Author Topic: Space Music from a Compositional Viewpoint  (Read 14585 times)

Bill Binkelman

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Re: Space Music from a Compositional Viewpoint
« Reply #20 on: March 25, 2008, 01:02:51 PM »
My two cents:

Speaking as a reviewer, as far as I'm concerned, spacemusic is literally music that is influenced by or inspired by space. Very seldom do I equate spacemusic with a non-celestial theme, per se (but I do make exceptions if necessary). If it sounds like spacemusic but is linked through titles, etc. to something other than space, I'd be inclined to consider it ambient in nature. Not always, maybe (I'm sure someone can find an example where I didn't use that protocol, but by large I think I do). There are no absolutes, but this comes close to my internal "guidelines."

IMO, musically/compositionally speaking, spacemusic has several "styles:"

1) Drifting warm spacemusic - this is the type popularized by Jonn Serrie on And the Stars Go With You, and on some tracks on the follow-up release Flightpath. Also one of his recent releases, A Stargazer's Journey. On Tingri, he mixed in rhythmic new age-ist electronica (tracks 1-4) with more classic sounding spacemusic; however, the album itself had "earthly roots" unlike, for example, the next two, Midsummer Century and Ixlandia. From a musical standpoint, warm floating spacemusic uses synth pads and washes, bell tones, and chorals. Mark Pedersen, who records as Geodesium, is, arguably, the most noted and sought after planetarium composer today, and with the exception of the album Anasazi, all his albums have outer space or astronomical themes. However, where Serrie's music is frequently floaty, Pedersen many times intermixes lively rhythmic tracks alongside more sedate pieces, and in fact, even his low key tracks may employ subtle synth bass beats. Other purveyors of floating (mostly warm) spacemusic are Telomere (Chris MacDonald) and the no-longer-recording-from-what-I know Meg Bowles. Her Blue Cosmos was considered an important spacemusic recording when it came out, although I personally enjoyed her follow-up,  From the Dark Earth , more, although it never caught on due - I imagine - to the presence of David Bilger's ambient-style trumpet which was featured on the release. Bowles also shaded her music darker than the others, although it was still wholly accessible.

2) Cruiser spacemusic: Already referenced somewhat in the previous section, this is spacemusic featuring rhythms (either beats or done through rhythmic chords/notes played as a melody) and evoking the sensation of "cruising" through the stars. Songs like the title track and "Outreach" on Serrie's Flightpath are propuslive and energeizing but also contain those typical flowing melodies comprised of washes/chords and pads. Geodesium's music is equally split between floating and cruisers, examples of the latter (from the album West of the Galaxy) include the hyperkinetic "Zephyr" with cascading arpeggios and percolating beats or the midtempo "Lightwaves" which mixes chorals with twinkling rhythmic textures.

Some "contemporary" artists who explore cruising and floating spacemusic include Sylken (their album Dreamlife) and Craig Padilla (The Light in the Shadow ) I'm judging the latter as spacemusic despite no overt connection thematically that I can spot). Another recommended album that features floating spacemusic is Zero Ohms and Brannan Lane's Immense Distance. By himself, Zero Ohms (Richard Roberts) has released several spacemusic albums that sometimes blend flowing/drone-like electronics with acoustic instrumentation (flute), such as True Degrees of Freedom or just pure washes/drones such as Spatial, Glacial, Nebulous. Before she turned back to jazz fusion, Stephanie Sante released a few very nice spacemusic albums that blended the two types, featuring tracks with titles like "Interstellar Beacon." The indie artist William Edge as released an entire series of spacemusic albums with overt SF-themes and storylines, although some of his musical characteristics blur the line between spacemusic and other genres. Likewise, Gregory Kyryluk, who records as Alpha Wave Movement, has dabbled in spacemusic (with Berlin school EM elements at times) on the albums Cosmology and A Distant Signal.

3) Deep spacemusic: This is darker spacemusic, frequently rhythmless (and what rhythm is present is muted), utilizing a less melodic approach, whether through drones, manipulated/altered sounds, or other non-synthesizer devices. I hesitate to refer to it as "dark" because, IMO, dark ambient is recognizably different than deep spacemusic, although on any one album there may be crossover elements. Between Interval (Stefan Jonsson)'s Secret Observatory is an example, as well as eM (Michael Bentley)'s superb release, All the Stars Burning Bright. Pete Kelly, akak Igneous Flame, explores this territory on albums such as Oxana and Astra, although unlike his peers, he specializes in shorter tracks and uses his guitar as a sound source. Some may consider Steve Roach's The Magnificent Void to be deep spacemusic, although it's almost always referred to as ambient (which could be said about a lot of this music, to be honest). The German group, Lightwave, released an excellent dark/deep spacemusic album quite a few years ago with the approrpriately title Tycho Brahe.

4) "Classic" spacemusic: Why I'm separating this from the first category may not be something easy for me to delineate. Part of it is the era the music was released and part of it is, compositionally, the music is sometimes suffused with a sense of awe, wonder, and frequently grandeur, which is mostly lacking in all the other categories above. CDs in this category include at least two that are acknowledged cornerstones of the genre, if not downright masterpieces: Michael Stearns' Planetary Unfolding and Constance Demby's Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate. Personally, in this company I would also add (either or both) Kevin Braheny's Galaxies or The Way Home (also sometimes titled as Perelandra). All of these can be considered seminal, as defined on "...highly original and influencing the development of future events: a seminal artist; seminal ideas."

Well, that's my treatise on the subject. No doubt I've left out albums and artists galore. More's the pity. And, if it needs saying, this is all just my take on the subject. As some folks do with religion, take what works and leave the rest! :)


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Re: Space Music from a Compositional Viewpoint
« Reply #21 on: March 25, 2008, 01:37:33 PM »
Bill, nice post.   
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Bill Binkelman

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Re: Space Music from a Compositional Viewpoint
« Reply #22 on: March 25, 2008, 01:44:15 PM »