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"Gramophone Transmissions" is Canadian electronic musician Blake Gibson's second album, which was self-released in 2011.  Pity that, because I would have loved to put this fascinating gem on my "Best of 2012" list.

The presentation/packaging on this release is quite stunning, with artwork and layout by Michal Karcz (who has done work recently for Steve Roach).  I was also intrigued by the thanks given to "Kubrick, Debussy, Bass Communion, VidnaObmana" for inspiration, which made me salivate to the sonic treasures I might find within.  I was not disappointed, and the influence of these artists of the surreal becomes readily apparent.   

This album was produced with source material exclusively from processed samples/loops derived from classical vinyl records and choral, mellotron and piano recordings.  This is not a new concept-- like minded artists like Janek Shaefer and Steven Wilson have forayed into this territory before (see Bass Communion's "Ghosts on Magnetic Tape").  But Gibson does it with panache and subtle intensity, where things never sound stiff, cold, or too experimental.  There is a sonic warmth to the proceedings.   

I would categorize this release as space music, as it presents almost an alternative soundtrack to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey;" there are plenty of mental images derived from these soundscapes of Dave Bowman floating in the blackness, psychedelically-colored planetary landscapes, and the like.  But I also noticed and appreciated that the album would work equally well as the soundtrack to an American southwest desert, a la Roach. 

Opener "Drift" is a light and airy piece with piano and classical strings, albeit with a droning quality, and is quite hopeful sounding.  By the visceral "Dark Clouds Approaching from the West" and mammoth "Maelstrom (The Descent)", in contrast, the album moves into gleefully eerie and surreal spaces.  I've seen this album tagged with the "dark ambient" banner in some other reviews and, to be honest, even at it's most chilling and darkest, I don't think this is an entirely accurate or fair label to put on this music.  Album closer "Unforeseen Consequences" reminds me of the Steve Roach classic "Artifacts" and is a beautiful drifting piece and perfect way to end this excellent album. 

So, one of the best albums of 2011 (that I didn't hear until 2012)! 

P.S. headphones listening HIGHLY recommended to bring out the subtle nuances of this work.   

I bought a used cd (silver, pressed, etc) and while attempting to remove some fingerprints on the label side with a sponge and water, the outer layer started peeling/sloughing off.  This cd was made in the in the late 80s in the UK.  After peeling in spots there's a different shade of silver below.  Will this disc be unplayable at some point?  I've read that label side damage can affect the laser reading the data.  The disc plays with no errors so far.

Other Ambient (and related) Music / Albums that should be reissued
« on: September 02, 2012, 11:27:07 PM »
What are your most wanted reissues (that never came out on cd or sold out so quickly you missed it)?


Abecedarians--80s band from l.a. area who did gloomy ambient rock, on the famous Factory label.  Caroline put out a comp cd in late 80s that goes for outrageous prices.  A double or even multiple disc set would be a dream come true.

Red Temple Spirits--another overlooked band, similar to above.

Shriekback--Jam Science.  Never released on cd.  A crime.

Swans--the early to mid 90s stuff on Young God. 

Yagya--Rhythm of Snow.  I'm still pissed this cd is unavailable, dammit!

Tangerine Dream--Legend soundtrack.

Everything and Nothing / Elizabeth Fraser playing Cocteau Twins songs
« on: August 21, 2012, 10:47:25 AM »
There are some videos on YouTube of ex-Coteau Twin Liz Fraser playing some recent live gigs and doing a bunch of Twins' songs, supposedly in support of some new solo project.  I watched a brief clip and I have to say it was awful to say the least. 

As much as I love Liz' voice and CT, she has a lot of nerve playing these songs.  She was the reason CT disbanded in the first place.  After she left she slagged them off like she didn't want to be associated with the name ever again.  CT were offered an astronomical amount of money to briefly reform for a show at Coachella and Liz refused to participate, disappointing her ex-bandmates Robin Guthrie (well, her ex-husband as well) and Simon Raymonde, who were more than willing to do it, and the fans.  She's a strange bird with issues, that's all i can say about her personally.  At least the other two are normal.   

The cynic in me is saying the money's running out and she needs to make an album now and sell something, and what better way to make a buck than start doing your old songs (that's another issue: the other two wrote the music!).  I don't have much respect for this at all.  Robin Guthrie is a real artist and never went out on the road and rehashed CT songs.  When her solo album fails miserably she'll probably be begging the others to reform.  If I were them I'd say kiss my ass, you had your chance.

Straight up, peace out (from a hardcore CT fan, from the heart)     8)   

Everything and Nothing / Kate Bush is cool
« on: August 16, 2012, 09:32:34 PM »
I always liked Kate Bush.  Thanks to YouTube I've been watching a lot of interviews and documentaries from the late 70s, early 80s.  What a lovely woman and fascinating person.  A true musical genius! 

It's been 16 years since a new recording from Dead Can Dance.  I can remember waiting in line at midnight at Tower Records for their last three releases (1996's Spiritchaser, the live album "Toward the Within", and 1993's "Into the Labyrinth).  So of course I had to get this one on the day of release (8/14/2012)!!!

The album is self-released by Dead Dan Dance but they got a distribution deal with PIAS (Play It Again Sam) so it is widely available.  I believe you can get it for $9.99 right now at Amazon.  The CD is released in a digipak with booklet containing lyrics and great cover imagery of some withered sunflower looking things.  The title "Anastasis" is Greek for "rebirth" (appropriate); in fact a few of the track titles are Greek (e.g. Agape, meaning Love). 

Of course the music industry is still (wrongly) categorizing DCD as "world" and "new age."  Ha!  True fans know they started out as a goth band on 4AD and incorporated ancient sounds and instruments into their music.  Unfortunately, I think with the more mass exposure to their music, DCD's music started to focus too much on this "world" element; almost everything was tribal sounding, and the guitars and orchestral arrangements got pushed back into the shadows. 

To me, "Anastasis" is a return to form to their rock and classical roots explored on albums like "Spleen and Ideal" and "Within the Realm of a Dying Sun."   

(PART Two of my review coming, to be continued--this is being written at work, and I gotta go!)  ;)

Music Gearheads Tech Talk / Speaker connection
« on: August 15, 2012, 10:16:53 AM »
I'm not a musician but I do have an equipment problem!

I have a pair of Tannoy Fusion 4 speakers.  The terminals on back of speakers are the "binding post" variety where you turn a screw to hold the speaker wires to make contact with the terminals.  In this case, my speaker wires are Monster Cable with the metal "pins" instead of bare speaker wire. 

It's a royal pain when you have to move the speakers or clean the back of them periodically and re-connect the speakers, because the cables/wires don't hold very firmly in the terminals and come loose very easily.  And of course if you got loose/bad connections you got bad sound from your stereo. 

Any tips to rectify this problem? Thanks!

It's hard to believe it's been 5 years since Numina's (Jesse Sola) last Hypnos release, "Shift to the Ghost"!   Previous to that, Hypnos released two other Numina titles, "Eye of the Nautilus," and his Hypnos debut "Sanctuary of Dreams" (a phenomenal, landmark release in the Hypnos catalog).  For me, SOD will always be hard to top.  The press release for the cryptically titled "The Deception of Reality" opines that this is the best Numina release to date.  I don't agree, but the album is nevertheless another example of Numina's excellence in the space music field. 

Effective album opener "The Illusion Transmission," clocking at 17 minutes, is like a cavern opening in the ether, with dark and ominous waves of spiralling synths setting the scene for this drift-fest (the album is predominantly percussionless).  Reminded me a lot of Roach/Obmana's "Well of Souls" opening track, minus the percussion.  Towards the end of the piece, the synths turn symphonic, with a yearning, melancholy quality that is very beautiful.  I wish this symphonic aspect had gone on longer than it did and been explored more in the second track. 

This is followed by another 17-minute track, the dreamy "Our Elegant Experience," which continues the move away from the dark opening of the album into a more serene and peaceful space.  Next up, the excellently titled "In Cerulean Haze," harkens back to the underwater explorations of the "Eye of the Nautilus" album.  A very pleasant track, although perhaps drifting a bit without direction for its duration, unsure of where to go. 

The fourth track, "Empire of Nothing", at nearly 20 minutes, has two distinct "halves", the first part twinkling and drifting pleasantly enough like the previous two pieces.  Slowly, a theme starts to emerge halfway through, and we are treated to the most haunting, visceral passage of music Numina has produced to date.  This is the kind of electronic music that gives you goosebumps and makes you want to crank up the volume and just disappear in the sounds.  A truly stunning track!!!

The final piece, "Translunary Return," is a fine closer, and probably the second best piece of music on the album, although somewhat anti-climactic after "Empire of Nothing."  It's hard to follow pure perction. 

I thought overall this album was very good and Numina fans will not be disappointed.  I think some of the pieces could have been a bit more dynamic/dramatic.  When you hear a track like "Empire of Nothing" it shows you what great heights this artist is capable of achieving, and I think some the greatest heights are still yet to come. 

Other Ambient (and related) Music / OMG --Edgar Froese!
« on: August 02, 2012, 12:54:17 PM »
Have you seen Edgar Froese lately? 68 years old.  He looks about 95.  There's a funny interview (2012) on youtube with him, the interviewer is a little girl about 12 years old!

Ishvara is a UK duo consisting of Matt Hillier (Ishq) and his significant other Jacqueline Kersley (they also work together as the duo Elve).  "Under a Hexagon Sky," released 2012 on their Virtual label, is a limited edition (300 CD's only) follow-up to their 2005 Virtual release "Magik Square of the Sun."  The project is supposed to be the more upbeat and electronica based work of Ishq and was originally started as a dance music project, according to the description on Discogs.  However, "Magik Square of the Sun" was hardly upbeat dance music, but instead the kind of of extreme chill-out one would hear on the most atmospheric Fax releases, with minimal beats interspersed between the floating waves of sound.  "Under a Hexagon Sky" is even quieter and more floaty, without a beat to be found.  This is ambient at its most extreme.   

On pieces like the beautiful title track, the duo piles on layers of pillowy, narcotizing electronic washes and nature sounds for an incredibly chilled experience, adding tasteful vocal samples (in this case I believe it's from the 70's TV show "Space 1999").  There is a hushed ambience to the album that puts the listener in a dreamy, otherworldly state.  "Springtime on Sirius" is another favorite track, playing out like a zen meditation in a peaceful garden in a galaxy far, far away.   

"Under a Hexagon Sky" is simply another excellent Virtual release, not bringing anything new to the table but keeping the ambientheads well-fed with its feast of sonic nourishment.   

"Flowering Mountain Earth" is the latest CD from Ishq (aka Matt Hillier), released on his Virtual label out the UK.  Limited to just 200 copies, this is a pressed CD in a very attractive digipak with artwork complementing the album's theme of some earthy mountainous paradise (Bali comes to mind) inhabited by indigenous tribes.  Hillier's done other music like this (most notably his Elve project) but this is perhaps his most "active" sounding tribal ambient to date. 

The album opens with the 22-minute epic "Mountain."  If I had listened to this without knowing who it was, I would have guessed Mathias Grassow straight away, without question.  It is a dead-ringer for Grassow's work.  This cinematic piece sets the stage with rain, bird, and animal sounds and slowly brings in a heavenly drone which increases in volume and intensity, as if the listener is slowly waking up from a dream and finding himself in a rainforest paradise.  Towards the end of the track we hear zither sounds, again very Grassow-like. 

Next piece "Jatoba" reminds me of Bill Laswell's "Possession: African Dub" project with Foday Musa Susso, where it sounds like the rains have ceased and the drones are now replaced with hypnotic, gentle African percussion, as birdsong echoes gently in the background.  "Rainmaking" brings in samples of native chanting, drums, flutes, and subtle electronic effects.  This is nothing groundbreaking but it is nevertheless so well done and effective.  "Myst" brings the electronics back to the fore with sweeping blankets of ethereal floating sounds, as if the listener is surveying a mountain from above.  Album closer "Cloud Forest" combines echoing birdsong, a calming stream, native cries, and more floating electronics for a perfect ending to this journey, reminding me a bit of David Parsons' "Yatra" album. 

Nothing groundbreaking about this CD (some might even call it "new age"), but it is done extremely effectively and is a journey well worth taking!! 

Is it just me or was that opening cermony at the London Olympics very creepy and bizarre? 

They were playing the theme music to "The Exorcist" while creepy giant puppets floated around kids' beds. 

The "Illuminati satanic ritual" theory I've read about the Olympic games is starting to make sense (and I say this half-jokingly).  8)

Released August 2012, the second collaboration by Christopher Willits and Ryuichi Sakamoto, "Ancient Future" (Ghostly International label), marks a vast improvement in listenability after their "Ocean Fire" release on 12k several years ago.  "Ocean Fire" was so full of glitchy manipulations that Sakamoto's input was barely recognizable.  To me this album wasn't even "music," just a bunch of computer noodling. 

Very happy to say, "Ancient Future" is a flowing, serene thing of beauty; the glitchy elements are there, but very minimally this time.  The album came about after Sakamoto sent Willits his piano/synth tracks; Willits then added his guitars and self-designed software tools to craft the final album.  (By the way, this release is really an "e.p." clocking barely over half an hour).  What results is some mighty fine nocturnal soundscapes.  Sakamoto's piano floats in a Budd-like reverb throughout, and Willits' guitars often achieve the gorgeous kind of sound that Bill Nelson and David Sylvian got on Sylvian's seminal album "Gone to Earth."  The glitchy manipulations are tasteful, used sparingly, and thus interesting this time around.  "Ancient Future", with its somewhat stark, moody beauty, at times even reminds me of works on the great modern jazz label ECM. 

I'm not too familiar with the work of Christopher Willits, other than the "Ocean Fire" CD before this.  A check of his website proclaims he is a "guitar pioneer."  That's a pretty bold statement to make from a guitarist most people have never heard of.  Nevertheless, I look forward to Willits' future endeavors after this excellent CD.  Arguably the more famous Sakamoto is the real pioneer:  his integration of electronic music into moving soundtracks such as "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" should not be forgotten.

"Ancient Future" is definitely one of the highlights of 2012.   

Sowing Paranoia's "Research Music Lab," released 2012 on Canada's excellent ambient dub techno label Silent Season, is another limited edition (300 copies pressed CD) worth the effort to get ahold of.  The album comes in a slim cardboard jacket with great photo of a lush green forest (forest landscapes is a theme of the label).  Not much is known about Sowing Paranoia--my limited research yielded the fact this is a duo from Russia of the DJ variety.  Actually many of the artists on Silent Season seem to be aligned to this subculture of electronic music.  As such, I think there is a fine line between calling some of them "EM artists" (who generally use keyboards/synths/drum machines, etc.) to create original soundscapes, whereas the "DJ" variety of electronic artist uses such tools as turntables, mixers, and samplers to create pieces based on other pieces, remixes, or what have you.  "Research Music Lab" seems to be a good example of this dichotomy. 

First off, this album, unlike many Silent Season releases, is almost pure ambient (no dub techno "thump thump thump" beats).  There are ten tracks, listed as Ambient 1, II, III and so on.  The first couple tracks are very effective haunting, drifting pieces that are quite dark and moody, earthy and ethereal.  The third track loops a sample from Eno's "On Land" (I believe it's the piece "Unfamiliar Wind(Leeks Hills) and adds some echoey Harold Budd-like piano chiming in the distance, along with various organic sounds.  I love what they did with this sample!  It's really a beautiful piece.  However, one is forced to ask, are they paying hommage to Eno's classic or ripping him off?  More on that later.  Which leads to...

Track 8, which heavily samples Steve Roach's classic "Structures from Silence."  Like the Eno sample, there is nothing subtle about the samples at all.  In fact the original music really creates the backbone to the track.  Again, I really like what they did with the track, gently manipulating it to a lush and heady effect. 

As much as I enjoyed this album, I think it raises some ethical questions.  These samples were not credited whatsoever.  I think most space music fans will recognize the Eno and Roach straight away.  But for others, they might think Sowing Paranoia created all this music themselves.  In fact, there were other pieces on the album where I was wondering if I'd heard it before, or if they had actually created it themselves or simply lifted it off something else and manipulated it. 

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this album, as I do everything Silent Season releases.  On this one, though, I do feel a bit guilty for liking tracks that were sampled heavily and uncredited where credit was due.   


Like the Tycho "Dive" CD (see review), I bought "Invisible Sunrise" by Seahawks (released 2011 by Ocean Moon, UK) purely on a whim, going by the intriguing cover art and the sticker on front proclaiming: "Like the KLF Chill Out LP written by astronauts."  Like the Tycho, I was more than pleasantly surprised and consider this a "major find."  Seahawks is a duo from the UK consisting of Pete Fowler and Jon Tye.  In the past couple years they've released a couple LP's, a 7", and two CD's, this being their second CD (limited to 1,000 copies, with some initial copies also including a bonus remix CD).  The CD comes in an attractive jewel-box case that snaps closed, with a single sheet insert.   

This album is very "retro" 1990's electronica, and I mean that in the best way possible.  First and foremost, the material is very well composed, melodic music, not just soundscapes or drones, with styles ranging from lounge to jazz.  But don't let that scare you--it's all filtered through the most heavenly electronic processing and is incredibly spacious.  This is ambient of the trippy, positive variety--nothing heavy or "dark ambient" here.  Remember when ambient was "fun"?  This is it!! But also, don't misunderstand, it's not fluff in the least.  The tracks grab your interest and suck you into their magic.  The mental images I get when listening to this are of astronauts going on a fun spacewalk or bopping around on the moon gleefully and care-free.

Who is producing music like this anymore?  Not many, and I wish there were more.  For a wonderfully nostalgic journey back to 1994 and an enchanting escape from the daily grind, I highly recommend Seahawks' "Invisible Sunrise."           

Independent Music Reviews / Drone On's review of "Dive" CD by Tycho
« on: July 24, 2012, 10:34:57 AM »
"Dive," released 2011 by US label Ghostly International, is the latest album by Scott Hansen's project Tycho.  Tycho's music is categorized on Discogs as "downtempo/IDM/deep house," and I think that's a pretty good assessment, although the tracks on "Dive" are more "upbeat downtempo" (if that makes any sense).  This album first caught my attention in a record store with its beautiful digital art painting of the sun going down over an ocean, which reminded me of Tangerine Dream's great sleeve art for "Hyperborea."  Rarely do I buy something based on the covert art without knowing anything about the artist--in this case I did just that, and boy am I glad I did! 

"Dive", one of the highlights of last year, is chock full of earthy, expansive, deep ambient, driving, propulsively melodic tracks that are epic and uplifting, while being moody as well.  I think if Steve Roach ever decided to start making beat-driven IDM, it might sound something like this.  Comparisons have been made with Boards of Canada (can't comment because I'm not that familiar with BOC) and Ulrich Schnauss (who I have heard, and yeah, it's a good comparison).  Hansen expertly blends guitars and basses along with the electronics and great drum programming, giving the album an "instrumental rock" feel at times.  The warm electronics feel very thick and analog--this is about as far away from "cold clinical" EM as you can get. 

"Dive" is a mini-masterpiece of expertly crafted, emotionally-resonant EM that will appeal to fans of beat-oriented dance music as well as ambient space music enthusiasts.  Highly recommended!!! 


With a title like "Journey Through Astral Projection," you pretty much know this ain't gonna be some Katy Perry bubblegum pop.  Expo 70 is an American outfit comprised of main man Justin Wright, who plays atmospheric 70's style guitar a la Manuel Gottsching and early Tangerine Dream, along with vintage synths like Moog and Crumar and drum machines.  On this album, Wright is joined by Matt Hill on bass, analog drum machine, and Crumar synthesizer.  Expo 70's style is best described as lo-fi/low tech space music, in that they use lots of older and more stripped down recording gear and techniques.  It's rough around the edges, but still manages to dazzle with ethereal beauty. 

Expo 70's releases have mainly been via cassette and vinyl, with occasional CDR's, and very few proper CD releases.  "Journey Through Astral Projection," comprised of four long tracks, is one of those proper CD's, released in 2010 on the Immune label.  The mini-LP jacket packaging and psychedelic 60's hallucinogenic cover art add a nice touch to the music contained within. 

Album opener "Trajectory Rhythms" fumbles around with some strummed chords, choppy drum machines, and what sounds like someone tuning up a bass before rather quickly getting into a hypnotizing Ashra/Gottsching-like groove, with mantra-like guitar plucking and apreggiated notes filtered through various effects.  Anyone into Gottsching's "Inventions for Electric Guitar" will like this quite a bit.  Second track "Seven Serpents" utilizes a heavy organ drone sound and distorted guitar chords over the top; some of the chords remain stretched out for minutes and turn into a long fuzzy drone.  Track 3, "Growing Mushrooms of Potency" is a heady brew (no mushrooms required) harking back to early Tangerine Dream classics like "Alpha Centauri," "Zeit" and "Atem" with experimental outer space sounds, echoed blips, and stratospheric guitar textures a la Edgar Froese.  Final track "Heartfelt Moon Tripper" is probably the most atmospheric piece, harking back to the quieter moments on Gottsching's "Inventions." 

Some of the music at times seems rather too "lo-fi," only to have some absolutely gorgeous sound come out of the speakers and make up for it.  For those into the 70's experimental krautrock sound, this album should provide plenty of sounds to salivate to and journey back in time. 

Everything and Nothing / My obsession with Kim Deal (Pixies/Breeders)
« on: July 18, 2012, 12:07:01 PM »
Hi, my name's Drone On and I'm a Kim-a-Holic...

I'm addicted to Kim Deal and I don't know how to stop--Youtube videos, online interviews, you name it.  Why is she so damn likeable? What is so fascinating?  I was never a "big" Pixies or Breeders fan but recently felt a resurgence of interest. 

Check out the youtube video "Kim Deal buys something."  Somebody recorded her making a purchase and the clerk asks her, after seeing her credit card, if she listens to the Breeders!!! Ha ha!!!

Any Kim Deal fanatics, and can you help me de-program from her trance-inducing aura???  ;D

Other Ambient (and related) Music / David Galas of Lycia
« on: July 17, 2012, 03:28:07 PM »
Are there any Lycia fans here?  Multi-instrumentalist (he's GREAT on the guitar!) David Galas helped shape two of Lycia's biggest Projekt albums, "The Burning Circle and Then Dust" and "Colder" in the 90's. Since 2006, he's put out three absolutely fantastic solo albums of what I'd term "hard gloom rock"--there are elements of goth and the Lycia sound, but also of harder rock bands like Type O Negative, Alice in Chains, Swans to name a few.  His lyrics are really dark and usually revolve around the decay of mankind and a tortured soul.  Think Type O Negative without the sense of humor!  Three fantastic albums so far: The Cataclysm (2006, which was on CD), The Happiest Days of My Life (2009), and The Ghosts of California (2011), the last two being self released and available as downloads or on CDR from his website.  I highly recommend these albums!  So, is anyone a fan?  Looking for fellow Galas enthusiasts like myself.   :)

I saw this over the weekend and thought it was fantastic.  Glenn Close did an amazing job in this role.  Definitely one of the best things I've seen this year.  It was kind of creepy and unsettling in a way, serious drama yet very funny in parts.  Reminded me of "The Crying Game" (for obvious reasons).  The costumes and set design were first-rate, as was all the acting in this film. 

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