Monday, June 1, 2020
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Artist: John Puchiele Ensemble (@)
Title: Life Cycle
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Composer John Puchiele has been active for several decades doing live synthesizer-based performance scores for theatrical productions, film scores, recordings and ensemble performances. He was also a composer and performer with the Glass Orchestra. 'Life Cycle' seems to be the first recording by the John Puchiele Ensemble, an ambient orchestral sound allegory of the life cycle. Funny, I can't find the names of any other members of this ensemble nor can I find a website for the group's label ' Antediluvian Records, so I assume this CD is self-released and other member of the ensemble (if any) are anonymous. Over thirteen tracks the music is somewhat varied with ambient being a common thread but not the sole form of expression in 'Life Cycle'. 'from there to here' is reminiscent of an Eno-Harold Budd collaboration with smooth sustained drone strings and a lightly played minimal piano theme. 'first step' is all spacey strings in the sky which seems transitional. 'foundations' is a heavily chambered piano piece that conjures a certain emotional wistfulness. 'the big sky' is more elongated sky strings, like watching clouds drift by. 'thinking' employs multilayered sustained voices in chordal patterns, soothing, contemplative. 'second step' is another brief string-based piece with chord clusters billowing and colliding with some dissonance like a storm brewing. 'life gets busy I' starts out placidly enough with light string chords, then the strings spring to life with marcato technique in two-note base that is elaborated on and accented by the other string instruments. As more sections join in this becomes complex, with more parts being added. It's minimal/maximal ala the Philip Glass/Steve Reich school of classical composition. Taken by itself, the piece is really wonderful and spellbinding the way it grows and swells, but ambient purists may balk at being woken from their reverie. 'life gets busy II' has a similar take with lively piano(s) playing simple repeated phrases that grow more complex as parts are added. Another nice composition but hardly ambient, just very frenetic until it comes to a dead stop. 'third step' has lofty, airy sounds with a lot of harmonic resonance. 'climbing.' features sustained bowed strings that seem to drift but have a certain heaviness to them. 'N.D.E.' begins with low, sustained string chords joined in time by (wordless) heavenly choir that sneaks into the background, then a single bowed string saws through the clouds accompanied by the timbre of a higher instrument, and more and more lower and mid bowed strings, until only the higher registers remain ushered out on a cosmic wind. Muted, heavily reverbed smooth drones of different frequencies comprise 'the edge of infinity,' the most spaced-out section of 'Life Cycle'. 'from there to here' seems filled with both sadness and hope with a slow three-chord theme played on strings and a synth voice until it fades away.

I realize all I have done is describe the mechanics of 'Life Cycle' and ultimately how it resonates with the listener is its true test of merit. Some may find it achingly beautiful, others uneven and often melancholy. To me, it conveyed a variety of moods and emotions, some of which I couldn't help but be affected by. The 'New Classical' repetitive structures of the middle pieces are bound to raise some hackles on those who like their ambient music smooth and drifty, but such is life. Everyone needs a break from placidity. Sometimes you just have to mix things up a bit.