Altera Orbe is a new label from Spain run by ambient musicians Ran Kirlian and Landru, and is a sister label of Max Corbacho and Bruno Sanfillippo's Ad21 Music. Actually since AD21 website only sells physical products now, Altera Orbe handles the downloads for AD21 and its own releases. Altera Orbe's releases are mostly digital, although selected albums have been made available as CDR's in very limited quantities (for example, my first exposure to the label was Ran Kirlian's very good "Dissolution" CDR, limited to 25 numbered copies, which Richard Gurtler previously reviewed here on the forum. By the way, it is still available). Mostly the Altera Orbe imprint is a vehicle for Kirlian and Landru's own music, but some other artists have been given a chance as well recently.
Most notable of these is Joxan Ruiz, whose impressive debut "Gaze" will really prick up the ears of any aficionados of Steve Roach and Max Corbacho's floating tribalesque landscapes. Mastered by Max Corbacho (immediate bonus points!), this is big, immersive, panoramic music that should be experienced on a good loudspeaker system (although it sounds great on headphones, too). Ruiz here finds his own voice amongst the warm digital synthscapes he produces, never getting bogged down by drowning everything in reverb as some are prone to do, and keeping the album interesting by subtly changing styles from track to track, making for a quite varied recording over the 12 tracks presented here. Expansive, float-zone pieces are interspersed with more minimal electronic experiments and subtle percussive effects. The final piece, "Gone From Here" is comprised solely of piano (with some nice reverb of course), making an effective closer. The great German duo Temps Perdu (remember them?) come to mind when experiencing this album in the way Joxan combines many elements to make a strong, heady sonic brew. It is also apparent he is not trying to copy Roach and Corbacho, but he definitely revolves around the same planet. My only criticisms would be that "Gaze" plays more like a collection of separate tracks than a flowing album. Perhaps it could have been more effective if pieces morphed into each other instead of stopped and started. Also on the third track "Afterglow" the recording quality isn't that great, sounding more like a rough demo than a finished track. Altogether, though, I thoroughly enjoyed "Gaze," and look forward to more from this artist.
Whereas Joxan Ruiz' album seems planted firmly on this planet (when not high above the clouds), Ran Kirlian's darker affair "Formations" (based on live improvisations between 2009-2011) evokes lonely, windswept vistas on the desert plains of Mars, with ghostly echoes of a once-inhabited surface teeming with life, now fossilized and forgotten. Much more overtly tribal than "Gaze," Ran combines his numerous racks of electronic instruments with acoustic sources such as overtone voices, wind chimes, bells, flutes, rocks, found sounds, and various percussion, and does so extremely well. Oophoi and Alio Die fans will be in heaven here with the subtle organics going on. The longest track "Crimson Trees" (14:05) is a personal favorite, with its haunting synth drones and strange animal cries. Totally surreal and essential EM here!! There is a really special vibe to this album that I can only compare to Oophoi/Tau Ceti's masterwork "Celestial Geometries" in the feelings it evokes, which is deeply enigmatic and mysterious. "Formations" is quite a bit more active, though, with passages of sometimes thick, thunderous percussion a la Roach's classic "Origins," or even gentle sequencing, as on "Forgotten Survivor." Like those albums as well, this music flows beautifully over the course of its nearly 71 minutes. To me, "Formations" is a revelation in the tribal spacemusic genre, and one of the best albums of 2012.