Reviews 04-30-2004


Music Reviews 



by Craig Padilla

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"Genesis" is a new "Berlin School" release and one that fans of the genre should immediately seek out as it is a nice combo of old and new strengthened by the emotional expressiveness of the composer/performer. For inspiration, Padilla leans more toward the earlier works of Klaus Schulze than some of the other Berlin school innovators, but he adds so much to it with his sound design and expression that he is really his own man. Another exciting aspect of this release is that many of the synthesizers being used appear to be analog, which gives an overall warm character to the recording.  

 The record starts out with a piece that is chock full of short, bouncy, optimistic motives that overlap to create new patterns. The sequences serve to shape the other material and drive the piece. The piece is both driving and relaxing at the same time and the overall mood is one of energetic happiness. I had a slight niggle with the quantity of white noise effects that bring the piece to a close, but it was an excellent start to the recording; mellotronish pads, bubbly sequences and the like were presented effectively and in a charming fashion. "Moon Tides" is a slower piece, beginning in the tradition of Schulze's slower pieces with pretty ambient pads and plucked sounds gradually coming into focus. The guitar/sitar-sounding solo has a relaxed, improvisatory feel to it. A swirling sequence, evoking the spirit of Schulze's  "Mirage" gives way to gentle patter of activity that sounds like the listener is walking in the middle of a mist only this time the listener is hyper aware of everything around. It is a very nice sound picture and a nice way to gradually close the piece. "Ascension" begins with a slow, evocative soundscape that gradually transforms itself into a remarkable piece. Here I feel that an entire expressive world of sound was created and the primary impressions I received while listening were those of wonder and ecstasy. The piece is not particularly fast, the sound design is first rate and allows Padilla to emote very effectively. Really, this piece is worth the price of  admission and represents the best of this genre.

The final track, "Message from Within" starts nicely, with all the effects tools for a Schulzian journey into minor-key ambience; mellotron choir sounds, lush string pad sand a nice morphing filter applied to the works. Padilla is particularly effective in sustaining musical interest with the synth effects such as chirping filter overdriving and other such stock of the Berlin school musician.  The piece continues in the above vein quite nicely until some light percussion is introduced. This is tasteful and unobtrusive, but I felt that the piece began to lose a little steam here. It ends with a nicely executed melodic excursion, with the lead melody generated by a harpsichord sound. This was nicely done, but not up to the level of the rest of the recording.

Don't let the minor quibbles put you off from what is otherwise a very enjoyable listening experience. I do recommend this recording highly.

Reviewed by Mark Morton for Ambient Visions


The Sacred Ordinary

by Paul Ellis

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The Sacred ordinary might be sacred but it is - decidedly - NOT ordinary. It might be the strongest Berlin school CD of the new millennium and it is certainly one of the best of that style - EVER! Paul Ellis created this masterpiece of analog sounds on digital equipment. (Rudy Adrian contributed some material to the disc and some of it might be on analog gear.) Paul is noted for creating in that mode.

But this is a review of the CD, not of Paul’s career or studio!  This is a great disc! The compositions have depth, soul, class and integrity. Paul’s virtuosity on all boards – key, mixing and engineering – is at its peak! Each piece has its own beauty and clarity. The CD plays as one huge soundscape with eight “subscapes” and hundreds of atmospheres - some subtle and some overt. This is a great CD, high on the list of 2003’s best!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.



The Way Beyond

by Jim Cole

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In 2002, I wrote about harmonic overtone singer Jim Cole's previous solo work Godspace stating that it was ". . . some of the most superlative ambient music I've ever heard. Surely it will rate in my top three best of the year. It is a work of staggering beauty and nuance, at once improvisational and composed.  This disc has such an emotional and spiritual resonance for me; it is as if Cole had tapped into my biorhythms for 74 minutes, occupying my thoughts, and impregnating all activity around me with meaning where before there seemed to be none.  This is timeless, important music, and I give it my highest recommendation."  It did make it on to my top three list of that year, and I do give it my highest recommendation as one of the finest examples of modern ambient done simply and beautifully, without pretense. 

Now I have the opportunity to describe Cole's newest release, The Way Beyond, and I find myself scrabbling at the same phrases I'd written two years ago.  I want to warn the reader in advance that I am going to get a little "out there" in this review, but it's the only thing keeping me from gushing uncontrollably about the music.  Firstly, this is a vaster work than Cole's previous solo CD--it's comprised of twelve tracks, but each track melds into its successor seamlessly, creating a wavering tapestry of sonic perfumes and impressions.  While each cut on the disc has a separate mood or tone, The Way Beyond must be considered as a massive, undulating, living, breathing ambient zone of stillness and, unusually, simultaneous constant change and transition.  While the basis of this recording is layered drones comprised solely from Cole's harmonic singing, these layers are overlapped with constantly changing sonic waves and patterns which create the feeling of watching a rushing brook; all motion and churning fluid on top, but a deep, peaceful stillness beneath. 

It would be pointless to describe this work on a track by track basis as I do on many reviews.  I'm more comfortable attempting to communicate impressions I have while listening; by reading this review, you may in some way have an idea of the places music of this nature can take the willing listener.  At around track nine, for example, the deep tones of Cole's voice expand and contract in an almost psychedelic flux, as if one is buffeted upon solar winds.  Sometimes while writing reviews of music of this nature, I feel as if I'm the narrator in an Edgar Allan Poe story--swept away describing the effects of his own madness, and leaving no lasting impression on the reader about what he is trying to communicate.  This is the difficulty in reviewing The Way Beyond--it calls to mind so many powerful and inexplicably spiritual thoughts, impressions, feelings, that to attempt to put it down on paper is to cheat it of its power in the first place.  I'm reminded of the Zen koan (which I will paraphrase poorly) where the student comments to the Zen master: "Master, look at the trees, listen to the birds, watch the sunset dipping below the horizon!  It's all so beautiful!"  To which the master replies wryly: "Yes, but it's such a shame for you to say so."  By the end of track nine, I've thought of this koan and much, much more--a continuous daisy-chain of relationships and correlations within my own conscious (and unconscious) mind.  This is inner space music in the highest sense of the term.  Cole's seemingly plaintive cries strike as melancholy in track ten, but they are at the same time hopeful.  A living embodiment of the pains and pleasures of existence?  See?  I can't help but get introspective--it's in the very core of this music, which brings one within his or her self to a point of absolute attention to minute thoughts, however ephemeral they may be. 

And this is the crux of the matter--at the very core of things, Jim Cole, armed with only looped drones created from his own voice, has somehow unlocked a secret place within just by creating music.  Here, as if conjuring a primordial state from the trappings of modernity, we have the ultimate power of ambient music, perhaps (in my opinion) above many, if not most, other types of music.  This wordless music, without connotation, has the power to unearth nameless spiritual delight within.  There is no question--The Way Beyond is holy music, no matter what your persuasion-- it is ageless, and always a valid and enriching experience.  As with Godspace (and I believe that The Way Beyond surpasses its predecessor in terms of breadth and sonic diversity from the same essential sound sources), I find the music herein to be unquestionably one of the finest ambient/atmospheric releases of 2003.  This is the kind of music that reminds of why one became an appreciator of the genre in the first place--it makes you feel good, larger than yourself, and, most of all, connected to the artist and music in some way that is difficult to describe with words that always seem clumsy by comparison.  This disc goes “way beyond” Godspace, and that's really saying something.  The Way Beyond gets my highest recommendation:  it's paradigm shattering work by one of the brightest lights in today's ambient scene.   

Reviewed by Brian Bieniowski reprinted here on Ambient Visions.

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by Various Artists

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Toronto's AMBiENT PiNG releases the second in it's ongoing series of PiNG AMBiENCE discs, spotlighting artists from around the Toronto electronic community as well as like-minded PiNG friends from farther afield.  This time compiled by Eric Hopper of  Sylken, PiNG AMBiENCE 2 explores the space-ier side of the genre, sonic excursions to the  planets that orbit the PiNG.

The disc opens with "Phases of the Moon" by dreamSTATE and Susanna Hood, a  flowing piece of spectral elegance highlighting Susanna's wonderful vocal stylings.  A fantastic track that typifies the collaborative spirit of the PiNG.

Alpha Wave Movement offers the track "Sunset on Timeless Landscapes", a  beautiful lament to the mysteries of the stars.  Synthlines ebb and flow, minimal percussion  passes by, the occasional snatch of sound sweetening the mix just so.  Beautiful.

PiNG favorites Sylken supply a brilliant new song entitled "The Light Unseen".  Travelling the same spaceways that have made them so beloved in the Toronto scene (and beyond), "The Light Unseen" captures the sense of movement through the stars, graceful pads and percolating synths providing the landmarks (or spacemarks if you will) along your journey.

Guitarist Paul Royes treats us to a lovely work of layered and processed  guitar that delights and inspires.  His track "Dolphin Sky" is one of my favorites on the disc with it's beauty and virtuosity.  Brilliant.

Terry O'Brien aka Anomolous Disturbances provides "The Invisible Landscape" another guitar based piece.  More drone driven in tone "The Invisible Landscape" offers our first glimpse at the darker side of the PiNG, a study in quietly building dark ambient.  Very nice work.

earotica is a collaboration between Scott M2 of dreamSTATE and myself, so out of fairness I'll decline to comment on it other than to say it's the first release by  our mutual side project and that alone should be reason enough for it to be interesting to you...  =-)

Solipsystem chime in with another one of my favorites on the disc, "Verdant", a brilliant marriage of arpeggios and minimal synth melodies.  Absolutely beautiful work that resonates deep within me every time I hear it.

Steven Sauve in his guise as Karmafarm offers "of all the things we said",  an exploration in organic synth systems and oblique motion that slowly gives way to a groovey synth line.I love the use of the soundfield in this one, it has such a rich, full sound.  Lovely.

"Turn Twist Twirl" represents the work of Aidan Baker, an artist who is  comfortable in a variety of styles and forms.  In this track he creates a spontaneous improv piece in keeping with the space-y styles of the disc.  I often compare Aidan's work to the magical and this track is very much in keeping with that idea.  A stunning  performance by one of Toronto's brightest stars.

Performing as Styrohead, Joe G, another Sylken alumni, contributes the track "Portal". Deep drones lay a bed of sound over which a variety of tones pass subtely  and effortlessly. Wonderful work.

Jamie Todd represents URM with the track "consume", a dark droning motion based piece.With a few simple elements Jamie takes us on a trip into the deepest depths of space, where stars are consumed by living dark matter and the laws of physics that we understand hold no meaning.  Another fabulous piece from one of my personal favorites.

Sara Ayers supplies the piece "I Sewed The Feathers To My Arms", a stunning vocal based piece accompanied by minimal instrumentation.  I've said this before on countless occasions, but I think it bears saying again that Sara Ayers is a treasure.  Her work is always of the highest quality, brilliant, sparkling, wonderful.  This track is a prime representation of what she does, and of course what she does is amazing.  Simply Amazing.

"Broken" by James Johnson closes out the disc with a beautiful organic piece where keys play delicate melodies and found sounds play underneath creating a rich dense soundscape that lives and breathes within it's own environment.  Wonderful work by one of the masters of the genre.

Needless to say, PiNG AMBiENCE 2 is an excellent collection proving that there are an incredible number of artists creating beautiful music worth discovering for yourself.  A wonderful introduction to a variety of talents and a testimony to the community that has developed around the AMBiENT PiNG.

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.
Visit Rik's Ping Things website by
clicking here.



by Agatsuma

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As an introduction to the Western Market, Agatsuma is a Tsugaru shamisen master who is fueling the latest craze in
.  A Tsugaru shamisen is a banjo-like, fretless, three stringed instrument.  Agatsuma was a child prodigy with the shamisen by age 4 and at age 14 won the top prize in Japan’s most prestigious national competition.  He is described as a true master of the instrument with a ‘rock star stance’.  

This CD introduces Agatsuma to the western ear, with the traditional feel of the Japanese shamisen backed up with various western beats yet retaining a very Japanese feel to the music.   

The music varies in flavor, as in the track “An End of Sorrow’ where the accompanying instrument is an accordion, giving it a very ‘French’ flavor.   We are presented with a jazz/pop feeling in ‘Dawnlight’ and jazz/funk in ‘Shami’s Groove’.  There is a very traditional feel in ‘Heartbeat’, a very soft, romantic ballad in ‘Tears’ while being very powerful in ‘Panther.

 The material is all original compositions, and you can easily identify the influences of rock, jazz and even Latin beats.  They are expertly interwoven into the compositions, never detracting from the very definite Japanese texture to the music. 

 This is a very good introduction to the shamisen by a master not only of the instrument itself but also in composition to highlight the artist’s ability to incorporate it into modern music.  You can easily understand how this instrument has gone into a revival in Japan.  Agatsuma very effectively brings the past to meet the present in these compositions.   

If you are enchanted with the current introduction of Oriental music into the US as I am, this is a great addition to your collection.  It is also a wonderful introduction to the Western Ear of an instrument that has found a place in modern music.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions




by Missa Johnouchi  

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“Kataribe (Storyteller)” is Missa Johnouchi’s first solo piano album, and is made up mostly of original works collected from previous albums and converted into lovely, flowing piano pieces. Johnouchi successfully blends Asian musical forms with western contemporary and classical styles, creating a pastiche that is both beautiful and relaxing for those who want easy musical accessibility, and complex enough for the active listener who delights in the discovery of new facets with each listen. Johnouchi has a history of composing for Japanese television and film, and her music is visual and vivid. Referring to Chopin’s title of “The Poet of the Piano,” Johnouchi calls herself “The Storyteller of the Piano,” hence the title of the album. Her inspiration comes from an awe of nature and the seasons, and the changes they bring. Most of the pieces have a somewhat melancholy feeling, but all contain a sense of hope and optimism as well as grace.

“Asian Wind” is the piece Johnouchi usually opens with in concert. It portrays a very gentle wind - perhaps more of a breeze that gracefully bends the delicate trees and flowers. Johnouchi has included two compositions by Kazumasa Yoshioka, the producer of Pacific Moon, her label. “Shuufu (Autumn Breeze)” is especially elegant. The warm flow of the piece soothes and uplifts. “Snow Forest” is full of open spaces, describing the gentle stillness and beauty of snow-covered scenes. Again, the grace and elegance of Johnouchi’s composing and playing is amazing as well as deeply evocative. “Deja Vu” is my favorite track. Johnouchi writes in the liner notes that she thinks people live searching for light because it’s the first thing we see the moment we are born and we remember forever what that moment felt like. That sense of searching and longing comes through clearly and emotionally. Here and there are some surprising chord changes that remind me of Satie - an intriguing and inspiring piece. I also really like “Horizon,” a very sad piece that was composed while visualizing a sunset at the horizon line. Slow and uncluttered but deeply emotional, it is gorgeous!

There isn’t a weak track on “Kataribe.” If you like elegant, deeply felt solo piano you’ll love this album. I do! It is available at most of the online music retailers as well as from Very highly recommended.

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Mainly Piano website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.



Alternate Realities

by Richard Bone

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Several years ago I saw numerous message threads on one of the USEnet news groups about a promising new talent named Richard Bone. Chief among the threads was the almost alarming rate at which this person was releasing new albums. Convinced this was either a hoax, or some paid-for hyperbole, I paid little attention to all the talk.

Not until I saw Ether Dome did I bother to take notice. However, I was impressed enough that when Alternate Realities showed up unexpectedly, I was eager to learn more. Slipping the CD into my player, I found myself enthralled. This is a hit!  A recent measure I use to gauge the success of an album is whether or not I want to copy the tunes to my iPod, where I will have access to the music when I drive, while I'm running, or simply when I'm at my computer.  I wanted this album on my iPod before the end of Elutherium, the opening track.  By the time "The House That Cugat Built" had finished playing, the iPod was connected and ready to receive.

Bone has the ability to move between musical stylings with seeming effortless ability. Ether Dome was an album of ambient excellence, Alternate Realities is bouncier, jazzier, more playful. An album of previously unreleased or alternate tracks (hence the title), this release does not bear any semblance to a throw-away work, or a release done just to fulfill some contractual obligation. This CD can justifiably fit into the tuneshelf of any serious ambient/electronic/alternative music fan.

"One for the Grooveyard," the third track on the CD, is a foot-tapping ditty that combines sparse piano lines, the muted sound of brushed high- hat cymbals, synthesized saxophone, and washes of pseudo-industrial sound that swirl and merge into a twenty-first century paeon to swing.

For a long time I did not count myself among the ever-growing legion of fans of Richard Bone.  Alternate Realities corrects that oversight. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions.


Samurai Collection

by Various Artists

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Samurai Collection presents us with some of the best Pacific Moon has to offer.  Included here are Uttara –Kuru, Kiyoshi Yoshida and Eri Sugai


This mixed disk focuses on Japanese Flute, Asian Drumming and also includes a vocal track by Eri Sugai.  The tracks from Uttara Kuru are from the ‘East Wind’ CD.   The Kiyoshi Yoshida tracks are from the CD ‘Asian Drum’ and the Eri Sugai track is from her ‘Mai’ CD.


The pieces are chosen for their emotional draw.  The drumming tracks are vibrant and forceful contrasting the flute tracks which, while still powerful, are more subtle yet skillfully done.  Neither lacks power and effectively stands up to each other. 


The titles chose are interesting as well.  They draw upon the imagery of Japan, as in ‘Wings of the Eagle’, or the simple elegance of nature as in ‘Winter Dance’.  We see through the eyes of the artist their impressions of their homeland, from the spirituality presented in ‘The Lucky Spirit’ and the vocal sampling in ‘Konjaku Monogatari’ by Eri Sugai, to the day to day visuals in ‘Wooden Ship’. 


While some pieces show definite western influence, there are some very traditional pieces.  ‘First Image’ is a solo Koto performance in the traditional style, invoking very strong Japanese imagery. 


As always, Pacific Moon includes a booklet in English and Japanese with some short blurbs on the music, so you are not totally lost, and the incense in the CD case to enhance your listening experience.


A very lovely presentation, and one that will introduce you to the artists, give you a good taste of the Japanese musical experience and lay the foundation for future exploration of Japanese World Music.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


Out of the System

by Karmafarm






Fans of the Toronto ambient scene will no doubt be familiar with the name of Steven Sauve, one of Eric Hopper's frequent collaborators in the Sylken project and a member of quasiMODAL.  One may not however be as familiar with his solo work as Karmafarm, a systems based ambient project Steven has performed under for a number of years.  "Out of the System" is the first CD release by Karmafarm and it fully captures the charm and dark wonder of Steven's work.

"Roads into Ruins" is a rather ominous opening track, a lonely trip into the heart of darkness.  Deep drones play against the noises of industry, the sounds of ancient machinery revived from dormancy to transport us to another place.  A marvelous piece to introduce thedisc, simply stunning.

"Opulent Revision" treads a similar dark path, tones rising and falling  against a constantly shifting backdrop of sounds.

"Land of Sleep" plays with the soundfield, alien whirring and buzzing sounds flying around the listener, an almost insectile grace about them.  Quite beguiling this one.

"Leipzig Unseen" presents an arctic wind blowing through the frozen Tundra.  Pads sweep throughout the track alternately growing and shrinking in volume, the progress of movement measured in slowly oscilating tones.  Brilliant.

"Bamboo Shift" takes a complete one eighty and brings us out of the darkness for a few moments with some lovely echoing keyboard work over a number of rather exotic percussive tones.  Charming.

"Procession" returns to the darker tones of the earlier tracks, creating a sense of majesty and ritual with pulsing tones keeping time with a series of ascending melodies.  Very theatrical this one, something very regal about it.

"Psyko:logik" continues the journey through the dark with the sound of the abyss portrayed by the slow pulse of processed sound.  Chilling and enigmatic tones pass throughout adding to the atmosphere.  Truly inspired dark ambience.

"Out of the Blue" closes the disc with an oscilating drone blended with found melodies and distorted sounds.  A sense of departure is apparent in this work, a feeling of night's gradual ebb and the dawning of a new day.

I'm most impressed with "Out of the System", the sense of movement and atmosphere captured herein stand with some of my favorite pieces in the genre.  I wholeheartedly recommend this release and eagerly look forward to future work from Karmafarm.

Reviewed by Rik Maclean of Ping Things reprinted here on Ambient Visions.
Visit Rik's Ping Things website by
clicking here.


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