Miscellaneous Music Reviews Two

A collection of electronic music reviews.

Night Train - Window Spotting

Some geezer from Germany on some label (ISM) I've never heard of with lame cover art, the sort of cd you pick up, ponder, and put back down, then kick yourself six months later for not having bought it!

Imagine Speedy J in his more ambient moments ("Oil Rig") working with some slo-mo phased out post-jungle breaks (try Another Fine Day's "In Seven"), and you've got it. Really, I mean _really_ diverse and unique sounding compositions. Not dancefloor, not "intelligent", just really lush teek-tok-tik-takki-tuk breakbeat and swirling reverb-drenched keyboards that explore the vanishing point of digital delay. Very dub in its delay fetishism, but without any overt genre influence.

The first track, "maybe water", is the best ambient composition I've heard in a long time (and composition is the word here--rather than just letting the loops run their course, each piece shifts and moves over time, with a few twists and turns before arriving at the final destination) : faraway wet echo-drops, a buzzing bit of bass, liquid phased-out panoramic percussion, subliminal keyboard whoops that sound like pygmy chants, a cascading breakbeat that slashes through the middle of the piece, everything disappears, then a final return to the still, dripping place from the beginning.

Rather than sampling running water, Mr. Nighttrain has processed the entire piece to take on the characteristics of liquid. The last track, "Nu 177", sounds like (seriously) Nicky Skopelitis playing the desert blues backed by LTJ Bukem after an afternoon in a flotation tank, what an album! (Although you beat-phobic types should avoid.) Exhibit A in the argument that the ideas offered up by jungle/drum 'n' bass will prove to be more lasting and useful than the current rigid specifics the music has degenerated into. Brilliant work, Ambient-Techno that abides by none of the "rules", now why is that so hard to do?

Pulusha - Isolation

Global Communication continue their maddening diversity and doppleganger-like adoption of new personalities with this one, "Isolation", under the name Pulusha, on their Universal Language label. The only clue to the ID of the creators here, for those not in the know, is the little "recorded in Chameleon Studios" credit.

While the last single under the name 'Global Communication" was, in fact, deep house, and a big surprise to their ambient fans, this single emerges from Universal Language, which is almost entirely dance-oriented in its output. There's not a beat to be found on "Isolation", however, this seems more like Global Comm. after putting aside a bottle of pills, and instead listening to some of This Mortal Coil's more suicidal moments, or perhaps the beatific melancholy of Eno's "The Ending (Ascent)" from "Apollo".

Not down-tempo, just - down.

This is not far removed from the sad serenity of "12:18" or their remix of "Rollercoaster", so this is the first "real" Global-ambient track in quite a while. Dark descending chords, hovering breathy synth pads, some meandering electric piano, and spectral choir-like vocals (from Opus III's Kirsty, I believe), kinda like the voices on Namlook & Atmo's "Silence", all combine to create an almost funereal gloom. Goth-ambient anyone? This is certainly close to what used to be called "ethereal", and certainly wouldn't sound out of place on Projekt.

The same sequence of chords recurs again and again, with variations in emphasis, texture, and harmony --overall, the effect is one of stillness, and an vague sense of loss. Gorgeous, lush, and haunting, Pulusha has an almost homeopathic effect, for some reason, music this sad always manages to seem comforting when you're down. The only complaint about "Isolation" is that they should have released it six months earlier, or later, this is truly music for a cold, grey autumn afternoon, with dead leaves tossing in the breeze.

Tenkoo Orchestra - Heaven In The Koo

The first encounter I had with this group was their powerful and riveting performance in the chill-tent at last year's Rainbow 2000 Festival. An all-acoustic, seven-member line-up, performing deep ambient and overtone explorations on a variety of Asian instruments and voice. Think an all-Asian Popul Vuh, minus the piano, and you'll be getting close.

TUU is another point of reference that's not far off.This album was recorded live, with the only studio gimmickry being some nicely deployed blankets of reverb, but don't let that trick you into thinking this is some kind of "folk" music --while using a number of acoustic instruments from different traditions, they are all used to create deep, meditative ambient, full of resonant textures. The key point of interest here is the group interaction, the subtlety and restraint with which members introduce certain parts, and build and develop them with each other. This is something that's largely missing from much ambient, and it's thrilling to hear it here.

The album presents five tracks:

1. Ten (Cosmic Space)
2. Tsuki (moon)
3. Mizu (Water)
4. Hi (fire)
5. Koo (air)

Ten begins with the pure tone of a Tibetan singing bowl, out of which emerges some breathy and haunting bamboo flute by group leader Hiroki Okano. A low drum tone hints at time, while numerous overtones start to hover around the singing bowl --voices? Who knows. Strange whooshes and sweeps that you would swear were synths off the latest 'Shades Of Orion" album, but it's all acoustic phenomena.

Tsuki announces it's coming with a tamboura drone, and Mariko Katsura's voice comes in as clear as a bell. Trained in India, the style she employs here is a derivation of that: more overtone oriented, and abstract, but just as beautiful. Dropping long floating tones and sudden gulps over the drone, she's joined by Masahiro Bessho's tabla and more of Okano's drifting flute, with just a touch of sitar to add some color. An incredibly tranquil piece, it leaves you hanging with every extended note.

Mizu begins with another unidentifiable sound -- a dense cluster of notes, it sounds like a Japanese shomyo, but I couldn't say for sure. A stone flute howls above it, until it breaks and gives way to a minimalist kalimba riff, joined by low rippling tabla, waves, and more vocal drones. The track breaks and builds several times, reaching a new level of intensity: you can really hear the musicians listening to each other as this was being created :-masterful interplay. Imagine late 70s/early 80s Steve Reich if he had decided to follow improv instead of systems.

Hi opens with a blazing bouzouki and percussion riff, and the soundscape grows surreally wider as cascading sitar and a low rattling didg drone blast open the edges. Hiroki and Mariko trade soaring and euphoric vocal lines on top. At just under 4 minutes, this penultimate track serves as the peak.

"Koo" closes the album out with a long, meditative dreamscape - all tamboura overtones, autoharp glissandos, swandiving sitar slides, and a perfect sensation of weightless space. "ABoneCroneDrone" fans will recognise and appreciate this sonic space immediately. Drones are really integral to this album, but --like with a good Indian alaap-- Tenkoo weave other musical events in and out of this lush current of sound. This album proves any number of things --that acoustic instruments and group interaction most definitely have a place in ambient music, that many concepts and sounds long present in Asian music are inherently "ambient", and that ambient can be informed both in sound and approach by spirituality --in this case Buddhism-- and be richer for it.

These people are really serious about taking you somewhere with their music, and believe me, you can hear that on this album.

Spacetime Continuum - Remit Recaps

If you were a fan of last year's wonderful "Emit Ecaps" than you will very likely want to add this beauty to your collection. It is a series of 11 remixes of songs found on the aforementioned album. It is always cool to see how another person interprets your work and this is one of the finer examples of how a remix can enhance or completely change the face of the original track. The two tracks that stood out as being my favourites were the Herbert mix of "Movement #2" and Autechre’s brilliant take on "String of Pearls." As well as these two mixes there are also stompers by Higher Intelligence Agency, Carl Craig, Subtropic, Velocette and Move-D. In all, these 11 tracks add up to some of the finer remix and production work I have heard lately. Anyone who likes to see well done examples of finely crafted remixes should look into this CD. It is a real treat!

Photek - The Hidden Camera

Anyone whose interest has been piqued by the recent surge of media attention to Drum and Bass will certainly want to snap up a copy of this kicker from Photek. It is an EP which contains 4 awesome tracks. K.J.Z. is a wonderful beginning to the CD with its relentless fat beats and swelling bass. The title track appears in two forms on the disc, the original version and the static mix. Both versions are really well done and you would be hard pressed to notice that the two are variations on the same track. Sometimes when you buy an EP, you get multiple mixes of the same track and by track three or four you are bored silly. Well, that certainly isn’t the case here. The EP’s final cut Hybrid is a nice fusion of intense, pounding rhythm and well placed sound effects and noises. Overall, Photek is one of the brighter lights in the drum and bass scene right now. I can only say one bad thing about this record. It isn’t long enough. I need more! I have heard that Photek will soon release a full length album and this excites me.

Tales - Pictures of Asia

Tales, the name utilized by Jean-Luc Herv Berthelot for his latest musical incursions, is one of the most interesting representatives of the kind of electronic music that is currently being done. Although its author confesses his having been influenced by Vangelis, Eno and others, his work appears to have a well defined style that no doubt will attract even the purists of these kinds of music.

Tales, in Pictures of Asia, utilizes keyboards and guitars to shape about ten themes of an atmospheric and rhythmic kind, quite pleasant to listen to. Inspired in this occasion by the Eastern landscape, the author devotes his compositions to such interesting themes as the Silk Road, the Ganges, the famous Yeti, etc.

This is then, a record with interesting electronic textures, sequences (non-computerized ones) and even meditative sonic passages. It always is pleasant to listen to well elaborated, varied sounds, giving the impression that the musician possesses an excellent mastery of his instruments.

Hopefully, Pictures of Asia will allow him to cross some frontiers and his work will come to be more widely known. No doubt he deserves so.

Zeta - Unfinished

Back in 1991 Zeta started playing the Phoenix underground scene, successfully resisting the pressures of the marketplace by using synths and loops in a town that wanted something more mundane, generic. The determination paid off as Unfinished ably demonstrates.

From the first track there is an identity prevalent, a unique signature, that only occurs when a band has a vision and defines the parameters to ensure that every track is Zeta. To that end unusually active drum and synth bass tracks combine with trippy ambient synth pads to set the scene for most of the songs. The vocals complete the picture, with a Sylvianesque eloquence, dripping at times with a holier than thou attitude that works extremely well with the dark pop back tracks.

New, the first track, uses intelligently programmed bass AND sub-bass lines that move throughout both of the two specific parts of the song, and as with most tracks a theme is introduced before the vocals come in. At times, especially on Transcend and One Day You Will, this opening line tends to sound as if it was designed to sound un-obvious for the sake of it, kind of throwing in an off note to make it more original, but as soon as the song starts proper it suddenly makes sense, although the vocal line does seem forced to go places it shouldn't really be forced to go.

Lifted is one of two instrumental tracks on the album, it includes a brief but evocative female narrative midway through which gives it a film soundtrack feel. Again, a note is fitted into the second of two synth loops that doesn't seem to fit but I'm beginning to suspect that this is not unintentional, I actually like the way these weird notes are used. Gift follows, another radio hopeful that deserves to be heard by multitudes. Reprise like, it remains dreamy but has its dance rhythm track to generate impetus. The string pads on the chorus work very well with the transparent layers of analogue frosting, I particularly like the interplay between the lead lines, textures/sound effects and pads throughout the album.

Various brief sound bites penetrate the opening of End, the second of the two instrumentals and the final track. After its thematic opening a piano line introduces itself and carries the soundtrack to its conclusion. If you listen carefully long after the song is finished a mysterious voice can be heard uttering religious invocations from beyond a sensuous misting of sound.