum: XIBIPIIO. In And Out Of Experience

 Posted by eskaton   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: raison d'être & Troum (@)
Title: XIBIPIIO. In And Out Of Experience
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Transgredient Records (@)
Rated: *****
I have been listening to both raison d’être and Troum for about 20 years now, so I was incredibly excited to hear what these two artists would do together. According to the liner notes, “This is the second part of the collaboration that started with “De Aeris In Sublunaria Influxu”, released 2015. A creation of 9 separate “worlds,” existing only at the moment you immerse into it,” and that this album consists of “raison d'être sound sources used and processed by Troum 2013-2017 (deranged and reframed, morphed and transformed).” The album opens with “In Den Wellen, Ein Sehnen,” which is calm and soothing, like a choir of angels slowly singing a lullaby. “The Machine Starts To Sing” takes things in a different direction than I would have expected from either act. A beat comes in at semi-regular intervals to give it a sense of motion with an ominous atmosphere. Overall, this has an interesting, cinematic feel. In “Eigi Einhamr,” Troum is firmly in the driver’s seat. Waves of drone wash over the listener like waves of the sea, dissolving into ripples that become part of the next wave. “Ardaga,” on the other hand, shows Andersson’s influence, as low, glacial rumblings combine with high-pitched synth drone. In “Hang'-E-Lah,” bass strings strum, rattle, and resonate over an atmospheric soundscape, giving it an ominous feel. This is the point in the movie where the protagonist has entered the alien’s lair, but just before they are attacked. Next up, we have “Dreiklang Aus Äther,” a slow moving, melancholy piece; if you had told me that this was a new track by raison d’être, I would believe it. With “Ija-Kyl,” we’re back to with drone washes and just a hint of dissonance. On “Expulsion Of The False Self,” you know that Troum is the one putting this together. Walls of atmospheric drone, with pounding percussion throughout. As the track progresses, the percussion becomes increasingly intense, giving you the feeling of sitting on a runaway train. “Epõdós” closes out the disc with a good mix of Troum and raison d’être’s styles, and after the last track this sounds almost peaceful, with drone mixed with the sound of waves. With some collaborations like this, it can be easy to come to it with high expectations, only to be disappointed when it doesn’t live up. Thankfully, this is not the case here. This album is as beautiful as I would expect from two masters of their craft, and it was nice to see the different approaches peek through in the compositions. Highly recommended. This album weighs in at around 62 minutes.

Cordis Cincti Serpente: Cenobitorium

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 03 2019
Artist: Cordis Cincti Serpente
Title: Cenobitorium
Format: Tape
Label: Industrial Ölocaust Recordings (@)
This is my second encounter with Cordis Cincti Serpente, the dark ambient/esoteric occult project of Adrian Marcado from Bari, Italy, following 'Noo Yuggoth (Redux)' which I reviewed back in the summer of 2017. This work should have been reviewed much earlier than the present, but as so often with some things, this one "slipped through the cracks" so to speak, and got mixed in with the "already reviewed" pile when in actuality, it wasn't. Be that as it may, a brief refresher on this project is in order. The Latin-derived name Cordis Cincti Serpente is taken from the title of one of Aleister Crowley's Holy Books of Thelema, so you know magick is involved here. 'Cenobitorium' is derived from Cenobite, a term originally ascribed to a member of a monastic community, until Clive Barker co-opted it for his extradimensional demonic beings in the Hellraiser series. Considering the tone of this recording, I'm more inclined to go with the latter rather than the former.

While 'Noo Yuggoth' was Lovecraftian in nature, this is something completely different. It is a work in 3 parts (Cenobitorium I, II, III), 9:42, 13:06 and 23:24, respectively. Much of it is uncomfortable, and all of it is enigmatic. Right out of the gate you are confronted with clashing windchimes, an oppressive drone and squealing animal sounds (pigs, hogs, swine, maybe others). The drone turns buzzy and becomes even more oppressive. The squeals grow more frantic and might be representative of other animals as well. There is no convenient description or guide put out by label or artist for this work, so your imagination can run wild. Ritual slaughter? Inhumane symbolism? Who can say. The swine don't sound like they're having a good time though. Fortunately this is the shortest track, but it still seemed rather long to me.

Part 2 begins with a number of foley sounds (ordinary activity) difficult to identify in specific, interspersed with brief, thick slabs of low chords until a drone emulating an electric grindstone emerges between a cluster of random metallic sounds. That semi-piercing sharpening drone wears on the ears rather quickly, and eventually morphs into a different piercing pitch just as uncomfortable. That ceases about halfway through and you're left in a rather strange, unsettling electro-acoustic environment. The electric grindstone drone makes intermittent reappearances as well as other higher pitched piercing drones adding to the anxiety. The electronics which have been in the background up to this point become a rhythmic element, eventually petering out with muffled, manipulated voices trailing off. Part 3 is a dichotomy of being both the weirdest and most normal segment of this work. It's comprised of recurring sounds that include traffic; an intermittent but measured clanging bell (buoy warning?); a semi-garbled low pitched repetitious sequenced synth; unintelligible manipulated voices; an intermittent chordal string pad played lightly in the background; and other sonic rumblings. This goes on for 23+ minutes.

Merely describing the sounds doesn't do this work justice, but there's no other way I can think of to relate it. The work is so arcane that very few people are likely to be interested in it, so a release limited to 23 cassette copies (there may still even been some available) seems like the most practical idea. (Also consider the cryptic symbolism of the number 23.) While I can't see how 'Cenobitorium' would be good background music for working ritual magick, I can see how it would be inscrutable enough to interest some who might practice it. 'Cenobitorium' is a work which I refuse to rate (by number of stars) not because it is undeserving, but simply because it is unquantifiable.

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