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Kees Aerts "If One Door Closes Another Door Opens" (Groove Unlimited, 2008)

The door has finally opened for Kees to release a new solo CD after... how much? Let's say about 10 years, no less. This one here is basically a collection of rare and unreleased tracks from the 1990 - 2008 period. We kick off with "Undelivered Delivery" which first appeared on the now very rare E-Dition #1 sampler CD in 2004 and is based on an older piece from 1990. Street noises give way for a super fat analogue bass and a quirky melodic line. A rapid sequence starts as Kees improvises on an analogue synth. This is bright, crisp and positive EM. It's quite dynamic and propulsive. However, at 4 and half minutes it doesn't have enough time to fully develop and engulf you. Nice track however that could serve as corporate music for some airline company. "Put Me Down, Scotty" is a track from 2003. It begins with movie samples and very fat sawtooth synthesizers. A mean bass sequence appears, coupled with an electronic rhythm. The track then suddenly gets much brighter, as major chords played with synth pads appear. There's a nice melodic improvisation going on, as new bleepy sequences become more prominent. Another bright synthetic piece. "Decision Time" is one of those new tracks composed and recorded in 2008. It is also the longest track here, clocking in at 13+ minutes. A vocoded voice greets us in a way that reminds on Robert Schroeder's "Harmonic Ascendant" (a vocoder magnum opus in my book). However, Kees uses a much brighter, more ethereal texture with shades of melancholy and mystery. Extra low bass pulses appear and develop into a complex sequence. A new, mid-range sequence appears as the track becomes somewhat melancholic. There are also cosmic elements in the form of Jarre-like synths and effects. A more sparse section follows, with sounds drenched in reverb. However, the melodic / propulsive sound returns after a while, getting solemn towards the end. "Entering the Unknown" is an old track from 1990. It starts with typical digital sampled rhythm from that era. A melodic theme is then introduced - simple but neatly done. Arpeggiated synths support the rhythm but as a whole the track remains rather minimalist in its approach. Tinkling synthesizers, a rhythm and a pad is all we get really for 6 minutes. Nice and harmonic. "Dragonfly" is another track from 1990. This time it's a short (about 3 minutes), and super funny one. A cartoonish melody over a bed of programmed synth rhythms is nothing extraordinary of course but it did make me smile. Electronic Music for children? You bet. "Monkeys" is yet another short track from 1990. It starts with captivating jungle noises and then we get fat analogue twitters and yet another cheesy synth melody on top of a pedestrian rhythm and quirky bass lines. Another cartoonish track that will make your children happy. "The Sun Shines, The World Smiles" was recorded in 2006 together with Ron Boots. We are back to "serious" EM territory now. Bright synth choirs are joined by a fast electronic rhythm and strange voice samples. Soon a bass sequence appears, as various twitters, pads and other synth sounds fill the gaps. A very nice melancholic lead melody is heard in what is probably the best track of this album so far. Good stuff for traveling. I should also mention the great soloing. The track ends with the sound of waves that bring us back to 1990. "Paloma" is a piece in an exotica style with a tropical rhythm and a suitable melody. Sounds like Hawaiian barbeque music played by a couple of slightly drunk EM musicians. Nice and funny stuff. "Sunray" is another piece done in collaboration with Ron Boots, this time from 2003. The music here sounds exactly like its title. Airy pads, positive bass lines and an upbeat rhythm are combined for a bright and uplifting melodic EM number. "The Challenge" is another piece from 1990. It starts with a heavy drum rhythm, and a bass line creeping up from beneath. The track then gets brighter, with pads and a whistling melody. "Move Forward And Discover" is a new one from 2008. It begins with a fairly Jarre-like synth pad (reminds on "Equinoxe"). A heavy bass sequence appears in a dramatic fashion. This track is the most propulsive, Berlin School-like composition on this CD. A blistering solo takes us straight to the cosmos, as we fly through stardust with engines switched to full throttle. Great stuff! The sound of a closing door brings us to the last track and "Another Door Opens", a door made in 1991 I must add. This last track consists of an upbeat rhythm and some pompous brass melodies. "If One Door Closes..." is a diverse but very nice collection of tracks from Kees. Recommended for fans of melodic EM. Best cuts: "The Sun Shines, The World Smiles", "Move Forward And Discover".

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Kees Aerts "If One Door Closes Another Door Opens" (bonus) (2008)

If you buy Kees Aerts' "If One Door Closes Another Door Opens" from Groove Unlimited you get a nice MP3 bonus: you are given the right to download two exclusive and rare tracks. One of them is an alternative version of "The Sun Shines, The World Smiles", and the other one completely new composition. The first bonus track starts with cosmic and ethereal synth pads. A nice and bright atmosphere permeats the intro, quite different in sound and mix from the album version. Soon bass sequences appear, as the pads become more synthetic and melodic. A laid back rhythm starts, in stark contrast to the original version. The choirs return adding a heavenly touch. Strange samples are joined by electronic twitters for a relaxed, easy-going ride among the clouds. The great and already familiar melodic theme appears - gentle, uplifting and bright. This song is probably the catchiest tune Kees has ever composed. Check it out, it's simply wonderful. The second bonus track is called "Surfacing From Beyond". It's a live performace from Essen. Dark sounds give way for a rhythmic pulse and some dramatic pads. The tension grows until some profound synth sounds turn into aggressive drones and a fast-paced electronic sequence appears. Another sequence is chugging nicely along and then another upper register sequence appears, as pads play a simple two note motif. A symphonic lead line appears bringing in some bombast to this rhythmic composition. Surprisingly, a guitar lead surfaces towards the end of this 7+ minute piece, occupying the right channel of the stereo field, as the pads change keys along with the sequences. Fine stuff and another good reason to buy Kees' latest effort, not to mention the great music on the album itself.

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Andreas Akwara "Blue Velvet" (private release, 2009)

This new album by Andreas Akwara offers 68 minutes of floating ambience and melodic electronics. Part I starts with noises recorded at a playground. After a while a tolling bell is heard and an electronic soundscape is introduced. A fanfare is heard before a shadowy soundscape takes over. All kinds of effects and soft pads are what this section is basically about. It does create a special, relaxing atmosphere. There's also a soft melody played on top. It's all fairly new agey, but nicely done. Towards the end the track becomes more melancholic and ethereal, albeit remains stressedly bright and uplifting. The second part has some sharper sounds and an underlying sequence. A soft, steady rhythm starts, as various pads dominate the picture. If you fuse soft techno, Space Music and melodic electronics, you'll get something akin to this track. Nice atmospheric stuff that just chugs along nicely and unobtrusively. Part III is the longest track clocking at 24 minutes. Synth pads and noises rush on around the listener, before a steady but effective two-note sequence takes over. The floating nature of this track reminds a bit on "Bayreuth Return" off Schulze's "Timewind", although sonically this track is quite different, as Andreas uses a fair bit of digital synthesizers. But the idea is the same - a long, flowing and monolithic sequencer number with slight variations in key and sound. And guess what, Andreas pulls it off somehow. Although I wouldn't praise this track as the greatest achievement in the history of EM, it's still a pleasant and quality composition. The track ends with more pads and a percussive rhythm. Part IV brings in a bit of funkiness, with its steady rhythm, techno-like synthesizer sounds and a rolling bass line. Part V, on the other hand, harkens back to Andreas' "Solar Eclipse" album, mostly because of similar sounds and mood. Some wilder, noisier synthesizer sounds appear in the second part, as a steady 4/4 rhythm adds a contemporary flair to this composition. On the other hand, the short Part VI ventures a bit too far into "techno". It still has some interesting sounds and arrangements but proved to be somewhat lacking to my ears. Part VII is the darkest track here. It consists mainly of low pads and atmospheric effects. Some tolling bells add an extra touch of mystery to this nice, and very different, composition. Part VIII effectively combines Martin Luther King samples with a lush synthesizer soundscape. It's a very solemn piece, a bit pompous but turns out to be one of the best pieces on the entire album. Sharp synthetic twitters conclude this piece as we transition into the last part. Dark sounds give way for a symphonic theme that sounds very soundtrack-like. A sequence bursts through, while the background pads are mostly of the darker variety. An excellent piece! I enjoyed everything - the atmosphere, the sounds and the melodic content which is subtle and yet very effective. An excellent way to finish this album. "Blue Velvet" will be enjoyed by those who like their Electronic Music a bit on the relaxing side of things. If you enjoy genres such as Space Music and melodic electronics, "Blue Velvet" is an album for you.

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Andreas Akwara "Quantum" (private release, 2009)

"Quantum" is a demo I received of Andreas Akwara's newest work. The album has 7 tracks and clocks at just less than one hour. Track 1 kicks off with some impressive effects - thunder, droning bass and EMS-like twitters. Soon a moody synth pad appears, really nice. In an unexpected move, military drums appear out of nowhere, combining curiously with the rather gentle music and textures. We then get fat analog lead lines that remind on Vangelis' playing on the Yamaha CS80. There's also a great melodic sensibility to this track. Fine stuff. In stark contrast to the somewhat bombastic first track, the second part is drenched in subtle, choir-like synthesizers and effects. This is dramatic and nice music, almost sacral in its tone. The track then proceeds to include all types of fat, sawy synths and wonderful cosmic effects. Intense and rewarding listen, this one. Just make sure you're using headphones when listening to this. I often got the pleasant "been there, heard that" feeling when listening to this track, as it's very much in line with the classic period of Electronic Music (1970's - early 1980's), which means lots of room for experimentation and a special, "cosmic" atmosphere, pure mind trip. The third track begins on an even softer note, with phased pads and gentle twittering effects. It is not long, however, before a nice, rich, analogue bass sound appears, reminding a bit on classic Jarre. The bass is supported by all kinds of pads and effects. The fourth track is essentially a continuation of the previous number, in a more subdued mode. The bass is all but gone, the pads are more restrained and the effects are subtle as ever. It's glowing softly, with occasional sparks of synthetic sounds and twitters. Choirs appear during the course of this track, adding a touch of mystery. Intense effects get the next track underway. Subtle guitar tones give way for a rapid sequence very untypical of Andreas' oeuvre. However, to call this "Berlin School" would be somewhat misleading, as there are no prominent solos and the sounds are more in line with typical Andreas Akwara Space Music style. The sequencing becomes more manic and intense towards the end. However, the music never strays from that classic Andreas Akwara sound. This particular track is just a tad too long, with not so much variation. Good for creating atmosphere, though, or just as a means to relax your psyche and just let go with the flow. The last track is an atmospheric outing, with floating pads, slightly symphonic textures and a few (not very prominent) effects. With its CS80-like sounds and lots of pads, it takes us straight to Vangelis territory. I feel that "Quantum" is a more intimate work from Andreas, it shows us his more gentle side and yet manages to be adventurous and engaging. Recommended to all fans of Andreas Akwara's music and to those who love the gentler, more relaxing side of EM.

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Andreas Akwara "Erwachet" (private release, 2010)

The newest CD from Andreas Akwara is divided into nine parts, or rather, "satzen", as they are called in the booklet. With an artwork strongly inspired by Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" one would think of it being a warm and melodic synth affair. And indeed, Satz 1 starts with very Jarre-like sounds (ala "Oxygene"/"Equinoxe" intros). However, melodic sequences are introduced almost straight away, with rich brassy synths supporting the pulsations. Warm pads serve as the transition to the next part. This time the mood is much more restrained and meditative. The beginning is very quiet, with only a couple of pads and subtle effects. The intensity grows but the track retains its ambient, relaxing quality. Satz 3 introduces a starker tone, with fat sawy synths and a gritty sequence in the background. A rapid rhythm starts, while the track gets overloaded with all types of (strictly) synthetic sounds. Nice noisy track for a change and pretty unique in Andreas' oeuvre. Satz 4 returns to the more serene realms, with ethereal pads and some percolating analogue arpeggios. It has a sort of symphonic grandeur that is quite prominent in many Vangelis works. A nice electric piano sound makes an appearance but remains buried in the mix. Lots of gorgeous and fat CS-80-like timbres make this track a joy to listen to. Sazt 5 begins with insistent chords and twittering effects. It then develops into a typical Andreas Akwara space track with a fast underlying rhythm. The sound is rich, warm and intense. Fine stuff to relax to. The sixth part returns to darker realms, with all sorts of effects serving as the backbone for rich symphonic synthesizers. Suddenly, the tone of the rack changes completely and a very uplifting and cheerful theme is introduced, supported by a simple sequence. The seventh part takes us to weirder structures and atmopsheres. The sequence sounds half-muted and the pads adopt a darker image, with even a few guitar or banjo-like sounds that Andreas uses in an unusual way. Definitely the most interesting track of the alum. What I certainly didn't expect to hear were the classical samples at the beginning of Sazt 8. And yet the operatic mode this intro sets, continues throughout the track, with even the marching drums making a not so subtle appearance, as the synths sound very brassy and pronouncedly aggressive. The last part continues the military theme introduced earlier, this time sounding more distant, less in-yer-face and with Gregorian samples largely replacing the brassy synths. The track becomes more solemn towards the very end. "Erwachtet" is an interesting work that sees Andreas trying new things, as well as doing what he does best - flowing and melodic Space Music. It will appeal to a wide audience.

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Alio Die & Parallel Worlds "Circo Divino" (Hic Sunt Leones, 2010)

This is the first collaboration between Italian sound alchemist Alio Die and Greek synthesizer artist Bakis Sirros aka Parallel Worlds. The music was realized by means of exchanging tracks via email. Bakis provided his modular synthesizer sounds and Stefano added his subtle field recordings and drones. The album is adorned by beautiful painted cover art. But let's get to the music. "Lost Fractales" sounds like the most pleasant of tracks to me. A mysterious drone is decorated with all types of subtle chimes and unidentifiable textures. Looped sounds and eerie voices come and go, giving the track a vaguely industrial flair. It's pretty hard to describe the overall sound of this piece but it sure sounds shadowy, disturbing and, yes, eerie. It's dark without being oppressively so, with a touch of majesty and serenity. A subtle rhythm is heard in the second part of the track, providing an ever so gentle pulse to the ambient atmospheres. This music is breathing life, it's so vivid... I haven't heard such good Ambient in a long while. Next we get the title track. If anything, it's even richer in tone colours. However, the atmosphere is bright and solemn this time. The drones drone on in major harmonies, as Bakis provides a sharp electronic rhythm to go on with the proceedings. Various echoing textures from modular synths decorate the drones as we fly high on top of these wonderful atmospheric waves of sound. "Nuvole di Palissandro" enters a spookier realm, with stiff bottom-end, consisting of modular bass and glitchy rhythmic structures. The textures are more mysterious this time, with prominent pads and chirpy synthesizers coupled with strange echoey injections. "Sorinel" is a busy and noisy track with modular synths galore; and sounds more "Parallel Worlds" than "Alio Die" to me. There's a nice female voice making appearances at various points. This is probably the most active track of the bunch - rhythmic, with a pronounced low-end. On the other hand, the singing is also very prominent, more so than on some of the other tracks where voice is only used sparingly and in the most abstract way possible. "Electrostatic Forest" returns to more esoteric realms, with subtle flutes on top of typical Alio Die organic soundscape. "Slide of Grace" ends this journey on a mysterious and restrained note. A lot of abstract sounds are used on this track and the drones possess a genuinely ritual character. There's also a rhythmic pulse that I find highly appealing. I think it gives the track the necessary punch, without disturbing its atmospheric flow. A perfect closer! "Circo Divino" is a great album from an unlikely duo. The two styles of the artists meld surprisingly well to form an artistically strong whole that I strongly recommend to all fans of Ambient.

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Alpha III "Andromeda Live 2006" (private release, 2006)

This disc contains a live set played by Amyr Cantusio Jr. also known as Alpha III. The album is divided to 11 parts. The first one begins with synth pads and mysterious singing (sampled?). This is symphonic music, rich in colour and depth. Male choirs appear, completing the picture. By this time, the music has developed a strong Renaissance flair. Not very electronic-sounding, but fans of latter-day Vangelis will sure enjoy it. The choirs and voices are dominating on this track, while the rest of the instruments (mostly orchestral-sounding keyboards) take a back seat. The second part continues where the previous one left. Sparkling piano notes and pads are joined by spacey synths, as we experience a transition to a much more typical EM territory. A slow synthetic bass pulse starts, reminding me on those magnificent early Software works. However, Amyr has a style of his own that will be enjoyed by most EM fans. It's melodic and yet spaced out. The pace of the pulse quickens only to disappear completely a few seconds later. The third part sounds like a nocturnal, rainy type of EM, with a slow, chilly rhythm and loungy piano / synth melodies. However, there's still that propulsive edge to it that I found extremely enjoyable. The track is too short though. Just when you really start to get into the groove, it all ends fairly abruptly. The fourth part begins in a much more bombastic manner, will tolling bells, symphonic textures and Jarre-like "synth ala theremin". This track is also very short. Part 5 fades in with a relaxed rhythm and much more 1980's sounding synths. However, the synthesizer wails make this track much more psychedelic than most of the music from that decade. The track ends in an orchestral way, with piano and pads dominating. Part 6 begins with dramatic pizzicato-like notes and piano in the background. A synth violin joins the show before those pizzicato notes make a return in a more subdued way. This track is minimal, reflective and very enjoyable. On the other hand, Part 7 begins with fast cascading piano notes and completely orchestral arrangements. This is more or less classical Music, done superbly. The influences are more from the Baroque and classical period this time. Amyr is a great player and has a gentle, expressive style. Sampled violin that comes later sounds a bit too artificial. I wish Amyr would play his acoustic grand a bit more. Nonetheless, I still think of this wonderful track as a highlight of the whole CD. It must have been amazing live. Thankfully, the piano returns several times during the course of the track. What a virtuoso performance! I wonder how many EM musicians can do this type of stuff live on stage. Oh, nevermind. Part 8 begins where Part 7 left, adding a more mysterious vibe. However, the virtuoso piano performance continues, getting even more neurotic and intense. This time it almost sounds influenced by the Romantic period, it's so complex (and a tad dark). Wonderful synth pads support the piano, adding a nice cosmic touch. Part 9 sounds like an electronic waltz of sorts. Here, the jazz influences also come to the fore, as the piano playing becomes much jazzier. Imagine a mixture of waltz and jazz, all played on synthesizers and you might get the picture. The "waltz" is over, but the choirs continue, adding a spacey, esoteric touch to the music. This dark section reminds me on intro to Part 2 of Vangelis' "Heaven And Hell". However, it's similar to that work in mood, not in sound. Another melancholic piano section follows, bringing in some light to the soundscape. We then make a smooth transition to the tenth part. The music at this point remains essentially the same: melodic piano playing supported by some synth pads and choirs. I like this emotional track very much. The last part begins with bombastic synth choirs. So it goes, with virtuoso piano passages ala late 18th century and additional synth arrangements. "Andromeda Live" is a diverse album but overall it emphasizes the classical side of Amyr's musical spectrum. Those who enjoy both EM and classical Music will no doubt find it highly enjoyable. Recommended.

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Alpha III & Posthuman Tantra "Gothik Kama Sutra" (private release, 2008)

This is a somewhat strange and exotic record by Alpha III (aka Amyr Cantusio) and Posthuman Tantra (Edgar Franco), inspired by posthuman philosophy of Roy Ascott and Indian tantric rites. Some tracks are by Cantusio, some by Franco and yet some others are collaborations. The title track by Alpha III begins in a mysterious and esoteric way, with ambient noises and prolonged organ drones. On top of this, a gentle female voice sings. Sitar and piano can be heard. It's all fairly meditative and yet does not sound like new age to me. I'd say it's some kind of twisted electronic Prog Rock, with sounds and textures processed beyond recognition. "The Infinite Eternal Memes of the Universe" is the first collaborative track and this is where the ethnic influences come to the fore. What we get here is rhythmic, hypnotic percussion, gentle sitar notes and mysterious samples. Interesting stuff with some aggressive / harsh elements in there as well. Noisy effects serve as the transition to the first track by Posthuman Tantra, called "In Search of Francesco Bernardone's Neurocosmic Circuit". The track has got a heartbeat-like pulse running through it, while synthesizers and effects are piled on top. A nice section with overdriven guitar follows, droning, growling, accompanied by a few keyboard sounds. Seems chaotic upon first listen, but it isn't. There's a sense of purpose and structure that's hidden underneath. A repeating melody appears, accompanied by the already familiar heartbeat pulse, which is much more intense and fast this time. "Mystery of the Atomic Cathedrals" by Amyr Cantusio (man, this guy knows how to name his tracks effectively) is the next one. Great cosmic analogue synths greet an unsuspecting listener with all sorts of effects and oozes, experimental and yet highly listenable. A random sequence appears out of the cosmic pads. This is a typical, warm, analogue EM track, a bit chaotic but charming. It will take you to the farthest reaches of space. Nice stuff to just sit back and relax to. "Another Transgenic Mistake" is a collaborative track that begins with spooky effects and a pulsing bass synth. The rhythmic base becomes more prominent as Amyr piles layer upon layer of warm synth pads. Again, highly experimental but surprisingly listenable. At times the bass threatens to go into overdrive but the track remains rather mellow and very hypnotic. "The Gaia Umbiblical Cell's Infinite Regeneration" is a more aggressive track again, played by Posthuman Tantra. If harsh whispering vocals found in a lot of Power Electronics releases are you thing, you might find this to your liking, as the track basically consists of just that: processed whispering and a few jarring sounds (sawtooth waves, clanging, drums and so on). Another track by Alpha III ("Intergalactic Sepulcrum") begins with great cosmic sequences (we are back to classic EM territory). The pulsations are so well-crafted, they are some of the best sequences I've heard in a while - always changing, mutating, never staying still for a moment and at the same time cosmic, warm and inviting. Bravo! "The Ayahuasca Chamaleon Spirits" is next. Mysterious pads are accompanied by subtle pulsations and lots of twittering effects. An amalgam of the gentle and the aggressive, this is a very enjoyable track, somewhat epic and a bit melancholic. "My Posthuman Lover" is the last solo track of Posthuman Tantra. It starts with growls and a melody played by bells. The voice then alternates between normal recitative and nervous yells. I must admit that I found this track a bit cheeky and somewhat cheesy around the edges. Alright, it didn't scare me (not an easy task), but at least it made me smile. "X-Tantric Mechanic" is a collaborative track that starts with wonderful cosmic arpeggios. Bass pulse appears, as new random sequences are added. This track has EM elements dominating, while the experimental sounds are taking a back seat. The last track "The Light of the Mermaid's DNA" is also a collaboration. Resonant synth sounds are joined by spooky choirs. After a while, Amyr uses his trademark synth pads, while Edgar adds more aggressive, stomping sounds and drums. "Gothik Kama Sutra" is clearly an album by two people who both have their individual styles, and very different ones at that. Sometimes they gel together very well; sometimes they are in contrast to each other, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I would recommend this album for those who want to hear some unusual EM without going for the extreme. And of course I loved Amyr's cosmic synths and sequences.

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Alpha III "The Dusk of Universe" (private release, 2008)

The first track begins with Gregorian chant before a steady bass sequence appears. Some sunny organ chords are heard, as the sequence mutates nicely. This is a typical EM track, dominated by sharp, synthetic sounds. Adding Gregorian chants to Electronic Music might be a tired formula, but here the chant is not dominating, but serves as a nice background, sometimes barely heard. Towards the 8-minute mark, another melodic sequence appears, as phasing effect is applied to organ chords. The sequences then break up into a miasma of electronic effects and sounds. "The Sunset Factor" begins with excellent melodic sequences and fat synth chords. What a wonderful beginning that reminds on 1980's Tangerine Dream. This is pure, unashamed Electronic Music - hypnotic and spacey. The track continues in this mode, with sequences (very melodic and diverse ones) and a few atmospheric synth voices / chords. The fat bass is also very nice. Some experimental textures appear towards the end. "Capella Part 1" is dominated by synth voices and tolling bell. This is a melodic, atmospheric piece. "Ganges", fittingly, consists of sitar textures and moody phased synthesizers. There is also what sounds like heavily processed percussion on this piece. Overall, it's an ethnic affair, so if you like World Music, this should be right up your valley. "Tantric Rites Part 1" is much more to my taste, with all sorts of cosmic synthesizers. It's a wonderful, gentle synthesizer soundscape. Although there are still some slight ethnic influences, the whole mixture sounds much more organic to my ears. After this excursion to deep space we get "Capella Part 2". It consists of synth pads mostly. Nice and atmospheric, but that's pretty much it. Don't expect anything extraordinary from this track. "Tantric Rites Part 2" is a return to the cosmic soundscape of the first part. Only this time there's a relaxed sequencer pattern running underneath. The atmosphere is that of mystery and anticipation. If we compare it to the first part of "Tantric Rites", this one is more mysterious but less spaced out. "Flight of Persephonis" brings medieval influences to the fore, with tolling bell, dramatic symphonic chords and beating drums. The whole reminds me on Vangelis circa "Mask". The voices? You bet! And the picture is complete. "Cosmic Piano" is exactly that: reverbed piano notes with light synth arrangements. You might think it's simple, but it's not. First of all, it is very good piano playing - emotional, virtuoso and full of feeling. And, secondly, the whole turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. Great track. "The Temple of Light" is extremely airy. Here, synthesizers are combined with a female operatic vocal. The quality of the sound makes me think it might be a live recording. There are tons of choir and only subtle synth orchestrations. If the spiritual side of music is your thing, you might enjoy this one. "The Spirits of Moon" closes this album on an esoteric and cosmic note. Shadowy, melancholic and bittersweet, this track for some reason reminds me on "Moogetique" by Klaus Schulze. An excellent way to finish this album. "The Dusk of Universe" sounds more or less like a collection of tracks, rather than a concept work or something. I mean, there is no single theme, no easily recognizable atmosphere. All tracks have their own individual moods and features. I recommend this album to all fans of EM. There are so many styles and ideas here that everyone will sure find something to enjoy here. Best tracks: "The Sunset Factor", "Tantric Rites Part 1", "Cosmic Piano" and "The Spirits of Moon".

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Ashley / Roedelius / Story "Errata" (Nepenthe Music, 2008)

When you get three great talents of Electronic and Ambient music collaborating on a project, you expect something of a high caliber. And it is only natural that my expectations from a brand-new collaboration of Dwight Ashley, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Tim Story were pretty high. The three got together in a studio packed with synthesizers and a beautiful grand piano which eventually resulted in this beautifully packaged 10-track album. "Incubator" begins with a strange drone, before a beepy, mechanical rhythm starts. This is some quirky, experimental music that reminded me on Cluster and Minimalism. Piano is also heard but it is played in a textural, atmospheric, rather than melodic, way. Wonderful, gentle synth pads add a touch of mystery. "Sublunary" slowly creeps in on the crest of atmospheric effects and a heavy, wall-shattering bass. Dramatic orchestral pads enter the stage as the rhythmic elements remain quirky and pronouncedly weird. Another highly enjoyable electronic etude, a sonic aquarelle. "Gefällig" has a somewhat jazzy stepping rhythm, to which the guys add wonderful experimental synth textures and a very expressive piano. This is right up there with the best Cluster material. It is not accidentally that I compare this music to Roedelius' former band, as the music has the same pastoral feel and lovers of the gentle side of Dusseldorf School will find a lot to enjoy here. "Errata" (the title track) is fittingly weird and irritating in a good sense - a short interlude, filled with abstract synth sounds and processed textures. "Simmering" begins with drones that soon transform into a dramatic symphonic landscape - dark, cinematic, distant and melancholic. This is music of immense strength and beauty. And when Roedelius' piano kicks in, weeping gently, echoing into the distance, it almost becomes too much. This is music that is able to bring tears in your eyes. Deceptively simple, and yet quite rewarding stuff. "Inclement" is introduced with totally out-there sounds and effects. Good stuff to clear your brain after the emotionally charged "Simmering". Droning and whizzing synths are all this entire track is all about, basically. However, it's done with expertise, keeping you on your toes throughout - excellent sound sculpting. "Squiggle" is the longest track of the album. It starts with a quirky electronic sequence. The pulse gets more melodic as various other melodic synth sounds are added. Strangely enough, it reminds me on a weird take on the Berlin School coupled with twisted theatre organ music. Nothing, absolutely nothing I've heard up to this point in my life came close to this in terms of uniqueness and originality. I mean the music really does sound like it's coming from another planet. I guess if Cluster decided to play some sequencer music but found themselves in a company of some demented alien clowns, they could come up with something like this. All the wailing, growling synths and those organ chords really give me the goosebumps - all this without even a clear melody! "Gefängen" is another long track with a weird introduction. Strange electronic bees fly around you before a celestial organ drone is established. The organ is then colored with wonderful electroacoustic textures. It's a track with a gentle, dreamlike quality; it's urban and pastoral at the same time. There's hidden magic that gets right into the deepest regions of your soul and doesn't let go. This is the sound of sun beams playing on the surface of water - airy, tranquil, warm and hypnotic. How they achieve this is beyond me. Timeless stuff. "Backlit" is a short track of flickering synths and droning processed guitar. On the other hand, "Ruminator" features excellent minimalist piano playing by Roedelius with added synth and guitar textures from Dwight and Tim. This is the most reflective, shadowy piece on the entire album. I am quite sure that these three artists could only come up with something as subtle, poignant and nuanced as "Errata". A wonderful, immensely enjoyable ambient work!

Related links: Dwight Ashley, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Tim Story.

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Ron Boots "Mea Culpa" (Groove Unlimited, 2008)

I've heard dire things about this latest Boots album, with Ron singing and all. Alright, one should never judge a book before actually reading it, and the same also applies to music. So, with some trepidation, I slip this CD into the slot. And I am pleasantly surprised immediately, as cosmic pads fill the space between my ears at the beginning of the 19-minute "Mea Culpa I". Nice twittering effects add to the ethereal atmosphere. Slow bass notes are added and after a while in comes a high register melodic sequence. A wonderful melodic solo appears, very Berlin School. A relaxed drum rhythm appears, as the track chugs along at a comfortable pace. The sequences get more aggressive and asserting while the drum rhythm gets more chaotic. A key change follows, as the excitement rate grows. The sequences then go down the scale as twittering effects return. This is perhaps some of the most straightforward sequencer EM I've heard from Ron. After 12 minutes a complete change follows - new synthesizer sounds are added and the track gets filled to the brim with various resonating, twittering and buzzing effects, without losing its mesmerizing sequencer beat. Great synth melody is a nice extra that makes this track even more emotional and effective. Finally all sounds subside to leave only the sequence slowly fading into the sea of effects. "8:00 Sunday Morning" begins with weird concrete sounds and effects. Soon a reflective synth pad appears. The track remains rather austere and spartan for a couple of seconds, before a slow, marimba-like sequence appears combined with a dirge-like melody. Man, Ron must have had a real hard time getting up that early on Sunday morning! A female voice appears that reminds me on those countless "Mystic Pop" productions (Era, Enigma and so on). Soon a synth solo kicks in, but the track is still imbued with a sense of tragedy stemming from the need to get up at 8:00. :-) Ok, humour aside, the track is fairly moody and nice, with a pleasant groove and some tasty soloing - silky smooth, analogue and warm. The track then gradually comes to a close with the same dirge-like symphonic synths and lots of pads. Nice and unusual. "The Roses In My Life" has a very effective start, with mysterious textures and pads. A slow rhythm appears and then an excellent melodic motif. We then get the promised singing. Surprisingly, I found Ron's deep, baritone voice very pleasant. It doesn't detract from the music, serving as a nice addition. What we get in the end is a nice electronic ballad that reminded me a bit on the post-rock scene. There are nice electric pianos, relaxed synths and a rhythm - everything in a jazzy, dreamy setting. You would think that with singing, Ron's music would turn into mere mainstream, would become more commercial, but thankfully, this is not the case. In fact, this track is one of the least commercial things he did. On the other hand it's quite accessible and relaxing in a good way. What strikes me is: it's better than most vocal Pop produced today. Never thought I would say it but maybe Ron should sing more often? Ok, to be honest, I'd rather that this remains an experiment and a very successful one at that. "Mea Culpa II" begins with really fat pads and a mysterious melody. A rhythm creeps in and a bass pulse develops slowly. A buzzing solo is heard as new sequences are added. Some decidedly TD-like string synth flashes and 'tron noises are heard. Even more sequences are added as the track propels forward at quite a pace. This is quality EM, guys. A solo appears and gets louder and more resonant, before acidy sequences occupy the stereo field. A new, anguished solo appears for the last part of this long composition. Some more melodies manifest themselves before this massive track draws to a close. "For Does" begins with cricket sounds and a classical sounding string section. Great music for those winter evenings beside the fire, with a cup of hot tea. A slow percussion rhythm appears but the violins are still the main attraction. Another rhythm appears, all in a very chilled / relaxed mode. Not your typical EM stuff for sure but highly enjoyable. Towards the end, more synthetic sounds appear, but the track retains its classical quality throughout. Finally, "Quick Silver" is unleashed on the unsuspecting listener. In this particular case, that would be me. A rapid rhythm, upbeat sequences and a female voice are interrupted by funky guitar interjections before returning to the initial formula. While I found this track pretty nice, it failed to capture my imagination and I for one would have done without the rather trivial voice samples. Overall, the least interesting track of the lot, despite the enjoyable synth bits and solos. A nice surprise is included with this CD as well, get it and you'll know what it is. "Mea Culpa" is a surprising diversion for Ron that still offers enough material in typical Boots style for the die-hard fans. Best track: "The Roses In My Life", who would have thought?

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Ron Boots, Frank Dorittke, Harold van der Heijden "Derby!" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

This disc documents live performance of Ron Boots and friends in England. It opens with "A Half Hour of the Wolf" which is a remake of the track known from "See Beyond Times..." disc. Soft arpeggios, pads and subtle solos are all great while the assertive bass throb is the icing on the cake. Nice effects give way for the driving sequenced section of the track. The sound is classic Boots and the music is well recorded. As far as I can tell this version is very different from the album track, i.e. the solos are different, the drums are live, the track is more aggressive and intense. In either case, it's a classic Boots track with nice sequencing and wonderful solos. "Howling Whispers" continues with more restrained sequencing, some mellotron flutes and lots of effects. Musically, it's a continuation of the previous track. After 5 minutes, Frank's guitar makes an appearance. The guy plays some riffs but they stay largely in the background, while the centerpiece is the synth soloing. It's nice, rocking EM. The track ends with a deep, dramatic soundscape. "Giants In the Derby Sky" starts effectively with atmospheric synths and subtly distorted guitar by Frank. Relaxed, dramatic and spacey, this is the style of EM I like very much. Think Ashra meet Guido Meyer meet Tangerine Dream and you get the picture - it's a moody, laid-back, hard-rocking affair. "Reattachment of Worldly Affairs" begins with a sequence and some ever so subtle pads. The track develops to include a nice drum rhythm and some tasty soloing from Ron. Frank's guitar also makes an appearance, not sounding too upfront this time, getting louder as the track progresses. "Acoustic Shadows" begins with dramatic pads and a cymbal rhythm, before a spoken voice introduction also heard in the album version of this track, appears. After that a nice synth lead kicks in, as tasty guitar soloing by F.D. blends nicely with the rest of the instruments and sounds. "Canyon" is straight into business with lively sequencing and a phased "Oxygene"-like pad. Harold lays down a stiff rhythm while Frank's guitar soars on top. You can tell there's a ghost of Herr Froese lurking somewhere inside this assertive and driving electronic guitar track. "Battle of the Somme", a version of a well-known track from "Acoustic Shadows", follows. It is free of guitar and is more or less true to the original, bass sequences gradually rising from under the bed of dramatic pads, as an analogue lead line cries on top. "A Storm In the Guildhall" relies on tasty and fat analogue bass sequencing and mellotron choirs. Frank Dorittke once again makes an appearance with one of his wailing guitar solos. The rhythm from Harold is more upbeat this time, almost racing. Frank speeds up his playing and by the 3 minute mark he's firing on all cylinders, as Boots intensifies the soundscape and Harold beats his drums like mad. This is good driving music. There's a nice interlude dominated by electric piano and mellotron choir with Frank's guitar licks on top, before everything returns to the upbeat sequencer / drum frenzy. "Tainted Bare Skin At the International" is pure romantic Boots, with a good guitar tossed in. Moody, relaxed stuff that's also good for when in the car, or just nice stuff to sit and listen to on those wet, rainy days. "Derby!" is a great performance and a nice CD of Electronic Music that will be especially liked by those who enjoy a combination of synthesizers, live drums and guitar.

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Javi Canovas "Eigenspaces" (download album, 2008)

Javi Canovas has just released his newest download album which can also be bought on a CD-R (check out Groove's catalog for availability). I've got the opportunity to review it and, as I like Javi's music very much, it was a big pleasure for me. "Living In the Emptiness" begins with subtle pads in typical Javi Canovas style. Soon, tinkling sequences appear, as a tremolo lead line casts its spell. However, after a couple of minutes the sequences disappear to leave us with fat sawtooth effects and echoing synthetics. Another sequence appears towards the 5-minute mark. This time it's a propulsive, fat bass sequence ala "Encore". The effects also strongly remind on late 1970's Tangerine Dream. A lead line plays an improvised part on top of the pulsations. This is pretty much 100%, unashamed Berlin School music. A quiet section with a melancholic lead and a synth drone brings this piece to a close. "Where Was the Time?" starts with grating effects, before a moody soundscape takes over. A relaxed, well programmed sequence is introduced in a classic Berlin School fashion. Another sequence joins the flow. Sounds very good to me - very relaxed and yet rhythmic and purposeful stuff. There's also a nice melodic theme that reminds me on the early 1980's Tangerine Dream. The third rhythmic pattern appears, bringing in a bit of a mysterious / sci-fi mood to the music. The symphonic lead lines remind me a bit on Vangelis. However, I would probably do without the very shrill / high-pitched effects at the end. They make me reach for the volume button and cut the volume. Other than that, the track is great. "Lost Sign" is more upbeat, with a rapid sequence and nice reverbed pads. Another (a bit TB-303-like) sequence joins and we are flying ahead at quite a pace now. New elements are added, including new sequences, subtle leads and, well, more sequences and leads. The next track is called "Blue T." It begins with trademark Javi Canovas sequences "ala bass guitar". An electronic rhythm then starts. However, it's the sequences that are very effective on this one, as mellotron flutes add a bit of mystery. The track alternates between various pulsations and overall seems to be one of those tracks dominated by just the sequences and rhythm. Nice. "Vector", on the other hand, has a spaced-out intro, dominated by a crying lead line. After that comes probably the finest moment of this album - the electric piano theme. It's lyrical, emotional and breathtakingly beautiful. Never had Javi's music sounded so melancholic and touching before. "Forgotten Future" begins with growling synths before aggressive sequences come to the fore. A heavy electronic rhythm starts, adding even more oomph to this piece. A melodic theme reminding on "Mr. Ivan" from Javi's previous album appears. This is basically in the same style as the mentioned track. "Parallel Worlds" opens up with totally abstract sounds and effects. After a while, a bass sequence appears, joined by various pads. Another sequence appears, as Javi improvises using a lead synth voice. "Interposition" closes the album in a Kraftwerkian mode, with sharp synthetic rhythms and repeating melodic themes. If you enjoy Kraftwerk's "Computer World", this track will be right up your valley. Overall, "Eigenspaces" is another strong album from Javi Canovas. Although there's almost no progression over the previous effort (both in sound and composition), if you enjoyed "Nights of Brightness", you should definitely check out "Eigenspaces". Best track: "Vector".

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Javi Canovas "In This Moment, In This Place" (download album, 2009)

"In This Moment, In This Place" represents a sonic document of Javi Canovas' performance at the Sauzal's Cultural Centre. It is essentially one long track of seventy minutes. Growling synthetic drone sets the stage for this lengthy piece of music. Little by little the sound grows in intensity, joined by noisy effects. A slow sequence creeps in from underneath the blanket of silky synth pads. More sequences are added, as the track flows at a relaxed pace, the pulsations supporting melodic synth improvisations. Even more sequences appear, as the sound becomes dense and biting. This is pure Berlin School music, with sequences playing the leading role. After 11 minutes all goes quiet, as the synthetic drones and buzzes return once again for a hypnotic whirlpool of sound. Mysterious chords give way for a rapid sequence that quickly grows in intensity. Anyone into 1970's Tangerine Dream / Redshift / AirSculpture / whatever should hear this. More melodic sequences are added as the sound approximates a Berlin School fan's definition of paradise. This is seriously heady stuff. Another atmospheric section follows, as we transition to the next phase. After a relatively soft stretch of melodic synths, some background static noises appear as the sound grows in volume. The music is still surprisingly ambient and flowing in nature, albeit with a sense of anticipation creeping in. Indeed, it doesn't take long for a new attack of sequences to rush upon the sonic scene: this time the grating, sawy pulsations are combined with wonderful melodic, upper-register ones. More and more sequences are added. OMG, this is turning into quite a feast. All sequences are carefully constructed and somehow manage to pull just the right strings and make your heart race fast. This really reminds on the gorgeous sequencing on Tangerine Dream's "Ricochet Part 2". As if it was not enough, even more sequences are added, each of them unique - one noisy, one quirky, one downright weird... I can only marvel at the sheer creativity of this man when it comes to sequencing. He even manages to turn one of the sequences into a growling lead line, ready to burst right though... but it never does. This is quite simply one of the best Berlin School moments ever put to tape. It looks like Javi has really outdone himself with this one. Everything goes quite for yet another atmospheric stretch, electric piano notes echoing away into distance - jazzy, atmospheric and cosmic; grandiose and yet gentle and comforting, relaxing and yet strangely melancholic. An aggressive sequence appears, joined by super-fast cosmic pulsations. The melodies are warm and liquid as ever. Of course, it wouldn't be a Javi Canovas track if it didn't build into a striking crescendo and it sure as hell does. Little by little, layer upon layer, the sequences pile on each other, combining into a giant ball full of pulsations, ready to explode at any given moment and yet kept under perfect control by Javi's skillful hands. Wow! I don't even know what to say. Buy without reservation! This is quite simply Javi's best album. And the fact that it's recorded live makes me wonder about the supernatural forces that come down on a musician and make him produce a masterpiece. It doesn't happen often. But it did, in 2009, in Sauzal's Cultural Centre...

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Javi Canovas "Behind the Shadows" (download album, 2010)

What, an ambient album from Javi Canovas? Yes! And why not, I am asking? After all, he had already proved himself as a serious sound sculptor on his previous releases, with one or two beatless numbers finding their place on most. Here, he decided to depart completely from his usual sequencer-based style to concentrate on flowing atmospheres and hypnotic melodic ambiences. "Long Way To the Dale" begins with soft and mysterious pads that remind me on Steve Roach and maybe also some Robert Rich stuff. The sound is breathy, airy and expansive. At the same time, there's an air of sadness and melancholy to the whole thing. It's a very enjoyable track. "Frost Remains" has a fittingly icy texture to it, with metallic resonances. It reminded me more on Vidna Obmana, and, more surprisingly, some Bass Communion stuff made with processed guitars, although I believe this is made with synths. Overall, this track is a mélange of metallic pads and thick middle-range drones. "Inertness" introduces a darker tone, with low drones and keyboards sounding more synthetic rather than metallic. On the other hand, there's a reflective element provided by the always great pads. "Density Waves" arrives on the crest of some earth-shattering bass drones. Later some more sounds (mostly pads) appear but the track remains deep in the stratosphere. The title track brings in those metallic textures again. This time, however, the creeping pads are full of menace as if something terrible is hiding in the darkness you better not know at all. "Monolite" is not as monolithic as one could expect. The sound is thick but there's certain expansiveness to the sound that I find highly appealing. The basic ingredients are still: pads and various other atmospheric synthesizer sounds. "The Beginning of the End" is much brighter with mostly airy synthesizers. This is some nice, relaxing and flowing music. "Still Falling" introduces a starker tone. Almost Neo-classical in its scope and grandeur, it is the most soundtrack-like piece on the album - very dramatic and a real surprise. "Walking To the Red Mountain" is more serene and I would even say meditative. The pads and drones flow in wave-like movements putting you in a relaxed state of mind. For "Nocturn" Javi chooses to use more grating synthetic textures while still retaining the meditative mood. "Isolated World", on the other hand, is a shadowy place, populated by ghosts of ancient battles and obscure UFO visitations. This track is absolutely out of time. It's from nowhere and about nowhere - a breathing void. "Retrospective" rounds off this album with a no-nonsense orchestral synthesis of the warmest kind. I really enjoyed this cosmic melodic sound sketch. "Behind the Shadows" is a nice ambient outing from Javi Canovas where possibly the only thing I really missed were his trademark spacey electric piano themes. I little bit of field recordings weaved into the sonic web wouldn't harm either. These minor gripes aside, I recommend this album for fans of Ambient or for those who want to hear a different side of Javi Canovas.

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Computerchemist "Landform" (private release, 2008)

"Landform" is the third album of British musician Dave Pearson who currently resides in Hungary. It contains five massive tracks stretching over 50 minutes. "After the Eclipse" begins with reflective electric piano. However, in just a few seconds a sequence appears and drums are introduced. Melancholic pads really remind on 1980's Tangerine Dream. When the echoing guitar is introduced, the TD comparison becomes almost inevitable. Melodically, this track is very strong. Schmoelling & co couldn't do it any better. The sequencing shines through around the 5-minute mark as reflective mellotron strings add that special touch. I also like the drums that sound lively and vigorous. "Darklight Drive" is much more subtle, beginning with long synth pads, a few effects and nice piano playing. It's all fairly atmospheric and suspenseful. Dark cellos add a touch of mystery, before bright sequences and a bit funky guitar take things to a completely different territory. There's almost a hard rock / industrial vibe to this track, with distorted solos, grungy sequences and heavy drums. The synths are much more aggressive than what is to be expected from Dave. This is stark and dark Electronic Music that will still be enjoyed by fans of the classic Berlin School works. The sequences in the second part of this track are some of the best I've heard in a while. The drums go insane, adding a touch of krautrock and mellotron strings finish off this satisfying piece of music. "Cave Search" starts as a piano solo, before subtle synth pads come out of nowhere. The drum rhythm appears in a relaxed tempo, with mellotron strings and horns serving as basic melodic ingredient. The sequences appear in typical Berlin School fashion once again, as the track becomes more urgent and propulsive. A section of reflective pads is torn apart by a storm of rapid sequencing and effects. A "motorik" rhythm starts, adding that pleasant Rock touch. Nice guitar riffs appear, as all rhythms drown in a sea of distorted effects. The sequence tries several times to win a place under the sun, as guitar wails become even more menacing and unsettling. More crystalline sequences appear, as mellotron strings finish off this epic track. The title cut is next. Ethereal flutes and slightly phased strings paint an airy and magic landscape. A bubbly sequence starts, as darkish synthesizers envelop the electronic rhythm. The sequences are very prominent, while all other sounds support the rhythmic pulsations. Overall, it's a relatively soft, atmospheric track from Dave. Finally, "Geoid" is straight into laid-back and tasty sequencing that, for some reason, reminded me on Redshift. A wonderful beginning of a scorching EM track. The guitar solo is very Froese-like and fits perfectly to this kind of music. The sequences become more rolling and intricate, as wonderful electric piano adds a jazzy touch. It's guitar and drums mostly for a couple of seconds before the sequence returns in all its glory, only to be interrupted by melancholic strings and guitar. "Landform" is certainly the best album by Dave in terms of atmosphere and composition. A real treat for fans of sequencer-based music.

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Jamie Craig "Illumination" (Craig Sound Productions, 2008)

I got this CD from Ohio-based musician Jamie Craig without knowing what to expect. It seemed to me this album was some kind of new age or new instrumental music. Each track is about 4 minutes long, there are no long epics here. "Lost & Found" starts with piano melody before a rhythm is introduced along with other instruments. The main melody is played with a sampled violin sound. This is good instrumental music, not sounding electronic at all. "Midtown Saturday Night" has more of an EM influence in the form of sequenced keyboard sounds and pads creating a special atmosphere. However, the foundation is a soulful and urban-sounding sax solo and piano flourishing. There's also a pleasant jazzy nightclub vibe to this one. "Mirage" is more laid-back, a bit similar to late 1980's and early 1990's Tangerine Dream material. Digital keyboards play a dominant role here and there's also a pleasant analogue-sounding solo that adds a reflective, jazzy vibe and a guitar solo later on. "Illumination I" is at once ethereal, melancholic and classically inspired. The lead chores are given to violin again, as the digital keyboard lays down a simple, harmonic and unpretentious background for the melodies. "Illumination II" continues where the previous track left off, adding a further touch of melancholy, relying almost exclusively on piano, with other instruments playing a supporting role. "To Nola With Love" brings the level of saccharine to almost unbearable (to me) heights. I mean, it's really new age / smooth pop of the corniest variety. Sure, there are people who would enjoy this kind of stuff but I am sure not among them. "Reflections" is a very classically inspired track, with violins, piano and a relaxed rhythm. There's a nice atmospheric section after the 1:30 mark, which is unfortunately too short. "San Juan" is a bit on the boring side, with its bland oboe lead line and harpsichord-like keyboards. Later on, the music becomes more pleasant with some neat background pads and an acoustic guitar lead. "Voyager IX" is spacier and possibly the closest this album gets to EM as we know it. It's still more or less background music but the synthesizers sound more like synthesizers this time. I just wish the overused and banal flute lead wasn't there. Nice organ chord progressions, though. "H2OZone" continues in an EM-influenced mode, this time the rhythm and synths being very relaxing, as a nice guitar plays on top. This track will really be enjoyed by fans of the less electronic and more instrumental-based TD (circa 1989 - 1996). There's even a sax performance that sounds nothing like Linda Spa, though. This is my favourite track on the album. Although I could probably do without the sax, I found the keyboards very pleasant to the ear and carefully programmed. "Guardian Angel" gets back to the muzak-like sound with sax overdose and keyboards playing supporting role. The closing track "Sealed Fate" is a moody piece arranged for acoustic guitars, sampled strings / oboe, digital drums and synthesizer pads. "Illumination" is a slickly produced and for the most part pleasant sounding new instrumental music, no EM here. Some tracks I liked, some totally missed the point in my opinion, but fans of the less esoteric and less pretentious forms of new age or just emotional keyboard-based instrumental music will find this to their liking.

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Create "In the Blink of An Eye" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

Steve Humphries: Access Virus B, Access Virus Indigo, Alesis Andromeda A6, Creamware Minimax, Creamware PRO 12, Dave Smith Mono Evolver Keyboard, Doepher MAQ 16/3, Doepher Schaltwerk, EMU PX7, Ensoniq Fizmo, Evolution MIDI Keyboard, Korg ER1 MK II, Korg Radias, Korg Triton Rack, Clavia Nord Lead 3, Roland JV1080.

A live-in-the-studio jam titled "No Inhibitions" kicks off this newest album by Create aka Steve Humphries. There's an atmospheric intro with all sorts of sharp synth sounds and a mournful mellotron flute. A menacing bass sequence seeps through the web of pads and effects. More pulsations are added for what sounds like a rollercoaster of a track. What we then get are a few really fat and screaming solos. More resonant sequences are added as the tension gradually builds. The melodic themes are rather sparse but they are effective nonetheless. The sequences subside around the 11-minute mark, leaving you alone in a sea of sharp synthesizers and cosmic effects. A subtle pulse starts, growing in intensity. Another sequence joins and in comes what sounds like the most sonically rich section of this track. All kinds of electronic pulsations, pads and melodic themes populate the sonic space with a perfect mix between the propulsive and the abstract. The track ends with yet another atmospheric section that sounds similar to the one that opened this jam. Mysterious soundscape gets the title track underway. Fast paced sequence glides through, accompanied by high-flying pads. This is some excellent music, very original. The atmosphere is that of mystery and scientific exploration. A new tinkling sequence appears, accompanied by yet another, grating pulsation. A lead line is all it takes to complete the picture of this purely Berlin School track. Mellotron strings are added for extra dramatics. The bass pulse from the first half of this track returns in solid form for the finale. Dramatic atmospheres and a melodic theme straight from early 1980's Tangerine Dream welcome "A Glimmer of Hope". This is the definitive moment of this album - very nicely done! A fast sequence gradually develops from under the surface of smooth mellotron pads and fat, screaming synth textures. This track has got some of the most frenetic sequencing I have heard in a while. Not that it's superfast but it's so assuring and bold, you have to hear it. The rest is pretty much standard Create stuff, but the sequencing really makes this track stand out. Interesting, we need more stuff like that. "Rise To the Occasion" is brought forth by means of quite dramatic pads and wonderful cosmic effects. A pulse starts after 3 minutes, accompanied by distant hi-hat-like claps. More typical laidback sequences are added and a very nice melodic theme appears. Good! "Collision" is another "live" jam recorded in the studio in one take. Straight into business with this one - a bass throb sets the pace, as a mournful mellotron string part wraps in up like a warm blanket. More sequences are added and the sound gets fairly intense. Another sequence supports the flow of a track that can only be described as "the hymn to sequencing". Some of the pulsations remind me on Wahnfried's "Time Actor". However, whereas on that classic work the sequences are for the most part subtle, here, they are loud and in your face. "In the Blink of An Eye" is a fine work that relies even more on the sequencing than Steve's previous efforts.

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Division Kent "Gravity" (Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 2008)

I slipped this CD into the slot without knowing what to expect. I have never heard about Division Kent before but it looks like this band consists of a guy (Sky Antinori) and a girl (Andrea B.). "Gravity" seems to be their second album. All tracks are written by them. There's also a cast of supporting musicians who play guitars, bass, drums and help with vocals on some cuts. "No Kryptonite" is a moody song with a sound based on synths and guitars. There are also quite nice female vocals. Musically it reminds me of a girl-fronted version of Depeche Mode, but much more subtle and dramatic. "Pat the Pan Am Pilot" begins with synth sequences, before an upbeat drum rhythm starts and the song moves into dynamic alternative pop / rock with synths added for colour. The voice of Andrea is quite sensual on this one. There's something of a vampire aesthetics here, but it could be highly subjective and just the way I perceive it. Anyway, the synths are quite tasty on this one, providing some liquid background wails. "She's Going Places" begins in a much more typical rock vein. Andrea provides the already familiar vocals, sounding more evil and fiendish this time. There's a slight krautrock influence felt in the way the drums are handled. "The Big Hush" is much more atmospheric, with excellent, slow synth arrangements and a moody electric piano. What a great sound! The vocals are delivered in an atmospheric manner, with male voice supporting Andrea's half-whispering. The song is also very strong melodically. If you like darkish synth ballads - this will be right up your valley. I am probably repeating myself here but the synth arrangements on this track are very good. The track has got a Nick Cave-ish quality to it. "In the Headlights", on the other hand, is dominated by a sharp electronic rhythm and synth pads. There's some similarities to Depeche Mode's style but the sound is more ethereal and restless. The vocals are very good. The title track is next. A moody beginning with repeating guitar motif gives way for a broken rhythm. After that comes a great vocal performance. It consists of just repeated phrases and very restrained and sparse appearances during the course of this track but it's done in such an effective way, you have to hear it. Simply beautiful. One of the best tracks and certainly the most experimental one, with rhythms transforming into resonant metallic clangs towards the end. "L'Heure Bleue" surprises with a clear, hummable melody and French vocals. This is dynamic stuff that will stick in your head. Andrea's vocals are sensual and erotic. Because of its accessible nature, this track could be considered the "hit single" of this album but it's way above most of todays Pop music in terms of complexity, arrangements and even production. If all Pop music was like that, then perhaps watching MTV wouldn't have been such a boring experience. "Rooftop Rallye" begins in an airy way, with echoing guitars and synths, before moving to a heavier sound, with distorted guitars, steady drums, growling bass synths and a totally twisted, heavy processed version of vocals. The Disco-flavoured "Offshore" begins with almost Italo-like synth arrangements and a steady rhythm. Andrea then delivers quite tasty melodic vocals. The synths are also quite varied and inventive. The track is quite danceable and remix-friendly, so it seems to me. It also has that 1980's sensibility which seems to be quite fashionable these days, combined with a contemporary, heady sound. "Salty" is somewhat weird, with a funny duet between twisted male vocal and Andrea's sexy voice. The music itself is stark and repetitive, with a slight Hip-Hop influence. "The Year of Magical Thinking" delivers a heady electronic rhythm and distorted analogue synths. The vocals are heavily echoed, drowning in the sea of synthesizers and rhythms. Speaking of synthesizers, they are delivered expertly, from the low basses to moody melodic drops. Energetic stuff that got my head nodding and my feet tapping to the rhythm. Division Kent's "Gravity" is absolutely not the type of EM that I usually cover in my encyclopedia, but I did enjoy this album a lot. It is quite obvious that the music was done by talented guys who are not afraid to experiment. I don't like Pop music in general, but I like quality music. And this, folks, is top quality.

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Ebia "Wavedancer" (SynGate, 2008)

The first track is called "H3O". It sets the stage with floating synthetic pads and rich symphonic textures. Soon wonderful sparkling arpeggios appear, reminding me on the glory days of Mr. Jarre (circa "Concerts In China"). However, it's not long before a pumping rhythm appears, taking things to modern EM territory. More arpeggiated synths are added for a rich, trancey electronic sound. I must admit that at this point the music is much more similar to your typical Trance / Goa affair, but fans of New Berlin School will find a lot to enjoy here. Needless to say, all sounds are of very high quality and programmed with great care. Sounds come and go and overall, "H30" is a driving, energetic and danceable piece of music. Some screaming analogue textures appear towards the end. Great stuff. "Halo" begins in a more mysterious way, with resonant, droning synths and screaming arpeggios. A sequence starts as a menacing bass line supports the flow. A soft rhythm starts and a nice piano melody is heard. This is much closer to your typical EM - melodic, flowing and quite atmospheric. Nice music, this one. "Mare Imbrium" is one of the longer tracks of this album. It begins with a really deep cosmic soundscape. A slow rhythm appears as the track retains its mysterious aura. Some bright sequences surface and gradually take over. I enjoyed the flow and the mood of this track but to my mind it was a bit lacking in variety. The title track is next. Samples of voices give way for a bubbly sequence and a relaxed rhythm. And then come the pads. And what pads! Perfectly programmed, gentle, emotional textures. A string melody is also a perfect extra. This track kicks some serious ass. It's warm, emotional and comforting, reminding me on Klaus Schulze at his most gentle and introspective. New sequences are added, all of them perfect. This is by far the best track of the album. I just love those distorted melodic sounds (guitar or synth?) that appear around the 9-minute mark. "Elements" kicks off with wonderful mysterious sounds like some bells tolling in the distance. A bass line gradually forms on the blanket of mysterious pads. An upbeat rhythm starts, bringing some focus to the composition although "Elements" remains rather minimalistic compared to the other tracks. It was also one of the least interesting ones for me. "Deep Quest" brings in the "chill" element, with its gently rolling, slow rhythm and melancholic pads. I enjoyed this electronic ballad a lot. It's relaxing, emotional and above all, full of great, sparkling sequences, some of them of the acidy, TB-303-like variety. The final track "Flight to 987" is no less relaxing. Once again we are confronted with a slow rhythm, reflective pads and gentle sequences that lull you into a pleasant state of trance. "Wavedancer" is very diverse musically and it is difficult to place this album into any particular EM category. I suppose that "general melodic / rhythmic" will do but "Wavedancer" will appeal to most EM fans, regardless of their stylistic preferences.

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Ebia "Hunter of Worlds" (SynGate, 2009)

Upon learning that Jorg Bialinska aka Ebia has done an album inspired by Koto, Laserdance and other similar acts, I was immediately eager to hear it. Although I will be the first to admit that musicwise the 1980's were one of the most dreadful decades ever, I was still brought up with 80's music. As a result, I still have a soft spot towards some of the popular styles of that period, such as the "Spacesynth" (or Space Disco). There's nothing progressive or artsy-fartsy about this music, it's just fun to listen (or dance) to when you get bored. In the Spacesynth genre, Laserdance and Koto were the be all and end all, followed by the Cyber People, Proxyon, Hypnosis and others, most of them sounding pretty much the same. So, what is Spacesynth or Space Disco, I hear you asking? It's a danceable (in the way of the 1980's, not 2000's) and energetic music which is pretty repetitive and is built around cyclical synthesizer melodies, spiced up by rolling bass lines, steady drums and some atmospheric sounds. Simple? It is. Bad? No. It's fun. Just plain fun. For a reference point, imagine a totally instrumental, spaced out and energetic version of Italo Disco and you get pretty close. "Hunter of Worlds" begins with a 6-minute "Galactic Quest". Menacing bass drones open this piece. After a while, a rich symphonic soundscape takes over. The drums are introduced and off we go. An exciting Laserdance-like melody is all we really need for this positive and uplifting slice of Spacesynth sound. The title track begins with highly atmospheric synth sounds, before a rolling bass line takes over. After a while we get the same thing - typical Spacesynth, done in a highly positive and inventive way. Jorg uses some interesting patches and the quality of sound is excellent. There's also that atmospheric interlude that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand. "Passing Tripoint Station" is more of a relaxed number, with a slow rhythm, gently percolating bass and echoing synthesizer melodies. This is truly an eye-opener, it's magical how the guy turns simple dance sound into something so captivating and atmospheric. "Solar Eclipse (Dub Mix)" follows closely with dramatic chords and synthesizer arpeggios. A rhythm starts as the level of excitement grows in no time. More arpeggios follow, as the piece remains rather trancey and repetitive. This reminds on the last stage of Laserdance's output (circa 1995) when they started incorporating more techno elements into their trademark synth sound. However, on "Solar Eclipse" the rhythm is pronouncedly Spacesynth in style (i.e. no hard techno bass drum). On the other hand, "Voyager In Night" is pretty much a classic Spacesynth number, with an overall major and optimistic tone. "Invader" is more menacing, with a complex rhythm and lots of atmospheric sounds. "Brothers of Earth" begins with deep sounds but after a while in comes a typical drum rhythm and a very 1980's-like melody. A classic! "Cosmic Flight (Remix)" is full of captivating sounds, at the same time retaining the dance beat and the rolling bass line. And then "Gates of Chaos" sounds like yet another typical Spacesynth track. This one has got some really captivating melodies and once again great sounds. An absolute winner! Finally, "Faded Sun" closes this album on a rather dramatic note. This is a slower track, with heavy bass synth and melodies of a cosmic character. I wish Jorg made more music in the style of "Hunter of Worlds". But even if it remains a one-off experiment, it's still a significant and very individual-sounding foray into the world of Spacesynth / Space Disco.

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Paul Ellis "The Last Hiding Place of Beauty" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

The new album by Paul Ellis consists of four tracks, all of them of monumental proportions. "The Unveiling Ravenous Evening" starts in a folky mode, with acoustic guitars and a mellotron flute - very pastoral and flowing. It is then substituted by echoing sequences of various breeds. A cute four-note melody plays on top, repeating over and over again - pretty hypnotic stuff. Another excellent melody appears - of the type that stick in your head for ages. At the same time, the sound and mood is pretty restrained, if not very minimal. A very beautiful melodic sequence starts, complimented by even more sequencing. The pulsations then depart, leaving us with a sense of uneasiness, surrounded by throbbing bass and subtle drums. A fat bass throb welcomes sequences so beautiful, it's uncanny. There's a multitude of sounds, both lower and higher register ones. At the same time, the track stays firmly within the boundaries of contemporary Berlin School. Tribal mood dominates the last stretch of this track, with percussion becoming more prominent, while the electronic elements take a back seat. The title track arrives on the wave of chirping synthesizers and resonant drones. A wonderful upbeat melodiń sequence fades in, as new sequences are unleashed, going at quite a pace. This is rather intense stuff that, however, never goes over the top and always retains a melodic edge. Several key changes follow with this track being based exclusively on the sequences. Bass frequencies start to dominate as a few piano notes are heard. We even get a bit of what sounds like real drums or a very nice replica thereof after the 10-minute mark. I must also add that the track turns into quite a sonic mayhem by this point. A prominent bass sequence gives this a classic Berlin School flair. Resonating bell-like sounds finish off this intense piece of sequential art. "The Note, The Walk in the Rain and The Umbrella" starts with the sound of pen scribbling on paper before a moody soundscape sets in. The latter is dominated by flutes and pads and is very melancholic. Sounds of rain can just be heard. This melodic piece has something of a classical feel to it - all the tolling bells, flutes, strings, steel guitars... Wonderful! An almost Rock-like diversion follows, with acoustic-sounding bass and lots of guitar melodies. Has Paul landed straight in the middle of the Psychedelic era by means of some unknown electronic device or what? Whatever the case, this sounds just great. The final section returns to the Neoclassical structures, this time sounding more gloomy and foggy, with extra electronic embellishments. Absolutely unique and wonderful! Steel guitar notes echoing into the distance open "The Hydroelectric Spinning Heart". Airy and featherweight, it sounds like a dream half-remembered, a walk among the clouds or a look at the rainbow colors reflected in a drop of dew. Absolutely NOT new age music with quite a new age imagery, in a good sense. This track is like a soothing balm for your soul. An upbeat section follows, dominated by a tolling bell (disappears after a few minutes), a piano melody and an urgent tribal rhythm. This music is so emotionally charged, with its rotary melodies and various electronic sparkles, it's simply unbelievable. Just when you thought it was impossible to repeat the success of Paul's previous albums, in comes "The Last Hiding Place of Beauty" and there's nothing left to do other than to admit that the man has created a masterpiece. Again.

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Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij "Silent Watchers of Industrial Landscapes" (private release, 2008)

Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij: Access Virus A, Akai AGv01, Alesis Fusion 8HD, Alesis Ion, ARP Odyssey, ARP Pro Soloist, Boss DR-660, Clavia Nord Modular Rack, 2x Doepfer MAQ 16/3, EKO Dreambox 15, 2x Elektro Formant Modular, Elka Rhapsody 610, EMS Synthi A, EMU E6400 Ultra, EMU Proteus 2, EMU Vintage Keys Plus, Farfisa Syntorchestra, Korg Legacy Wavestation, Korg Wavestation EX, Korg MS2000B, Korg MS2000R, Moog Little Phatty, 2x Moog Minimoog, Moog Opus 3, Moog Polymoog, Moog Taurus Bass Pedals MK1, Novation A-Station, Roland MVS1, Roland SH32, Arrick Modular, Vermona ER9, Welson Ritmo, Yamaha A4000, Yamaha AN1x, Yamaha S30, Yamaha SY85.

Looking at the massive list of equipment, we see that quite a few instruments went into making this newest work by Emmens & Heij. Let's see if the musical results are worth all the kilowatts spent. We start with an overture of some 10 minutes. Mysterious and rather dark pads set the stage for melodic sequences that come from underneath the flow in classic Berlin School manner. This already sounds like a clear winner. A bass sequence joins and we are propelled forward on top of classic pulsations and an effective two-note melodic motif by Gert. Mellotron choirs appear, singing their song on pair with the mournful synth pads. An analogue drum machine rhythm starts, giving a bit of a punch to an otherwise very soft and mellow EM track. There's also a wonderful spacey analogue solo by Gert. The melodic content of this track is very strong. "Elements In Decay" is straight into sequencing. And what sequencing it is! It sounds like it was crafted by gods. After a while a mournful mellotron string sound appears, supporting the gorgeous pulsations. It seems to me that Ruud has actually mastered the art of sequencing to a point where he can hardly be reached, not to mention, topped. Is this the most perfect sequencing ever created on this Earth? It could be. At least I haven't heard anything quite like it for a looong time. Every note of the sequence is perfect. At the same time, Gert spices things up with no less exciting analogue lead sounds. If there's beauty in music, it's in this track which is the best I have heard from the duo so far. A chugging analogue drum machine rhythm starts, going in perfect sync with the pulsations. A bit jazzy solo follows, blending in nicely. More melodies come, some sharp and piercing, some soft and mellow. The rhythm subsides, leaving us in a wind-swept landscape, where the cosmic pulsations gradually fade into the distance, eaten by melancholic and even a bit epic pads. Pure genius! "Liquid Ore Finding Its Way" is notable for its very dark and very effective intro. Whereas Ruud is a great master of sequencing, Gert demonstrates the ability to craft exciting sonic worlds, in addition to his knack for good melodic improvisation. Very evocative stuff here. Try to imagine being at night in an abandoned factory, seeing the red light from hot iron fill the building. A fast-paced sequence emerges and then comes one of the most effective melodic themes on this album. Mysterious and yet somewhat... yes, industrial. I don't know why but it does remind on some industrial imagery. You know, barren, wind-swept expanses of land, brick fences, gray buildings, lonely figures in the rain, hard work from dawn till dusk, hands black from working with iron and coal... The sequences become more prominent, joined by sweeping effects and great unclassifiable electronic sounds. At the same time, Gert adds layers of synth pads, bringing this darkish but energetic EM piece to a close. "When Night Falls" is more ethereal and bright, although dark shades are always present. An excellent moody motif is repeated over a bed of synth effects and a few pads. This one's an excellent, ambient EM piece, not very typical of Gert & Ruud but all the more interesting because of that. It's reflective, tranquil and yet melodic and purposeful. "Point of No Return" is back to sequences and mellotron string chords. A few twittering injections add a nice touch, before the rhythm starts and the sequencing becomes more aggressive and asserting. Speaking about sequencing, it seems to be the true "star" of this piece, while other elements take on a secondary role. That doesn't mean that there are no good melodies here, as Gert does deliver an outstanding melody after 5 minutes, played with a brassy / fluety synth patch. "Setting the Wheels In Motion" is the longest track, clocking at 18+ minutes. It starts with dark soundscapes until the glimpses of sequences appear. The bass sequence is joined by an upper register one, as mellotron strings play simple chords. The sequencing gradually becomes more propulsive and complex and the melodies more refined and emotional. The sequencing then becomes even more complex, as Gert solos on a synthesizer in his typical jazzy manner. A steady rhythm starts, but this track remains an easy-going, even airy, if somewhat propulsive, piece of music. Towards the end, the mood becomes a bit mournful and bitter, with almost Neo-classical pads and windy landscapes. And finally, the finale is here - an 8-minute closing track filled to the brim with absolutely gorgeous cosmic effects and sounds, tense sequences and wonderful melodic themes. This album is the best one I've heard from Gert & Ruud, with "Elements In Decay" easily being my personal top track of 2008. Buy this gem without reservation. 

Uhh... the kilowatts? Forget 'em!

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Gert Emmens "The Nearest Faraway Place Vol.2" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

Just like the first volume of "The Nearest Faraway Place", this second installment of the series is divided into "parts" which run from Part 8 to Part 14 on this particular release. The eighth part begins with a lovely, gentle soundscape. Pretty soon, however, the first sequences appear, joined by heavy mellotron choir. Romantic pads support the flow, in typical Gert Emmens fashion. A somewhat melancholic melody is heard. Then a vintage drum machine bubbles along, as Gert coaxes more sounds and melodies out of his synthesizers. This is Berlin School with a soft, romantic touch. The sequences shine in all their glory for the final stretch of this track, supported by thick pads. Simply wonderful stuff! I cannot explain how beautiful the intro to the next part is. What you get are basically spacey Floydian guitar tones and a few pads but they are arranged in such a beautiful way, it's uncanny. Some Spanish voices are heard, blending nicely with the music. Unique stuff. The mood is then broken by a strong bass sequence. However, the pads give some of it back, revealing the flowing, melancholic nature of this track, despite of it being sequencer-based. A nice analogue solo starts, supported by a clicking drum machine rhythm. It's jazzy, improvised and yet totally focused. This track is quite simply the most beautiful music Gert has ever recorded to date. Deep soundscape serves as the perfect transition to the next track. The amazing droney pads and mellotron voices for some reason remind me on Vangelis' "El Greco" even, as well as Robert Rich's "Gaudi" - the two works I revere. It really has that Mediterranean flair to it that I love so much. A rapid sequence begins, supported by nice flowing mellotron strings. The pads then play an almost hymn-like melody before the sequences take over. Later in this track Gert experiments with various sounds and melodies, most of his trademark pads having that melancholic feel and restless quality. A rumba beat welcomes Part 11. This should be one of the most unusual tracks by Gert - a bit on the startling, eerie side of things, with weird effects and mournful mellotron strings. Excellent combination, however weird it might sound. The track really remind me on those glory days of EM, with its clearly analogue nature and cosmic character. Some symphonic lead lines are heard as well (sort of "Force Majeure" / "Tangram"-ish). I should also mention the excellent vocoder effects. Perfect harmony, perfect atmosphere. This is what this track is - perfection. The mysterious choirs and pads return for the intro of Part 12. Multiple sequences appear and what sequences - gorgeous, melancholic pulsations. A mournful theme is played with synth pads. However, as always with Gert's music, there's a touch of brightness everywhere, it's nowhere near depressing. Another wonderful soundscape finishes off this piece. I have to wonder how good the atmospheric parts of this album are - really effective, imaginative and spot-on. An almost clavinet-like theme welcomes Part 13. My god, this is gorgeous. Very prog and very EM at the same time. This stuff gives me the goosebumps and sends shivers down my spine, it's so beautiful. A rapid sequence is introduced, more pulsations are added, a drum machine rhythm starts and then that French voice. Wonderful stuff. There's an irresistible solemn keyboard theme towards the end that I just can't describe. And, oh, those mellotron choirs... heaven! Part 14 (the final part) begins with and intense soundscape before arpeggiated synths can just be heard beneath a bed of silky smooth mellotron choirs and pads. Shattering analogue bass notes bring us back to 1976 as we travel through space and time on a music machine created by Gert Emmens. Echoing, noisy sequences are joined by more melodic pulsations. This is stunning sequencer music with a touch of symphonic grandeur - lots of brassy analogue synths on this one. The final soundscape ends on a brighter note and there's also that "restless" sound lifted straight from Tangerine Dream's mellotron tape archives. Words fail me in trying to describe the cathartic experience I had when listening to some parts of this album. It's the most mature, cohesive and elegant album of his, the strongest work so far, without a doubt.

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Epiphany "MindsSapes" (private release, 2001)

"MindSong" begins with heavy effects that lead to a section of ethereal pads and dramatic symphonic synthesizers. The rest the track consists of said synthesizers, joined by majestic choirs and a strange, broken tribal rhythm. Curious stuff, very relaxing. "SeaBurst" starts in a classic Dark Ambient fashion, with all types of shadowy, barely-heard sounds. I like it a lot - it reminds me on ocean depths or other such unexplored regions of Earth. A tribal rhythm seeps in, taking things to Steve Roach territories. The atmospheres on this track are full of contrasts; it's a constant play of light and shade, brightness and darkness. "Clouds" relies on clusters of digital synths and effects and a steady, cyclical rhythm. It is relatively active compared to the other tracks and could hardly be considered Ambient. "Beyond" fills the sonic space with cosmic effects and high-pitched synth strings. Everything is them replaced with an intense pad / drone combination and only a handful of effects and organ interludes. It's an interesting, minimal track. "Nucleus" begins with a sawing sound like a swarm of bees in the distance. It is joined by various pads. Everything then calms down for a long quiet section full of subtle effects and distant echoes. Surprisingly enough, a rhythm starts that doesn't last long, however, as the next section of the track takes us to an intense brew of outer-space synths and dramatic symphonic chords. It is not long before another low-fi rhythm enters, making this track the most diverse composition so far. "Aurealis" introduces a brighter tone. With all of its pads and cosmic synthesizers, this track is much closer to Space Music than to Ambient. Until the rhythm kicks in, that it. After that we are submerged in a sea of dark synths, long drones and obscure effects. We return to the initial flowing atmospherics for the last several minutes of the track. "FarHag" has an atmospheric introduction before a simple sequence enters, supported by silky pads. We then drift into deeper lands with all types of dark effects and distant clangs. A lush, orchestral section that follows is one of my favourite moments on the disc. It is very cinematic and effective. "Sphere II" is a delightful trip to cosmos. I can imagine this music used in a documentary about space to great effect. Phased pads give way to hypnotic drones and gently arpeggiated synthesizers. Then a gently splashing pulse leads the track that now consists of just the subtle noises and sporadic pads. Deep drones and a nice melodic theme finish off this interesting collection of (mostly) ambient compositions.

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Epiphany "Sonica" (private release, 2010)

The newest album from Dutch synthesizer artist Epiphany begins with an intro that's heavy on the drones and mysterious sounds that introduce the various eerie moods and ghostly synthetic ambiences of "Sonica". A good dose of analogue textures is used, along with the newest digital sources. "Dreaming" possesses a fittingly ethereal quality, with airy pads gliding effortlessly like clouds slowly passing by in the sky above. This for me is the real music for cloud watching. It's intimate, relaxing and emotional and is done in the best tradition of the masters of ambient genre. A relaxed rhythm was not something I expected, as it's fairly prominent and not something you encounter often in ambient forms of EM. Nevertheless, it compliments the track nicely and is not distracting at all. "Angels And Ghosts" is a short exercise in atmospheric textures that are totally out of this world - dreamy, expansive and relaxing. "End of An Era" has that classic Tribal Ambient sound to it. I think fans of Steve Roach will dig this one. Synthesizer atmospheres are combined with a great slow-motion percussive rhythm. The track has got a darker edge that I find hugely appealing. The second half of the track has got a different rhythm and the synths sound much brighter. "Dark Procession" is more or less a foray into unusual textures and atmospheres. With a title like that you'd expect something frightening, but to me this track sounded more epic and solemn, like a mysterious but bright mess in a forgotten temple, with lots of choirs and more experimental sounds that are hard to pin down. I would say there's something glitchy about it, but it's hardly a classic Glitch track. Some of the more shrill textures I found rather painful, so beware and don't turn the volume all the way up, especially if you're listening on headphones. "Hypnotic Jungle" is laden with electronically recreated sounds of birds and from this foundation rises a wacky tribal rhythm supported by mysterious pads. The track is upbeat by ambient standards and is fairly intense, retaining the surreal, edgy quality. Great stuff! "Alpha" begins more in the classic EM vein, with bright arpeggios, drawn-out pads and key changes. A section dominated by effects follows, including nice sounds of gently crashing waves and a few analogue twitters. Interestingly enough, there's a classic analogue pulse heard in the background that gives the track a vaguely Berlin School flair. The pulse gets louder, turning into a full-blown sequence. Another, brighter sequence enters, supported by a relaxed rhythm. The sequences then subside as the track steers in a more familiar ambient direction. However, the pulsations do return after a while, providing a nice groovy element. The track ends quite abruptly. "The End" is not really the end of this album but is a nice reflective track of phased pads and hypnotic drones. The "Sonica Outtro" finishes off this album with the same textures and sounds that were heard in the beginning. Apparently, the outtro is just a reversed version of the intro, which was deliberately designed to sound equally expressive when played in both directions. "Sonica" is a nice album for soundscape lovers, with plenty of variety and even some Berlin School bits. Recommended.

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Eric G "Illusions" (private release, 2010)

Three massive epics adorn this new outing from Swedish EM artist Eric G. "Mowing the Moon's Grass" begins with a mysterious soundscape - drawn-out organ chords, wind effects, subtle twitterings - all very much in the classic Schulze tradition. Various analogue sounds are introduced, the most prominent being a fat lead and cosmic effects. Little by little the soundscape becomes more melodic, retaining its reflective edge. This is some wonderful cosmic music. Some might say it resembles too much some of Klaus Schulze's material from the 1970's, but if you like this particular style of warm, analogue, improvised Electronic Music, you'll have great pleasure listening to this. A bass sequence gradually unfolds, joined by more pulsations and a mournful lead line. A relaxed rhythm starts, supported by reflective mellotron flutes. Overall, it's typical "mind music", flowing and spacey, with a few effective melodic hooks. I just love that Minimoog solo in the final part. It delivers the wacky Arabic overtones I love so much about some of the EM solos. One of the best outtro's I've heard in a while graces this wonderful EM track. The mellotron reminded me on Edgar Froese even. Nice use of Moog Taurus bass pedals as well. If you want to know why analog synths are considered fat sounding, this track is the dog's bollocks. The same can be said about the beginning of the next track called "Model 3". This time, however, the atmospheric intro shifts to analogue pulsations almost straight away. I would say that this track comes directly from the "Stuntman" school of thought. By this I mean that most of the sounds, both the sequences and the melodic solos, remind on that classic work by Froese. True to its most obvious inspiration, "Model 3" features a lot of great melodic hooks, sometimes stuff you can always whistle to, but never becoming too accessible or overtly sweet. Towards the ten minute mark the track mostly focuses on sequences while all other sounds play a supporting role. The final part is heavy on mellotron strings giving the overall sound a vaguely neo-classical flair. "Finally Found the Missing Glass Piece" (the tradition of strange titles for EM tracks continues) returns us to cosmos with its warm analogue pads, reflective leads and EMS-like twitters. Later on, Eric brings in some aggressive touches by means of a sequenced growling bass. A nice electric piano melody is heard. The track sounds almost fusion-y at this point. Of course, you just have to love those wonderful pulsations of which Eric provides good doses to quench your analogue thirst. The electric piano makes another appearance, supported by mellotron choir and a lot of effects. All this cosmic drama is backed by a stiff TR-606 rhythm. I would say this track is the most original of the lot, as it doesn't resemble any other artist's style that much. Because of that, I consider this piece to be the best track of this album. On one hand, you've got analogue goodness in spades, starting from the sequences and ending with good solos and mellotron sounds, but on the other hand you get something quite original. As a result, this is the kind of tribute I like most - only hinting at its influences but never descending into mere copying. "Illusion" is a solid album of Berlin School Electronic Music that all fans of the genre should grab as soon as possible.

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Eloy Fritsch "The Garden of Emotions" (Dreaming, 2009)

"The Garden of Emotions" is the new album of Brazilian composer and keyboard player Eloy Fritsch. As with his previous efforts it was realized using synthesizers, samplers, sequencers and computers by the author himself with a little help from Deborah Fritsch (voice on track one). The album starts with the six-part title track. Part 1 begins with heavy concrete noises, before everything settles down for a section of melodic pads. Soon, super fast playing by Eloy makes an appearance, followed by a tight Rock rhythm. Various symphonic themes come and go, with choirs, analog and digital synths dominating. Fans of classic Vangelis works will enjoy this. We gradually transition to Part 2, where some of the textures and themes remind on Jarre circa "Rendez-Vous". There's also that slap bass sound straight from "Revolutions". I can hear another influence here: Tomita. Some of the more solemn themes really remind on what Isao was doing circa "The Planets". Influences and comparisons aside, this is just fun music that never bores you, with great programming of sounds and catchy themes. Parts 3 and 4 continue in the same direction, focusing more on the atmospheric and solemn aspects. classically inspired stretches are interrupted by experimental interludes, only to go back to full-blown symphonic epicness a couple of seconds later. We drift off to more ethereal realms with Part 5, where the sound of a photo camera (similar to Jarre's "Souvenir of China") is set up against a backdrop of floating rich synth soundscape. Wonderful stuff! With Part 6 we return to more bombastic stuff with choirs and orchestral sounds. "Lumine Solis" is a choir-laden track that would not sound out of place on Vangelis' "The Mask". There's also a lot of fine piano playing. "Solar Energy" introduces a spacier atmosphere, with phasing pads and Berlin-esque sequences. The vocoder voice and a bombastic four-note motif render it pretty unique, though. A good analog solo is all we really need to complete the picture. This is pure EM and a very good one, with all sorts of really fat analog timbres. With "Beyond the Mountains" it's a return to the classically inspired structures, with an extra Ethnic element that's hard to pin down. Something that sounds like a sitar for sure, but the manner of playing gives the music a vaguely Far Eastern flair. This music is very cinematic in its feel and is very Vangelis-like (everything from "Heaven and Hell" to "Conquest of Paradise" soundtrack comes to mind). "Electric Light" is more synthetic and even Kraftwerk-like, with insisting sequences, vocoders and a simple repeating melodic theme. I didn't expect anything like that from Eloy Fritsch but it sounds good to me. Of course, there's nothing minimal about this music, the sound is rich and full and the Kraftwerk comparisons are a bit less than relevant during the second part of this track. However, the "Computer World" atmosphere permeates this piece. "Heaven" is a beautiful, piano-driven song with complementary synthesizers and choirs. Flutes and percussion welcome the coming of "Savage" before a melodic synth theme appears. This is the simplest piece on this album but is no less effective because of that. I could probably do without the voices, though (sounds way too funny). The real attraction of this track is the wonderful marimba-led section that comes around the six-minute mark. "Space Station" is another foray into a purely synthetic world. However, this time the sequences and melodies are accompanied by a heavier rhythm, the whole reminding me a bit on Kraftwerk's "The Mix", of all things! You could also draw a comparison with Jarre's "Chrolologie", given that the melodies are hardly as minimal as Kraftwerk's. "The Canyon of Hope" finishes this album on a pastoral and reflective note. There are flowing synths, symphonic textures and a reflective e-piano. You might even think you are listening to a lost track from "Antarctica"! "The Garden of Emotions" is a diverse album to say the least. I could detect so many influences in Eloy's music and yet I think it would be enough to point out that it will appeal to the bulk of EM listeners. But especially fans of Vangelis ought to check this album out.

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If, Bwana "Radio Slaves" (Monochrome Vision, 2007)

"Radio Slaves" by experimental musician Al Margolis aka If, Bwana contains tracks recorded during the 1980's. "The Evocation" starts things out in a freaky way with repeating unidentifiable sounds. "Brain Dead" continues in the same manner, adding all kinds of processed bell sounds. This is hardcore experimental stuff that will be enjoyed by those into electroacoustic music, noise and sound collage. "Gift of Life" loops voices and what sounds like processed trumpet into a scary and dissonant soundscape. "Fish Tales From the Bible" is heavy on looping again, blending in all kinds of voices. This is some spooky stuff with a strange hypnotic effect. "Jungle Horn" relies more on orchestral stabs and some other, totally obscure textures and snippets. "Called On God's Carpet" has a very distorted speech and some other sounds that seem to be coming from a long metallic tube - totally schizophrenic and out-there stuff. Thankfully, most tracks are rather short, which warrants the fact they don't overstay their welcome and do not become boring or irritating. Besides, there's enough movement in each of them to provide for a concentrated listening throughout, as is the case with this track, for instance, which is slightly longer in duration. This electroacoustic soundscape is dense, thick and foreboding. "The Great One" begins with vinyl cracking and a moody background pad. Later on, more textures and dark melodies are added. This is some interesting music that can be seen as a precursor of modern trends such as turntablism and glitch. "Allah Does It" consists basically of mutated samples of Arab speech and varied percussion. "Dress Me Down" sounds even more like some wicked percussion music with an underlying electronic drone. "It's Your Funeral" is a choir-laden, violin and cello based soundscape. Mystical stuff. "From My Heart, Directly", on the other hand, is hard to describe. There's a rhythmic element that's completely out of sync with the rest of the sounds that seem more or less like short snippets of obscure nature. "Scratching Asia", not surprisingly, includes mutated samples of what sounds like some sort of traditional Chinese music, on top of which Al layers all types of noises, some grating and harsh, some sounding like amplified vinyl noise. The title track comes next. Here, we are treated to a melange of sounds that range from wall-of-sound noise to vinyl scratching, radio snippets and other electroacoustic whatnot. Chaotic, to say the least. "Mixed Opinions" offers a harsher vision with similar elements, adding some sort of mutated spooky voices and dark synth stabs. "Once Upon A Time" is a strange blend of bubbly and percussive sounds, all transformed beyond recognition. "Living In Harmony" is all processed classical instruments - violas, violins, cellos and so on. "A Condensed History of Religion" contains scary and mutated samples of speech, war sounds and so on. It's intense and noisy. "Screwed It Up Again" sounds like it was constructed from just human voices and strange metallic electroacoustic textures. "Accident Free Households" introduces a brighter note, with it's looped major key structures and a reciting voice. Finally, "Extremely Dangerous" closes this disc on a highly experimental note, with voices, noisy textures and industrial hums. If, Bwana's "Radio Slaves" is not something I am going to play often, but it is still a nice and interesting work of experimental electroacoustic music.

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Jim Kirkwood "Voices From the Edge of Night" (private release, 2004)

Jim Kirkwood is a mysterious character who works out of his "Sleepy Rabbit studios" in the UK and makes Electronic Music with a dark twist. "Voices From the Edge of Night" consists of four lengthy, epic tracks, filled to the brim with sequences, atmospheric sounds and solos. We kick off with 13-minute "Atavistic Resurgence". No messing up with ambient sounds here, it's straight into business, with dramatic orchestra chords and a screaming solo. After a while, a super-fast, aggressive sequence appears. It is then joined by menacing choirs and the initial orchestral theme returns. A dead calm section follows, with slightly heard bells and reflective synth pads. Excellent contrast! A lone mellotron flute cries on top. An excellent (and I mean it) melodic sequence starts - a perfect combination, the background effects being no less tasty. It's restrained music with a menacing edge. Another sequence joins, as the 'tron flute continues casting its spell. The sequence is submerged under heavy organ chords, as new, more aggressive sequence appears. The track gets more menacing, with the choirs making a comeback, before everything calms down and drowns in a sea of echoes and metallic drones. "And the Abyss Smiled Back" begins with some really spine-chilling effects and distorted voices. The level of intensity grows and finally a crunching sequence is unleashed, with mellotron strings gently weeping underneath. There's a slight ethnic flair in the proceedings at this point. New melodic sequences are added, as barely heard whispers and weird noises add that special, spooky element to the music. An excellent cascading melody is heard, joined by a piercing analogue solo. The track ends with an echoing noise sequence ala "Thru Metamorphic Rocks" and subtle pads. "The Silent Rage" begins with heavily processed voice samples. Dramatic strings give way to an aggressive upbeat sequence that is soon joined by yet another, higher-register one. Yet another sequence is introduced, as the track flies forward at quite a pace. A melodic motif is supported by a few screaming analogue sounds. This is pure Berlin School at its most energetic. On this track, everything is done superbly, from the multiple sequences to pads, solos and mellotron voices. The sequences then come to the fore, as angelic female voice gently weeps beneath. However, it's the sequences that completely steal the show here. Excellent drum arrangements complement the electronic pulsations very well. A screaming distorted lead joins the stage, as the sequences propel forward with an even stronger assertiveness. A strange transition to some jarring rhythmic sounds follows, as everything drowns in a mass of echoing voices. "Beneath the Surface of Reality" begins with deep bass drones, half-heard, half-felt. A voice cries from the shadows. A beepy sequence slowly makes its way to the surface, accompanied by another bell-like pulsation. And then bang! A bass sequence bursts through, as the soundscapes becomes more epic and cosmic. An excellent 3-note motif is introduced is what sounds like the most ethereal and melodically strong track of this album. The weeping, bowed sounds remind me a bit on Robert Rich's laptop steel guitar. The sequences are so multiple and so tasty, it's uncanny. The rhythmic elements subside to leave the track to end with voice samples and echoing sounds. Wow. There's also a bonus track on this CD-R in the form of a 12-minute composition titled "In the Deep Places of the World". It begins with some really weird rhythmic noises, before a mellotron flute appears. Sounds a bit like "Ricochet"-era Tangerine Dream but spookier. Some weird slow sequences appear, as a fat analog lead line adds a glue-like texture. It's amazing how Jim combines some really weird and unusual elements into a rhythmic brew that breathes and lives the life of a separate, beautiful organism. And it looks like the laid-back, relaxed version of Kirkwood is no less captivating and mesmerizing than the upbeat one. Mellotron choirs add a welcome extra analogue touch, as the lead line is played with an oboe synth patch. Jim Kirkwood is most obviously Britain's best kept secret - a unique artist with a unique style. If you mentally combine Berlin School with Gothic horror soundtracks, you might get a vague image of Jim's music. But you'll never get the exact picture until you listen to his music. Effective, extravagant and virtuoso sequencing; simple, but effective melodic content and striking contrast between the aggressive / upbeat and calm, ambient sections are all Jim's strengths.

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Jim Kirkwood "Foxhalt Edge" (private release, 2005)

This is my second Kirkwood review after the excellent "Voices From the Edge of Night". It is quite natural that I am expecting something of at least equal quality and excitement rate. You won't find any short songs here, just three epic compositions ranging in duration from 8 minutes to almost half an hour. The first track is called "In the Court of the Stag Head God". Very dark sounds and distant ethereal voices set the mysterious mood and then pow! A piercing analogue lead synth appears and makes me startle. All then returns to quietness, but the piercing synth makes several returns, accompanied by pipe organ. At this point the music becomes fairly bombastic and in yer face. Some calmer, gentler synths appear, only to be interrupted again by the loud organ / synth combination. A rhythm develops, as demonic choir support the somewhat erratic flow of this piece. Everything calms down, as barely heard drones and strange echoing sounds dominate the picture for a while. Dramatic strings give way for an excellent sequence and then another one. The levels of excitement grow fast, as a stonking melodic line appears. An oboe-like synth enters the dialogue between various instruments and textures. If you like your music fast, aggressive and energetic, this is the kind of EM that would appeal to you. A piercing analogue solo shoots off into stratosphere, as the sequences change key several times. The pulsations then subside, as the rhythm dominates the picture for a few seconds. A new, sawy melody appears, responded by echoing synth sounds. Gentle pads are a nice change to the otherwise aggressive tone of this track. A different, TD-like bass sequence appears among the deadly song of devilish voices. Yet more sequences are added while the background gets populated by an immeasurable number of sounds. Finally, everything goes back to the bombastic organ / synth combination that was featured in the intro. The sequences do return, however, to finish this piece in an even more urgent and purposeful manner. This track is one long, aggressive, EM tour-de-force. The second track is called "The Other Village". Surprisingly, the beginning is extremely gentle and beautiful, with excellent synth pads and a weeping voice. Terrific stuff! Menacing bass line appears that reminds of John Carpenter's soundtracks. A somewhat oriental-sounding lead line is heard, as the track retains its serene and calm character. Funnily enough, it makes me think more of a Chinese farm in space, rather than some dark English medieval village, also because a lot of major harmonies are used which give this track its specific Eastern flair. "Blood On the Plough" is another epic track (with a gore title). It should have been the second track, according to the inlay, but on my CDR it appears as the last composition. A very quiet and dramatic soundscape is enhanced by the sounds of a cello. A terrific slow rhythm appears, as the synth pads become even more hypnotic and dreamy. This is hazy stuff, like some faint reminiscences of a bygone era. An orchestral melodic theme appears - very soundtracky. Finally the sequences arrive in one sudden burst. They are aggressive and asserting as ever. A distorted lead synth sounds like some demented guitar from hell. Another melodic lead line appears before everything calms down for another soundscape section. Ghostly voices are interrupted by harpsichord-like hits. A great laid-back rhythm appears on top of the sawy synth waves. A somewhat plodding sequence appears as the melodic theme from the first part of the track makes a reprise. Excellent analogue solo is a nice addition to the already very rich sound. A surprisingly gentle section follows, followed by a nice marching melodic theme. This rhythmic progression is a true culmination of the whole disc, it's so strong emotionally and so solemn, you would think it was a wise decision to put this track in the end of the CDR after all... Great analogue solo supports the symphonic synths - free, unrestrained and boundless. I was expecting more great music from Jim, and "Foxhalt Edge" delivers the goods. Recommended.

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Jim Kirkwood "Canterbury Black" (private release, 2007)

This album contains three massive tracks from the master of dark Berlin School, Mr. Kirkwood. "A Cathedral of Crows" begins with potent organ chords, almost Bach-like and very Baroque. They are then joined by menacing synth lines. Symphonic and bombastic stuff which gets even meaner as the choirs kick in. Stomping drums join the procession, emphasizing the hymn-like nature of music. A supertasty analogue lead line kicks in, adding a touch of spaciness to the arcane melodies. A rapid sequence appears, accompanied by mellotron strings. More 'tron sounds enter as the sequences get more intense and enveloping. The track then gets more classical, with melodies played by violins and similar synth sounds, as the sequences bubble along at a comfortable pace. For the outtro, the bombastic organ theme returns, along with the accompanying synths and a sequence. This is EM at its most epic and grandiose. Crows cry like banshees over low trees as we slowly drift out of the darkness. "An Evening On Black Knowle" is next. This massive track begins with a quiet soundscape. Several pads are joined by subtle effects for the nocturnal brew that is best listened to with your eyes closed. An analogue synth echoes somewhere in the distance, as the track gets pretty cosmic and even relaxing. Wonderful, moody stuff. Subtle effects give way for an excellent upbeat melodic sequence. And then a fat bass synth! Driving, energetic stuff, full of synthetic life. A rippling solo is all it takes to enter the Berlin School heaven. This track takes no prisoners as we are treated to multiple sequences, a soloing synthesizer and ghostly processed vocals. The sequences then disappear, as the track submerges into a sparkling sea of glowing synths, caressing pads and whispering effects. Summer nights are dark but warm and this track is exactly like a summer night, it's bleak but mellow, frightening but intriguing, ghostly but alluring. A mass of aggressive noises slowly penetrates the soundscape as a sense of suspense permeates this track. A slow rhythm starts, supported by smooth analogue bass and harpsichord-like synths. The voices return as a sense of melancholy rushes at you and envelops you with its cold embrace. Various synth solos try to break through the dense web of sound. The rhythm leaves for yet another ghostly section where darkness is filled by synth sparkles that fly around you until being shredded by a wonderful cascading sequence. Things get more energetic as the level of excitement grows in no time. A piercing solo is heard, supported by a multiple array of synths, both melodic and abstract. The processed voice returns, with another notable element being the mellotron choir. The pulsations get totally manic towards the end, turning into a rhythmic maze, ready to tear your mind apart. Cathartic stuff. Aggressive orchestral stabs finish this piece which leaves you totally exhausted. What a trip! Scary noises herald the coming of "The Crow Road pt2". This is the most menacing stuff heard on this album so far. It's not extremely dark, though, but somewhat grayish, with all sorts of resonating drones and shimmers. An aggressive synth pierces your brain, as the choirs appear and get extremely neurotic. A sequence appears from beneath the surface, as a melodic theme floats on top. A bass sequence joins the feast as the track gets rather ghostly. Listening to this is like watching a moonlit lawn where spirits gather for an evil dance. The sequences shine in all their glory for a couple of minutes but are soon joined once again by the melancholic melodies. More epic melodies follow, some of them shooting straight into the stratosphere with their bent notes and whirling qualities. Anthemic sawtooth synths add even more intensity before everything calms down for a section dominated by demented voices and echoing effects, similar to closing doors, beating drums and such. Some asserting sequences appear, joined by choirs and bell-like textures. A smooth rhythm enters as the track settles into a nice groove. Probably the most complex of the three, this track astonishes and surprises with its sequential beauty. As a proof of this, more sequences appear towards the end, as the main theme returns before a haunted finish full of voices, menacing effects and Gothic gloom. Epic would be the word for this track and the album in general. You can't go wrong with Kirkwood.

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Luciftias "Soundscapes For Headphones" (Akhkharu Hymns Productions, 2008)

"Soundscapes For Headphones" is a massive, 2CD-set packaged in a DVD box, with ambient music from US based artist John Beers. Disc one opens with "Prelude" - a short, 3-minute piece filled with very low drones. This stuff will really test your speakers. However, headphones are advised, as is clear from the title of the album. "Soundscapeone" continues where the previous track left, with prolonged, noisy drones. However, one should not assume this is some kind of static stuff. The drones are always moving, with slight phasing effect applied to them. As a result, the music is not dull, but enveloping and dynamic in a way. On the other hand, the sound itself is rather grayish and stark, even foreboding. There's a sense of danger lurking somewhere inside of it. This is pure drone, with hardly a melody or rhythm in sight. "Soundscapetwo" introduces some new sounds, like low, resonating synthesizers and totally indescribable whistling. Eerie stuff that gets under your skin. Looking for some sounds that would scare your neighbors or unwanted guests? In search of a new soundtrack for your Halloween parties? This is it. Just beware: this stuff is seriously out-there. Needless to say, it's better to listen to this in complete silence. "Soundscapethree" is the longest of the first disc. This time it's more or less a return to the sound of "Soundscapeone". The textures are more thick and stark, compared to the previous track which was more airy and otherworldly. If "Soundscapetwo" was like a stare into the abyss, "Soundscapethree" is really like a stare at a brick wall. Totally impenetrable. I think fans of Oophoi might enjoy this but it's even deeper than most of Oophoi's work. Absolutely otherworldly. The question is: is this music? I say yes. It is sound art. And what is music if not the art of arranging sound? This is not Ambient, it's deeep deeeeep Ambient - sounds you hear in your dreams. Scary dreams, I must add. "Soundscapefour" concludes disc 1 with much more resonating drones that have that cosmic vibe to them. There are also some obscure hitting sounds, echoing into the void. This is certainly the most psychedelic track so far and also the most diverse one, sonic-wise. Again, fans of Italian Ambient masters like Oophoi or Amon will find lots to enjoy here. This music has the same nocturnal, sleepy and even esoteric feel to it. Disc two opens, quite naturally, with "Soundscapefive". For a few seconds you hear basically the same droning sounds that closed the first disc. However, soon some whooshing sounds appear, with static, high-pitched textures reminding on dead leaves flown along the road. Haunting stuff. Alright, it doesn't add much to what was already explored before, but this track is probably the most ghostly and immersive piece here. "Soundscapesix" brings some industrial influences to the fore, with a slow metallic rhythm serving as the base for grungy synth bass. The weirdest piece for sure and also one that is much less ambient in its approach. A dirge-like synth pad appears after 7 minutes and disappears after a minute or so. However, more horror melodies are heard throughout the course of this track. "Soundscapeseven" is like a glimpse of light after a long, pitch-black night. Strange noisy textures are combined with bright and positive synth pads for a meditative effect. Surprisingly, this stuff is not dark at all, it's reflective Ambient with some experimental sounds. The track does drag on a bit without much variation. "Soundscapeeight" is a return to the black forest, with very low bass drones and resonating sounds. Stark and foreboding. On the other hand, "Soundscapenine", the last track, is glurpy and guttural. Actually, it sounds like everything you hear on this track was recorded underwater. It's heavily processed and the bass is sometimes a bit overwhelming. I listened to it via headphones but I wonder if any speakers will stand this? Interesting and very hypnotic in a strange kind of way. I recommend "Soundscapes For Headphones" to all fans of Ambient, especially those into the deepest, subtlest and bleakest forms thereof.

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Martha Rabbit "Pyrrhogaster" (private release, 2008)

Michael Allert & Wolfgang Rohdenburg: Access Virus C, Access Indigo, Access TI, Clavia Nordlead 3, Korg Karma, Korg M1, Korg Wavestation and Wavestation SR, Korg Radias, Korg Triton Extreme, Korg Triton TR, Manikin Electronic Memotron, Moog Voyager, Roland Fantom XR, Roland JV2080, Roland XP-30, Roland V-Synth, Yamaha FSR 1, Yamaha Motif 6, Doepher MAQ 16/3, Manikin Electronic Schrittmacher, Quasimidi Polymorph, Radikal Technologies Spectralis, Roland MC-909, Yamaha RS7000. 

The new album by the duo of Michel Allert and Wolfgang Rohdenburg arrived in the mail and I was eager to review it, as I remembered their nice first effort and I liked the cover art of "Pyrrhogaster" very much (especially the colours). They use a variety of synthesizers here, mostly virtual analogue ones, as well as the memotron (the digital replica of a mellotron). The title track begins with moody pads and a few plucked guitar sounds (sampled, I would guess). A bass sequence slowly creeps in, as mellotron flute weeps on top. Nice music in pure Berlin style. In a surprise move, a relatively heavy 4/4 rhythm starts, as new sequences and effects are added. A nice melody plays on top of what sounds like a modern, dynamic EM track. I imagine this would sound perfect on a long journey along a deserted highway. The rhythm becomes more subtle, as echoing sequences are combined with a fluety lead synth line. A very Tangerine Dream-y melody is heard, reminding on a mixture of "White Eagle" and "Dream Mixes". The final part has a slow rhythm, and some very, very nice, restrained and reflective synth soloing. There are also mellotron strings coupled with melancholic synth pads. This sounds like a mixture of TD and Schulze styles to me. A very nice track. If New Berlin School is your thing - go for it! "Mars Canyon Railway" is next. A steady bass sequence, some experimental sounds and a nice, 4/4 bass rhythm make for one rollercoaster of a track. It feels like you are on a train indeed. Martian train? Hmmm.... "Total Recall" anyone? Good soundscapes on this one. A nice solo or two and the picture is complete. A very enjoyable track with an improvised character. "Calcalong Creek" is introduced with a fast bass sequence which is soon joined by yet another, echoey one. A rhythm starts and a nice melody plays on top. It's an energetic and yet atmospheric number that is pretty much in line with what was heard before. If you like dynamic, rhythmic and yet melodic music, this will be right up your valley. "Transmediators" begins with moody pads, before a vocoder-like sound appears, immediately joined by a fast sequencer line. Great stuff with original sounds! I like it when synthesists make their own textures, and these guys are really into it this time. The pulsations are very nice, driving and propulsive. There are some voice samples that are used in a creative way. I like the dynamic qualities of this track which still manages to stay harmonic and melodic. Heck, I like the synthetic sax solo even, as it does gel together with the rest of the sounds. I expected the 4/4 rhythm to come over, as it seems to be the trademark of this album. And, indeed, after 6 minutes the rhythm appears making this track even more propulsive and urgent. However, it's melodic improvisation and the sounds and arrangements themselves, who are "real stars" here. Ok, I could probably do without the piano part, as it sounds somewhat out of place here. "Pathfinder's Secret" is introduced with a spacey soundscape. Pads and all kinds of effects hang in the air like thick haze. A wonderful laid-back sequence appears on what sounds like the most atmospheric number of this album. Another great sequence soon joins and we are floating on top of soft synthetic waves of this nice track. A classic! Nice soloing adds the necessary human touch while the whole composition has a decidedly cosmic character. A heavy rhythm starts as various sounds come and go. I would have preferred a totally beatless track, though. Still, it's a nice cosmic number with an epic length of 15 minutes. The guys have programmed some great sounds for this one. "Home of the Gods" surprises with a decidedly ethnic flair - lots of percussion, oriental melodies and a heavy beat / sequence combination. At various points during this track, in come the choirs, melodies and more ethnic or orchestral sounds. The debut album of Martha Rabbit was nice but this one here is a huge improvement. On "Pyrrhogaster" Michael and Wolfgang have solidified their sound and found their style. I would probably do without the heavy rhythm (not that there's anything wrong with it, just not to my taste) and it might also put off some people but those who like dance rhythms combined with no-nonsense electronics will find this album exactly to their liking. Besides, I will never argue with a guy who has a picture of Zappa on his t-shirt. Recommended.

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Megatone "Pure Land" (private release, 2008)

Marcel Gherman aka Megatone was a radio DJ in the 1990's but in the New Millennium he has been composing solo Electronic Music of an ambient nature. "Pure Land" is his latest one - a diverse collection of tracks. "Sunset On Coruscant" begins this collection with rich synth pads and some heavy effects. A solemn, bright atmosphere permeates this composition. It lasts just under 2 minutes. "Blue Skies Over Arcadia" is melodic, with very rich arrangements. The melody is pompous but very well done. A very emotional and diverse track which came as a surprise as I was expecting something more ambient. "Portal To Hyperspace" continues in the solemn symphonic manner of the previous number. At times it almost sounds like a soundtrack, the music is so anthemic. More menacing bass synthesizers appear towards the 2-minute mark, as organ chords add a celestial touch. The track builds to a crescendo, before adopting an almost Bach-like approach, with organ chords completely dominating the score. Nice and highly cinematic. "Shanti" features a rather expansive melodic theme, accompanied by various synths. Again, this is music of a symphonic nature. Very solemn and bright stuff. "Acropolis" is in the same style, only this time much more reflective and melancholic, largely without the pomp and over-the-top approach of previous numbers. This one has much more restrained arrangements.  "Unicorn" is almost Baroque, fantasy-like music, with what sounds like an electronic version of a clavecin. The synths are very bright and ethereal on this one. The classical influence is all but gone on the next track, titled "Black Lotus". This is much more in line with what I expected to hear from Marcel - lots of synth drones, gently melodic touches and a somewhat shadowy (not dark) sound. "Infinity" is the longest track at seven and a half minutes. This time the mood is reflective once again, with gentle synth pads, good effects and a slow harp-like melody. All of these elements subside, as a very low drone takes over. However, the reprise of the synth pad melody comes only a couple of seconds later. A section dominated by effects follows. Electronic twitters give way to aquatic sounds that finish this strange piece of music. "Nirvana" is somewhat meditative but with that extra dramatic touch. I like the echoing effects on this one. After visiting nirvana, we then enter the "Babylon", where dramatic symphonic synths meet analogue cosmic effects. It sounds more like Space Music than Ambient if you ask me. The track gets really intense towards the end, its warm sound reminding me on Telomere's music. "Jade" is the shortest track on the album, clocking at just 1:10. It is chock full of cosmic effects without any other accompanying sounds. "Ocean of Oblivion" has a somewhat doomy piano melody, surrounded by rich synth pads. The track's got a highly cinematic, expansive sound and a somewhat mysterious vibe. "Turquoise" is another short track filled to the brim with synthetic effects and whizzes. "Moksha" has aquatic effects and a shimmering synth texture. Very airy, bright stuff.  "Obsidian" is yet another totally spaced out interlude, with buzzing synths and a few shimmering effects. "Ithaca", on the other hand, is melodic and symphonic, with nice piano. Reminds on early 80's Tangerine Dream, mostly in melodic content but also in sound. "Supernova" is weirder, with strange bubbling effects, totally spacey synthesizers and reflective synth strings. "The Awakening", on the other hand, was rather puzzling, as it's basically a straight-ahead techno / trance track. It is the least interesting one from the musical point of view. "Pure Land" was certainly done by a talented artist, the bulk of the tracks being highly cinematic symphonic synthesizer pieces. With Marcel's reputation of an ambient artist I was expecting something in the Roach / Rich vein maybe, but in fact most of the tracks here are brighter, more melodic and more intense than your typical ambient fair. However, the fact didn't spoil the enjoyment I got from listening to it.

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Guido Meyer "Durathon" (private release, 2010)

Guido Meyer's "Durathon" is a brand-new EP-length CDR release from this German / Swiss musician. The title track starts with bright melodic synths. A heavy drum rhythm enters as the synths become more gritty and aggressive. Great work with panning is felt here, with sounds and echoes filling up every bit of the stereo field. Hard rocking guitar riffs are a nice addition to this driving track. It got my head nodding and my foot tapping in no time. I guarantee it will make your heart beat faster if you're into melodic, rhythmic EM with a touch of guitar. Personally, I enjoyed it immensely. "Mechanix" continues the guitar / synth interplay set by the previous number. However, this time the guitar is more prominent, making this more of a Rock number with EM elements - namely sequences and not too prominent pads. The drums are very lively again. This one got me playing my air guitar like mad. Yes, folks, Guido's music has that quality - you just can't stand still once you press the play button. You also have to wonder how it's really possible for one person to create music with such a full sound. "Square Circles" relies on sequences, a cadenced rhythm and an extremely beautiful synth lead. This, guys, is pure EM beauty and class, I am telling you. Melodic EM just doesn't get better that this. If you ever wondered what is it like to find yourself dancing under a full moon by the sea with your loved one - this track might give an idea. At least it would have been a great soundtrack for such situations. Also, kudos to Guido for crafting some really effective sequences for this one. I just wish the track was longer. Oh well, all good things pass quickly, they say. But, wait, there are still three more tracks left. Let's see what Guido has cooked for dessert. "Ginalytic" - a slow rhythm, a gritty bass drone and a nice piano melody underlined by lively drums. Again, the feeling for melody is outstanding. Guido Meyer is certainly one of the best melodists in EM these days. "The Ewinger" relies on a heavy rhythm and very 1980's keyboards. This easy-going track is not so charged emotionally, but on the other hand, features top-notch jazzy synth soloing. "Lightning Man" brings in the feeling of mystery. A syncopated rhythm serves as the basis for all sorts of synth sounds - a pad, a funky lead and other atmospheric textures. A feeling of menace permeates this track that ends this album on an unexpected note. Guido doesn't cease to surprise. Great album and boy does this music deserve a proper CD release.

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Mythos "Surround Sound Offensive" (private release, 2008)

Mythos aka Stephan Kaske has been around for quite a while, releasing his first album as early as 1971. In 2008, he returns with an energetic EM work, especially mixed for surround sound, but playable on standard stereo systems. All tracks are named simply S.S.O. 1 to 11. The first track begins with beating drums, upbeat sequences, bombastic symphonic arrangements and nice vocoder voices. There's a vaguely ethnic flair to this composition. A variety of sounds are used, some of them orchestral, others strictly synthetic. The second track is more laid back, with excellent fat bass synth and a very effective melody. Very nice - those who like melodic EM should check it out. The second part of the track is occupied by a relaxed melodic theme, played by choir-like synths. However, the bass synths accelerate and finally the initial melodic theme returns. This music is immaculately done with interesting sounds and, surprisingly, leaves enough space to show some feeling and emotion. The third track begins with funky echoing sequences, before the sound brakes down to welcome a rather pedestrian rhythm and a somewhat jazzy synth melody. This will be a perfect soundtrack to a scene from a detective story. Part 4 begins with an "Oxygene"-like stepping rhythm and some urgent symphonic synths. A broken rhythm interferes as vocoder voice utters the phrase "Surround Sound Offensive". Quality stuff. Towards the end, the rhythm subsides and sinks in an ocean of atmospheric synth sounds. However, it returns after a couple of seconds to finish this piece of music. The fifth part begins with exciting bass sequences and a nice rhythm. A reflective theme is played on top, as Stephan uses various tasty sounds for the arrangements. Part 6 begins with an urgent melodic synthesizer theme. After a few seconds, various bubbling bass synths are added, as well as a sharp, complex synthetic rhythm. The bass gains more prominence, as a strange, ethnic-sounding vocoder voice appears. Intriguing stuff! This should be one of the most experimental pieces on this album. But even then, it is purposeful and rhythmic, not to mention its tasty, complex arrangements. Part 7 once again begins with a stepping bass sequence and some excellent  echoing synth sounds. A great melodic theme is introduced and then another melodic theme comes, reminding a bit on the late 1980's Tangerine Dream. There's also a slight ethnic vibe to this track. The rhythm then becomes much more subtle, as the track relies on a bass pulse and other rhythmic synthetic sounds. Excellent track! Part 8 is more moody, with an almost Baroque melodic theme and inventive rhythms. The track is so simple in its melodic content but so effective, it makes me wonder as to how this guy achieves it. I guess great talent, strong personality and great musical skills are a good combination to ensure the end result is interesting and enjoyable. Towards the end, the track becomes almost anthemic, with choirs, beating drums and all. However, it never strays too far into orchestral bombast, retaining its synthetic nature. Fat bass synth greets Part 9, as strong melodies coupled with choirs make for some intense brew. Stephan does allow a fair bit of experimentation on this piece, with strange percussive sounds and voice samples. The tenth part begins with wailing synth and melodic arpeggios. As on other tracks of this album, the melodic element is very strong here. Also of note are the great rhythm and synth programming. The arrangements will keep you on your toes throughout. The final part is also the longest track. It begins with excellent bass sequences and harpsichord-like synths. Sounds very hi-tech, largely thanks to the sequences and the mix. Some melodic content (the chords) remind a bit on Jarre, but the music as a whole sounds nothing like him. Stephan has an individual style, quite different from most EM musicians. His music is much more geometric, less flowing than, for instance, Berlin School EM. Instead, Kaske relies on interesting arrangements and effective melodic content. And on the final track, one can hear it easily. On the surface it seems that the sequences are in contrast to the melodies and vice versa. But when you listen closely, you will notice the purposeful nature of the music. It sounds so stiff and calculated, it's almost mathematical, in a good sense. The sound is crystal clear and the stereo field is wide like on no other album, even with ordinary stereo headphones. Audiophiles take note. It is quite difficult to name one best track, as there are no real bummers, some are slightly better than others but overall it's a surprisingly even work.

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Parallel Worlds "Shade" (DiN Records, 2009)

"Shade" is the brand-new album by Greek electronic musician Bakis Sirros who uses a helluvalot of gear, including large analogue modular systems. The cover gives it a rather austere look but let's hear if the music is similar or not. "Frightening Frontiers" gets things going with a dubby bass line and echoing experimental sounds. Soon a mysterious melody emerges, as the bass drum quickens its pace. This music is full of tension and anguish. It effectively combines IDM with traditional EM structures, leaning more towards the former. I must mention the great melodic content - it's really something that makes this track stand out from the crowd. Besides, there's a great attention to details and sound programming. The synthetic textures are used effectively and masterfully. With "Entities", we enter a darker realm. Analogue sounds wander on, as a slow bass line asserts itself of the blanket of synthetic pads and glitchy textures. A rhythmic section follows, interrupted by an atmospheric interlude where simply wonderful electric piano sounds appear. The track ends with quiet, Cluster-type chords that gradually fade into silence. "A Moment Frozen" is totally ghostly - two minutes of static, vinyl-like cracking and mysterious, deep chords. Wonderful, cinematic stuff. "Mutating Realities" is the longest track at 10 and a half minutes. Weird sounds are joined by a slow bass drum rhythm, as menacing chords persist in the right channel of the stereo field. More strange sounds are added, as the track sets up a menacing, dark mood. Surprisingly, distant mellotron flutes surface after 4 minutes. These do not overstay their welcome, though, and are soon drowned by the rhythm and other synthetic sounds. For the last several minutes, this rather intense section is replaced by a barely-heard soundscape - ghostly, aquatic and shimmering. Soon the soundscape transforms into a reprise of the rhythmic theme that was heard before, this time it sounding more minimal and stripped down to the essential elements. "Compulsive Mechanics" is fittingly industrial. Metallic sounds are arranged into a curious rhythmic pattern, as the melody is hypnotic and repetitive. A key change follows, as the track gets more dramatic. Another key change and what we get in the end is a very enjoyable EM number of experimental nature. "Not Being Mirrored" begins with repeating bass, before a busy rhythm is introduced. A weird melody appears, developing into something more shaped and distinguished. Still not something you could hum to, though. A ghostly, musicbox-like melody is introduced, accompanied by synthetic rhythms. The title track plunges into melancholy with its repeating minimal melody and a gently popping rhythm. This is also probably the most emotionally charged track, although the emotions it expresses are those of the stark variety. "Urgency" starts with a voice sample before a stiff, slow rhythm is introduced. After a while, in come upbeat sequences and suspenseful strings. This could serve as the soundtrack to a chase scene in a futuristic movie. The rhythms here are a bit harder than what Bakis is usually known for. There's also a great, mysterious melodic theme near the end. "Towards" is ethereal and flowing, with the rhythmic elements mostly consisting of looped clicks, gentle bass throbs and other such subtle sounds. The track makes nice use of the piano. Finally, "Ungreat Certainty" finishes off on a purely Dark Ambient note. The track mostly consists of floating drones, processed sounds and subtle bass loops. "Shade" is certainly the most accomplished work by Parallel Worlds so far, with great choice of sounds and a claustrophobic, shadowy atmosphere. It's difficult to emphasize any track, but the ones that I thought really stood out were "A Moment Frozen", "Compulsive Mechanics", "Shade", "Towards" and "Ungreat Certainty". This album is highly recommended for fans of modern Electronic Music.

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Purfoze "Songs of the Earth" (private release, 1984)

Originally a cassette-only release, "Songs of the Earth" is finally available as a CD-R, sporting a beautiful satellite picture of New Caledonia and Vanuatu islands. A trio of Ruud Rondou, Mark De Wit and Marc Creemers from Belgium, Purfoze got together in the late 1970's and have been active on the EM scene in the early to mid 1980's. This album contains long tracks of floating synthetic chords and electronic soundscapes. "Lost Era" is a 6-minute opener chock full of menacing bass chords. Some brighter, flickering synths are barely heard, as the bass takes on a gently throbbing stance, still retaining its menacing qualities. Fans of Dark Space music, check this out. "Near the Lake of Tears" is a massive composition clocking at 15+ minutes. Bass synthesizers set the stage for brighter melodies in a classic ambient mode. This is all not so dark and rather serene. So it goes for the whole length of this track. Is this music for cloud watching? At least it sounds like it to me. Reminds me a bit on Brian Eno's classic ambient works. "The Earth's Lament" introduces a darker tone, with infinite pads and undulating drones. However, there's a trace of melancholy in an otherwise fairly dense soundscape. Again, it's pure Ambient, i.e. no rhythm, no sequences, just floating, relaxing synthesizer textures. An influence of Space Music creeps in and the track ends up sounding like a unique hybrid of the mentioned styles. It's all very cosmic but at the same time extremely relaxing. I can imagine myself watching the Earth from a spaceship orbiting our precious blue planet. The music is very beautiful and warm, it sounds like you are in mother's womb again, where small becomes big and the big is yet unknown. Excellent track! "To Distances Not Ever Known" starts with beautiful electronic chords - spacey, mesmerizing and serene. Earthly and cosmic, mysterious and bright - this music is so simple formally speaking and yet so complex in its emotional context, you just have to wonder how talented the guys from Purfoze are. It has that special warmth not often heard in today's productions and yet has that explorative feel that characterized the best EM works from the 1970's up until the 1990's. Wonderful, timeless stuff. This music just lifts you up, it oozes depth and emotion. The track ends on a darker, somber note. "Elsewhere" is a stark, majestic and ethereal 11-minute closer. It reminds me a lot on Tangerine Dream's atmospheres from "Zeit" and especially "Atem". At least it has the same feel to it and some of the sounds are similar too. There's also that soundtracky feel to it. I can easily imagine this as a background for a suspense scene in a horror movie or some darkish sci-fi flick. I enjoyed "Songs of the Earth" immensely. If you're looking for high quality Dark Space or Ambient stuff, this album has got all of it and then some!

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The Redundant Rocker "Heart" (Unsung Records, 2009)

Having known Bernhard Woestheinrich aka The Redundant Rocker for his ambient-like electronic works, I was surprised to hear driving instrumental synth-pop in the first track of this album, titled "Gold". It is based on sampled rhythms and nice synth textures and melodies. This is futuristic music from some neon-drowned bar in space. Weird samples add to the exotic atmosphere. Strange and surprisingly easy-listening stuff. "Hypostasis" is more moody, with tribal percussion and lots of synth pads, before a piano melody and a stiff electronic rhythm take things to lounge territory. Godd stuff for driving to or just playing in background. Various guitars and synths are used as lead instruments as rhythms come and go. "Compress" is more rocky and driving, with heavy-handed rhythm and more aggressive although no less melodic synths. "Renee As Yoko" enters a more typically ambient territory, with repeating minimal notes, a relaxed rhythm and floating synth pads. However, it's still more like an electronic ballad than real Ambient. Dramatic orchestral / synth stabs open "Omnipotence". The track then moves in the direction of experimental EM, with broken rhythms and prominent melodies, supported by pads, heavily distorted guitars and samples. This track is a bit similar to "Mars Polaris"-era Tangerine Dream. "Odilon" continues in similar direction. Here, as in the preceding track, rhythms play a big part in the composition. However, the melodic component is more hazy this time, ending up with a sound that somehow resembles that of Bernhard's band with Markus Reuter, Centrozoon. Overall, this track is atmospheric and abstract - enjoyable stuff. "Heavily Dependent" emphasizes the intense / aggressive elements of Bernhard's sound. This upbeat rhythmic track would serve great as background music for some chase scene in a movie. In contrast, "Alluvium" is laid-back and reflective. However, the drums, although delivered in a relaxed tempo, are as heavy and prominent as ever. The synthesizers are tasty and pleasant. "A Change of Heart", the longest and last track of this album, begins with an abstract sonic collage, before orchestral textures play a dramatic motif. Heavy orchestral stabs are joined by melodic synthesizers and upbeat rhythms to repeat the already familiar formula explored to its fullest on this album. Lots of pianos and sampled guitar sounds appear on this track, along with the ubiquitous synthesizers. I am reminded again on "Mars Polaris", although Bernhard's style is more orchestral and refined. This album is a rhythmic and upbeat outing from Bernhard Woestheinrich, with tasty programming and good melodic sensibilities. A fine and unusual album.

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Remy "EoD" (AKH Records, 2009)

For the tenth anniversary of his first album, Dutch synthesizer musician Remy Stroomer came up with something special. He decided to release a remastered selection of tracks from "Exhibition of Dreams", as well as some newly recorded versions of the original 1999 material. This latter version is what I am going to review here. "Entering the Dream" begins with lilting melodic sequences, joined my more gorgeous electronic pulsations. The bass throb has something of a Schulze quality to it - a lovely, complex pattern. Make no mistake, this is high quality melodic EM, with great key changes that just get under your skin. The original tracks were recorded in one take and this can easily be heard in the flowing, organic nature of this composition. The second half of this track is occupied by the same melodic theme, this time joined by insistent drum rhythm and wonderful cosmic analog solo. "Velocity" starts with an even more urgent and driving sequence. However, the melodic content is still fairly strong here, this time made up of complex symphonic themes. The track falls squarely into Klaus Schulze's late 1980's style, but there are differences. First, the drum rhythm Remy uses is much heavier than what Klaus used back then. Secondly, whereas Klaus relied very much on sampled textures at that time, Remy tends to use purely synthetic textures more freely. The unique track of the bunch is certainly "Lunascape". It relies on a minimalistic four-note pattern, around which Remy builds a melancholic soundscape full of classical strings, mellotron voices and floating pads. In the second half, a slow rhythm compliments the wonderfully grim and melancholic sound of this composition. The rhythm then quickens its pace as the track becomes even slightly danceable, without losing its romantic / melancholic flair. A solo cries on top and no sequences are heard, apart from the said four-note motif. "Silent Conversations" has an airy, misty aura about it. There are multiple pulsations, but the fog envelops everything, the melodies sounding as if coming from a long-forgotten dream. Shadowy, dark and melancholic - that's what this track really is. A heavy rhythm is introduced but the melodic content is still the main attraction of this composition. It's a tune you can almost whistle to, much more accessible that what Remy has been known for during the last several years. The album comes to a close with a 20+ minute "Mirage". Bell-like sequences open this piece of music in typical Remy fashion. Talking about comparisons, this is probably the most Schulze-sounding track of the entire album. All the key changes, the insistent nature of the composition, sharp, computer-aided sequencing, everything reminds on the good old days (I am talking 1986 - 1991 here) of the Master. However, Remy brings in a good dose of individual character to the already familiar style of music. Wonderful, fast soloing presages the coming of a quiet section with almost guitar-like melancholic notes ("In Blue", anyone?). The stiff, dense sequences then return in all their glory, to be joined by melancholic 'tron strings. A heavy hip-hop style rhythm enters, while the melodic content grows in intensity, with new melodies added and old ones gaining volume. A key change follows, as a liquid solo is heard. This is quite some ecstatic EM, stone cold and yet emotional, mechanical and yet easy-going, aggressive and yet soft, sterile and yet organic, impenetrable and yet infiltrating your very soul. A complete change of mood follows, with mellotron dominating and the track losing much of it oomph and yet with a feeling of menace still lurking inside. An aggressive Moog solo echoes into the distance as the drums go overcharge. A wonderful way to finish this great album, I would add.

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Remy "Exhibition of Dreams" (AKH Records, 1999, remastered in 2009)

Following the release of a newly recorded version of some of the tracks from Remy's 1999's debut, here is a double CD of fully remastered original music from that album. "Into the Dream" begins with heavy effects before a dramatic four-note theme is introduced. Familiar sequences gradually unfold, with all kinds of dramatic melodic synths serving as a nice background. A key change follows and a nice guitar-like sound plays an improvised melody. This is moody EM in the style of Klaus Schulze circa 1987 - 1992. Further key changes give the track an urgent character that I like so much. Overall, this is for me one of the best EM tracks recorded in the last 15 years or so. "Mirage" is another familiar piece that appears on "EoD". There's not much to say about it except that it uses the classic combination of urgent, dramatic sequences, soft pads, rippling effects and unexpected key changes. Some nice solos also make appearances in the second half of the track. Another winner. The closing part sounds almost like an outtake from "Beyond Recall". "Lost Forces" relies on uptempo sequencing and sharp synthetic sounds. This is then complimented by a few melodic lean lines and solos. This track is insistent and yet very soft and emotional. "La Luna" (known as "Lunascape" on the "EoD" album) is a reflective, bittersweet piece with simple, slow sequencing and classical strings / flute leads. Silky synth textures flow through the ether, full of anguish and melancholy. Some very Schulzian sounds get used on this track. It is quite obvious that at this early stage Remy was still strongly influenced by Klaus' work. Not a big problem of course, especially since he has made a transition to a more unique, personal style that's still KS-influenced but has more individuality. Finally, "The Fields of Infinity" closes the first disc. A marimba-like sequence is heard underneath the bed on silky pads and drum rolls. This piece did not appear on "EoD" in any form and it became a nice surprise, as it's a very tasty EM track, with acoustic guitar leads (very typical) and a significantly brighter tone, i.e. no Teutonic minor-key harmonies here. A galloping sequence takes up the second half of the piece, with supporting sounds gaining in drama and intensity until it all ends abruptly. Disc two opens with a very Schulze-like "Unidentified Dreaming Objects". A slap bass sequence is all we hear for a few minutes. The track then develops with a few additional sequences and some typical late 1980's preset synth sounds. A few key changes follow in typical Klaus Schulze tradition. This is the most derivative piece so far. Not that there's anything terribly wrong with it, as you can't expect 100% originality from a person who is only at the very beginning of his musical career (and who is 19 years old for that matter). There is an overdose of sampled flute leads, orchestral textures and acoustic guitar on this track. However, the nice flow of the music makes up for it. Basically if you like Schulze circa 1992 - 1995, you find this right up your valley. The final part features an underlying rhythm that brings a new dimension to this lengthy piece of music. In a surprise move, "Silent Voices" delves deep into the realms of shadowy piano music. This melancholic piece is nothing short of brilliant. It also appears in different mix on the "EoD" album. The piano is drowned in a sea of silky synthesizers and mysterious tinkling bells as the track progresses. Even more of a surprise is "Out of the Dream". It's basically an upbeat rhythmic number that doesn't remotely sound like anything else found on this album. "Exhibition of Dreams" is a fine debut by a talented artist who would only become better with each subsequent release.

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Rhea "The True Color of Titan's Lakes" (private release, 2007)

To me, Rhea's previous album was one of the best Space Music releases of the last several years. The disc contained floating, analogue and darkish cosmic synth tracks, all done superbly. It is only natural, therefore, that I am hoping for a follower that would be at least of the same caliber. "Around Floating Rings" immediately sets the stage for this deep space journey with slow, undulating synthesizer sounds. This is probably the deepest and darkest music I've heard from Mark. Little by little a relaxed synthetic pulse comes to the surface but then disappears into the void. However, the pulse returns after a while and then disappears once again. When it returns for the third time, you somehow expect it to appear. Strange track, really. Sounds like breathing to me, in and out, the tension builds and is then released, only to come back a couple of seconds later. Highly visual stuff. "Xanadu - Turbulence & Flyby" starts with a really deep ambience. It reminded me on the first minutes of the "Alien" movie. Remember that deep, cosmic hum? Charming. Various synth shimmers add to the tension, as faraway strings are barely heard beneath the cover of droning synthesizers. The use of subtle string orchestrations reminded me of Schulze around "Body Love" or even "Irrlicht". A sequence slowly creeps in, but the track retains its atmospheric elements, resulting in an intense soundscape that just echoes in the distance. This music breathes space. Little by little the sequence gets more prominent, giving a bit of a Berlin School flair to the track. This is Electronic Music of the highest order, dark and cosmic, just the way I like it. The longest track on the album, called "Dark Lake" begins with resonating metallic textures - very sci-fi and unearthly. Deep voices are combined with spooky synth shimmers, before a slow rhythmic pulse is introduced. Dramatic strings add a touch of melancholy as the track becomes rather Schulze-like (Mark uses similar chords). Phased pads melt in the pot full of synthetic sounds, as various noises, wind effects and distant clangs embellish the picture. Talk about evocative! Another massive track is "Saturni Luna". It starts with high-pitched synth effects, before a wonderful, melodic and very Schulze-like sequence fades in. The rhythm is supported by amazing analogue synthesizer sounds and chords. The sequences subside, as the track gets more profound, more symphonic and orchestrated. However, it is still masterfully subtle and deeply cosmic. The title track kicks off with rich symphonic synthesizers and a tinkling sequence. Another sequence joins the show but the track is still rather soft and very melancholic. So many tasty analogue sounds are used for this track, it will delight all fans of the classic EM works from the 1970's, especially fans of Klaus Schulze circa 1976 - 1977. Thundering effects lead us to the sea of distorted sounds and whooshing, stylistically veering towards Schulze's "Babel" even. However, the sequences return as the track gets even more emotional. Ethereal pads finish this piece on a subdued and trembling note. "Far Thunder" is the last and shortest piece. Interesting electronic effects paint an alien landscapes as rough winds blow above barren land. In come wonderful arpeggiated synthesizers, serving as yet another atmospheric element of this strange track sparsely populated by sounds. "The True Color of Titan's Lakes" is a great successor to "November Stars". Totally space!

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Synth.nl "AtmoSphere" (Groove Unlimited, 2008)

This album by Dutch artist Michel van Osenbruggen is dedicated to the atmosphere of our planet Earth and each track is named after a specific gas layer above the surface, starting from the lower ("Troposphere") and going up right until "Exosphere", where the gas molecules are so sparse that it is almost like outer space already. Some tracks are named after specific types of clouds. The first track begins with whooshing wind and subtle synth effects. Little by little a nice relaxed rhythm develops and a nice melody is played by a mellotron-like choir. A louder, symphonic theme dominates the second part of this track. Nice relaxed stuff. "Cumulonimbus" begins with subtle rain effects and a mysterious synth theme. A laidback rhythm starts, joined by tinkling sequences. A somewhat melancholic theme is introduced, but everything then calms down for an atmospheric section, dominated by great synth effects. The rhythm returns after a few seconds as the main theme reappears towards the end. "Stratosphere" begins with excellent synthesizer effects - very atmospheric (no pun intended). A rhythm slowly develops among the sparkling clusters of synths. A rather serene melodic theme is then introduced. The track is rather upbeat but is nevertheless quite relaxing. The theme that comes after 3 minutes is very effective. And it's rather unique, too. Synth.nl certainly has his own style. One can hear various influences in Michel's music but the overall sound and presentation are fairly unique. "Stratocumulus" begins with some effects and a simple bass sequence. A rhythm starts, joined by phased pads. A rather melancholic theme played by a violin-like synth patch is introduced. The track then gets quite spacey and serene, with symphonic melodic synths all over. "Altocumulus" starts in a symphonic way with mucho pads and synth effects. This is bright and yet somewhat melancholic stuff. An upbeat rhythm starts, as the track brings in some decidedly Jarre-like flair to the proceedings, with strident melodic themes alternating between the atmospheric and the full-blown epicness. The sequences are present but are not dominating. The title track begins with echoing synthesizers and rain sounds. Very soon, a sequence develops and the rhythm then joins the proceedings, with choirs, bass synths and various pads being the main melodic ingredients. Again, it's a bit similar to Jarre without sounding derivative. An excellent solo appears in the second half of this track. "Mesopshere" is the most mysterious-sounding track so far. All kinds of bell-like synths and a phased pad (ala "Oxygene") provide a rich backbone upon which a nice melodic theme is installed. The track then transforms into a rhythm / melody combination that's as effective as ever. Michel really knows how to write good themes. Some of the bubbling synth effects are taken straight out of "Equinoxe". "Nimbostratus" was inspired by the dullest of cloud - you know, the sort of grayish type of cloud that covers the entire sky and brings continuous snow or drizzling rain. A bass sequence is joined by yet another resonant pulsation, as the synth pads sound fairly melancholic. There are also some great unusual synth sounds. It is nice to see that Michel actually spends time programming his synths, without resorting to the factory presets. There are a lot of rain effects throughout this track. A slight classical (Baroque) influence creeps in towards the end before it all returns to the spacey synth melody / pad / rhythm formula. "Altostratus" sounds a bit mysterious with a touch of menace. Some expertly programmed sequences appear on this track. The synths are superfat and the stereo field is used to its maximum, with various sounds and spacey effects appearing around you all the time. "Thermosphere" is introduced with radio chatter beneath a menacing pad. Soon, some bright sequences develop, as the same type of rhythm that dominated a lot of the tracks on this album appears. An excellent melodic theme enters. And again I cannot resist the Jarre comparison. Mind you, it's not a copy, far from it, but that's what comes to my mind. "Cirrostratus" is next. Synths as airy as said clouds are lulling you and inspire you with their cosmic chant. Excellent melodic sequences are joined by silky pads. Beautiful, beautiful and once again, beautiful, both melodically and sonically. Absolutely cosmic, serene, airy, crystal clear, it feels like you are floating in the air, leaving the earth behind. "Exosphere" is the last track, as we are approaching space in our journey through our planet's atmosphere. Out-there effects and are joined by menacing synths. A relaxed rhythm begins, as the arrangements are relatively sparse on this track, consisting mostly of a melodic line, some additional sounds & textures and subtle bass. "AtmoSphere" is a nice album of melodic and spacey EM that should appeal to most EM fans. Best track: "Cirrostratus" - there's nothing like it.

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Synth.nl "OceanoGraphy" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

Interesting concept album from Dutch artist Synth.nl is what I am going to review below. This work is dedicated to the Earth's oceans and the creatures living in them. Accordingly, each track is named after a specific ocean or a marine animal. "Antartico" kicks in with an atmospheric intro full of wave samples and gentle pads. A relaxed rhythm starts and a nice melody supports the flow. The mood is that of serenity and a sense of wonder permeates this composition. An atmospheric section follows before we return to the melodic theme. "Baleanoptera" starts with the sounds of whales before mysterious chords provide a nice flowing backing to a funky bass line. A loungy rhythm kicks in and a menacing synth theme plays on top. More melodic themes follow and the track acquires a darkish mood that's something not very typical of Michel van Osenbruggen's oeuvre. "Atlantico" is more upbeat, with a steady rhythm pushing things forward and some nice arpeggios and soloing. I like the lovely analog timbres Michel is using on this track. It also has one of the catchiest melodies. "Carcharodon" - a track dedicated to the Great White Shark - begins with very Jarre-like timbres (think "Rendez-Vouz" pads mixed with "Oxygene" EMS twitters). After a while, a simple melodic theme is heard which is then joined by nice analog bass and a warm soloing synth. This is great EM with a sense of menace lurking inside. "Megaptera", dedicated to Humpback Whales, not surprisingly, begins with whale samples set upon the background of nice pads. The track quickly gains momentum with an optimistic theme that recalls Jarre or even some theme from one of those 80's b-grade movies. A nice change of pace next to the rather austere music that came before. The samples of whale song appear several times throughout this track. The title track then flows effortlessly with a theme so melancholic and bittersweet you'd think you've heard it before. In fact, there's something familiar and nostalgic about it. It's also slightly classically-influenced to my ears. If you enjoy the more melodic / romantic works of Jarre, you will like this. "Tursiops" lifts that atmospheric lever a notch or two, providing a nice experimental sequence / arpeggio, a relaxed rhythm and nice breathy pads. On top of this, a pleasant melody created with a lovely analog timbre plays. There are also lots of environmental samples on this track. "Indico" is the most romantic and soft of the bunch - a slow melodic motif, punctuated by a weeping synth solo. "Chelonia" is dedicated to our best friend in the seas - the dolphin. It's a gentle track with trademark bass arpeggios, a relaxed rhythm and a melody that glides smoothly like dolphin upon waves. A nice lead line is all we really need for an excellent EM track. "Artico" kicks in with the sound of blizzard until various sequenced sounds appear as well as a nice pad. Rich in tone colours, effects and lead lines, this rhythmic track has a strong epic melody that reflects the severe weather conditions that the territory of Arctic ocean is known for. "Orcinus" is the most mysterious track of the lot. Slow, reflective and atmospheric, it's perfect relaxing stuff. Again the programming of sounds is excellent. Intense analog timbres get the closing track "Pacifico" underway. Soon a rapid one-note sequence appears, but as the rhythm and melodic theme kick in, we are clearly in typical Synth.nl territory, which means a tasty and easy-listening mix of relaxed rhythms, great melodies and atmospheric effects. It's a fitting and optimistic way to finish this great melodic EM work. Just like Michel's previous offerings, this immaculately recorded and mixed album was released on the Dutch EM label Groove Unlimited and endorsed by WWF.

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The Truth About Frank "14 Versions of the Same EP Volume 11" (EP, Long Division With Remainders, 2009)

A curious project from the UK here. The truth is that I've never heard of The Truth About Frank (pun intended) but they contributed to netlabel Long Division With Remainders' series of experimental EP's. Here we have volume 11 of the series that runs for about 16 minutes. The first track consists of subtle synthesizer pads that flicker like sparks and various other concrete / noisy textures. Interesting stuff, I must admit. Fans of experimental electronics will enjoy it a lot. Some of the sounds are quite rough and even harsh, approximating the territory of noise music. Overall, this is more like a marriage of musique concrete, experimental electronics and noise. The second track is more machine-like. It sounds like you are trapped inside a working engine. Again, this is harsh and uncompromising stuff. Rhythmic noise, anyone? The third track starts with droning, resonating textures and distant machine-like clangs. However, true to the nature of the other tracks, a noisy barrage of sound drowns the initial soundscape after a few seconds. Track four is more subtle, with glitchy rhythmic pulse and supporting processed sounds / textures. There's a doomy atmosphere here that's highlighted by a droning synth pad. This is certainly the best track of the EP. It could almost be called ambient, if not for the sense of menace and hidden aggression that's more in line with the rest of material. The Truth About Frank have released an interesting collection of compositions with this EP. If you enjoy noise and related styles, do yourself a favour to check it out. The Truth About Frank have also a MySpace page if you wish to sample their music.

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Terje Winther "Electronic Regions" (Bajkal Records, 2009)

"Electronic Regions" is a brand-new two-disc set from Norwegian synth musician Terje Winther. All music was done mostly on analogue synthesizers, including beautiful modular beasts. It would be a daunting task to try to describe each long track in detail, so I'll just concentrate on the general aspects of sound and the feel each one of them conjures. The first disc is taken up by "Entering Regions Suite" which, in turn, is divided into 5 parts. The first one is called "Time" and the basic feeling it conjures is that of anticipation. The track mostly consists of siren-like wails, drones and effects. Sounds simple but works perfectly. The track ends with prolonged organ chords. The whole reminds a bit on Klaus Schulze's early works that were also heavy on the electronic organ. "And Again" disturbs the flow a bit with its almost jarring analogue sounds. This is some form of mutant Berlin School. The sound gets even weirder and more out-there towards the end. "I Feel My Life" is the longest part on the first disc. The sound and general concept on this one is very 1970's, very KS-like: long analogue pads, soft leads, mellotron choirs - you get the picture. For the next part, entitled "Repeating (itself)", the epic soundscape gives way for a sequencer attack that gradually gains momentum, shooting off into stratosphere for the last few minutes. The sound is still profoundly cosmic and dreamy, and the spirit of the golden age of EM dwells in each second of it. There are nice analogue solos throughout and the whole moves towards the Tangerine Dream (circa "Ricochet") territory. The final part, entitled "Over And Over (again)" speeds up the tempo a bit, while still relying very much on the sequences. There are also nice mellotron flutes and melodic synthesizer soloing. More experimental sounds and wonderful cosmic arpeggios make this track something special and arguably the main attraction of this disc. The second CD opens with a strange danceable number entitled "Electronic Rendezvous". If you like the synthetic repetitive structures of Kraftwerk with a good dose of electronic voices, you might find this to your liking. A total surprise and not quite something I was expecting from Terje and yet this is interesting music that works quite well even if it's a bit out of context here. A really massive (51 minutes) track called "Where the Water Leaves the Road" follows and it's a return to the atmospheric style displayed on the first disc. An intro totally in the tradition of mid-1970's Schulze (mellotron, wind effects, melancholic chords) is heard. A long sequencer / solo section follows, still very much in classic KS tradition, with key changes, endless noodlings and a long stretch where sequences are distorting themselves beyond recognition. I thought the music was nice but too predictable. The drums sound authentic but no drums are listed in the instrument list so I suppose they are sampled. "Evermore", the last track, opens with heavy analogue effects that last for a few minutes. A sequencer section follows, with more melodic and driving pulsations. The melodic content is more lyrical and grandiose this time, conjuring up images of the vastness of space. An atmospheric part gives way for a sequencer-based final where the pulsations become really infectious and hypnotic. This album will be enjoyed by those who are after that 1970's electronic sound, especially the music of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream circa 1975 - 1976. With two CD's, 60+ minutes in length each, there's a lot of analogue goodness to savour.

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Rene van der Wouden "Numerus Fixus" (private release, 2009)

"Numerus Fixus" is another collection of bright, ethereal rhythmic and sequencer tracks from Dutch synthesizer artist Rene van der Wouden. A sequence greets the listener once the play button is pressed. This pulsation is of a lilting, bell-like quality. The rest of the sonic space is filled with multiple pads and a distorted analogue noise. A bass sequence appears as classic synth leads remind us on the good old days of EM. Especially Jarre from the 1970's comes to mind. This analogy is reinforced by the fat twittering effects. However, whereas Jarre's style was melodic and focused, Rene's music on this particular track is free and improvised. A completely different sequence takes over after 7 minutes into the track, but the mood is still that of melancholy and reflection. A steady rhythm appears as Rene uses more and more of ethereal mellotron strings. The track rises in intensity before ending abruptly as we transition to Part 2 on the crest of the wave of analogue effects and wind sounds. A rapid sequence seeps in, as ethereal mellotron choir is heard. Another sequence joins and the track takes on an insistent, urgent stance. Even more sequences are added as well as a nice mellotron flute. "Fixus Part 3" is an unusually soft, uplifting, almost new agey track. An arpeggiated beauty of a rhythm serves as the basis for all kinds of pads and even birds singing! It does work is a strange, charming way, especially once the multiple analogue sequences take over. Part 4 opens with intense wind sounds before a very synth-pop like theme and rhythm are introduced. It really sounds like some forgotten early 1980's instrumental gem. Wonderful! Part 5 is introduced with a sequence that goes down the scale a few octaves before a thumping bass rhythm is unleashed, almost techno-ish, the pads serving as a nice ethereal background. Now we're talking another forgotten gem, this time sounding as if coming from the early 1990's. Unfortunately, it was not my favourite epoch for music and although I do like this track, I find it somewhat less attractive. It is nice to see Rene trying new (old?) things, though. Part 6 begins with a really dramatic atmospheric section, one of the best on the disc. A bit funky rhythm starts and a fitting bass line supports this flowing track. And, boy, does it flow. Once again I get this nostalgic feeling as if I am listening to a lost funk / synth fusion track from the late 1970's - early 1980's. Does it sound good? Hell yes! It's different, enjoyable and very melodic. Part 7, on the other hand, is a cosmic monster of a track. It is dominated by flowing pads and wonderful fat analogue bass timbres, not to mention the ubiquitous twittering effects. A nice change of pace and a neatly produced beatless track, this one. Amazingly, a synth-pop rhythm heralds the coming of the last part that fuses 1980's sensibilities with a somewhat ethnic-sounding flute. It is amazing, how Rene has evolved since the last album. While the first two long tracks are more or less in Rene's typical (sequencer-based) style, the rest could be seen as a diversion into different realms, and a very successful one at that. This is Rene's best album so far and it certainly deserves the full-fledged CD release it got. "Numerus Fixus" wins in my book, hands down. And now, once the review is finished, I am going to listen to that gorgeous Part 4 again.

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© 2014. All reviews are © 2008 - 2010 Artemi Pugachov.