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Saul Stokes - Outfolding



2000. The primary sound sources on all Saul Stokes recordings are several vintage-style analog modular synthesizers built by Stokes himself. But don't mistake this to mean Stokes is working in a retro or "classic E-music" style, because this is definitely not the case. Perhaps no artist in the ambient/experimental music scene possesses a sound as distinctive, fresh and modern.

Those who have seen Saul's much-acclaimed live performances in Philadelphia during the past year can attest to his challenging and dynamic sound. It's world music for the mid-21st century, way ahead of its time. Ambient atmospherics blend with riveting electronic experimentalism, guided by an artistic savvy and grace all too rare in this tech-oriented genre.

Track listing, with mp3 sample clips:
01 Hurried Space (10.06)
02 Greys (04.18)
03 Somewhere Current (07.22)
04 The Far Edge of Suburban Station (07.07)
05 Below (10.22)
06 Cloud Shaping (05.34)
07 Conundrum (05.07)
08 Quiet Antenna (08.41)
09 Thick Streets (06.26)


Purchase for $11.99 on Hypnos Online Store

Reviews

"Significant Releases of 2000 list."
--Star's End Radio host Chuck VanZyl

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"An understated, clever set of rhythmic and/or floating ambient pieces. Abstract, dry, and intelligent.

Top 4 of 2000 (#4)."
--Hannah M.G. Shapero on rec.music.newage

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"Top 10 of 2000 list (#3)."
--Phil Derby, SMD

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"Top 25 Essential CDs of 2000."
--Echoes syndicated radio

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"Best of 2000 list."
--Eric Meece, Mystic Music, KKUP Radio

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"Best CDs of 2000 list."
--Jim Brenholts on the Ambient Music mailing list

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"The new Saul Stokes CD Outfolding is outstanding."
--Bill Fox, Host of Emusic, WDIY radio

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"Every now and then, I hear an 'ambient' album that reminds me of what I am searching for in ambient music. For me, it is that balance between 'ambience' (chords/beatlessness) and beats. For my musical tastes, although I have enjoyed music that tends either towards the beatlessness or towards the predominantly harsh beats, occasionally I hear something that comes very close to striking that perfect balance.

The two Steve Roach/Vir Unis CDs that Steve turned me on to came very close for me. My latest find is Saul Stokes 'Outfolding'. While I have only enjoyed parts of Stokes' other CDs (finding much of them too abstract for me) this one is a masterpiece - imho."
--Paul Levinson, on the Ambient Music internet mailing list

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"Plapably rhythmic music does not frequently make its way into my reviewing repertiore, but on Outfolding, unlike much of the other rhythmic music on the edges of this genre, the rhythms don't define the music; they're just another texture.

The fact that Stokes designs and builds his own synthesizers probably has something to do with it. I don't want to presume to know anything about the compositional process, but I would suspect that the pieces would come together quite differently when you're building the instrument as you go.

This album has Stokes in more of a Patrick O'Hearn region than he has been in the past, with cavernous atmospheric sounds playing a larger role. But it's still very uniquely Stokes. One of the nicest things about his work is that it doesn't pretend to be anything but synthesizer music. It's artificial sounding because that's what it's supposed to be. And working within that artificiality, he creates some very intriguing and worthwhile listening."
--Eric Prindle

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"Quite recently I have had the distinct pleasure of hearing Saul Stokes' "Outfolding." Absolutely brilliant piece of work."
--Jeff aka Mxyzptlk, on the Ambient Music internet mailing list

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"Saul Stokes, according to the notes on this album, designs and builds his own electronic musical instruments. This accounts for his unusual sound, which sidesteps the slick pre-packaged product of commercial electronics. It also gives Stokes' textures a kind of "retro" feel, as if he were back in the '50s recording with an aggregation of old oscillators, rhythm generators, and ring modulators. But he's not, and he is quite up to date with this set of inventive pieces of rhythmic ambient.

He's got the "floating synthesizer washes" and the regular, pulsing rhythms - the standard vocabulary of ambient, but he's happily missing some of the cliché's, such as the endless vast digital reverb and the big layered wall of sound. His all-electronic rhythms remind me of the wry "bossa-nova" or "lounge" - inspired sound of Richard Bone. But Stokes' electronics have more bass; they have a kind of thumpy, deep sound that is somehow still light and airy.

Stokes' thin textures, lighter "instrumentation," and passages of minimalism allow him to convey a kind of dry, ironic mood which is rare among ambient composers, whose tastes usually run more towards the bombastic and pretentious (none of that "the source of the music is my awareness of Being." stuff here!). But at the same time, Stokes can "unfold" delicate and beautiful abstract tone-clusters such as in track 4, "The Far Edge of Suburban Station." He keeps his sound from being too sweet by bringing in harsher, slightly chaotic elements - yet even these are restrained.

Outfolding is the work of a creative composer with an individual voice in a field where individuality is hard to find. In its quiet, understated, even cerebral quality, it is not either "comfort music for relaxation" nor pseudo-rock for wired cyber-fans. It's worth listening to this ingenious album which shows that in electronica, as elsewhere, less can be more."
--Hannah M.G. Shapero, Ambient Visions

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"I would say, as far as Saul Stokes' recordings go, this is by far his most accomplished and satisfying to listen to. The reason for this is simple. To my ears Outfolding sounds a lot more 'relaxed' than his previous releases on Hypnos. The sound is akin to early Steve Roach, with at times traces of Tomita or YMO shining through, though I don't know if Saul Stokes is at all influenced by them. I guess Outfolding has to stand on its own merits. This has a greater depth and musical vision. It's still atmospheric, but this time the sound has been allowed to open up, ie spatially separated. Analog can be confronting. In the wrong hands it can sound primitive and downright awful. This is not the case here though. It's intelligent, thoughtful with rhythm and purpose, the sound structured . As always, Stokes layers the pieces and than builds them up till they become a force of their own. And it radiates a wonderful sense of warmth .That industrial feel is still there in the background, but to my ears it's no longer as obvious as Zo Pilots or Washed In Mercury. The opening piece in its own rights awakes my every sense when I am tired and is worth the purchase of this release alone.Outfolding is almost a total deviation from what I'm used to hearing from him. Previously I would have labeled his works as contemporary experimental with at times a hint of techno creeping through, but with this release Stokes is sitting quite comfortably in the ambient zone. The sound is not so much 'in your face' but around you. Don't expect some dreamy ambience to lull you into a state of deep sleep though. Someone made a comment some time back that anyone can get a synthesizer and make ambient music. Be that as it may, not everyone will or can make it sound interesting. Stokes is an interesting voice out there in the global community worth exploring if you get a chance to do so. This recording in itself still has that rawness and honesty I have always enjoyed in Stokes' recordings. It's as if he is not getting too comfortable yet with what he is doing. Maybe therein lies the answer."
--Hans Stoeve, Powerspot Radio host, NSW Australia

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"Also from Hypnos is Outfolding, a pulsating, flowing sound by Saul Stokes, performed live in gallery concerts on analog synthesizers built by the composer."
--New Age Retailer

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"Electronically forged from Stokes' fertile imagination, Outfolding unfurls an audio panorama of primordially stirring soundworlds... places which seem so paleolithic yet ageless in their power and humidity.

Decidedly misnamed, Hurried Space drifts in on streams of lush serenity to be gradually underscored by rougher buzzes and electro-organic blips, then eventually penetrated by a murkily primitive rhythm which manifests itself within the sparse arrangements. Dark clunky stirrings and slow rhythmic pulsations open Greys (4:09), which is then set afloat on faint buzzes and meandering currents through some protean swamp which teems with the rattles of synthetic insect life. Somewhere Current's warm stew of low tones is overlain with a sparkling array of electronic arpeggios; cascading soundbeams, light brassy riffs and additional neo-ancient percussion add to the sultry moods.

The Far Edge of Suburban Station must be the very far edge... I hear no suburbia in the quietly twinkling drifts which emerge from silence. Intermittent throbs and feedback-like swirls rise like phantasmally remembered heatwaves from prehistoria. An airy cyclone whirlpools above Below (10:14), sweeping majestically then entering a bassier phase of protoplasmic ooze and more stratospheric activities as dense synthchords levitate heavenward. Trancey keyboard loops rise and fall amongst the shimmering mists of Cloud Shaping; an expanding bed of percussive effects seeps beneath, surging in volume and density until all fades.

Muffled but insistent, the beats of Conundrum are the most pervasive, stirring the ephemeral mists which spiral all about. A pattern of pulsing lows, Quiet Antenna is draped with criss-crossing sheets of gauzily synthetic material, as well as chittering power surges. Fluffy, though somewhat discordant, clouds hang over Thick Streets; gleamingly brassy rays shine through as do wavery fibrillations. The piece lifts off, then levitates... away.

More gorgeous work from Saul Stokes. Outfolding can take you wherever you want to go... unbotrusively primal-rhythmic explorations of amorphous locales rank a very satisfied 9.0. While his sounds are abstract enough that you can supply your own exotic mental visuals, feel free to borrow my electro-paleolithic synth-swamp journey..."
--The AmbiEntrance, David J Opdyke

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"Saul Stokes started creating electronic music as a teenager in the early 1980's. His fascination with the palette of sound available via synthesizer led him to learn the basics of analog synthesizer construction. His early demo Burning Igloo was featured in the December 1995 CD and magazine issue of Future Music (and encledup as one of their demos of the year), which led to his connection with Hypnos Recordings. Saul's first alburn Washed in Mercury, which was also Hypnos' first release, come out in early 1997. His second album Zo Pilots was realized one year later. Each album explores new sound ventures made possible by a wide variety of electronic instruments the artist has built himself. Infused with ambient backdrops and creative drumming, both show Stokes is first and formost a musician, one who uses unique sound design as a tool for experimentation in his music.

The primary sound sources on all Saul Stokes recordings are several vintage-style analog modular synthesizers built by Stokes himself. But don't mistake this to mean Stokes is working in a retro or "classic E-music" style, because this is definitely not the case. Perhaps no artist in the ambient/experimental music scene possesses a sound as distinctive, fresh and modern.

Stokes' new album, Outfolding is totally mesmerising. The album is fundamentally composed of broad, expansive synthesized atmospherics awash with pristine, melodic tapestries. Stokes' provides an intellectually satisfying atmospheric work, arraying his understated chops as thoughtfully as a master of this medium. His unique musical stamp is apparent, ...Stokes' commands these vlvid atmospheres completely. Beautifully moving, powerful, and highly recommended to fans of floating ambience."
--Alternate Music Press, Ben Kettlewell

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"Saul Stokes is a very characteristic artist specialized in the electronic ambient/experimental music. In his recordings he tends to use primarily, as the basic sources of his sound, the modular analog synthesizers as well as other electronic instruments he himself builds, yet his music possesses a modern touch, fresh and daring indeed, masterfully managing the technology at his disposal. A supporter of live performances, his sound is challenging and dynamic. His music flows, evolving, never losing its intrinsic beauty, deep, hypnotic, with electronic undercurrents that lead to atmospheres full of a soft energy, at times with space or cosmic brushes, and always having in mind the exploration of new soundscapes with a creativity that can hardly be surpassed."
--Amazing Sounds, MONTSE ANDREU

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"Saul Stokes, one of the more innovative electronic musicians recording today (he designs and builds all his own electronic instruments) has delivered another excellent release. Outfolding is a collection of daring soundscapes, meshing the genres of ambient, rhythmic EM, tribal and space music into a hybrid that is uniquely his own. Stokes is truly an original and Outfolding is yet another shining example of what equal parts innovation and artistry can yield.

The opening cut, "Hurried Space," is filled with ambient washes and whirrings, strange arrhythmic percussive effects, and alien textures yielding a midtempo exercise in controlled cruising. This has elements of desert tribal in it, but the 21st-century cyber influences is just as strong. Do you get what I mean by original? The song itself is a series of ebbs and flows as the music swells in drama and then subsides, always with the bubbling rhythm underneath it all.

"Greys," the second cut, is a slow and somber yet rhythmic trip into ambient territory. Once again, the beats are somewhat arrhythmic (or maybe polyrhythmic?) and the music rises and falls (with less intensity, though, than on the previous cut). The drones/washes that populate the background are counterpointed by a Vangelis-like tone that erupts now and then, sounding just a smidgeon like a cut from Blade Runner. This is my favorite cut the album; I love the stuttering beats and gracefully elegant, yet vaguely dark, synth work.

"The Far Edge of Suburban Station" begins very softly, almost in an ethereal vein, as billowy soft synth washes fade in and out of the listener's frame of reference. As the song progresses, these crescendoes get louder and louder, yet the same almost organic (i.e. breath-like) rhythm persists, as if whatever you are hearing is getting closer and closer. I envisioned (helped by what the title brought to mind) a trip on a bullet train through the countryside of France or maybe Japan in the darkest time of the night. The train itself makes barely a sound - it seems to glide along effortlessly. As a result, you only barely have the sensation of tremendous speed as the landscape flies by you, illuminated by the occasional light from a train compartment. It's a very moody cut, to say the least. Vague dissonant elements creep into the song towards the end of its six-plus minutes, bringing a tension that tingles my subconscious as sparking electronics crackle in the background at times.

Of note is that one of the cuts on Outfolding was recorded live at one of the Stars End's Gatherings. The song is "Quiet Antenna," and you'd probably never guess it was a live cut since there is no audience noise that I could detect. The piece begins as an electronic hiccup of sorts (abrupt starting and stopping pulses with quasi-feedback in the background). The feedback becomes more of a drone-like sound, and is melded with other alien textures, yielding a dark and foreboding song. Somewhat experimental at times, I admire the song's originality and complexity, although personally I did not enjoy it as much as the rest of the album.

There are other selections on Outfolding that are equally as dramatic, yet more accessible, such as the rhythmic "Conundrum" which has a keen edge to its beats and whooshes, and the closing cut, "Thick Streets," with its almost sorrowful combination of a slow tempo and sighing keyboards which morphs into a more complex piece of varied moods and textures. However, in the end, wherever you put the "virtual needle" down on Outfolding, you will get music for a brave new electronic world. Saul Stokes refuses to follow any trend, preferring instead to strike out on his own, exploring sonic terrain that is fueled by equal parts cyber fantasy and organic tribal surrealism. But then, I shouldn't be surprised at how daring this album is. This is a Hypnos label recording and they never release boring music. In the case of Outfolding, that goes double if not triple. Highly recommended."
--Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire on the Web

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"Saul Stokes is a very characteristic artist specialized in the electronic ambient/experimental music. In his recordings he tends to use primarily, as the basic sources of his sound, the modular analog synthesizers as well as other electronic instruments he himself builds, yet his music possesses a modern touch, fresh and daring indeed, masterfully managing the technology at his disposal. A supporter of live performances, his sound is challenging and dynamic. His music flows, evolving, never losing its intrinsic beauty, deep, hypnotic, with electronic undercurrents that lead to atmospheres full of a soft energy, at times with space or cosmic brushes, and always having in mind the exploration of new soundscapes with a creativity that can hardly be surpassed."
--Montse Andreu, Amazing Sounds

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"Saul Stokes is is the quintessential electronic DIY artist. Not only does he write, record, play live, and do all his own artwork; he also makes his own equipment and offers handmade alternative packaging of his CDs in limited release form. On Outfolding, his third album for Hypnos, Stokes creates an environment filled with aural mist and deep pulses which bring the listener away from their everyday world and into his abstract musical one.

This album floats to the more ethereal and beatless side of ambient music. Rumbling low end bass and swirling pads exist but not within the conventional walls of techno or trance. While Stoke's instruments do include a homebrew analog sequencer and modular synthesizer most of what evolves on Outfolding takes just as much from his live manipulations of processing and use of alternative controllers. The result is a very smooth and listenable recording that has an underlying organic and complex life to it. Brian Eno once said the problem with new age music was there was no Evil in it. You could infer that without this complexity it is lifeless. This album shows how you can go beyond such conventions as it is at once both achingly beautiful and abstract as well as deep and mysterious.

Curious listeners should also check in periodically with the artist's homepage [www.saulstokes.com] as he has a limited edition live collection for sale and is in the process of creating single track "Preview" MP3s of his various albums. These tracks are snippets of each song on the albums and offer a seamless collage of the main themes and sounds that are expanded on each recording. A free live MP3 is available for download as well as is well worth the listen."
--creativesynth.com, "Left of the Dials", David Talento

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"On Outfolding, Saul Stokes transcends the moniker "sonic innovator" and on to the plateau of "music visionary". On this, his third album, Stokes goes well beyond technicalist to encompass a stunning range of moods and character. With mostly hand built, self designed equipment, Stokes creates cerebral timbres, intelligent rhythms, warm pads and icy effects. This release is engrossing, atmospheric and distracting as it lingers on once its course run in the CD player.

Stokes' compositions have been commonly referred to as aural explorations and certainly a love of synthesized sound is demonstrated, but with the powerful emotional content of an evolved artist. We are offered mood pieces which delve into the regions of isolation, joy, dislocation, euphoria, the heart and mind. With exquisite pacing and phrasing, Outfolding is part sonic experiment, part introspective facilitator, part soundtrack to modern life and entirely immeasurable."
--Star's End Radio host Chuck VanZyl

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"I would say, as far as Saul Stokes' recordings go, this is by far his most accomplished and satisfying to listen to. The reason for this is simple. To my ears Outfolding sounds a lot more 'relaxed' than his previous releases on Hypnos. The sound is akin to early Steve Roach, with at times traces of Tomita or YMO shining through, though I don't know if Saul Stokes is at all influenced by them. I guess Outfolding has to stand on its own merits. This has a greater depth and musical vision. It's still atmospheric, but this time the sound has been allowed to open up, ie spatially separated. Analog can be confronting. In the wrong hands it can sound primitive and downright awful. This is not the case here though. It's intelligent, thoughtful with rhythm and purpose, the sound structured . As always, Stokes layers the pieces and than builds them up till they become a force of their own. And it radiates a wonderful sense of warmth .That industrial feel is still there in the background, but to my ears it's no longer as obvious as Zo Pilots or Washed In Mercury. The opening piece in its own rights awakes my every sense when I am tired and is worth the purchase of this release alone. Outfolding is almost a total deviation from what I'm used to hearing from him. Previously I would have labeled his works as contemporary experimental with at times a hint of techno creeping through, but with this release Stokes is sitting quite comfortably in the ambient zone. The sound is not so much 'in your face' but around you. Don't expect some dreamy ambience to lull you into a state of deep sleep though. Someone made a comment some time back that anyone can get a synthesizer and make ambient music. Be that as it may, not everyone will or can make it sound interesting. Stokes is an interesting voice out there in the global community worth exploring if you get a chance to do so. This recording in itself still has that rawness and honesty I have always enjoyed in Stokes' recordings. It's as if he is not getting too comfortable yet with what he is doing. Maybe therein lies the answer."
--Hans Stoeve, PowerSpot Radio, NSW, Australia

.

"Saul Stokes is one of the most creative forces in electronic music today. Building his own instruments, Stokes then builds his own sound world, painting an imaginative, lush landscape with rich textures and incredible spatial separation, noticeable even on my PC speakers. His musical signature is unmistakable and incomparable. This isn't ambient, it isn't drum 'n bass, it isn't techno, but it has elements of each, blended in unique ways. Like his previous release, 'Zo Pilots,' 'Outfolding' tells a series of musical stories. While each is distinctive, there is a singular character running through the entire work. Though many ambient elements are present, as usual Stokes produces a very rhythmic work. However, it's not the sort of rhythm that falls into an easily definable category, other than to say it sounds like Saul Stokes. For example, 'Greys' has deep, plodding drums and earth-shaking bass, combined with the oddest crunching and slamming sounds. This is mixed with a very relaxed, almost jazzy synth lead, with jaw-dropping results. Stokes creativity and ingenuity transcends the genre, and often defies adequate description.

But not all is rhythm and booming bass. Witness 'The Far Edge of Suburban Station,' a sublime stretch of rich ambience. Complex layers of sound wash over one another, building in intensity. 'Below' begins with a simple pulse, surrounded by layers of spacey sounds. However, just when it seems it is going to lapse into pleasant, meditative space music, the music completely changes at the three-minute mark. The pulse remains, but the surrounding sounds take it in a different direction. Halfway through, the space music theme reemerges for the remainder. As with prior Stokes releases, the music is challenging. But even somewhat abrasive-sounding pieces like 'Quiet Antenna,' with its warbling surges of noisy electronics, carry with them an almost irresistible lure and fascination. Nobody else is making music quite like this, and that is part of the fun."
--Phil Derby, SMD

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"Saul Stokes' third album is all about analogue synths that he built himself... ambient music, with hints of techno. The whole rhythm section reminded me of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 2, but the synth woosh part... tends towards more classical ambient music. Sober and still rich in tones and colours."
--Frans DeWaard, Vital E-Zine, Staalplaat, The Netherlands

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