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Topics - drone on

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"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. 

Other Ambient (and related) Music / Namlook ups his prices on iTunes
« on: July 12, 2012, 10:17:15 AM »
I just noticed Pete Namlook has increased most of his single albums from $9.99 to $11.99 on iTunes.  WTF??  I've heard of reducing prices, but upping them???  Luckily I already have most of FAX's output, so this won't affect me, but I think 12 bucks for a single album download is a bit steep...

Here comes another (post-humous?) FSOL album, "Environments 4."  There's been quite a large stack of material released by FSOL over the past several years, ranging from the "From the Archives" series (six volumes) to "Environments" to one by Yage and a couple others that escape me at the moment.  I say "post-humous" with a question mark because it's always been unclear if this material was done years ago or is new material.  Personally, I've felt much of the material has been "hit and miss"; I've made some nice personal compilations out of these releases, with a few tracks culled from each release, but overall I think the quality has been lacking compared to their 90's heyday.  The "Environments" series began a few years ago with an album that was supposedly going to be released when Future Sound of London were making it big around '94 but the idea was scrapped (possibly because the material was one big "soundscape" and primarily beatless?).  The series has continued with material that has been more "experimental" and "sound-scapey" than FSOL's main releases or their alter-ego, Amorphous Androgynous. 

The previous Environments, "Environments 3," was released about 2008 I believe and I thought the album was terrible, full of cold metallic noodlings that was far removed from the FSOL I know and love. 

Glad to report "Environments 4" is a fine return to form and probably the most varied and FSOL-like of the whole series, running the gamut from Vangelis-like string anthems to tribal space jams and cyber jazz.  Again, purchasers of the physical product are treated to more stunning visual digital imagery from the illustrious Buggy G Riphead.  Even if you don't care for the music on these releases, you have to admit they are almost works of visual art in themselves!

"Environments 4" begins in dreamy fashion with "The Wheel of Life," employing lush strings and sighing female vox.  "River Delta" then changes the pace up and plays like a dark and moody Dead Can Dance type piece complete with Peter Gabriel-esque tribal percussion, brooding synth chords, bird sounds, and choral female vox.  "Architektur" is a similar piece, which adds some flute samples and more jazzy rhythms.  "Murmurations," one of the album's highlights, is a fascinating cyber jazz workout with middle eastern strings, trancey free-falling drums, and exotic textural flutters. 

Overall, "Environments 4" is one of the most rewarding of the "new/old" FSOL releases in recent memory, and definitely recommended to fans of the group's 90's glory days.   

After missing out on the last two Periphery releases (Thomas Ronkin and Within Reason, although I was able to download the Within Reason after it sold out), when this disc was announced I jumped on it.  Radiant Mind is Robert Englis, who has been making EM for years but has finally released some of it via this album, "Sense."  The album was produced and mastered by Steve Roach.  Like the Ronkin and Within Reason, this release is also limited to just 50 copies, so I highly recommend not waiting too long (especially with Roach's involvement I am sure it will sell out quickly).  Also, a note about the packaging:  when I received this over the weekend, it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to get the disc loose from the packaging.  I was never a big fan of "tins" for CD or CDR releases.  To me, tins should be used to store food, not CD's, OK??? But I digress...oh, and I also had a problem with this CDR for some reason collecting huge amounts of dust between plays.  The playing surface is like a dust magnet!!  I don't know if it's the label that is causing this or what, but the disc was skipping on my home system, and when I de-dusted it it was okay.  Then when I played it later on my portable it skipped again, and there was dust all over it again...OK ok, I will stop bitching and get on to the music...

"Sense" is a quite excellent piece of EM that is obviously inspired by the American synthesists such as Thomas Ronkin, Steve Roach (his pre-tribal 80's sound), and Vir Unis.  Opening track "Inner Dimension" begins with thick waves of analog sounding synths and dark shards of layered effects that reminded me of the German group Hemisphere.  Fantastic opening here!  After a few minutes we get into Vir Unis territory with fractal grooves riding beneath expansive chords and trippy effects.  Track two, "Sense One," takes the Vir Unis sound even further with more intricate fractal grooves a la "Blood Machine" and "Body Electric."  Next up is "Sanctuary in Light," which really has that 80's feel to it, with airy chords, and some bell sounds (which I didn't really think worked on this track, as they seem a bit out of place).  Tracks four and five, "Sense Two" and "Sense Three" really have the Thomas Ronkin feel with gentle sequencing and melodic synths.  Track 6, "Reaching the Beyond," continues this sound to excellent effect.  Final piece "Radiant Mind," clocking at nearly 23 minutes, brings the mostly upbeat nature of the album to a more somber feel with droning chords and quiet spaces; several minutes into the piece some more fractal beats come in with a "hearbeat" like bass drum beat; and then rather quickly the percussion fades out and we are left to continue floating  as the piece began. 

This is a very good album for this kind of music but there weren't many "wow" moments for me, to be honest.  Those into the 80's sound of American EM in particular will find a lot to like, though.  I look forward to hearing more from Radiant Mind and getting an even broader perspective on his music. 

"Mosaic," released 2012 on the Dammerung Arts label, is a collaboration between Mathias Grassow and guitarist John Haughm of the metal band Agalloch.  Don't worry, there's no heavy metal here (just some metal cowbells).  It is pretty "heavy" music, though.  Choice photo on the album cover of the Gobi or some such other desert snapped at nighttime gives a hint of the direction this album takes the listener.  This is music for vast, desolate landscapes for sure.   

Track 1, clocking at 7 minutes, combines an etheral electronic drone from Grassow with echoing bells and droney male choral voices low in the mix, setting up the desolation vibe to continue. 

Track 2, at 16 minutes morphs from the first track into a more solemn and church-like atmosphere with organ-type drones (reminded me a lot of some Alio Die's recent liturgical explorations), echoing bell sounds, and strummed acoustic guitar chords from Haughm.  Not your typical drone piece, but it works nicely. 

Track 3, the longest at 22 minutes and the best track, fuses Grassow's drones with some really effective tribal percussion, flanged melodic electric guitars, and whispered voices. 

I thought this album combined some really interesting ideas and thus this unlikely collaboration is a rousing success.  My only complaint: at just under 45 minutes, I wished it had gone on longer!  Recommended to Mathias Grassow fans definitely and those into the ambience of those dark shadowy realms.   

Anyone here have this?  If so, please comment if it's worth picking up. Thanks!

Other Ambient (and related) Music / Periphery releases too limited
« on: June 27, 2012, 09:01:25 PM »
I think 50 copies needs a re-think.  I see the Within Reason and Thomas Ronkin sold out in just a few weeks.   Maybe 150 on these would've given the slow turtles a chance...

Everything and Nothing / Aliens/UFO are Demons/Fallen Angels
« on: June 25, 2012, 02:31:36 AM »
This is the conclusion I come to after researching this topic for over 20 years.  I invite a discussion by anyone who already accept the phenomenon (aerial discs, abduction by entities, hybridization program, the secret space program by NASA and its ongoing coverups) as a reality.  If you are a skeptic to the phenomenon please don't comment.  I am seeking a serious discussion with like minded researchers on this topic, and trying to gauge the "popularity" of this theory among those with more than a passing interest.  I don't correspond with websites or leave comments on YouTube as I don't wish to interact with fanatics or the lunatic fringe element that's out there on the Internet (though some may find that hypocritical considering my ideas which correspond to the very ideas of that lunatic fringe).  Seriously though, if you share my conclusion or are on the fence about it, I'd really like to enter into a good discussion here.  Thanks.

Just when you thought you didn't have to buy another CD for awhile, along comes "Catalyst" by Steve Brand, released June 2012 on Relaxed Machinery.  It's a must-buy!! If you haven't already discovered Brand's magical soundscapes, let me just say you should make a bee-line for the nearest computer or store and download (or buy the CDR version here at Hypnos) as much Steve Brand as humanly possible.  Would it be going too far to suggest "this Steve" is the next "big Steve" (I think you know who I'm talking about) in the ambient world?  His surreal soundscapes definitely tap into something primal, primordial, and enigmatic.  While I find it difficult to identify with some of his press releases talking about the music having the power of personal transformation, I will say it is definitely powerful, and definitely temporarily transformative to your mind while it takes you to infinity and beyond. 

"Catalyst" consists of four long-tracks of consciousness-expanding sonic prayers where space and time seem to stop.  Canyon-deep synth chords expand, retract, and echo in gorgeous fashion on tracks like opener "Amniotic Light."  This album is definitely one of Steve Brand's deepest and most satisfying works, maybe even his best to date!  Another one to add to my "Best of 2012" list!!     

Released late 2011 on Manikin Records, but just making the rounds here in the states via local distributors and iTunes, "Long Distances" has been on my "highly anticipated" list for quite some time now.  I must admit I was pretty disappointed by the time the laser finally hit the CD, though.  These two composers, Detlef Keller and Mario Schonwalder, are real icons in the German post-70's EM scene.  They have done some absolutely fantastic productions, with their brand of Berlin school/Klaus Schulze influenced sequencing meets modern day ambient atmospheres.  "Long Distances" is what we'd expect of them:  long tracks full of Schulzian choral voices, atmospheric synths, and the like.  Unfortunately, this release, quality wise, seems to me really rushed and somewhat sloppy, from the very nonspecific recording dates (the liner notes state two of the three tracks were recorded "some years ago," and another track was recorded "live" although it doesn't state the year) to the ho-hum sound quality (including quite a few glitches throughout).  You almost get the feeling the label just wanted to get something out on the market in a hurry and chose some old tapes from a box!  So for all we know, this music could have been recorded in 1988 as opposed to 2008.  The music in general is pretty typical K&S, and in fact is similar to Klaus Schulze's work of the last years, and nothing really innovative or special.  I would recommend "Long Distances" to completists only. 

Shrine (Hristo Gospodinov) is a Bulgarian ambient project started in 2003.  In 2008 he did a split release with artist Lingua Fungi, who collaborated recently with Alio Die on the Hic Sunt Leones CD "Otter Songs."  Shrine's debut for Cyclic Law, "Somnia," is a great example of Cyclic Law's recent branching out from the doom & gloom aesthetic into more "classic" ambient styles, and presents some incredibly lush soundtracks for the lucid dreamstate.  The floating jellyfish adorning the cover artwork give a hint of thte album's preoccupation with watery themes; in fact, "Somnia" literally drips with moisture and atmosphere. 

Opener "The Grand Design" fuses gently tinkling melodic sequencers with water and seagull sounds.  Amazing second piece "Immersion," with achingly melancholic choral voices and heavenly electronics, sounds like a baptism in a radiant blue sea.  "Lost Beauty" continues this theme, adding what brings to mind high-pitched pan pipes calling out a lonely song.  "Dream Captured in Stone" displays the Alio Die influence with singing cicadas, scraping stones, and a hymn-like synth melody.  Some harsher textures do occasionally bubble up to the surface, reminding the listener this IS Cyclic Law after all(!)  Still, "Somnia" manages to fall somewhere between the organic textural style of Alio Die and more melodic, almost commercially-accessible instrumental electronic music, spiked with an intermittent dark edge.  I found several of the pieces to be stunningly beautiful and quite spiritual, making "Somnia" one of the most memorable Cyclic Law releases in quite some time, and a very strong debut (for exposure to a wider audience) for this promising artist. 

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