A Produce - Smile on the Void
2001. The first solo Hypnos release for A Produce, following his critically acclaimed 1999 collaboration with M Griffin, ALTARA. This is also the first A Produce solo album of new material since INSCAPE AND LANDSCAPE (1996). One of the underappreciated greats of the ambient/atmospheric genre, A Produce masterfully demonstrates with SMILE ON THE VOID his unique approach -- blending deep, churning ambient atmospheres with compelling yet restrained trance rhythms.
A Produce says:
"I've always been interested in the slow movement of sound; indeed how it evokes a seduction of the listener, gradually drawing them in. Smile on the Void is a study in the movement of sound, the overall theme relating to the sleep cycle: restlessness/insomnia; sleep; dreaming; and awakening. The project over the course of time as an attempt to characterize sound in the various stages of this communal experience."
Track listing with MP3 clips:
Smile on the Void
The Big Sleep
I Woke Up Dreaming
Purchase for $11.99 on Hypnos Online Store
Reviews"A Produce has created a stunning ambient excursion!"
--Jim Cole, Spectral Voices
"Wow , A MASTERPIECE!"
"Night and Sleep usually travel together and are paramours to those who stave off rest until day. Sensual and encompassing, Night falls like a velvet cape, exposing the moon, planets and stars in the darkened sky. Seductive and comforting, Sleep gently conquers, uncovering the dreams and ambitions of the unconscious mind. "Smile On The Void" is A Produce's aural impression of the relationship between humans and the many stages and conditions of sleep.
Both ingenious as a representation of the natural states of slumber and as an interesting soundtrack to such, "Smile On The Void" uses intricate rhythms, clear harmonies, hybrid percussion and deliberate pacing to deliver its message and have its effect. Big chords rising over the pulse pattern of the title track serve as a preamble to the journey inward. The slow melodies and steady drive of "I Woke Up Dreaming" convey the fleeting remnants of a dream quickly fading. The dense textures and dark tones of "Night Curve" slowly burn and evaporate into a cloud stirred by unconscious visions. Used as a soundscape for dreaming, "Smile On The Void" is an excellent constant in an uncontrolled experiment. As a sonic treatment, it is a significant source for any investigation into the moods and levels of sleep."
--Chuck van Zyl, Star's End Radio host, WXPN Philadelphia
"Latest from A Produce is superb. Cuts 6 and 7 in particular absolutely blow me away. Another excellent release on Hypnos."
--Mark Stanberry, Space Music Mailing List
"The new A Produce album was positively splendid!"
--Mike McLatchey, Expose
""Smile on the Void" occupies smiling voids on our programming at WAWL. A. Produce gets exponentially better with each release. Thanks HYPNOS."
--Flyingman (aka Mark Caldwell), WAWL Radio
"Run - don't walk - and snap up a copy of Smile on the Void! If you're curious about where an artist goes after winning Ambient Album of Year awards, this is the answer to your question.
I was talking to somone at a music store who pointed out that it's hard to do something original in the space/ambient genre. Probably so because of certain stylistic requisites, but it is clearly still growing and evolving. If you are wondering about the meaning of creative progress in this genre, Smile on the Void will shed light on that."
"First new solo material from Los Angeles´ A Produce in five years, Smile On The Void is a yeoman effort of evocative space music, creating its minimalist ambient atmospheres primarily via the soft coughing of synthesizers. A small handful of guest musicians add some nice extra colour to certain tracks, such as when Ruben Garcia caresses the electric piano keys on Inner Sanctum."
--Stephen Fruitman, Motion
"Opening with the sound of a bell-like tone and a soft drone, A Produce¹s first solo CD in five years, Smile on the Void, represents the return of one of the true pioneers and 'envelope-pushers' on the ambient musical scene. When the sensuous tribal rhythms, subtle yet not subdued, enter the first (title) track, I couldn¹t help but smile and think to myself, 'Yeah - A Produce is back!' Reminding me of his best work from such important albums as Land of a Thousand Trances and Inscape and Landscape, Smile on the Void may be the artist's most refined, complex, and mature (although I detest using that word!) recording to date.
As he has done at times in the past, the ambient artist does not work alone. He is joined by stellar talents: Dean de Benedictus, Ruben Garcia, and Scott Fraser. All of these musicians contribute significantly to the album, even though they only appear sporadically throughout the CD.
The tribal underpinnings of the first track are accentuated by liquid/fluid sounding 'organic percussives' (per the liner notes). The 'theme' of the CD itself is the sleep cycle, portrayed in sound/music. So, the CD starts off with insomnia and restlessness and progresses through other stages, such as sleeping, dreaming and awakening. Since A Produce characterizes his music as 'trance' music, not ambient, there are percussive elements peppered throughout Smile on the Voice. But they are so well-integrated into the natural flow of the ambient and spacemusic textures that unless you are diametrically opposed to any rhythms at all, I happen to think the fluid nature of the beats will, as A Produce himself writes in the liner notes, '...evoke(s) a seduction of the listener, gradually drawing them in.'
The second song, 'Night Curve' begins with a low drone and darker noir-like noise effects. However, rather than being truly disturbing, there is a vague sense of, if not comfort, at least safety. This is not so much nightmare music as it sonically represents the passage into that first phase of sleep where dreaming has not begun but consciousness has fled. Smile on the Void is a fantastic musical depiction of sleep, representing various moods and permutations that we, as humans, go through on the way to alpha-stage slumber. As the cut winds down, a swirling drone and a drawn-out bell tone waft lazily through the air. Way too cool! This is drone music by a true master of the genre. Damn, this is fine!
Engineering throughout the disc is exemplary, as it always is on Hypnos recordings (and also was on all of A Produce's Trance Port CDs as well). And, by the gods, the cover is finally something different from Hypnos (thank goodness!).The smoky orange/gold cloud-like wisps combine with the minimal lettering to create one of the better cover graphics I¹ve seen this year!
The third cut, 'The Big Sleep,' marries spacemusic washes and drones with low (I mean LOW) rumblings and strange bassy percussive sounds. The music undulates with a gentle yet insistent rhythm and the vague tribal/trance elements impart a small amount of primal energy to the cut. The washes ebb and flow in intensity as the song progresses through its almost nine minutes (song length on the CD varies from 5:47 to a tick over twelve minutes). The addition of lush synth strings mutates this piece into something almost soothing, despite the presence of the rumbling undercurrents.
'Visions' again begins with ambient drones and vague noise effects. and slowly weaves a ambient web of electronic swirls. This new layering of drones, washes, with the more 'industrial' elements, as well the very creative integrating of rhythms, is what induces me to say that Smile on the Void represents the pinnacle of A Produce¹s recording career (so far). He has always been self-assured, making music that is both unique and daring and yet never pointlessly avant garde or hopelessly self-absorbed. Smile on the Void reflects the development of his previous talents as they are refined and honed as well the introduction of even more interesting and original textures.
'Inner Sanctum' must be the musical equivalent of deep alpha-state restfulness. Gentle and pulsing notes from an electric piano create a serene, yet not numbingly so, pillow of sound. The electric piano is credited, in the liner notes, to both the artist himself and fellow ambient musician Ruben Garcia. Whoever it is, he/they sound(s) great! This cut stands side by side with the best from minimalist geniuses like James Johnson and Stephen Philips. Coming as it does at track number 5, it signals the midpoint of the album from an aesthetic perspective. Spacy textures, like fleeting dream-thoughts, cruise into and out of the arrhythmic melodic notes, adding even more peacefulness to this already quiet and restful cut.
The last two pieces on the album, 'I Wake Up Dreaming' and 'Spirit Room,' veer Smile on the Void into totally different territory. The former opens with rhythmic keyboards, buzz-saw drones, and those wonderful A Produce organic flute-synths of his. This song more than any other may remind long-time fans of his previous albums, especially Land of a Thousand Trances (one of my fave recordings of all-time, by the way). The music has a certain heat and an energy as it drives forward, propelled by the rhythms and soaring electric guitar (or what sounds like it, as if played by someone like Jon Durant). Yet, despite all this, the cut most resembles spacemusic, albeit of the cruising variety. This song should just about send Robert Rich fans to the moon. It's easily the equal of Rich's best work from his ethno/tribal/ambient recordings, or at least to my ears it is.
The last cut, 'Spirit Room,' on which A Produce is joined by Scott Fraser on guitar and Dean de Benedictus on lead synth, brings Smile on the Void to a wonderful conclusion. Opening with hushed synth flutes and drones, the song soon moves in a midtempo-paced trance/tribal rhythmic direction by the introduction of an assortment of hand percussion elements. Flutes and washes coarse throughout the song like a river of smoke. Representing, as I think it does, the awakening after a night of slumber, the cut has an affirming glow to it. Even when the drones are in a minor key the overall effect of the music is one of a positive emotional sensation. As the song hits just past the mid-point, electric guitar licks, tasteful but still stinging, bring even more energy and liveliness to the music. I¹m sure there are some ambient purists who will cringe at the guitar, but some people just don¹t know the beauty of variety in their music, I guess. I think adding this element to the song, alongside the propulsive rhythms and smooth synth washes, is a great idea. Again, as it¹s meant to do, it signals the end of a night of sleep and the beginning of a new day, so to speak. Sure, it's a bit risky for an ambient musician to actually bring the intensity of an album UP as it concludes (the overwhelming majority of ambient/spacemusic recordings I¹ve heard do the opposite, i.e. they fade and wind down). And, truthfully, in the last minute or so, 'Spirit Room' does subside as it nears the finish of the song. But, by making the last song the most 'active,' A Produce put his money where his mouth his, so to speak. After all, you wouldn¹t wake up to softer music than you sleep to, would you?
Smile on the Void should land on just about any critic's (whose worth a tinker's damn, as my dear departed mother would say) 'Best Ambient Albums of 2001' list. I¹ve always belived that A Produce was under-appreciated. With this album (and kudos to Mike Griffin, head Hypnos honcho, for releasing this puppy), I don¹t see how anyone can deny this musician his rightful place alongside the greats of the genre. If Smile on the Void does not merit his a place in the ambient/spacemusic 'Hall of Fame,' than by the gods, nothing will! My highest recommendation - with ease!"
--Bill Binkelman, WindAndWire.com
"The seven tracks that constitute this album are inspired by the novel of the same title by Stuart Gordon, where myth and the modern world meet, weaving a tapestry ranging from restlessness to dream to a strange awakening, as suggested by the music itself, since it turns out to be mysterious, cosmic, oniric, mystic, at times dark, and undoubtedly suggestive of a strange world in the extreme."
--Montserrat Andreu-Marin, Amazing Sounds
"On his first new album since 1996's Inscape and Landscape, ambient space-electronic composer A Produce mixes ethereal dreamscapes with trance rhythms in a deep and compelling aural experience. The album title was inspired by Stuart Gordon's 1982 novel, and the corresponding track leads to an electronic synth drone atmosphere that shifts into a slow djembe drum "tranceportation." A Produce considers himself a "trance-maker," creating abstract pieces that include synths, drones, dissonance, beat drums, and even guitars."
"The Big Sleep" takes listeners deeper into the sleep zone on waves of synths. Peaceful and placid "Inner Sanctum" offers the solitude of muffled electric pianos and background synths, ideal for contemplation, meditation and soul exploration. After the deep sleep, the pace quickly changes into throbbing synths and the worldly trance beats in "I Woke Up Dreaming." In the "Spirit Room" finale, the ambiance of controlled trance is shattered by the searing rock guitar of Scott Fraser and Dean deBenedictus's synth keyboards. SMILE ON THE VOID is one of the best ambient trance creations of the year and certainly worth the five-year wait."
--Ted Cox, Music of the Spheres, in New Age Retailer
"I've played this several times since receiving it, and I'm far from wearing it out. This is A Produce's first solo outing since 1996's Inscape and Landscape, though it's hardly a one-man effort. Ably assisted by other ambient artists such as Loren Nerell, Dean De Benedictus (Surface 10), Scott Fraser, and Ruben Garcia, their musical talents meld into a wonderful collage of soothing minimal textures and drones. The title track, based on a 1982 book of the same name, shines, shimmers, floats and drifts. The music sounds just like the rich, mahogany tones of the beautiful cover art. 'Night Curve' is deliciously dark, churning stuff. It turns from rich drones to a more metallic timbre as it continues. 'The Big Sleep' is more ethereal at first, but a low pulsing sound gives ominous overtones. The thick, velvety smooth synths remind me just a touch of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber's work as Synaesthesia, though it is softer than that. 'Visions' features deep, echoing clanging, again with rich full synths for atmosphere. The latter part of the disc develops more musical structure. Soft electric piano introduces 'Inner Sanctum,' cool ambient with the slightest touch of jazz - think of Spyra on Valium or something like that. The longest two tracks, and the most active and accessible, finish off the disc well. 'I Woke Up Dreaming' is powerful and dramatic, with a rhythmic undercurrent that really works. Scott Fraser's guitar wails at just the right times in just the right dose. 'Spirit Room' blends more smooth synths with soft tribal beats. Just as it seems to be settling in to a relaxed mood, Fraser's guitar asserts itself again, somewhat more forcefully this time. It's a wholly different tone that the rest of the CD. Finding it out of place on the first listen, I've grown to enjoy it. For those who don't, it is brief and fades soon enough, bringing things back to more soothing sounds as it ebbs away. Easy listening ambient with style."
--Phil Derby, SMD
"Smile On the Void is a fantastic and dynamic recording. Dynamic in the sense that there's a lot going on. This is a thoughtful compilation of varying works. I usually like a recording that's tied together a little tighter thematically, but this collection of recordings manages to be just different enough, to not be too different. The pieces fit together well. A Produce's work is thoughtfully arranged, and the sequence of the tracks provides for a thoughtful and tasteful sonic excursion into the world of dreaming and contemplation. What's amazing to me is how different a sound A Produce has gotten with this recording. I don't know if it's the synths that he's using, or if it's the post-production work, or what it is, but the timbres chosen, and the ways that they are blended, cross-faded, and ultimately mixed to bring the listener into the very core of the music is awesome. But this collection of pieces isn't all atmospherics, there's some Djembe, and guitar, and a variety of other carefully chosen timbres.
Smile On the Void has a very distinct sound, it's dark, and placid in places, but very organic and warm in others, thus another way that this recording's dynamicism is illustrated. Smile On the Void is dark as I've mentioned and it pretty much stays with that overall feeling, but as the recording progresses, it moves into less of an Ambient recording, and starts to be come more like Spacemusic...or more substantial, Ambient is usually less melodically substantial as it's Ambient, but Spacemusic kind of borrows the contemplative vibes of Ambient music and adds much more to it, rhythms, melodies, harmonies, whatever- Anyway A Produce takes a favorable direction as this recording progresses, the recording turns from a dark atmospheric Ambient recording with some pulse to a mildly rhythmic and melodic experience..... As a guitar player I've been plum wore out on the guitar idiom for some time, but this recording breathes new life into it, not in a Jeff Pearce sort of way, but more like the guy playing guitar on Robert Rich's Seven Veils, rippin' it up, full step bends, whammy, slides, and not a damn ounce of subtlety, just straight on "ballsy" guitar. Don't get me wrong the guitar doesn't take over the works, but it's definitely there and claiming it's place in the overall landscape of the recording. Overall I would have to recommend this recording. These days I don't review many recordings that I don't recommend and this one is no exception. Smile On the Void is a fine work from one of the greats in the genre."
--Matt Borghi, The Organization of Sound
"A Produce has been quiet for some time, save for a collaboration with M. Griffin (hypnos honcho), and this is his first album since 1996. And since that was some time ago and much water has passed under the bridge, I don't seem to remember what I wrote back then. To me it seems A Produce has progressed a little further, incorporating various percussion instruments, like the djembe. Music that is ambient with the big A, and A Produce is like ambient with the big A, dwells on enormous washes of synth sounds, that come in slow waves from the speakers. The seven new pieces are no different then before or then others, but the occassional percussive parts give this just a little bit extra. Good, solid and at times dark ambient music. "
--Vital E-Zine, Frans DeWaard
"This is the first brand new solo release from A Produce in five years. His collaboration with Mike Griffin on the much-respected 1999 album Altara was his last excursion on to the CD medium. There has been much excitement over this new release and I am glad to report that Smile on the Void is a most enlightening album of deep and mindful soundscapes. The overall theme of the album is the sleep cycle common to us all, restlessness, sleep, dreaming and awakening.
With his music A Produce is able, with much skill, to draw in the listener with his “Trance music” which he prefers to call his particular brand of ambient music. The title track for example starts with what sounds like Tibetan singing bowls ringing out an almost subliminal message. Added into the mix an almost organic rhythm is heard, entering and entwining around ones senses. The next track “Night Curve” acts like a brief respite of shifting and shimmering ambience as if the listener is being prepared for sleep, which one guesses as the following track is called “The Big Sleep”. As may be expected this “big” track envisages on the listener the main sleep cycle so consequently it flows as a powerful and strong melodic music.
Another track of note is “Inner Sanctum”. This is a most beautiful piece of music and reminds me of Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s “The Pearl”. In my view a definite contender for ambient track of the year. The last track “Spirit Room” contains much of the above ingredients, but a surprise awaits the listener. Starting with trance atmospheres this has it all faint tribal references in the form of an ethnic drumming sequence, and in the last part the addition of an electric guitar really brings the track and consequently the album to a most satisfying end. This is a very impressive album indeed. Lets hope we do not have to wait another five years for the next A Produce release, this guy has tremendous talent."
--Gary Andrews, Ambient Visions
"Enigmatically pseudo-named electronic musician “A Produce” has returned with another of his somber, elegant albums, this time with a title which is a wry homage to Steve Roach. Some of the music on this Produce album does show a bit of influence from the Tucson master “floating” electronic tones accompanied by percussion rhythms - but most of it is original, pure grade-A Produce. It can flow in the classic “dark ambient” mode, with brooding, dissonant electronic atmospheres shimmering with menace or despair, as in track 2, “Night Curve.” But it can also access more poignant emotional territory, with tragic almost organ-like minor chords accompanied by rumbling bass lines, as in track 3, “The Big Sleep.” And then again, Produce can do the “drone” thing as well, with the psychedelic “Visions” (track 4), one of my favorites on the album.
Produce’s earlier albums specialized in a kind of minimal, gemlike sound, provided in (usually) short pieces which did not change from beginning to end. Smile on the Void still makes some use of this style, but in this album Produce has chosen to enrich his textures and move away from minimalism. He can still create an ultra-quiet “relaxation” piece, such as track 5, “Inner Sanctum” which is very much in line with the quiet Hypnos sound. But then after that, he wakes the listener up with two longer, up-tempo pieces which derive not from ambient so much as from thirty years of electronic rock, complete with sequencers, drums, bongos, and other percussion, and minor-key power chords. There are even some passages played on hard-edged electric guitar, courtesy of Produce’s friend Scott Fraser.
With this variety, “A Produce” shows that he is more than an electronic minimalist or experimentalist. He proves with this album that his electronic voice can sing in many styles, from the mystical to the dramatic. There are even moments of passion, though they are always tempered by his ironic and sometimes detached attitude, which keeps Produce’s music from being either naïve or pretentious. The musical smile is gentle, and the void doesn’t have to be magnificent to be quality produce.
HMGS rating: 9 out of 10"
--Hannah M.G. Shapiro, EER