David Tollefson - New Eyes on the Universe
Artist: David Tollefson
Title: New Eyes on the Universe
Label: Hypnos Recordings
Debut recording by half of Hypnos Recordings duo Viridian Sun. Tollefson explores the use of treated electric guitar as a sound source for unusual ambient textures and rich sonic atmospheres.
Tracks listing (with new MP3 sample clips):
02 Painted Sky
03 Some Light from the Heavens
04 Phase (Travel)
07 Vanishing Lines 1
08 You Are Almost There
09 Vanishing Lines 2
13 Movement Within a Frame
14 Imminent Departure
15 New Eyes on the Universe
Purchase direct for $8.99
Reviews"Best Release of 1998."
--Phil Derby / Wind and Wire Magazine
"Top 10 of 1998."
--Chuck VanZyl, Star's End Radio, WXPN, Philadelphia
"Top 30 of 1998."
--Eric Meece / Mystic Music / KKUP Radio
"Best of the Year (honorable mention)."
-- The AmbiEntrance
"An exquisite collection of moody, minimal and very effective pieces, beautifully sequenced and with the right pace of movement and choice of soundcolors. Excellent."
"Recorded in 1997, this CD features 61 minutes of treated guitars, processed with such extremism that their original nature is quite oblique. This ambient music takes a distinctly philosophical look at our physical continuum. The ambience here is a shade grittier, with a seething intensity that often supersedes the tranquillity.
The soundscapes commence with "Palomar", establishing an earthly vantage point for Tollefson's quantum observations. As these remote explorations continue to expand, they adopt spacier aspects. The voyage pierces a "Painted Sky" with spectral qualities, and enters the pulsations of "Some Light from the Heavens", persisting in its outward progression to the brief but expectant "You Are Almost There" and the ethereal "Planetal", finally reaching the shuddering celestial glow of the title track.
These tracks are short in duration, between two and six minutes. Such compression delivers their sonic points with succinctness and definition."
--Matt Howarth, space.com
"Extremely high quality guitar ambience from one half of Portlandís Viridian Sun, David Tollefson. 'Empyrean' has a tentative, threatening air, a kind of looped and progressively virulent agitation that fades away before possible violence; 'Phase (Travel)' is a somber, swirling ride through the Milky Way; the title track also cruises the heavens, the intermittent subterranean machinery pulse of the engines drawing focus from the stars to the tenuous confines of the space ship; 'Painted Sky' has an anxious, subdued turbulence quality--Van Goghís Starry Night (on Mars). My favorite track, 'Palomar,' flows from dark crystals reverberating by sunlight, to winking stars shimmering by moonlight, to clouds of lightly distorted, ominous radiance that pass in front of both--an amazingly textured stream of consciousness journey that holds within itís multifaceted layers: wariness and wonder, caution and awe. What really makes this work is the use of the guitar as a conduit for Davidís broad sonic trek through the heavens, through the deceptively gentle, seemingly familiar, to the subtly unearthly; in that respect, there are only a few moments on this disc where it is noticeably a guitar creating the music. Not unlike Maeror Tri, though the songs are shorter, more compact (more appropriate for the attention deficit 90ís?). Well worth your attention!"
--John C. Smith / Outburn Magazine
"I'm a big fan of Brian Eno. Not of everything he writes, records and produces, but of the way I perceive what he thinks about music and recording. Systems approaches, how a system (a complex effects route, for example) is set up and variables (a guitar, as another example) are entered into it, are some of the many recording techniques Eno has espoused that I use day to day in my own recording experiences. Apparently, Tollefson is a big fan of Eno's as well. All these "moodscapes" were created from an electric guitar with delays, distortion and other effects, changing the sound of the guitar into electric washes and streaks. Layers were created on a four-track cassette and more treatments and mixing were done later by M. Griffin at Chromastatic II. It's a stately, dreamy, hypnotic record but with that "undercurrent of doubt" that keeps it from being a "New Age" feel-good wallpaper recording. And it reminds me of Eno's Apollo or Music for Films, two of his best "ambient" works."
--TAPE OP magazine
"A complete change of pace....
The guitar is a prime candidate for the instrument of the twentieth century - it has played (excuse the pun) a pivotal part in many forms of music: rock (from punk through to progressive), acoustic and electric folk, modern classical, new age and ambient. When coupled to the other contenders for instrument of the century - synthesisers and production treatments (both probably to late in the period to get the gong, but looking good for the next century) - the guitar knows no bounds.
David Tollefson (half of Viridian Sun) has created a fascinating album through his guitar and production/treatments. The sound shifts between recognisable guitar work through drones to percussion and gong like works, while maintaining a consistant mood and sound. Tracks such as 'Voien', 'Imminent Departure' or 'Movement Within a Frame' feature a melody driven by the guitar over low drones, and produce western tone rather like a Morricone soundtrack or the feel of the Australian Soma: other such as 'Palomar', 'Mandala' or 'New Eyes on the Universe' produce a more ethereal, spacey atmosphere. The sounds drawn out of the guitar vary between organs on 'Vanishing Lines 2', a choir on 'You are Almost There', or the eastern drone-based pieces such as 'Vanishing lines 1' or 'Planetal'. The 15 tracks show still more diversity - gongs and percussion on 'Tempel', edgy, phased drones on 'Phase (Travel)' with a wind blown melody. Two tracks provide a harsher edge - the second track on the album 'Painted Sky' is a keening piece like a sad god of the wind howling, while 'Empyrean' sounds a more industrial drone.
This is an impressive work - in both the diversity and density. The closest comparison in my experience are the soundscapes produced by Robert Fripp. As with them, the guitar/treatment combination leads to a sound which is based on slow developing, melancholic works. A significant difference is that Tollefson tends to avoid the harsher agressive emotions which emerge in many soundscapes, and makes it overall more congenial. A weakness and strength is the number of tracks - 15 over 60 minutes - which doesn't allow for the intensity and development drone-based pieces are capable of achieving, while providing a varied yet coherent listening experience."
--Jeremy Keens, Ambience Magazine, Australia
"David Tollefson is an ambient guitarist, though many of the sounds you'll hear on new eyes on the universe don't sound very "normal" for the old six-string. Forget typical guitar-associated sounds from picking, strumming or chording, though those things can occasionally be discerned beneath the layers of drift and drone. Mike Griffin of Hypnos adds his own treatments to Tollefson's sounds.
Awakening like living tendrils of morning mist, the thin strands which open palomar (7:29) grow into organ-like billows, textured with hints of electric grit. Distant feedback is perceptible, though the overall effect is delightfully alien. With strange menace, painted sky offers a twisted, burbly, windy (and short) atmosphere... alienating yet intriguing. some light from the heavens, as implied, is less disconcerting, as it basks in a slow, shimmery pulse which fades and floats. Take another relaxing jaunt with phase (travel); a fuzzy undercurrent is stroked with synth like strings and almost recognizable guitar. The dense echoes and bell-like reverberations within tempel seem to emanate from some extraterrestrial cathedral.
Slightly noisier, industrial-ish textures give empyrean an edgier, machinistic feel. Spacy shimmers highlight vanishing lines 1 wherein resonant string-sounds are embellished with sharp feedback strains. The piece glitters like some self-illuminated alien entity. Another short foray, you are almost there sounds rather like a violin and cello duet, though more abstract. A faint, crystalline strumming leads the way to vanishing lines 2, jangling over sweltering clouds and sonic flow. voien (1:36) includes some fairly musical moments, buried in its unfortunately brief, murky lifespan.
A musical almost-still life, movement within a frame is marked by placidly rolling waves; another quite short piece. A sense of yearning seems to imbue the soft washes of planetal with shapeless melancholia. Simply lovely stuff. mandala is beautiful too, though in an entirely different way... a celestial exercise in empty space drift, rocket hum, and the faraway squall of the void. Hazily building layers of mutated strings gather into imminent departure, fading as the track exits, leaving behind the delicious rumbling of new eyes on the universe, a final otherworldly excursion.
Clocking in at just over an hour, new eyes on the universe transmutes the dross of plain old electric guitar sounds into flowing distortions of gold. The only complaint I can make about David Tollefson's works here is my opinion that several of the tracks were regrettably short. Gorgeously soothing sounds, with just enough strangeness to keep them especially interesting. High marks to these eyes... 9.1! (out of 10, highest rated CD this month)"
--David Opdyke / The AmbiEntrance
"David creates haunting atmospheres on his solo album, and the only time I can remember I heard guitars sounding so strange and beautiful was on Jim O'Rourke's live album. The pieces are very diverse in the structure, but subtle enough to form a meditative atmosphere altogether. My favourites are Palomar, Tempel, Mandala and the title track, and no doubt you can see why."
Vladimir Jovanovic, Inner Space Radio, Zagreb, Croatia
"Half of Viridian Sun (w/Mike Griffin), David Tollefson produces music which is dark, atmospheric and textural. He uses the heavily processed timbre of his guitar to convey musical messages, rather than melody or rhythm. Much effort has been spent on creating and organizing original sounds. Each track on "New Eyes On The Universe" is an intricate soundworld evoking the mysteries at the edge of the universe."
--Chuck VanZyl, Star's End Radio, WXPN, Philadelphia
"Featuring titles like "Painted Sky," "Some Light from the Heavens" and "Planetal," New Eyes on the Universe may initially seem like cosmological twaddle from Natural Wonders. But New Agers who wish Ben & Jerry's had a "Tangerine Dream" flavor ice cream will find themselves unwanted in this sector of the cosmos. While Universe's experimental guitar drones can make you feel as if you've been sucked into a worm hole, the sounds of these isolationist scenarios are less anesthetized than much ambient music.
Tollefson, with help from his Viridian Sun partner Mike Griffin, dips his guitar strings in a digital bath, processing them to unrecognizable levels; the resulting sonic emanations alternately roll like waves, ring like a Tibetan bell, or resound as if scraped by a bow (and no, Jimmy Page comparisons are not appropriate, so keep them to yourselves, Zep-heads). Muffled strums melt into oceans of opiate hums, and, as with all expert minimalism, the drips of sound ripple outward, expanding and evolving as they flow to infinity. You may find yourself unwilling or unable to return from that distant point. That's just the risk you take when traveling in space."
--John Graham, Willamette Week
"A new addition to the label, still space music but this time with a remarkably fine and varied take on the genre, featuring 15 tracks for maximum range and variation, each with its own landscape of synths, subtle perc textures, what occasionally sounds like guitars, bass undercurrents and more as tracks drift, flow and soar, rhythm-free, to a very hypnotic extent as you are caught int the spell."
--CD Services Newsletter (Scotland)
"A change in direction for Mike Griffin and his label, this time into textural guitartronics. Some of you who may have been following the label's evolution are no doubt aware that Tollefson is half of Viridian Sun, who have previously released on same label.
What you get are fifteen treated pieces ranging in mood and texture, at times approaching the same celestial heights as Laraaji explored in his earlier albums on Eno's EG label, at times abrasive and confronting.Tollefson spares us any sense of dramatics and over fifteen tracks manages to convey a range of textural possibilities which range from celestial to subterranean rumblings to ambient industrial minimalism. Don't expect to hear any great sense of melody here either, for this is pure improvisation that never dulls. Because Tollefson works with drones, he manages to build up layers of sound which eventually become awe inspiring by themselves. On a piece like 'planetal' the effect he manages to convey is one of being inside a cathedral, austere and majestic. 0n 'some light from the heavens' Tollefson tunes his guitar into a zither like instrument, and in turn creates a piece of music which you swear could be off any Laraaji album. These are the sort of textures Tollefson should keep exploring for there are a lot of good ideas here. At other times the mood is somewhat funereal. Overall this is a bit on the eerie side.
I think of someone like Skuli Sverrison on Extreme who sought out similar terrains on his recent release on Extreme, whereby the instrument through constant processing become unrecognizable. Hypnos is slowly but surely making a name for itself as a label who still believe that there are independent musicians out there who compose intelligent and thought provoking dark ambient music, and actively seek to find and record these people. Tollefson like other electronic pioneers before him, still holds true to the vision of pushing the boundaries with the guitar, challenging our own beliefs what an instrument should sound like or be capable of. This is a thought provoking release and it will be interesting to see where Tollefson goes next. One wishes Griffin and Co. the best of luck with their own vision."
Hans Stoeve, PowerSpot Radio, NSW, Australia
"For those Maeror Tri fans who remember the transcendent moments when a noise attack would die away into metallic echoes and smoother moments, I commend this album. It's like listening to hymns from a machine society cathedral. Every sound has a slight mechanical edge and a transcendent beauty that seems to arrive from perspectives slightly different from ours. Very highly recommended. My vote for best new album of 1998."
Clark R. Wilkins, Ambient Mailing List
"Daring ambient (that is opposed to fluffy new age) is back underground. All we have to do is to wait for a revival one day. Strongly promoting daring new ambient music is the US label Hypnos, with many good releases, and this is most certainly one of the strongest I heard lately on both Hypnos, but also in the genre. David is one half of Viridian Sun (who also releases on Hypnos) and this album is entirely dedicated to exploring the guitar as the source of ambient music. But unlike postrock darkest doodling, David's guitar sound far more synthetic and, for me at least, far more richer then the usual lo-fi drone guitar act around. The drones are sometimes like a mass of church organs swirling around, in a sense pastoral space music. Deep, very deep and dark, but not utterly dark. This is very refined music, that unfortunately will not reach the audience it deserves, because ambient is 'out'. What a shame."
Frans DeWaard, Vital (Staalplaat) E-Zine
"As I'm listening to this, I think, "have I ever heard a record label where I like every single CD?" Ok, granted Hypnos is still a newcomer, but what a welcome addition to the ambient scene. The trend toward great, somewhat dark, ethereal textures continues with David Tollefson's excellent release, New Eyes on the Universe. Unlike many releases in the so-called "drone ambient" category, which often play with subtle variances over one track lasting 70-plus minutes, this hour-long disc is broken up into 15 tracks, many of them in the two-minute range. This allows for a remarkably wide range of artistic expression in a genre of music not really known for its range.
The opener, "Palomar," is the longest track, at 7:30, and it remind me, as do some of the other guitar-laden pieces, of early Ash Ra Tempel, which in my book is a very good thing. (The resemblence may be more than coincidental - one of the tracks is called "Tempel.") The textured guitar sounds also remind me of Tomorrowland's CD Stereoscopic Soundwaves, from the great Darla Records "Bliss Out" series. Both this track and "Some Light From the Heavens" feature edgy, fuzzed out guitars with a healthy dose of effects. In fact, though not a Viridian Sun release, M Griffin is credited with "recorded treatments" in addition to Tollefson's stellar guitar work.
As usual for a Hypnos release, if you are looking for melody in your music, look elsewhere. There are rare moments of structured music with discernible notes, such as "You Are Almost There." Mostly, though, these are abstract paintings of sound, carefully sculpted by the artist, no doubt evoking quite varied reactions, depending not only on the listener, but also one's mood at the time. The feeling for me is one of serene reflection and beauty, although every once in awhile I catch myself just saying "God, this sounds SO cool!" Though the emphasis is on guitar, some of the more delicate pieces should also appeal to Brian Eno fans.
Some pieces are thickly layered, others, like "Tempel," are relatively simple. Each has its own identity. It is a solid disc throughout, with the usual high-quality sound and cover art that I've already come to expect from this label. Music to travel to without leaving your living room."
Phil Derby, Wind and Wire Magazine